It was a hot day in July. I remember because I really wanted a snow cone. I was 13 and awkward and had transition lenses but I still remember that day with clarity. I was at a youth group event with my best friend. My grandmother was late to pick me up, which never happened because she was always the first to arrive to everything. When she did arrive she grabbed me and said “She’s gone. But you’re going to be alright.”

That day, July 9, 2005, my mother left this world to receive her ultimate reward, to rid herself of a broken earthy body and gain a new, heavenly one.

And now it has been 13 years since that day.

I turned 26 back in April and now I have lived half my life with and half without the person who helped raise me and prepare me for this world full of disappointment.

But she didn’t raise me to sulk in self-pity, far from it. Nor did she teach me to focus on the disappointment of this life. She taught me to acknowledge that life throws surprises and hardships and to be always thankful for what we have and who we have. She showed me that strength of character is defined by how we face life’s obstacles and she taught me to raise my head high and accept life as it is, with dignity and grace. She taught me through her unwavering faith that everything, absolutely everything, in this world happens by design and is for the glory of God, who’s understanding is unfathomable from beginning to end. She had every reason to give up. But she didn’t. And neither will I. 

I was at an event recently where people shared personal stories centered around the theme “when life gives you lemons.” While I didn’t share a story that evening, I have been mulling it over in my head ever since.

Sometimes life gives us lemons. Sometimes life give us a lot of lemons. And sometimes life buries us in so many lemons that there is no way we could possibly get rid of all of them on our own. When life gives us that many lemons, we have no choice but to ask for help. But if we are too scared to do that, oftentimes people will come and take some of our lemons away for us, without even being asked to do so or for anything in return. That has been my experience with lemons, at least.

I knew my mom for 13 years and I am a product of her. But I am also just as much the product of the countless other people who have come into my life at exactly the right moments, who have helped shape me over the past 13 years and who have showed me the divine presence that has guided everything this whole time.

I am a product of the countless people who saw me buried in lemons, struggling to figure out what to do with them. They saw me and they saw a need to help and for that I will be forever grateful. It is in them that I saw my mom over the second half of my life, many of them acting like a “mom” to me when I needed one most. Others simply reminding me of her by their gentle spirits, love and humility. Others still by becoming the new friend, confidant and cheerleader that I once had in her.

It makes me sad to know that now my days with her will forever be less than those without her. Up until now I had known life longer with her in it than not and I will always carry the first 13 years of my life with me but they will stay the same as the past is final. The future isn’t promised, I have experienced that all too well, but I must continue. So much has happened over the latter half of my life, too much to mention now. But in essence it’s this: life isn’t easy or guaranteed, people come in and out of our lives for a reason and someday, maybe long after I’m gone, it will all be worth it. 

I think my grandmother would reply to that age-old lemon question with something like this: “If life hands you lemons you better get out the juicer and start separating some eggs ‘cause the merengue for this pie isn’t gunna whip itself. Life gives you lemons, make something with them. And add some sugar while you’re at it.”

I had no idea how my life would be turned upside-down and dumped out in every way possible on that hot day in July 13 years ago. But the free-falling pieces landed exactly where they were supposed to in a way more beautiful than anything I could have ever imagined.

She’s gone. But I’m alright now.