Monthly Archives: December 2015

A birthday Gift for Mama

The grief walks stealthily these days, pouncing at strange moments, catching me flatfooted and unprepared.  The mild, misty mornings and the green grass and blooming forsythia remind me that nothing is quite right this year.  The busy, busy days of before the holidays have given way to a welcome lull.  I’ve stirred around in my empty-ish house and worked at the paperwork for the State that has been accumulating for almost three months, and I’ve made an effort to think happy thoughts and to remember good memories, but I’ve cried quiet tears onto the torn tapestry of what is my life in this time and in this place.

They say that the holidays are the worst for missing people we love, and I know it’s true, having experienced the passing of Daddy at Christmas ten years ago, and now this, the first year without Mama.  Not only is it that she has participated with almost every Christmas Eve for thirty years, but Mama was born on January 1st.  For all of my 63 January firsts, it has carried the extra special connotation of my Sweet Mama’s birthday.  This year she would have been 87.  The thought of her birthday is dogging my days.

I wanted to go to her grave last night.  I had that terrible aching need to just talk to her, and even though I know she isn’t there, it’s still the place that works best for me when I need to talk to her.  Certain Man encouraged me to just drop everything and go, but the evening looked full enough that I thought it best not to.  My head told me that I could say anything over my sink full of dishes that I wanted to tell her and if she was going to hear, she could hear it as well here as she could if I was out there.

“Oh, Mama,” I whispered when there was no one to worry about the tears sliding down my face.  “I wish I could talk to you tonight.  I don’t have anything BIG or important or terrible or wonderful.  I just need to hear your voice, to have a place to talk comfortably, to tell you the things that I know you would be interested in, to have you cheer me on, to encourage and to remind me that it won’t always be this hard.  Whenever I was grieving, your love and concern always helped to hold me steady.  And your prayers for me were something that I counted on.”  That made me stop to consider the fact that Mama would care very deeply about this grief that I’m feeling over her death.

That was enough to make me thankful that where she is, there is no sadness, no coming back to our human emotions of grief and loss.  She’s There and it is light and joy and the very presence of God, and there is no more “death, neither sorrow, nor crying.” (Revelation 21:4)

She’s there, not saddened by the things that tug at our hearts.  Things like a great-grandchild picking up a Christmas ornament selected last summer from Grandma Yoder’s things.  She carried it to the couch where she cradled it lovingly and wept for the Grandma that always loved her, always played with her, always had time for her.

Or, Peppermint Bark Candy, on sale at Hallmark, always our signal to stock up so that she would have plenty in the months ahead when she couldn’t get it. I blink back my tears and walk on by.  I bought some before Christmas at regular price, just for the sake of the memories.  I don’t need any more.

That empty chair in our family’s Christmas celebration.  No one spoke about it, but I kept feeling the void.  And then I opened a gift from Deborah, and it was a lovely blue and white afghan, done in a familiar stitch.  My heart nearly burst when I heard her say, “I found this among Grandma’s things, Mama.  It was only begun, but I finished it for you so that you could have it.”  It’s soft and beautiful and I cannot tell the difference between the stitches of my daughter, and those of my Sweet Mama.

Remembering how she always tried to be first to say “Merry Christmas!” on Christmas morning, carrying on a family tradition from her parental home.  She never wanted to be the one to say, “Thank-you, the same to you!”

Visits from the couple that comforts me best, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys.  My Daddy’s brother, married to my Mama’s sister.  They make monumental efforts to connect, even when the ravages of time make it hard for them.  Sitting in our house, reminiscing, talking, shedding tears together helps me gather my courage to go on.  Their steadfast support and the reminders of their love has been integral to my healing.  The commonality of grief between my Mama’s sisters reminds me of the many facets of my Sweet Mama’s life, and her deep and vibrant relationships with her family.  How fiercely she loved her siblings, and there were cousins who were kindred spirits and friends for her entire life.  They are grieving, too, and my heart goes out to them when I hear their pain.

