I saw my first dragonfly of the season this week when my boys took their inaugural swim in our pool on Tuesday after school. Rick and I lounged out there poolside and watched as they played and swam together, Brooks and Brody. I loved hearing my 11-year-old who so wants to be a teenager and is obsessively concerned with coolness say, “Mom, watch this!” That gave my heart such joy. They’re still little boys who want their mommy to see what they can do. But, as I sat there my heart full but pensive, Brody yelled out, “Mom, a dragonfly!” They know how much dragonflies mean to me and never fail to let me know if they see one. I looked and sure enough there he was zipping around over the pool going round and round appearing as happy and as natural as any other part of that delightful scene.
All of my closest friends and family know why I love dragonflies so much. I’ve told the story in talks I’ve given at various churches. I don’t always tell it depending on who I’m talking to and what the Lord has laid on my heart to say on that particular day. If you’ve ever heard me speak since Bronner went to heaven, you have heard a word from the Lord, because it is all from Him. And, what is so interesting is that He normally doesn’t want me to say the same thing too often. Most churches have a tailor-made speech just for them from the Lord. But, I’ve told my dragonfly story enough times that sweet friends and sisters in Christ have given me so many of them that they are all over my house.
I have soap dishes with dragonflies on them, soap itself, decorative bowls, an ornament for my Christmas tree, a dragonfly sun-catcher just above my sink in the kitchen, two tiles, a picture clip, a picture frame, a small side table, a hand-made scarf, key chains (two of them), a couple of different necklaces, earrings, several pins (one from Kim, one from Veronica, one from Melisha, and one from Laurie), a lovingly sculpted ceramic dragonfly made in my friend’s basement, and even real dragonflies encased and framed given to me by a missionary from my church who saw it in China town on a trip to California. I have two sculpted pieces at Bronner’s grave that family members have put there. And I have a dragonfly door-knocker on the door at our farm in Jemison.
Everyone loves the dragonfly story, but I think what the dragonfly gifts most express is each giver’s great love for me. I am so thankful for the women in my life. I have the sweetest friends on the face of the planet. I have been prayed for and prayed over. I have been loved and mothered with the tenderness that only a woman of God could offer. I can’t even begin to tell you all the ways my dear, sweet friends have ministered to me in the two years since my baby has been in heaven, but one thing is certain... it has all been completely God driven.
One woman dreamed that my head was glued to her chest! Many of them told me they woke up in the middle of the night with an urgent sense that they were to pray for me. Laura said she woke up in the night crying and didn’t know why, and then she heard my name in a whisper. These women of prayer, in tune with The Holy Spirit, have carried my burden alongside me all this time. One sweet girl from church, a young mother herself, sent me a card a week for two years with the bible verse she had prayed for me that week written inside.
Then, of course, there were the women who had lost their sons too, some from illness and others from tragic accidents like mine. They told me how to make it through those first months and years without Bronner. Stephanie told me, “Just do the next thing.” “Find joy in your other sons.” And Kelly was very honest, “It’s not going to get any better. I miss Billy everyday. But I keep living. I still will go out on my porch and have my pity party, but when I’m done I get up and do what I have to do.”
There were cards and letters and books sent from all over the country. I have never seen let alone experienced such an outpouring of love and support from the family of God. I got flowers from people in New York, books from Texas, and cards from Ohio. This was different for me, because I have always been such a strong person. I have always been the one who felt I was to minister to, teach, and comfort others, but here I was on the receiving end. And, it felt good. You all made me feel very loved. It was a gift of God, this comfort from His family, the church, the whole church, not just my own but every church in this city, and beyond, way beyond. I think we even got letters from men in the military stationed in other countries. I had not known before how good and how big God’s family really is!
