Living on a Life Principle

On days when disappointment wants first place in my heart, when I’m homesick for my out of state kids and grandkids, when the thumb on my left hand protests every move and old songs make me teary, there is an old principle that my Aunt Naomi gave me a long time ago.

“When I was discouraged or down in the dumps and wanted to give up,” she told me, “Monnie would tell me to find someone to do something for before I felt sorry for myself.”  She was inclined to obey him, no matter what she may have been personally feeling, and it not only changed her attitude, but the involvement of this “Yankee”  in the lives of the people of Florida gave her a place that caused them to forget that she was ever an outsider.

Sometimes I feel sorry for a young Naomi Yoder – a thousand miles from her parents, siblings and the familiar, a young mother who left behind a tiny grave in the Greenwood Mennonite Church cemetery, making her way in a culture when the first response to the northerners was mistrust in the least and malice in the fore. But LIFE proved what she was worth , and it also showed the rest of us that JOY is a matter of choice. (And people are drawn to a happy person who wants to love on them!)

And so, today, a batch of bread rising in my kitchen, hard boiled eggs for deviled eggs and a pretty jello salad in a vintage Tupperware mold –

these things bring me joy and remind me to look out instead of in.  There are many things right in my world, and there are plenty of people to love.

I’m going to go looking!

And so this Delaware Grammy is encouraging her reluctant heart to give grateful praise.

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Family Recipes and Happy Memories

Last week on My Sweet Mama’s family group, Wertlink, my cousin, Marie got to talking about a Carrot Cake Recipe that had been given to her by our Aunt Alma Jean.  Aunt Alma Jean was a Home Economics teacher, having gotten her college degree in that field and she was known to have some really terrific recipes.  Some of the stories told about this particular Carrot Cake and its powers to enthrall those who were given a sample caused me to greatly desire the recipe.  There were memories of a Carrot Cake from somewhere in my childhood that have never been duplicated in the years since, and my interest was piqued.

So I wrote to her and asked her if she would mind sharing the recipe.  She was more than agreeable to that, and by return e-mail I got the recipe.  But along with the recipe, she also sent a link to a carrot grater that she said was the best kind to use.

Grater

That grater looked so familiar my heart felt a strange twist.  My Sweet Mama had one that looked a LOT like that one, but I don’t remember ever using it for anything.  And I suspect that when we went through things after she died, that it may have been disposed of.  At least I have no idea where it went.  The thing is, I struggle mightily whenever I need to grate anything that can’t be grated on my trusty potato grater, and when Marie said that this was the best grater to use to make the carrots fine enough for the best texture for this cake, I decided that I was going to find one and buy it.  It looked pretty vintage to me, so I decided that I would start with Ebay.  I found one, alright.  For $64.00.  Well, that wasn’t going to cut it.  Or grate it.  So I turned to trusty Amazon.  Sure enough there were a number of them on that exchange, ranging from $12 and up.  The one that really took my eye, though, was stainless steel.  I could put it into the dishwasher, I wouldn’t need to worry about it rusting, it was less that $20, and I promptly ordered it.  “Isn’t it beautiful???” (She asks the dedicated cooks among us.)

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It came through in the usual record time, for which I was grateful because I had decided that I was going to make Carrot Cake for our 5th-Sunday-Hymn-Sing-Dinner-On-The-Grounds-Potluck that our church has every time there is a 5th Sunday in the month! Usually I make a double layer, Devil’s Food, “straight from the box” Cake with chocolate butter cream frosting, but I wanted to do something different this time.

So, Saturday, I brought out my new grater, got some carrots ready for grating, and lured Love Bug into helping me.  She grated until she got skin into it and then lost interest.  Not that I blame her, you understand, there is nothing so disconcerting as grating your finger when you are trying to be all industrious and helpful.  It’s bad enough when you’re 65, but when you are almost ten years old it’s insulting and painful and discouraging.  Middle Daughter took over for a bit, then, and I finally finished.  This recipe calls for 3 cups of grated carrots, and let me tell you, that’s a lot of grating.  It’s also enough carrots that I’m inclined to call this cake a vegetable because it has to be healthy, what with all those raw carrots in it.

