I first met Jana Alayra at a Mom’s Ministry lunch earlier this year.  Jana is a popular Christian singer/song writer, a rock-star in the world of children’s worship music. She started off her talk with singing a few songs, one dedicated to her mother, one about meeting with your girlfriends over coffee.  Easy-breezy, beautiful music. Then… Jana opened her heart about the failure of her marriage, which blew up with the revelation of her husband’s infidelity with another woman from church — a woman who was one of Jana’s best friends.  And how Jana rebuilt her life with her young daughters.  This heartbreak and this redemption, I thought, this was the story. I was in no way prepared for the story to follow.

As I watched the screen from my seat in the middle of the room, Jana continued with her story and flashed a photo of three happy girls crowded around a slender hand newly adorned with a diamond ring.  Her eldest daughter had just gotten engaged.  4 daughters, but only 3 girls in the photo. As soon as I saw the photo, I realized where this story was going. I made my way to the back of the room.

On Memorial Day weekend, 1996, a van carrying a mother, baby-sitter and three young children from Irvine was broadsided as it emerged from the Foothill Transportation Corridor toll road Saturday afternoon, killing a 4-year-old girl and sending others to the hospital.

That mother was Jana.  That 4-year-old was Jana’s daughter, Lynnie.

With tears streaming down my face, I sat there and listened to this mother tell her harrowing tale of the terrifying accident. Of turning around to look into the backseat, of seeing her child’s face, and knowing that Lynnie was gone.  Honestly, I don’t remember Jana’s next few words.  I was feeling her pain and feeling my pain, all over again. So I don’t remember the next part of her talk. But I do remember the end.  “It breaks my heart to not see her every day. But, I know I will be with Lynnie again some day in heaven.  And in my house, in the middle of my house, in a spot on a wall that we have to pass whenever we want to get anywhere, we hang a piece of artwork made by Lynnie. Whenever I pass it, I touch it, I tap it.  I tap it, and I say, ‘Five minutes.  This life is just like five minutes.  Five minutes, Lynnie, until I see you again.’ ”

So, sometimes, when I am overwhelmed, when I have no idea how the hell I am supposed to go on without Dragon, I think of Jana.  When I turn around and see the empty seat on the side of the car that was Dragon’s, I think of Jana and say to myself, “Five minutes. I just have to wait five more minutes.” I think of how Jana has rebuilt her life with love and with faith.  I think of the rock solid knowledge she possesses that she will see Lynnie again. And I know that that faith is part of what gets her through the day.

My friend, Mina, said that watching me live through this is like watching me run a marathon.  “We all want to help you,” she said.  “We see how hard it is, we see how much it takes out of you, and we want to help you. We can run along side you, hand you water, encourage you when you want to quit, pick you up when you fall. But we can’t run it for you. As much as we want to, it’s something you’re having to do by yourself.”  She was right.  It’s a good analogy. It says a lot about both the solidarity and the community but also about the loneliness of this part of my race. But Jana shared with me last week another analogy that she heard from a friend who’s a runner, another mother who’s lost a daughter.

“Sometimes in the middle of a race, when you’re bone-tired and wanting to quit, you just have to watch the feet in front of you.  Watch the feet of the person ahead of you as she runs, and just follow that.  Your job is to just follow that.  It will keep you going.  You will finish the race.”

Sometimes, I just watch the feet in front of me, feet like Jana’s. I picture her in running shoes. Well worn Asics. It’s my job to just follow those feet, just keep up, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, again and again and again.  Chanting quietly to myself, “Five minutes, just five minutes,” as my feet hit the ground. Thanks, Jana, for letting me follow your feet.