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could count.” (Revelation 7:9)
People really want to do something. They want to help. They want to give. They want to comfort. It wasn’t just the dragonflies, but so many other special gifts too. I was given several beautiful paintings of Bronner from women I had not previously known, and the artists all said the Holy Spirit prompted them to paint sweet Bronner. There’s one hanging at the farm of Bronner in his heavenly robe holding up a fishing rod that absolutely captures the slump of his shoulder. It’s so perfect because I had hoped that Bronner would learn to fish down at the farm, and there is that beautiful painting reminding me that he’s still learning to fish… in heaven.
My friend, Mary Jo, has an adult son in heaven. He’s buried right next to Bronner. We wanted it that way, because I just didn’t want my baby lying there with a bunch of people we don’t know. I know he’s not really lying there, but on resurrection day, his body’s going to come right up out of that grave, and the Burgesses and the Kynerds will be rising up into the clouds alongside each other. But, Mary Jo, gave me a picture of her son, Jay, an avid fisherman, holding up a huge rainbow trout. In fact, he was fishing when the fatal heart attack struck. We now have rainbow trout in our pond, by the way. But, I just know, I know, Jay has taken Bronner under his wing in heaven and has taught him how to bait a hook and cast a line and reel in that big catch. I know it.
There’s another painting hanging above my bed done by a precious lady from Mobile, and that painting looks exactly like Bronner. It’s truly remarkable. She e-mailed Rick asking for a picture of Bronner and told him what she planned to do. He gave her a picture of Bronner sitting in that old pick-up truck in Alabama Wilds at the Birmingham Zoo. And, the likeness is unbelievably exact, and written on the hood of the truck is the most perfect passage of scripture, Psalm 40:1-3. It says, “I waited patiently for the Lord. He lifted me out of the pit. He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”
A pencil drawing hangs in my bathroom of Bronner and a Lion. There’s an inscription, The Lion and the Precious Lamb, and a verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:10. I have a little painting of our whole family sitting on my counter, and in it, Bronner has wings. All… gifts from women of God who were prompted by the Holy Spirit. But, it wasn’t just the women. Rick’s friends wanted to do something too, and men think a little outside the box. Men think big. They have to do something grand.
One of them had the idea to take Rick and me to Wyoming. Michael couldn’t take us himself, but he knows people who could. Jackson Hole is a very expensive place. I think Dick Cheney has a vacation house there. So, Adler, as his wife calls him, called on an old friend from Texas who happens to be the CEO of AT&T. Michael and Linda and Rick and I boarded a private plane owned by another couple in our church who also went on the weekend trip, and we three couples headed over to Texas where two more were added to our number as we changed planes and jetted up to Wyoming. Michael and Rick spent an afternoon just the two of them fishing in the Snake River. It was truly a blessing and a gift for my husband to be in that place during that most difficult time. Thanks, Adler, for that and for so many other ways you and Linda have ministered to our family and continue to do so not only with your angelic voices but with your whole hearts as well.
I have to say that I have another friend who had the same idea, to get me away to a place I had never been. It was a little different. Connie took me to Clanton, Alabama, and we spent the day going to the flea market and visiting places I had not been before. Things like that helped. They really did. I could go on and on about the kindness of people who mourned with us over the loss of our indelibly wonderful Bronner. But, God Himself was the one who comforted Rick and me with the most perfect comfort. One of the ways God’s hand of love, comfort, and confirmation was shown to us was through the dragonflies.
After Bronner went to heaven, I kept seeing dragonflies, and they were always this baby blue color that made me think of Bronner. The first time I saw them, there were three of them hovering around Bronner’s grave as I sat there alone. I watched them as they played around together there at the grave. They weren’t playing around the other graves, just Bronner’s. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I had never noticed how bright and colorful dragonflies were, and that baby blue was so beautiful. I knew they were from God even that very first time I saw them. I even thought that maybe God had granted Bronner and some friends an opportunity to just come hang out with me there for the day. I didn’t know. In fact, I didn’t know anything about dragonflies, but after I started seeing those baby blue dragonflies everywhere and all the time, I wanted to know more.