Once I got the carrots finished, I got the pans ready before starting the cake.  Again, Marie had suggested that I use parchment paper on the bottom as well as buttering and flouring the sides of the pans.  So I got that all ready and then I mixed up the cake.  When I was all done, I looked back over the recipe to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, and realized that the recipe (as given) hadn’t called for any vanilla.  H-m-m-m-m-m.  I didn’t want to miss anything, so I decided to double check.  I knew that Marie was on a Spring Break trip with her husband, Kirk Vedevelt, and their two children, so I decided to call Aunt Alma Jean down in Harrisonburg, VA.  I was looking for an excuse to call her, anyhow, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Aunt Alma Jean wasn’t sure where her copy of the recipe was, but she allowed as she would put vanilla into it anyhow, whether it called for it or not, and so I put a teaspoon in, and then got my three pans of carrot cake into the oven while I had a wondrously good conversation with my Auntie.  Soon after we finished talking, it was time for my deliciously aromatic cake to come out of the oven, and I brought it out and put it on cooling racks to get cool.  I made a double batch of the icing, and set it into the freezer to chill a bit while the three layers finished cooling.  Then I iced the cake and tucked it into the fridge to await the morning.  (This was so the three layers would stay three layers instead of becoming a sideways, slippery mess).

We were celebrating the 70th birthday of fellow church member, Robert Miller along with our potluck on Sunday, and I had’t even thought about the fact that there would be lots of cake at the dinner, but when I realized it, I began making plans for any left over cake  There was to be a “Grandma Night” at Jesse and Christina’s house, and I suddenly knew that I wouldn’t need to make anything special.  I was going to take this Carrot Cake that was already gaining rave reviews from the few people who sampled it!

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(It looks like there is raw carrot spilling out of this cake, but it’s truly just the coloring of the picture.  The actual color of the cake was an even, light brown, and that is just the way the cake crumbled– and I could get it to look right, no matter how many times I took the picture!)  Anyhow!

So when evening came, Certain Man and I hauled the cake, along with some leftover Sweet Tea up the road to the Big Bontrager House On Shawnee Road where the family of Mark and Alene Yoder were gathering for the evening.  And there, the now Famous Aunt Alma Jean’s Carrot Cake was further decimated and pronounced “The BEST Ever” by more than one of those there.  Our numbers were a little slim, due to other obligations and constraints, but it was, nonetheless, a very nice group and a very sweet time together.  I wish I had gotten more pictures, but I did grab a few, and will try to get more the next time (which we hope won’t be too far out).  Here are several for you to enjoy

(And because I know that someone is going to ask, here is the recipe:

Aunt Alma Jean’s Best Ever Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups salad oil
4 eggs well beaten
2 tsp soda
2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp  ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped pecans
3 cups grated carrots
1 tsp. vanilla (if you are so inclined.  I hear it is really good without it, too!)
Mix sugar and salad oil together
Add well beaten eggs and mix well
Combine rest of ingredients and stir in.
Add pecans and grated carrots and mix well.
Bake in 3 / 9” cake pans at 325 degrees or 350 degrees for 30 -40 mins.
  Icing:
1 box 10x sugar
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 stick oleo or butter
1 tsp. of either lemon or vanilla (I used vanilla, at Aunt A.J.’s advisement)
(For a 3-layer cake, I made a double batch, but I had a bit left over)And now, on this chilly Monday morning, there is so much to be grateful for.  While there are always things happening in my life and the lives of people I love that can occupy my head and heart and prayers, there are also things to think about that make me glad.  I made a Carrot Cake that has My Sweet Mama’s Family History wrapped all around it!  (Thank you, Marie, for this splendid recipe). The tax preparation is finished and at the accountant’s office.  (Thank you, Harry Papaleo for making our annual visit to your office a meeting of friends when we can laugh and talk about more than just taxes).  Certain Man and I had breakfast with our two local girlies, Christina and Deborah, (some of my favorite people!) and this day has nothing more pressing than paperwork for the State of Delaware, laundry, and (if I’m really motivated) going through some more things in my quest to simplify and downsize this old farmhouse.My heart gives gladsome, humble, grateful praise.

 

 

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Patterns of Sunshine

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We sit in Dr. Varipapa’s office, Blind Linda and I.  It was time for her six month checkup and this was the date I agreed upon last fall.  For some reason, it went longer than the six months, but it still rolls around too quickly.

Blind Linda sits in her transport chair.  She has complained about almost everything this morning, but now, we are sitting still and the atmosphere is not wracked with noise.  No squalling babies, rambunctious children, spatting spouses or loudly streaming office music.  She sits quietly and there is a gentle companionship in the silence.

