The serrated knife in my shaking hand cuts through the heart of the pear while a ringing trumpet blasts downstairs, singing songs of Christmas. Hope. Joy. Peace. Love. I can’t help but feel as if the knife is piercing deep into the recesses of my heart. My hero, Grandpa Ted, should be downstairs playing a duet with my dad on the piano’s ivory keys. Seven months have passed since Grandpa exhaled one last breath on earth and inhaled his first breath in heaven. My mind rewinds to that day in May.
“Grandpa fell onto the pavement, hitting his head. There’s bleeding in his brain, he’s broken his ribs, jaw and shoulder. The next 48 hours are the most critical,” my mom bravely states through the phone.
“I’m on my way,” I reply.
My husband echoes for me to go. I pack the car, grab our passports, load up my one-year-old daughter, Gracie, and drive 303.4 long miles from Oregon to a small town in Canada. With each ticking mile, my mind processes the journey, the stories, and the years with Grandpa. We arrive at the hospital, and I push my wiggly Gracie in the stroller down the still, white hallways, passing nurses busy on their tasks, and we enter Grandpa’s room unaware of his current state. My brown eyes immediately meet his tender blue eyes, and I rush to his side to gently embrace him.
“You should see the other guy,” Grandpa says to me with his amazing sense of humor, entirely aware of his dramatic black and blue bruises and broken bones.
I burst out in uncontrolled relief of laughter and tears. Grandpa’s face grimaces in tremendous pain as he contains his laughter and gently reminds me not to make him laugh.
For the next three days, I sit at his feet. This has always been my favorite place, learning from the wisest and kindest man I know. I don’t want to move. Ever. He listens to my stories and views pictures of our recent family mission trip to Kenya, and he tells me adventures of his 40 years as a missionary in the wilds of Brazil, Saskatchewan farm childhood, and over 60 years married to Grandma.
His life encapsulates what it means to walk with Jesus even when the road is difficult, unpaved, and treacherous.
The doctors express hope for a full recovery, talk about moving him into a rehabilitation home, and I return home. All is well.
But as soon as all is well, life’s unpredictable turns can spin you upside down. A few days later the hospital calls.
“I’m sorry, we can’t get through to your mom or your uncle,” the nurse on the other end of the phone explains compassionately. “Your grandpa has taken a turn for the worst. The bleeding on his brain increased. It’s only a matter of time.”
I freeze. A matter of time? He was just fine, and now he’s not okay?
“Oh no,” I utter. “I’ll get in touch with my mom.”
I drop the phone, and my eyes swell with the inevitable thought of Grandpa’s impending death. In the course of the next two days, his heart fights while he is unable to speak, and he remains sedated until his lungs no longer pump oxygen. As loved ones sing hymns, he peacefully lifts his arms to the heavens as if to say, “Jesus, I’m ready, and You’ve always been all I need.” There’s no medical explanation for why he experienced an entire week of progressing only to regress absolutely. But that’s okay, because my heart believes God, in all of His goodness and grace, gave us a few magical bonus days with him, and I’m forever grateful for that time.
Here I stand cutting this pear with its juices oozing out, and something catches my audible attention: a second trumpet joins my dad downstairs. I recognize it as the trumpet of my adolescent son. My dad’s new duet partner blossoms in the form of my son as the next generation sits at the feet of his grandpa, just like I had all of my life with my grandpa. Silent Night, Holy Night reverberates throughout the house, and my soul falls quiet.
I set the knife down and examine the seeds of the pear, vulnerable and delicate, just like the state of my heart. I hold one between my fingers, and I’m reminded: this is where all fruit begins, a simple seed.
Yet in order for the seed to fulfill its purpose, it must break in the soil where it’s planted.
My feet are planted in this moment, and the words of my grandpa echo through the hallways of my memory, “Keep planting. Keep hoping. Keep believing.”
Psalm 126:6 reminds my aching heart,
“Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”
My face lifts upward, and I place the pear’s seed in my shaky palm. There’s a promise: this seed I’m carrying will be planted, break in the earth’s soil, new life will sprout, and the harvest will be plentiful and filled with joy.
Diligent faith is one step in front of another, even when one can’t see the road ahead, trusting in the kindness of the Everlasting Father.
I step forward to the soil of my life, bend down, and plant this seed in the pain of my brokenness. Because who doesn’t want a harvest of plentiful joy and abundant life? The salty streams down my cheeks turn from deep grief to fulfilled gratitude, and I can’t help but smile at the hope set before me.
Anika Ryan Ortiz is wife to Matt, mama to Cameron, Kaylee and Gracie, and lives outside of Portland, Oregon surrounded with green trees, winding rivers and purple hydrangeas. Right after their wedding in 2001, she and Matt resided in a hut in Kenya, teaching and doing social work in the villages. Her heart rests in the grandeur of nature and in the intimacy of a hug. She loves Jesus, the Seahawks, speaking in Swahili with her preschooler and gliding on the ice.
Photography: Hannah Acheson