Meeting with our Church Family in our renovated church building.  It’s warm and inviting and the pews are so comfortable.  Everything is so different, but the thing that tugs is my beloved Aunt Dottie, sitting alone in almost the same place that she would sit with Sweet Mama on Sunday mornings.  How Mama would have loved this new church building, and it would have been so interesting to her to see the changes that have been made.  I can almost hear her saying, “Oh, if only Daddy could see this!”

There are just so many things at every turn that remind me of My Sweet Mama.  But I’ve wallowed around enough in these past couple of days.  I’ve decided that I’m going to use that sudden stab of grief to recount things that make me happy when I remember them about Mama.  I’m hopeful that remembering the joy will transform the paralysis that wants to invade these old bones when the sadness is tenacious.  The New Year is a good time to start.

The thing is, Mama would approve.  She always believed that you could decide to be happy.  “If you smile for a while, you’ll forget that you are blue!” she would carol to me when she thought I should cheer up.  (I wish I could find that old song.  It’s helped me a whole lot in my life!)  So here’s my birthday present to My Sweet Mama:

I’m going to smile for a while. I just might forget that I’m blue.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Grief, Heaven, My Life

2015 Yutzy Family Christmas Letter

*Christmas, 2015*
Shady Acres Farm *7484 Shawnee Road* Milford, DE*19963

Dear Family and Friends,
The year is fast winding down, and it is time to get this letter out once again.  What can we say about a year like 2015?  It’s hard to condense it down into a single Christmas letter, to catch the events, the various things that have influenced us and changed us, the losses, the gains, and the flavor of this season of our lives.  Whew!  But here goes.

Last year ended, and our new year began with our church family coming together in a reassuring way, showing unity and courage and foresight as we put together a plan for rebuilding our church house after the arson of December, 2014.  As a congregation, we worked through issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as feelings of loss and violation.  We haven’t been perfect in this year of rebuilding, but God has been faithful to us, proving over and over again that “He meant it for our good!” This has made the most difficult days and the hardest times, hopeful.  On December 6th, four days after the first anniversary of the fire, we held our first service in our beautiful new sanctuary.  We plan for a public open house after the first of the year, but these first weeks, our church family is savoring this gift that has been given to us through what has proven to be a severe mercy.  Our small church family has been through a lot of changes in the past year.  We had three weddings, a birth, two funerals, and installed two young men (Caleb Bontrager and Tyler Schrock) on the Leadership Team.  All while using a facility shared with us by Grace Community Church in Greenwood. We are so grateful for their generosity and willingness to allow us such free access, but it is really nice to be back into our own space again.

Funerals.  As many of you know, there was one that affected our family directly.  My Sweet Mama, whose health had been in severe decline for the last year and a half, fell in May, broke her femur, had surgery, developed pneumonia, had a heart attack, and just didn’t seem to improve much over the 12 days she spent in the hospital.  On June 2nd, we brought her home to a big sunny room at Country Rest Home where we could spend time with her and have help with her many physical needs.  There were good days and bad days, as there always are in times like this, but on June 16th, she went home to Heaven while we stood around her bed, held her hands and reminded her of what a wonderful Mama she had been to us.  This entire letter could be about how that has impacted us – my siblings and their families, our family and me personally, but it’s been another odyssey of both splendor and sorrow.  It’s been one that has made me quiet and more introspective than is comfortable.  I keep reminding myself that I won’t always be this sad, and it won’t always feel this empty.  But I do know that I will always miss her, even while I’m hopeful for the future.

And then, there are some wonderful things to report on the family front.  Our youngest daughter, Rachel, graduated from Bryn Mawr College with her Master’s degree in Social Work in May.  A series of events made it possible for her to be home through her Grandma’s illness and death, giving her time to be with Grandma, and to lend a hand to the home front when I needed to be gone.  The rest of the summer she was home, checking out jobs, mowing lawn for her Daddy, babysitting some, applying for jobs, visiting friends, going to weddings, being interviewed for jobs, making two trips to the west coast this fall, and (finally!) taking a job.  Earlier this month, she accepted a position with Catholic Charities in Washington, DC, as a social worker/ clinical case manager.  She is working in their homelessness and housing department with children and families. She is living with three other girls in a row home, and seems to be settling into both the job and the living situation with alacrity.