I look across the floor to where the sunshine is spilling in, and the cheery brightness calls to me.  If there was a way, I would hug it to my chest.  There’s been so little of it this year.  Across the room, there is a woman swinging her feet like a pendulum gone berserk, but she is quiet.  I smile at her and she smiles back. This is a neurologist’s office.  Most of the people here aren’t here for the fun of it. I wonder if she is a patient or if she is waiting on someone.  There is a plethora of people here, all silent today.  There are the aged, and the middlers  and the young.  The thing that gets to me the most are the very young – the toddlers and the babies.  There are so many neurological issues on every economic scale, and I wonder at the courage and hope and love that are within these walls.

I look at BL’s hands, twisted on her lap,  Her head is down, and she sometimes taps her foot impatiently.  She hates going to the doctor.  She hates any upset to her carefully laid out routines.  She hates to be hurried.  She hates going out in the cold.  She hates to wait. On this particular morning, she’s had hearty aberrations in all areas of preference.  I think about life for her and the comforting patch of sunshine on the floor seems to stand in sharp contrast of all the things her life holds.

Blind Linda turned 70 this week.  Her entire life has been at the direction of people who make the rules, decide where she is going and when she is going.  She lives in darkness.  She lives with needs she cannot express.  She is dependent on the whims of a caregiver who, though I care very much, often has to guess at what she wants and what she needs and what is best to do for her.  I often think her grimaces and noises of protest are because she has pain – but I cannot prove it, and I am unable to say where it originates.  What would it be like to be her?  If only I could understand!

There are mysterious patterns crisscrossing the patch of light on the floor of the pleasant waiting room.  I think about the mysteries of life – “That shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain . . .”  (See link at the end of this post to hymn written by Adelaide Proctor, 1858, sung by Vision Quartet)  There have been a lot of shadows on our brightest hours over the last months.  I would be remiss to pretend those things haven’t affected us deeply, but there is the Light!  That comforting patch of light where the Sonbeams dance around the shadows, where the dust particles are transformed into glitter, where tears become prisms that can draw the focus away from the darkness.  If only I could understand!

But when I cannot understand; when I sit in God’s waiting room, wringing my hands and tapping my feet; when I’m blind to the beauty around me- then may the warmth of His Light, streaming through the windows of my soul, comfort me and distract me from my introspective sadness and turn my heart towards His Light and give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

And my heart gives grateful praise.

 

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A baby and A Story

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The manuscript lay on the kitchen counter where I had dropped it the day before.   That morning, I had dug an old file from a dusty box under the end table on my side of our bed.    I opened the file with an old name on it, and dug through the papers there.  I found what I was looking for, and I brought it down and wondered if I could bear to read it.

“I found Raynie – I mean Freddie’s Story,” I told Certain Man, dozing in his chair.

He opened his eyes, and the hope was written all over his face.  “Really???”

“Really.  It’s hard to read because of the typewriter,” I said.  “But I think I can make it out.”

Later, in the quiet of my chair, I read the story from beginning to end and the tears slid down my cheeks in rivers as I remembered.  I lived the memories all over again, some of which I had honestly forgotten the specifics, some that I remembered differently than they had actually happened, but reading it made me remember as clearly as if it was yesterday.  Later that day, Certain Man devoured every word of the single spaced, over  eight page document, and I saw him wiping tears as well.

This Story.  Our Story.  His Story.

The story is of a call late one night on May 31, 1978 that brought us a ten week old baby boy who was “our baby” until his second birthday.

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The night he came to our house.

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Probably my favorite picture of our little man.  1 Year old

The parting was wrenching to our little family, and there were days I thought I could not bear the grief.  We sent a photo album with him when he left, and in the weeks that followed his adoption, I worked feverishly to write His Story for him about the important days that he spent with our family on a little farm in rural Ohio.  My typewriter didn’t want to work right, and my heart was breaking.  I had to be careful not to use the name that we knew him as, and the new name took concentration to be sure to get it right each time.  It felt like the new name somehow flew in the face of the reality of the almost 22 months that we loved him.  Where had our baby gone?  I finished it, though, and got a copy made and sent the case manager the original to pass on to his adoptive parents.  We had one or two messages after he was adopted, via his case manager, but then things went silent and we never heard from him again.

Then last summer, I was trying yet again to find him.  I knew his legal name, and had done some sleuthing before, but had never found him.  Then I came across a Facebook profile that almost had to be him.  I hesitated some time, but finally, in August, sent him a friend request and a message explaining who I was.