A friend of mine had told me of a similar event happening to her after her dad went to heaven, but Brenda had been given little yellow butterflies. She didn’t know why either at first but knew they were from the Lord. They didn’t act like normal butterflies would. They did really interesting things like follow her down the road as she ran, and she told me of how one of them flew in the window of her car, circled her head, and flew back out. She knew they were there to comfort her in some way but didn’t “get” the message God was sending her until one day when she noticed a caterpillar crawling around in the grass. The light bulb went off. “Oh, now I get it, God! We, here on earth, are like the caterpillar, but my dad who is in heaven is like the butterfly.”
God wanted me to hear Brenda’s story, but at first, I thought, “That’s a great story, Brenda, but what does it have to do with dragonflies?” She told me she didn’t know, but she felt it was God’s comfort to me somehow. I continued to see the baby blue dragonflies, by the droves! I saw them at our farm, at the fields where my boys were playing ball, around our pool, everywhere I went. After Brody was baptized in the pool on April 26, 2008, three months after Bronner went to heaven there, we felt it was okay to swim in the pool again. So, we were all out there, Brooks, Brody, Brandi, and me, swimming when a sweet little baby blue dragonfly lit on the side of our pool. It sat there so long and let me get so close to it that I was able to examine it completely. It had, of course, the baby blue body, but I noticed it had bulging green eyes. I had to know what these dragonflies were all about.
Normally, I would go to the bible for answers, but in this case I went to the internet. I looked up dragonflies and was amazed at what I learned. A dragonfly goes through a metamorphosis just like a butterfly does, but dragonflies… start their life out... in the water.
That was my light bulb moment.
God wanted me to know that Bronner’s life didn’t end that night in the water. It began.
Here’s what I learned about dragonflies: A dragonfly lays its eggs in the water, and when they hatch, they are a little nymph (that’s actually what they’re called) that can live in the water for up to three years. “Up to," maybe that means 2 ½ years for some of them, I thought. The picture of a dragonfly nymph kind of looked like a small grasshopper. I learned that when the time came for the nymph to become a fully-grown dragonfly, it would crawl out of the water on a reed or a stick, and when the air touched its skin, the skin would begin to breath. The dragonfly would emerge from a slit in the back of the little nymph. It takes a little while for the dragonfly’s wings to unfurl, but when they do, the dragonfly doesn’t fly, that is, not until it sees the light. It will not take its inaugural flight at night. It waits for the morning light! I also noticed that a dragonfly is in the shape of a cross. A butterfly or a damselfly may close its wings up when it lights on a plant or a rock, but a dragonfly never does. It keeps its wings outstretched always in the shape of a cross.
I also found out that there are about 500 different varieties of dragonflies, but the one I kept seeing, the baby blue one, is called a blue dasher. A blue dasher! How amazing is God? My sweet Bronner was certainly a blue dasher. That baby of mine was a little runner. He loved, loved, loved, to run. I remember one night, not long before Bronner went to heaven, the two of us ate at Johnny Rockets together. The bigger boys had gone hunting with their dad. So, Bronner and I had a night to ourselves, one of many that winter, as the boys were trying to have that male bonding experience that hunting trips provide. So, Mommy and baby ate dinner at one of our favorites. He had chicken fingers and fries, and I… think I had a Patty Melt, my usual.
We had a little time to spare before we were going to see Alvin and the Chipmunks there at the movie theater at the Summit. So, we started walking, and that baby ran, literally ran, wide open with the biggest grin you’ve ever seen all the way from Johnny Rockets on one end of the Summit Shopping Center to Barnes and Noble on the opposite end. I remember him so well that night in his “Jesus Loves Me” toboggan his uncle Jamie had gotten him for Christmas. He looked like a doll just come to life with so much pent up energy to burn. He was a fast little guy, but he was even more cute than he was fast. It goes without saying that he drew lots of attention that night. Everyone commented on him. I heard people say, “What a doll!” And, “He’s really something isn’t he?” I beamed with pride at having that sweet angel baby, my blue dasher, by my side.
