Monthly Archives: January 2022

Julia’s Mission

Julia’s Mission
 The house phone rang into the evening quiet of the farmhouse at Shady Acres. It was my cousin, Julia. I listened to her voice carry over the miles from Virginia. It was tentative with uncertainty underlying the pleasant tenor of her familiar voice. I wondered what was in her heart.

We were planning a family reunion together, and the time was getting closer. The details had come together in usual Yoder fashion, with lots of last minute questions and glitches, and we were drawing a sympathetic sigh of relief that things were finally pretty well finalized, and it looked like everything was going to be okay. Shew!

For Julia, though, the weekend was carrying a significant weight of an unfinished task, left to her nearly two years ago when her mother, my Aunt Mimmie had passed away.

Aunt Mimmie. The youngest of the family of David and Savilla Yoder. Growing up was hard for her, and the deficits that she experienced before coming to Grandpa and Grandma’s house were probably not really understood. She had severe malnutrition resulting in Rickets and she suffered long term effects from the care she hadn’t received as an infant. In spite of being a slow learner in school, she learned how to keep house, cook and was probably the best “ironer” there ever was. She married when she was 20, gave birth to three children in the first five years and then abandoned them and her husband about five years later for a new life in Virginia. D was 9, Julia 7 and E was almost 6. In the chaotic and confusing years that followed, her three children paid dearly for the choices that she made. Their Daddy and other family members tried hard to pick up the slack and fill in the gaps, but nothing was really good enough to compensate for the lack of a loving, present mother in their lives.

Each of the three children have their stories, but Julia is the one that is in my heart. We were not close as children, and there is much that she has chosen to forgive me from our past. Never feeling quite accepted by either her mother’s family nor the church community, Julia stumbled through some devastating adolescent and early adult years searching for resolution of the inner pain and for someone to love her. She moved to Virginia, to her mother’s area, in her twenties, hoping to find a safe place for herself, and also searching for that “someone” who would help her make a stable and nurturing home for herself and her young daughter. 

It was also, in all probability, an attempt to mend the relationship with the mother who had traded so much for so little; a mother who would live the rest of her almost 83 years in those Virginia hills, living in a marginal mountain house with an abusive and alcoholic man for over 30 years, working in a local hospital in Environmental Services for 27 years, then divorcing her second husband to marry someone she met at work.  I am certain that Aunt Mimmie loved her third husband, and that he loved her, but the relationship was complicated and muddled, and frequently there was not enough money.

While there was, of course, increased contact between Julia and Aunt Mimmie, the relationship was anything but satisfactory. Julia, her life back on track, successful in a job, her daughter grown, tried hard to understand her mother, providing groceries and essentials in those last years, but always feeling like there was so much more needed. The animosity between them was almost tangible, leaving both of them on edge and caustic.  There were times when Julia brought her mother along to Delaware for a family reunion or the death of a sibling, and they would stay with us. My heart often broke for Julia as I observed her mother’s unkindness towards her. I remember saying to someone following one of those visits, “I just do not understand why Aunt Mimmie is so resentful of Julia! It’s almost as if she is hoping that Julia will fail. And not just hoping, but trying to make it happen. It doesn’t make any sense to me. She should be so proud of how Julia has redeemed the wasted years of her life!” But it appeared that she wasn’t, and I watched with deep sadness how Julia gave up hope of ever having a relationship with this highly irregular person who had given her birth. She formed a protective shell that kept the hurt at bay, and invested in her husband and daughter and grandson, even while doing what she felt was her duty– picking up groceries, sometimes paying bills, checking up on her well-being. And Aunt Mimmie kept getting older and older.

Then, in 2019, Aunt Mimmie fell ill and in late December, less than two weeks shy her 83rd birthday, she passed away, leaving a final instruction for Julia. “Scatter my ashes on the old home place in Delaware where I grew up,” she insisted on more than one occasion, “I want to be back home.”

So after the memorial service, the attractive box came to Julia, who had promised. She promptly wrapped it up and stuck it on a closet shelf. “Every time I open that closet door,” she confided to me one time, “I say, ‘I know you’re in here, Mama!!!” She said it with a self conscious little laugh, but it actually weighed heavily on her. Our extended family was supposed to have a gathering at the old home place in September of 2020, and early on, Julia expressed a desire to have a bit of a memorial and scatter the ashes at that time. Bit COVID happened, and the reunion got rescheduled for a year later. This was where we were at last. September, 2021.  The reunion was held in Dover, 30 miles north of the farm, with no plans to do a memorial and scatter the ashes. However, Julia needed to finish this chore, and she said that she was going to bring them along.

“I think,” she told my younger sister, Alma (who, along with her husband Jerrel, has lived on the home place for over 35 years) “that I’m just going to drive by and throw them out as I go past.”