There was no response.  I didn’t want to offend or rush him, so I decided to wait.  Then in early February, I noticed that he had accepted my friend request.  H-m-m-m-m-m!  I decided to wait a bit longer to see if there was any more movement on his part.  Then when I posted the Valentine’s Day post about Certain Man’s and my day, I noticed that he reacted to it.  I also saw that he was still active on Facebook at that very time, so I took a chance and messaged him again.

This time, he responded.

I don’t know what to say, I am so humbled and grateful! I have taken this long to reply because I simply don’t know where to start. First, thank you! I had these vivid memories of a man with a beard that I could simply not account for growing up. When I initially read your post I immediately knew it to be true. I would love to meet you and your family in person and thank you for the care you gave me at such a critical time in my life. I wasn’t aware that I was adopted until well into adulthood when my adoptive father was literally on his deathbed. I also just found my biological family four years ago. There is so much I would love to share with you and find out about your life. I have read just about all of your blogs and feel like I know a little bit about you and your kind family, yet I have so many questions. I look forward to learning about you and your family and of course my time with you. Please tell your husband I said hello and I look forward to re-meeting you both soon.

Of course that started a correspondence that filled in a lot of gaps for us as well as for him and it also prompted my looking for his story to copy off and send to him.

It was this copy that was lying on the kitchen table when Middle Daughter came in.  She picked it up and read it.  “What are you going to do with it, Mama?” she asked.

“I’m sending it to Raynie – or, I mean, Freddie Lee,” I answered.

She hesitated a bit then said, “Aren’t you going to ‘fix it’ a little?  Like correct the misspellings and mistakes that you have in it?”

“I didn’t plan to,” I said.  “I just thought I would send it like it is.”

“But there are mistakes,” insisted my grammar police daughter.  “I just think that you would want to correct the errors and stuff . . .”

“No, Deborah, I don’t . . . ”  I thought a bit about why I felt so strongly and then I said, “You know Deborah, when I read that story, I see a 26 year old woman whose heart is breaking, and I feel a deep sadness for her.  The typing was on an old typewriter, and it was difficult for her to write.  I somehow feel like it needs to be just the way it is.  If I write it up for a blog or something sometime, I will at least correct the mistakes, but for now, that was how it was.  That was what I wrote.  That is what I’m going to send.”

And so I did.

This is only one chapter of the story.  Lord willing, there will be more chapters for which his family and our family can write paragraphs together, but even if that doesn’t happen, there is much to be grateful for.  There are questions that have been answered.  Life has been a journey for him, to be sure, but I’m so grateful to God for watching over “our baby”  while we could not.  I’m sure there are parts of the story that will hurt my heart, as well as much that will make it sing.  But what I hear most of all ringing down these almost 40 years is “Amazing Grace,”  and the sound of it is sweet.

And my heart gives humble grateful praise.

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Love and Old Valentines

Last week, as all of you know, was Valentine’s Day. This day has always held a special place in my heart as it was when A Certain Young Man and A Certain Young Woman had their first date. (If you wish, you can reference that story here: https://maryannyutzy.com/2007/02/14/943/   
— but even though that’s a funny story, it isn’t this story.)

So last week was extremely full. Certain Man had things to do in his chicken house, he had things to ponder about church. He had a sermon to prepare, and he was not thinking at all about Valentine’s Day. So it was that Valentine’s Day slipped up on him. Not only did he not order his usual flowers for his wife, he also didn’t even think about ordering the flowers for his daughters, in the order of his yearly tradition.

Last Thursday dawned, and nary a word was spoken about it being Valentine’s Day. It was Bible Study morning, and because of other considerations, we were meeting at the Big Bontrager House on Shawnee Road for our weekly lesson. Sometime during the course of the morning, Middle Daughter muttered to me quietly, “Do you think Dad forgot flowers this year?” She looked a bit embarrassed and then said quickly, “I mean, he doesn’t have to get me flowers, he has done so much for me this year, but I just wondered if he decided not to do it this year, I mean, he always does!

“I don’t know,” I said back to her. “He hasn’t said anything to me about it, but I’m pretty sure he will be getting you flowers. I’m not sure what he’s going to do about Rachel, though. She has Rob to get her flowers for Valentine’s Day, so maybe he isn’t getting her any, but I’m sure he will get you some. They might be there when you get home today.”

When Bible Study was over, we decided to go to lunch with Certain Man, and as everybody was going into the restaurant, I held back a little and whispered to Certain Man, “Did you get the girls flowers for Valentine’s Day?”