Lem and Jess are in the same apartment in Alexandria, VA, but are actively pursuing home ownership for the near future.  Lem just finished course work for his PhD in Social Work at Catholic University and is carrying a full load as a psychotherapist at Alvord, Baker and Associates, while he works on preparing for comprehensive exams in February and March.  Jessica changed jobs this year, and is now working as a Research Analyst for the US Government Accountability Office.  She is enjoying this job immensely; from the people with whom she works, to the impact that the GAO has on improving life for average Americans. They continue to be involved at The Table, the church where they have found good friends and common ground.  The last few months have been very intense for them with Lem’s schedule, but one of the things that we’ve admired about these two is that they can endure hardship when they have a plan and a dream, and they have proved it to us again this last semester. Having them in the same area as Rachel has been a great comfort to these “elderly parents.”

Raph and Gina, with their three boys, Simon, Liam, and Frankie, have had an eventful year.  They are finishing this year with really good news on the job front for Raph.  As of January 1st, Raph will be a full-time employee of Grace Mennonite Church (a realization of a life dream).  His official title is Director of Students. He will be overseeing the junior high, high school, and young adults of the congregation with a focus on high school and young adults.  Gina, a wonderful mom, is also a supportive wife and best friend to Raph.  It’s been wonderful to watch how God has knit this family together in ways that seemed only remotely possible when the boys first came, nearly three years ago.  They are doing well, and even though there have been significant bumps in the road this year for this family on several fronts, there is hope and joy and so much love and laughter. One of our favorite things to do is to spend a weekend in Holmes County with the “Ohio Yutzys” and soak up the comfort and activity of life in their home.

Deborah’s year has been different than any other since 2007 in that she hasn’t been out of the country this year.  She enjoyed a trek to Mississippi and Louisiana with her friend, Liz Washburn Strite. They visited Deborah’s friends, Joel and Althea Bontrager and their family in MS, and a friend of Liz’s in New Orleans.  Visiting New Orleans fulfilled one of Deborah’s bucket list dreams (as did holding a real live tarantula while there).  She worked long hours for Delaware Hospice (now in her sixth year there) and has been very involved in the renovation of our church house.  She is taking a break from teaching the young women’s class at church this year, but remains involved in the lives and families of her friends.  In April, she discovered that there were some serious complications with her liver, and was advised to engage in focused diet and exercise.  She complied, even while more testing was being done, and the results have been favorable, health wise, and also flattering to her physique.  However, when the tests were all in, it was discovered that she is dealing with a genetic disorder called Alpha-1, which is best managed by doing exactly what she is doing: Watching her weight, exercising, not smoking, and not drinking.  (H-m-m-m-m-m.  The last two aren’t as big a challenge as the first two for a lot of us!)  The good news is that the last lab results show that everything is back within normal limits and we are all relieved.  She still has her living quarters on the left side of the upstairs landing in the old farmhouse at Shady Acres, and having her here has been a decided plus for both her daddy and me.

Christina and Jesse, along with Charis, are still on Bontrager Road, about 1½ miles away.  Charis is in first grade this year at Mispillion Elementary here in Milford, and does well.  She is learning to read and writes the most wonderful notes to the people she loves. (Dere Gemme you arE the Best Gremall ever.  Love Charis.)  (And if you can’t read that, there’s something wrong with you!) Christina, still a homemaker, is involved with school projects, transporting Charis to and from school, and is the motivating force behind several projects within our family as well as helping out at church.  Jesse, still our beloved son in law, is a valuable asset to Daniel and me on so many fronts.  He lends a helping hand when Daniel needs a strong arm for any of a number of projects.  He is my go-to tech when I need something in the world of computers and printers and the problems that come up there.  He is a systems engineer at Burris Logistics and his intelligence, aptitude for solving difficult problems, and loyalty have paid off in recognition and advancement.  He is a good provider for his family and is a creative and involved Daddy to Charis.