Alma did not think this was the greatest idea. “It’s kinda creepy to me,” she told me later, “to think that Aunt Mimmie’s ashes might be anywhere, blowing around the property.” I was pretty sure that Julia had no intentions of actually doing that, but I also thought that something wasn’t right. I decided to talk to her about it the next time that we talked and ask her if she wanted me to go with her after the reunion to spread her mother’s ashes. It didn’t seem like it was the sort of thing anyone should have to do alone. This is what was feeding the uncertainty in her voice when she called me. I brought it up and made my offer, she readily accepted, and we began to plan.

The reunion was a wonderful time! There was incredible food, a rousing outdoor auction, good fellowship and wonderfully reminiscent singing. All the stuff that good family reunions are made of. It was over at noon on Sunday, and Julia and I planned to go in the later afternoon to honor Aunt Mimmie’s last request. We came home, Julia took a short rest, but she was restless, and I sensed that she was “dreading the doing, but anxious to have it done.” There didn’t seem any good reason to delay.  We had agreed that we wanted “Amazing Grace” piped in from the car stereo and that a prayer would be said.

We collected gloves, the box and and set out. I was scarcely down the road when I heard Julia weeping in the passenger’s seat. The heartbroken words came tumbling over each other so interspersed with the sobs that I could barely understand them. I looked over at my cousin and thought about what it would be like to be doing this one final chore for someone so significant as a mother with so many bad memories and nearly alone. I heard the anguish in her voice and it sounded to me like the voice of her little brother, sitting under the open window of a classroom at Greenwood Mennonite School, some 50 years ago. “I want my mommy,” sobbed the confused, abandoned little boy. “I want my mommy!” But that mommy was never there for him again. She came to his funeral when he drowned at 17, but it was too late.

I looked at my beautiful cousin, weeping, crumpled on the seat beside me, and thought of a song that had been rattling around in my head so often in recent weeks and I asked her if I could put it on.  I said to her, “This may apply more for your Daddy than your Mama, but it’s also for you . . . “
(Excerpt) “ . . . ‘Cause there’s a wound here in my heart where something’s missing
And they tell me that it’s gonna heal with time
But I know you’re in a place where all your wounds have been erased
And knowing yours are healed is healing mine

The only scars in heaven, they won’t belong to me and you
There’ll be no such thing as broken, and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now

I know the road you walked was anything but easy
You picked up your share of scars along the way
Oh, but now you’re standing in the sun, you’ve fought your fight and your race is run
The pain is all a million miles away . . .” 

She listened and sobbed quietly and then the song finished and the sobbing settled into an occasional sniffle. She talked about life with her Mama the last few miles, then we pulled in to the long farm lane leading back to the ditch bank at the edge of the first farm field of the old home place. 
I parked the minivan, started Amazing Grace on the speakers, turned them up high, and together we went to the back of the van, donned gloves, carried the decorative box across the autumn weeds to a rise in the ditch bank, and surveyed the area. I looked questioningly at my red-eyed cousin. 

“I think this is far enough,” she said simply, and I agreed. I pulled the surprisingly heavy bag from the box and looked at Julia. Neither of us quite knew what to do next. Untie the ribbon? Who should do what? The bag that held the earthly remains of a person we knew and loved weighed like dark wet sand in my hands.
“Do you want to hug her one more time?” I asked impulsively, and held it out to her. 
“Oh, Mama!” Cried Julia, and wrapped it to her chest and wept again.  Then we opened the bag and together, broadcasted handfuls of ashes into the quiet September evening until the bag was nearly empty. Somewhere behind us the strains of “Amazing Grace” were echoing sweetly. We emptied the remaining ashes into the weeds at our feet, a prayer was said, and Julia said, “Rest in peace, Mama. I’ve done what I promised you I’d do . . .”

And she had!  The relief was tangible, the freedom was remarkable. The spot in the closet was empty and the cloud was gone. It took courage and commitment and determination . . . And she wrapped it up in forgiveness and put it away, somewhere in the corner of her memory and heart, and when she takes it all out to remember, it is my prayer that she could hear her Mama say in her heart, the words she never heard in her life, “You done good, Julia-girl. I surely do love you!”