He looked like he was aggravated with himself. “I plumb forgot until this morning,” he said, “But I took care of it. I called Lem, and he said he would get Rachel’s for her (you need to Venmo him the money) and I ordered Deborah’s, and she’ll get hers tomorrow.” Okay then. The girls were taken care of, and knowing my man the way I do, I suspected that I would “get mine tomorrow” as well.

The day passed pleasantly and Friday dawned bright and clear. I had lots of plans for that day, but then we remembered that we were to go to lunch in Georgetown with two of CM’s friends from the plumbing department at Sussex County. Before we left, Certain Man left “to pick up Deborah’s flowers” at the Beaver’s Branch, our local florist shop. He soon returned. carrying a lovely arrangement for me as well. A few years ago, I begged him to skip the roses and bring me carnations instead. They were all he could afford back years ago when he first brought me flowers, and I honestly prefer them. They last longer, they have such nice color and I have all those memories tied up in this flower. Besides, they are a whole lot cheaper!

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As you can imagine, I was tickled pink with this  arrangement, and I sincerely hoped that he could tell that I was.  The mood was sweet, and conversation was pleasant.  We got ready and left for Georgetown and had a good-humored and amicable ride.  We pulled up into the parking lot beside the restaurant where we were to meet our friends, and I was finishing a message to someone on my phone.  Certain Man got out and strode purposefully around the front of the Mini-van.

“Well, I’ll be!” I thought delightedly, watching him out of the corner of my eye.  “He’s gonna’ come around and open the door for me!” 

But then, about the time he got across the front of the car to the right fender, he stopped.  He seemed to be looking at something across the parking  lot to his left, where a new motel was being built. 

“He’s just distracted a bit,” I thought, and I dropped my phone into my purse and zipped it shut, smoothed my skirt and looked to see if he was coming.

He wasn’t.  He was just sanding there, looking at the new motel.

I decided that it was probably in my best interest to get on out and get on with our trek, so I opened the door and he looked over from his perusal of the construction.  I couldn’t help it.  I had to say something.

“I thought you were coming over to open my door,” I said, laughing.

He looked surprised, then immediately contrite.  “I’m sorry!” He said, falling all over his words, “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t thinking, I should have -“

“It’s okay, Daniel,” I told him, laughing at his discomfiture.  “It’s really okay! I can get myself out of the car.”

And it really was okay.  I was thinking about it later, and about what love really is.  What love looks like after 45 years of being married and what it’s all about.  Is it really a man opening a car door while you wait for him to do it?  I mean, REALLY???

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing anyone who feels that this is a necessary expression of love.  I’m not saying they are wrong, but I’ve been thinking about all the ways this Certain Man says “love” to me and our family that has nothing to do with opening doors or even buying flowers.

Love is getting milk for our family every single time it’s needed, without being asked, or even being told that it’s needed. He never complains, he never looks for praise.  He just does it.  

Love is making sure there is a supply of pellets at the top of the ramp for our ever hungry pellet stove on these cold days.  Love is carrying those 40 pound bags in and putting them into the stove so that it doesn’t run out – and so I don’t need to carry them – at least not usually.


Love is building things in his workshop for his adult children, answering questions over the phone about plumbing and giving practical advice that works.  Love is pulling on his shoes and jacket to run up the road to help with a project at the BBH. (Big Bontrager House)  Love is respecting our Offspringin’s as adults, loving them as individuals, and loving the people they have chosen to love and loving the grandchildren that have come into our lives.  

Love is filling the bird feeders that I love so much.  It’s bringing the filled laundry basket down to the laundry room the night before laundry day.  It’s carrying the same basket, filled with folded laundry as well as the “hang up clothes” back up once the laundry is done.  It’s clearing the table and putting away the leftovers after a meal.  It’s making his own lunch when I’m not feeling well.  It’s giving me support in the things that he knows are important to me and giving me space to be myself.  I have always known that there are men out there who would have been extremely unhappy if they were married to me (That’s okay, I don’t particularly like them, either!) but there is a Certain Man who makes me feel cherished, protected and loved – and like he’s happy to be married to me.  

We’ve been married a long time.  We are both 65.  I look back on the years since we married at 19 and a deep sense of gratitude for what we’ve been allowed to enjoy all these years nearly overwhelms me.  There have been hard times.  Relationships are costly in terms of self-will and pride and personal space and compromise.  There will always be a lot of giving up and giving in and letting go and forgiving if a marriage is to thrive.  And that is what we’ve always wanted.  We are certainly not perfect, and maybe not even always healthy, but we didn’t want to just survive. We wanted to thrive.