Daniel and I are still involved in life in ways that keep us interested and motivated and engaged.  Daniel continues in his job as Plumbing Inspector for the State of Delaware, raising chickens, gardening, taking care of our farm, and serving on the leadership team at our church as deacon.  I am still caring for handicapped adults (Linda, 16 years, and Audrey, nine) and leading a Thursday morning Bible study that has been meeting at our house for probably 20 years.  I’ve taught “The Littles” at our church part time over this last year, and that is probably one of my favorite things to do.  Children are so honest, interesting and beautiful.  I’ve not been writing or blogging as much since Mama’s death, but discovered recently that the therapeutic value for me personally is worth the time and emotional investment that it takes.  I’ve been blessed with a husband and family who are supportive, and I’m looking forward to being a bit more consistent with postings at https://maryannyutzy.wordpress.com/. (So if you want to catch up on what is happening in our lives before next year’s Christmas letter, you can check up on us over there).

We are enjoying the Christmas season here in our house on Shawnee Road.  We’ve already had some of our yearly gatherings, and Daniel has his huge Christmas Village set up. (Come and see it!  It will be up until late January.)  The Nativity scenes are scattered through the house, too, and the family comes for early Christmas this weekend (the 19th). We are always delighted for a reason to have our family together under one roof.

But the Christmas Village, the nativities, and even the offspringin’s and their families gathering in are only reminders that this special season points the way to Easter, the Cross and the Empty Tomb.  The Baby came to bring us hope.  In this year, when it has seemed that everything has been so different from what I may have chosen, the one thing that has kept me steady has been the hope of the resurrection, the promises that Jesus made to us that He will never leave us, never forsake us.  For this and for all the blessings that this year has held, my heart gives humble, grateful praise.

Have a wonderful Christmas season and a blessed New Year!
Affectionately,
Daniel and Mary Ann Yutzy

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“We need to hang it high . . .”

I looked at the beautiful wind chimes in the flat, heavy cardboard box that lay on my lap.  I had just opened the carefully wrapped present in our family Christmas celebration.  “Mozart” said the label on the box.  These would make some beautiful music.  I immediately began thinking of where I could hang them.

“Where do you want to hang them?” Asked Certain Man.  He had the whole week off and was busy getting things done.

“I don’t really know,” I said.  “I’ve been thinking about taking down the plant that Hortencia gave me last summer just before they left, and hanging them there, right outside my kitchen window.  I could hear them there.”

He looked at me with that look in his eye that said that he had a better idea.  (He really is like the old Ford slogan, He usually has a better idea!)  “I’ve been thinking, maybe,” he said, “that we ought to hang it off the upper deck, outside our bedroom window.  That way we could hear it at night.”

“That sounds fine,” I said.  “It would be nice to hear it at night.”  I thought about the fact that it was winter, and it would be spring before I could hear much of anything, and that if it was up on the upper deck near to the house (where I understood he wanted to put it) it wouldn’t get much wind at anytime and that wasn’t what I wanted, either.  But, still.  This Certain Man often thinks of things that never cross my fur brain, and I thought that he probably had a plan.

He did.

Yesterday, while I wasn’t looking, he put in a hook, up on the corner post of the highest platform, and hung the chimes right exactly where they should have been hung.

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The weather has been so strange this year.  Last night, it was so warm in our bedroom that I opened the window, and turned on the ceiling fan.  It had been a long day, and I lay there so tired I hardly knew whether I was going to be able to sleep.  And then, —

I heard the gentle noise of music in the night.  The chord was familiar and soothing.  The night was wild with the wind and rain, and I listened to the storm interlaced with the music.  A symphony, unscripted and unrehearsed emerged as if Mozart himself was composing in cahoots with the elements.

Certain Man said that we needed to hang it high so we could hear it from our bedroom window.  He was so right.  So very right!

And I slept the hard, deep sleep of the very weary, lulled by a melody that was provided by a gift from Youngest Son and his Girl With a Beautiful Heart, hung by that Man That I Love Best, and carried by a strange warm wind on a Delaware December night.

My heart could not have been more full of the grace and glory of this moment.

