Love. The bond that laces hearts together.
Is it confined to time and space, the here and now? Or does it reach beyond the confines of human comprehension, limitless in its ability to touch another?
Love, like life, can be hard to explain.
"We had a connection from the start," 23-year-old Bailey Jasper of Moses Lake, Wash., said as she reminisced about her dad. "I was always daddy's little girl. He called me his princess or twerp, depending on if he was being funny."
Their sweet father-daughter tie began the moment Bailey was born. Nearly strangled by the umbilical cord and her mother fighting for life in surgery, the new dad found himself fully caring for the fragile infant.
"My mom was so weak that she couldn't hold me," Bailey said, retelling the story of how it took months for her mom, Kim, to get back on her feet. "My daddy dressed me with my 'onesies' off one shoulder or backwards. I ended up in the funniest outfits!"
Calloused hard-working hands may not have been nimble with tiny snaps and buttons, but her father, Jan, skillfully adapted to caring for his newborn, her older sister and a wife whose health struggled.
Over time, life smoothed and those same hands were there to guide Bailey as she grew up.
"He didn't have that little boy, but I was both," said the Washington State University business student with a smile, recalling how her dad taught her how to fish, hunt, and operate construction equipment. "I could be wearing pink, but I was on that backhoe."
It was dad who trained her to drive a four-wheeler when she was little more than 3 years old. And it was dad who had his hand nearby when the teenager learned the "ins and outs" of road skills.
"When I got my license, he made me drive his truck and trailer into a neighborhood, and then made me back it up!" Bailey exclaimed, remembering the challenge the maneuver held. "Half of the stuff I learned back then I didn't understand. But now I use so much of what he taught me."
Sadly, her daddy isn't there to advise anymore. Jan died unexpectedly in the fall of 2013, a death that left Bailey undone, her life so intertwined with his.
"None of my friends have lost their parents, so it's hard for them to understand, especially how close my dad and I were - and my mom too." Bailey said with emotion. "If I wasn't with my friends, I was with my mom or dad."
But on the night of Jan. 31, Bailey was alone, the rural darkness enveloping her on the glistening highway that led home. Her Ford F-150 SVT Raptor illuminated the scene, its powerful headlamps and tailgate light bar penetrating the winter gloom. In the distance behind her, Bailey saw a vehicle rapidly approaching as she began to slow for her turn up ahead.
"I'm driving, checking my mirrors - my dad taught me to always use the mirrors," Bailey said, remembering how she wondered if it could be a police car and had she done something wrong. "When I looked in my right mirror, I was thinking he was going to pass ... and then I realized the car wasn't going to stop."
Moments before impact, Bailey's mom, asleep at home, awakened from a horrific nightmare.
"I was having a weird dream," Kim said, explaining how her "mama clock" typically wakes her when Bailey is due home from work. "In it I was calling my friends and saying, 'I can't go for coffee in the morning because Bailey has been in a car accident.' "
Fighting her way out of sleep, Kim had rolled to her side to check the bedside alarm. But as her eyes struggled to focus, the bad dream became sickeningly real. A drunken driver was speeding toward the rear of Bailey's truck at an estimated 80 mph.
"I heard the ripping, tearing metal - an awful sound," Kim said, tears welling at the memory. "And I looked up to God, 'Please not Bailey. Not our girl!' "
Inside the truck cab, her daughter held tightly to the wheel, the vehicle spinning from the horrific impact, her senses focused on the driving skills a father had taught well. And that's when she saw him at her side.
"From the second I got hit I could see my daddy in the passenger seat," Bailey said categorically, even the clarity of his Carhartt's and plaid shirt. "He was kind of leaning back and I felt the look in his eyes, 'You've got this, twerp, you've got this.' "
The sharp collision sent Bailey's Raptor spinning and then wildly flying into a rough field, the airbags not deploying. When she emerged from the totaled truck, Bailey said she "didn't have a scratch," and sent emergency care away.
But what Bailey did have from those frightening moments was an indelible memory of her father's presence - an experience that can't be explained.
"When the truck stopped, my daddy was gone," Bailey said.
But there in her hand lay her daddy's bootlace; a keepsake Bailey has treasured since his death.
Love. Perhaps it ties hearts together forever.
"All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever." I Corinthians 13:8 (LB)