We burned the ships, and my heart gives grateful praise.(Listen to Steve and Annie Chapman sing, “The Ships are Burning.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7wwNOZzGXM  

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The Noise of Something Breaking

I turned over in comfort of our warm bed.  There was unusual early morning brightness  when I tugged up my east window shade.  I stretched and put the one above my head up as well and saw the full moon hanging high above the shop roof.  It was strangely luminous in the beginning light of the approaching dawn.

It was freezing cold.  So cold that I had called DART and cancelled Blind Linda’s ride to Easter seals.  It was just too cold for anyone to be out unless it was an emergency.  That meant that I didn’t need to get up nearly as early on this Monday morning.  Certain Man and I had caught the Lunar Eclipse the night before and bedtime had been after its 12:12a peak.  The wind was whipping through the trees and around the corners of our bedroom with a wild savagery and it was so nice to just burrow in.

But then my ears caught the sound of something breaking.  It sounded significant.  Certain Man was already up, and I figured he was able to handle anything that happened, but this sound so impressive that I got out of bed and went to the top of the stairs to see if anything of importance could be seen or discerned.  All was quiet, so I did a quick morning brush up to our bedroom, grabbed my clothes and went down stairs.  I was totally unprepared for what greeted me there.

My beloved husband was kneeling in front of our hearth, and before him on the rug was a heap of rubble.  Wood and ceramic and glass in an impressive jumble.  He had a trash can and was methodically picking it up.

“What in the world is that?” I asked, my heart in my throat.

“A clock,” he said, in a voice that sounded strange.

“What happened?  Which one?  Oh, Daniel!”

“The joints gave way, I guess,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.  “What joints?  Did you fall?”

“No, no.  Not my joints.  The clock’s joints.”  All the while he was picking up the pieces.  “It’s one of the heavy clocks.  One of the marble ones.”

“Oh, no,” I said.  “Was it one of the family ones – the one from your Mom’s family?”  I held my breath because that particular clock is among his favorites.

“No,” he said, a bit ruefully.  “But it was the first one I got.  The one that Donnie Murphy gave me way back when I first started getting interested.  I was putting it back on the mantel and I was holding it by the sides, turning it around to set it on the side where it usually sits, and suddenly it all dropped off, leaving me with just the top of it in my hands.  I’ve never seen anything be so completely destroyed!  Everything is in pieces!”

When we decorate for Christmas, we clear the mantel of everything so that we can put our favorite large manger scene there.  It takes up the whole mantel, and is worthy of the space.  But when we took down the manger scene last week, the spot remained bare for the ensuing days while we moved Middle Daughter to her new home, Ambleside Cottage.  She was finally officially moved on Saturday, and then yesterday we had church and lunch guests and the day was gone before we got anything else done.  I guess that this morning seemed like a good time for him to start returning his beloved clocks to their usual spots.

This clock has been one of his more dependable clocks, keeping time and chime with almost no maintenance.  I remember when Donnie realized that Daniel was interested in old, wind up clocks and had brought it to him from his own collection.  I recalled how hard Donnie had worked on it to make it beautiful, fashioning missing pieces to replicate corresponding parts when he couldn’t find the exact fit from other clocks.  He carefully painted them to match, and a casual observer would not have even thought about it.  I remember his half bashful smile at Daniel’s delight in this antique timekeeper, given so generously by a neighbor who was a friend.  There was a sick feeling in my stomach as I looked at the dwindling pile of jumbled clock pieces.

“We are going to need to get the sweeper,” Certain Man said, jolting me back to the present, and I went to fetch our trusty Electrolux.  I swept up the small parts scattered on the rug and felt like crying.  Certain Man took his trash can out to the dumpster and came back in carrying the empty container and put it back where it belonged.

“It is just a clock,” he said,  a bit sadly.

“Yes,” I said.  “It is just a clock, but it’s been such a good clock, and we have so many good memories associated with it.  I feel really sad . . . ”  I paused a bit, then went on.  “I feel really sad, but I do feel glad about one thing –”

“That it was me and not you?” put in Certain Man, a little too quickly.  He wasn’t laughing.

“Yes,” I admitted.  “I feel really sad that it happened, but I’m so glad that it wasn’t me or anyone else responsible.  Was there nothing at all that you could salvage?”