You know, it’s funny. I remember thinking one day when the two of us were at the zoo that it was such a shame that I was the only one there with him that day. We went to the zoo a lot. It was Bronner’s favorite place to go if he wanted to go somewhere. He would ask for it by saying, “I go zoo.” The boys were in school that day, Rick was at work, and the grandparents were at home in Jacksonville and in Guntersville, so it was just me and my little guy. There weren’t many other people there that day. It was kind of a slow day at the zoo as many weekdays could be.
Bronner, of course, wanted nothing to do with a stroller. He loved to run through the zoo as fast as he could, and he enjoyed himself so much. I looked at him rounding the corner over by the Children’s Zoo strutting along with a little zip in his step and a dance in his soul. He was so happy and so cute that I wished that someone else was there to see it. And, I felt a little twinge of sadness. I wanted everyone to be able to see how wonderful and beautiful and precious and perfect a baby Bronner was at that very moment. And, you know? I believe I’ve been granted that desire.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Bronner’s birthday is coming up on May 27th. He would be turning five. I think turning five is a big deal. It’s kind of that step from babyhood to boyhood, and I can only imagine how wonderful Bronner would be at five. He was just so robust and strong and energetic and completely all boy. He, even at two-and-a-half, had this strong squeeze he would hug you with that I just knew would turn into the strong arms of a great man someday.
Next month, he would be five, so I am doing a video project I’ll share with you when it’s all done. But, the project has required me to go through all of his pictures, and just looking at the smiles, the silly looks, the love he had for his family, and just how happy and content and curious a baby he was has given me a renewed inspiration for what is to come. I do have so much to look forward to. This life is broken for me. I can still smile and laugh with my other children. I can still be surrounded by love and friendship and the comfort that comes only by the great comforter, The Holy Spirit of God. I can know God and take great delight in Him, but I know that right now, things just aren’t complete for me. I always, always have this deep sense that something, someone is missing.
Our family is incomplete and likely will be for a long time, so we live for the purpose God has called us to. In addition to the ministry God has given us through the Rick and Bubba Show and through Bronner's life and death, Rick and I live to raise up Brooks and Brody as men of God, and we will continue to build on what has been started in Brandi and Blake. We can still be filled with joy at the hope and the glory we've been called to and promised, but I know things won’t be all that we hope them to be until our baby, our little blue dasher, our precious, precious Bronner is in our arms again.
Thank you, God, for grace and mercy and hope, and thank you, God, that you have given us a glimpse of heaven in a child named Bronner. Thank you for all you’ve taught us through it all. Thank you for focusing our eyes on what they should be focused on, the unseen, the heavenly, the eternal. Thank you for showing us that we're only on a pilgrimage, strangers and exiles on the earth, and for helping us to desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Thank you for helping us seek our true homeland.
As Joni Eareckson Tada asked, “How can I miss a place I’ve never been? But I do. I miss heaven.” I understand, sweet sister. I understand. Thank you, God, for preparing for us a city and for very great and precious promises.
Yes, we have so, so much to look forward to, and without the loss of my sweet Bronner, I’m not sure I would have ever seen things the way I see them now, and, possibly, nor would you have. All that I’ve learned through this horrific event in my life I have felt from the beginning is meant to be shared. God has a message in all of this, the dragonflies, the comfort our family received from the body of Christ, the unity of the church as demonstrated through its mourning of a most precious child, the revelations given through the whispers of the Holy Spirit impressed upon our hearts in the stillness after the storm, dreams of heaven, of Bronner and of messages to the church from God, all of it is meant not just for Rick and me, but for all of us, the church. Let’s learn together, friends, of God’s character and grace and love, even in the most unlikely of places.
With love and gratitude,