Someone once told me that there are natural cycles in life, much like the seasons, you go through periods of birth, growth, stagnation, and death. I use that to soothe me sometimes, “Ok, this is just a stage of dormancy, beyond this will be something else.” We all do that, I think. We try to put reason to the things that happen, the incomprehensible hurts and challenges, not so much with the blessings.

Our experience earlier this year defied all that, I simply tried to get myself through it. I clung to the phone as my mom said gently, “You just have to get through, honey. You just get through this. You will.” I nodded silently, I wept, I raged, and then, without fanfare or notice, I realized that if not entirely through it, I was at least no longer a prisoner of it. The newness of the light, the return of a glimmer of hope have made other things slightly easier.

I look at my family and realize that like some sort of video game, if I look closely, they each pulse with a power, a lesson or tool to help me through whatever may be in store. If I latch on to those things, tuck them in my heart and carry them with me, I am stronger for it.

Last night Avery worked away at a canvas set up by a local artist. The streets were teeming with people, but she was completely engrossed in the colors before her. Her sisters tried to talk to her, passers-by exclaimed, but she kept her eye on the brush ignoring the attention she usually seeks.

The other day I was basking in a free hour by sitting in the backyard beneath a lacy, young tree and devouring a book. FInley wanted to ride her scooter and had picked out an outfit suitable for “exercising my body and life.” The shirt was a hand me down from Briar and she was struggling mightily with it. I asked if she wanted help or if she wanted to pick a different shirt. She looked at me, took a deep breath, and said, “I just want to wait a minute, then I’ll try again.”

Sean and I had a sitter for the girls the other day after Finley said, “Hey mom, you think you could get a sitter soon? It’s been so long since you have gone out? Can you make it be Ashley?”  We weren’t sure what to do, both of us exhausted from a few weeks of filling every minute with something or someone. “Do you want to go up to the lake?” he asked me. I hesitated, thinking about the drive, the unbuttoning and buttoning back up of the boat. Then I looked at him. He knows what works for him, what cleans the slate and reconnects him to his peace. I forget that it works for me too.

And Briar, as we move ever closer to the inevitable tangle of mother and daughter, she still radiates with an immutable truth that she helped me know how to honor myself. She showed me my strength, gave me new purpose, and connected my family in new ways. The thing she has, the quality I see in her that always takes my breath away and reminds me of the power of pure joy, is her full-body, soul-deep appreciation for times of contentment. She doesn’t kind of enjoy something, she just goes for it, like she did the other morning after emerging from the tent to curl up to watch the sun on the lake.

Sitting here writing before the dawn, reflecting on the gifts from my family—focus, tenacity, healing, and joy, I feel lighter.

Life will not be perfect, there are sure to be more tunnels, for me and for my family, but around all of us are these secret tools that take nothing more than opening our eyes and heart, to help us along.

Take a minute and find yours.