“It’s in so many pieces,” he said.

“What about the works?” I persisted.  “Could there be any parts that John could use?” (This would be John Murray – his clock repairman of It’s About Time clock repair)

“Oh, I kept the works, including the pendulum,” he said.  “I might be able to build something to house it, or we can maybe find a housing for them.”

And that was pretty much the end of our conversation about the clock.  He fetched two other clocks to put on the mantel and I rehung a big picture that has been languishing in the study since early December.  There are plenty of things to occupy my hands on this cold January day but to tell the truth, I’ve been languishing a bit myself.

And all day I’ve been thinking about that noise I heard.  The sound of something breaking.  I’ve thought about how when we hear something breaking, it stops everything until we find out what it is.  Think about hearing something splintering into an irreparable mess in the grocery store several aisles over.   Or the noise of a glass shattering in a restaurant, or the noise of something calamitous in the kitchen of the same restaurant.  Several weeks ago, in my very own kitchen, there was the sound of a great breakage when a stack of serving bowls slid off the second shelf.  The noise was impressive, and five of my big bowls were suddenly gone.  The sound of something breaking is unmistakable.

But not always.

The sound of a heart breaking is not something that can be heard with our fickle, selfish, over stimulated ears that are so full of the noise of this world.  And even if we could, would we want to be bothered?

This I pray for myself, and for the rest of us who believe:

“May God give us the ability to hear with our hearts.  May the sound of a heart breaking be as attention getting as a the smashing of a crystal bowl on a tile floor.  May we mourn the pieces of the shattered heart even as we are motivated to pick them up and bind them up and comfort the wounded.  May the good, good memories remind us that every heart is worth saving, and that the Healer of Broken Hearts has a plan for the pieces.

And may we never give up on anyone’s brokenness.

Not even our own.

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Saturday Evening in ACE Hardware.

It was Saturday evening.  I had a prescription to pick up for BL, and the pharmacy was closing at 5.  I decided that it was high time to run by and fetch it when the clock in our kitchen said 4:37 or some such unbelievable time.  The day had been shortened by computer projects that I felt needed doing and food prep for the morrow when we were expecting dinner guests and working on projects for my Sunday school class of intermediates.

“I’d better be going,” I said to Certain Man, collapsed on his favorite chair in the living room.  He had worked hard in the morning, and now his Beloved Buckeyes were playing and there was no telling what he might miss if he didn’t watch!  I truly don’t mind.  If ever a man “earns” the right to watch a football game, it’s that man of mine!

He looked up briefly.  “I’m gonna be right here.  I don’t have anywhere else to go today except the chicken house.”

“That’s good,” I said, “but Linda has been fed and pottied and she is in her chair listening to music, so she should be fine until I get back.”

“Whatever,” he commented briefly, smiled at me and went back to his game.  And I went out the door.

I happen to love Kent Pharmacy here in Milford.  It opened beside ACE Hardware, and has a gift shop on one side that is interesting and unique.  Melissa and Doug toys for children, books and décor and games and cards and baby items and journals and – you name it!  Going in there intrigues me, and when I pick up prescriptions, even if there is only a short time, I like detour over there and peruse the shelves and selections.  I was talking to Youngest Daughter when I pulled in, so I continued the conversation while I looked about the store.  Suddenly I realized that one of the managers was giving a worker the freedom to leave and they would close up because “it’s just about time!”  In which case, I hurried my paltry selections to the counter, and checked out.  Mike, the usual manager and my friend was not there.  The assistant manager went to the window and unplugged the “Open” sign.  I felt a little disgruntled and put upon.  I really had planned to be out of there before closing.

“It’s only 4:58!” I sniffed, as I left the store and got into my car. “I’m pretty sure that Mike would not approve of this!”  I thought about it some more and decided that the pharmacist needed to be home for something urgent as did the staff, and that I would just let it go.  At least I got the much needed prescription.  That felt really good! No worries about how to procure a script when the pharmacy is closed and I’m too late, (once again!) and feeling so desperate and helpless.  Oh, well, there were several errands yet to run, I might just as well get on with it.

I ran the minivan through the parking lot, over to ACE Hardware, parked and trundled myself inside.  It was a gorgeous day, and I hesitated a minute right inside the door to ponder whether I needed a cart or not.  I decided I did.  In the distance I heard a somewhat familiar voice, “Hey, there, Ms. Mary Ann!”  I jerked my head around and there was a tall black guy with a most familiar face.  “How are you doin’?”