And I gave quiet, grateful praise.

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Of Mice and Mankind

I was pushing Blind Linda’s wheelchair out to the DART bus this morning when I was caught rather flat footed by something on the floor of the entry way.  A dead mouse. It looked like it was trying to get out the door, but didn’t make it.  No blood, no guts, just lying there with its tail out behind it.  It startled me, and made me wonder if Certain Man knew something I didn’t about mouse bait.

I’m not mouse freaky.  They don’t scare me to death, or even cause me to scream or climb on things.  (I once had one drop on my head in the chicken house and run down my shoulder and jump and scurry away.  I didn’t even scream that time.  Probably because it was rather dark and I didn’t realize what was happening until it was jumping off my shoulder in the dim light.  But I digress.)

When I saw this mouse on my floor, I was trying to maneuver BL’s chair around a very tight space in a difficult corner and my first glance was fleeting.  But the sight of it caused me to stop and reassess the situation and I suddenly discovered that my first assumption was very. very wrong.

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It  wasn’t a mouse at all.  Oh, boy!

But I’ve been thinking ever since about the “dead mice” on the floor of my life that I shrink back from, and wish someone would dispose of for me and that I think I can smell, and that feel so repulsive to me.

Brothers and sisters, in the Family of God, I propose to you that a whole lot of the stuff in our lives that is attracting the attention that a dead mouse would on the floor of our proverbial entry ways, is nothing more than a dried leaf.  There are things that we should give no more than a fleeting glance, and brush them on out without giving them the audience and attention that a dead mouse might attract.

It’s time to help push the wheelchairs of the people of this old world around difficult corners, through the tight spaces, towards the bus that will take them to where they need to go.

Let’s not let the harmless stuff that looks like so much like something else sidetrack us on our way to Heaven.

Matthew 22:36-39 (NCV)

36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

37 Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

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The Lows, The Highs.

This week has been a roller coaster for me.  Monday morning I was talking it over with Jesus, and telling Him how sad I felt.  And telling Him that I just wanted to undo the last fourteen months.  “I want Frieda back, whole and healthy and alive and HERE!  I want our church to not be burned.  I want Mama to not fall full on her face on a cold tile floor at our “borrowed” meeting place on a Sunday morning in February (a pivotal incident for embarrassment and infirmity in her life).  I don’t want to think about the health issues and infertility issues in my family that were exacerbated this year.   I don’t want Mama to fall in May and break her femur.  I don’t want her to have suffered those four weeks.  I don’t want her to have died.  I want her here, healthy and alive.  I don’t want Youngest Daughter, Rachel, to struggle to find a job for six months, with all sorts of reversals and setbacks and disappointments.  I don’t want Middle Daughter, Deborah, to be diagnosed with a genetic liver condition (http://www.alpha1.org/) that has given great cause for alarm.  I’m just so tired of everything! And I’m just so sad . . .”

And (Believe me!) there were a few other things in there that I “didn’t want” that can’t be said here.


Where do we go when life is too much for us?  How do we choose life and hope and peace when it seems like an exercise in futility?  What do we do when the people we love are hurting and struggling and doubting and failing? And what makes us think that it will ever be okay again?
Listen, dear friends!  Here is where I’ve chosen to focus:


Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19a

 

If there is anything that I’ve learned on this sojourn, it is that praise makes the darkest night navigable.  And while there may be all sorts of things that make me sad, I still need to choose that He does all things well, and that He is to be trusted.  It probably won’t ever all be “okay” again.  That’s what Heaven is for.

And if I can’t sink my “trembling soul” onto that immovable rock, then I’m pretty sure there’s no hope for this season of my life, this time, this place and my future mindsets.

The last few days have been better than that terrible Monday.  For every one of the “I wants” there have been blessings that I can choose to look at, be grateful for, and acknowledge God’s hand, working for our good.

I’m as convinced as ever that faith is the key to having a life focus that gives courage and hope.

It didn’t end at the Cross, and our Sunday’s coming!

My heart chooses grateful praise.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Grief, My Life, Uncategorized