My mind scrambled for how I knew him, and then the young man beside him turned and I saw his face.  It was Sensei and Jeffy.  My heart nearly stopped.  Jeff was taller – probably taller than I am, and built like a linebacker.  I fumbled with the straps on my purse while I was getting a cart, but couldn’t take my eyes off of Jeff.

“Come over here,” I said to him across the space.  “Can I please have a hug?”

He looked uncertain, and looked at Sensei for direction.

“Go on over there,” I heard his stepdad say.  “Go on over there to Ms. Mary Ann!’

He came hesitantly, like he didn’t quite trust me, and then he was in a tight hug like he was eight years old instead of the standoffish 14 or 15 he must be by now.  I could feel him hug me back – a little tenuously, but then, yes! Just a bit!  (I didn’t even think of the fact that I might be embarrassing him.  Poor Jeff.  I’m pretty sure he isn’t accustomed to being hugged by old ladies in public, no matter what the history is.)

In the back of my consciousness, I heard a voice saying, “Yes, that’s Mrs. Yutzy!  That’s her!”  I looked behind me to see a neighbor couple making their way towards me across the front of the store.  I knew I needed to acknowledge them, but there was Jeff!  I wanted to talk to him!

“Oh, Jeff!  I’ve missed you so much!  How are you doing?  Do you still live at the same old place?  What are you doing?  Are you playing football this year?”  The questions tumbled out as fast as I could form them.  There were thousands that I couldn’t begin to ask.  The neighbor couple pushed in and I spoke to them briefly and asked if I could please talk to Sensei and Jeff – and that I would just be a minute.  And they were gracious.

I turned back to Jeff and tried to pick up the conversation, but the window felt closed.  “How are you doing, Jeff?  How is the rest of your family?”

Of course these kids are always “fine,” and I had to be okay with that.  I looked at his eyes, tried to catch a glimpse of the little boy I once knew so well and loved, but there was nothing there to remind me of the fire that once betrayed his inner torment.  It was hard for him to meet my eyes.  He seemed unwilling to engage in more conversation, but his stepfather wanted my number before they left (because he had lost it, he said) and then they were gone.

Seeing that they were leaving, my neighbors, who are my friends, eagerly stepped up and their presence and words drew my attention away from the two departing figures, one of which was carrying a part of my heart, though he was totally unaware.

It’s a funny thing, how a conversation can cover the gamut of life in its importance to another person and how hard it can be to listen when your mind is fresh from a chance encounter with a person who dropped mysteriously out of your life years ago, and now suddenly reappears, awaking memories and emotions that you had forgotten were even there.  That was the case in this moment, and I forced myself into the present, into the words and facial expressions of my friends, reminding myself that I didn’t have to agree to be gracious; didn’t have to convince them of my opinion when it clashed with theirs in ways I view important; didn’t have to even nod my head when my heart was shouting “No!!!” I can, however, be accepting of them as people.  I can remember that it is their life experiences that have brought them to where they are.  I can smile.  I can listen.  I can engage on common ground. I can extend grace where the ground is so uneven, I will trip if I’m not watching.

And so, while my heart was following a big, disheveled teenager to God knows where, I brought myself back into this moment, this place – at the front doors of ACE Hardware on a Saturday afternoon in early November.  This is where I’m called right now.  This is what I must do.  A long time ago I chose to believe that God had impressed upon my heart that He would bring into my life the people whose lives He wanted to touch through my insignificant basket of five small loaves and two small fishes, and while I will humbly admit that I do not always want to be involved, don’t always want to share, and sometimes I would rather it be this person instead of that person, yet I serve an incredibly magnificent God, and He has never failed me.  I do not get it right all the time.  I do not even pretend to get it right half the time, but I am going to keep trying with what I’ve got in my basket.

I don’t know what is in your basket.  I don’t know what God has called you to give, to do or where to go, but this I do know.  I’ve not been called to tell you what your calling is, nor do I want to.  I only know that my hands are full enough with what I feel are my opportunities that I cannot waste emotional energy or time on the bickering or counterclaims or the lingering political raucous clamoring.  So please don’t ask me what I think.  Please don’t try to draw me in.  I will never be deliberately rude or dishonest, but I will be very quiet.  For some, that’s not acceptable – or even Christian!

And to that I have only this to say:

I forgive you for feeling that way.
Please forgive me for feeling the way I do.

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