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Yutzy Family Christmas letter, 2021

First photo, Grandpa and Grammy with the Grandchildren-
Charis (12) (beside Grandpa)
Franklin (10) (in front of me) Liam (11) & Simon (12)
Ellie (in front of Liam) and Stella (both 4)

Second Photo:
Back Row- Lemuel, Christina, Jesse, Regina & Raphael
Front Row, Deborah, Jessica, Rachel & Rob

As I said to our families, “Some of you have gotten this, and some of you haven’t–
and some don’t really care!
For those of you who do, here is our family Christmas Letter and Photo Card”

Dear Family and Friends,                                                                                                                                             December 25, 2021               
                It’s Christmas Day all over the world! What Good News to a world that needs good news today as much as any time in history, “Unto you is born . . . A Savior!” To this truth, we have given our very lives, and we believe it today as firmly as we ever have.
                This letter is late, but it has been incredibly sweet to receive Christmas cards and pictures from many of you in these past few weeks. The cards are inspiring and precious, the faces are dear, and when there is a personal note or letter? That’s just icing on the cake! Thank you each and every one who have remembered us.
                There is some really BIG news for us as a couple that has truly defined this year in exciting and unexpected ways. We ended 2020 with both of us, (as well as our handicapped adult, L) sick with COVID. Daniel & I recovered fairly well, although there were days when I wondered if I was going or coming. Bursitis had settled into my hip, I had some other health issues, but L needed care, even when my own vitals were worse than hers. It was in those hard and lonely days that I felt strongly that my 35-year career as a care provider was coming to an end. I had a strong sense that I had God’s word to me on it, that it would happen soon, and that when it happened, no one would miss that it was HIM and no one else that did it. The story is a very long one, and I’m not at liberty to tell it all, but following her extended bout with COVID, L had a stroke, ended up in the hospital for about 6 weeks, and was then admitted to a long-term care facility near her mother and sisters in upstate Delaware. The move, the timing, the place, the 24-hour care, and a whole lot more were all part of a miracle. She had only eight months to be near her mother, to have whatever visitation was allowed, and to be as comfortable physically as was possible. We didn’t know it then, but her journey was almost over, and on November 21st, she went quietly into the presence of Jesus. She was a part of our family for over 21 years, and she taught me Life Lessons that often stopped me in my tracks and refined me in ways that nothing else could have, and I’m grateful for the years we had with her. I’m also glad that her suffering is now over. We miss her quiet presence in the corner of our little room off the kitchen. Through most of the year 2020, she was here 24/7, and I seldom left her. I sometimes still think in terms of arranging care for her, and have dreams about being somewhere and thinking that she is still at home, and I haven’t gotten her up, showered, dressed, fed and medicated. (“Oh, dear! Poor L!!! I need to get back home right now!!!”) It’s disconcerting! However, the ensuing months have proven that the timing of her leaving was nothing but a “God Thing” as the events of this year have unfolded.
                For the first time in almost 46 years, Daniel and I find ourselves alone without another dependent human being in our care, either foster child, our own children, or one, two or three handicapped adults. It’s more than a little strange to suddenly be free to do things together, to pick up and go if we want to. I am no longer responsible to another authority for time spent, medications given, classes taken, appointments met, daily documentation done, monthly paperwork and reports for case managers, state nurses, and support personnel submitted, and it feels really good! To both of us! One night in particular was pivotal in our understanding. I was getting something ready to take to a young family in our church and giving Daniel instructions about the delivery, when we suddenly looked at each other and realized that I could go, too! And I did! The realization gave us an almost heady sense of freedom!
                Even in the things this year that were not easy or what we wanted, there has been reassurance over and over again that God went before and freed up my time to do things that would never have been possible. In February, Daniel was on the chicken house roof and slipped on some ice and slid to the ground, suffering a couple of compression fractures in his vertebrae (Lumbar #1 and Thoracic #12). He didn’t need surgery (thankfully!) and it could have been so much worse, but it has impacted Daniel’s usual busy moving about and strong-arming just about anything he wants to. The pain is real, and it does haunt him still, sometimes worse than others, and he has learned that there are some things that he just shouldn’t do. That doesn’t necessarily stop him, (although it should!) but I am free to help and to spend time with him, and we are both learning a new normal.
                Daniel has been recruited often for sundry jobs in the plumbing industry since his retirement. He really didn’t want to go back to running his own business and even more, knew it wasn’t wise to take a job that required daily, physical labor. However, in the early summer, he was asked to help out at a local private inspection agency and after much thought, and discussing it with each of his five children (“Dad, if it’s what you want to do, go for it!” was the unanimous response) he agreed to help out part time. He has proven to be a valuable employee to First State Inspections, and has enjoyed it very much. He works 3-4 days most weeks, sometimes less, occasionally more, and has procured a Maryland license as well so that he is more useful to the company. I like him to be home, but I also enjoy seeing his interest in the contacts that he makes and the places he gets to see as he travels up and down the coast.
                We enjoyed a Mark Yoder Family reunion this summer, held at the farm that belonged to my grandfather, then my father, and now belongs to my sister, Alma, and her husband, Jerrel Heatwole, Sr. It was a most gratifying time for me. The memories of being a child on those very acres, and spending time that day with all of our children and grandchildren, all of my brothers and sisters, and many of our nieces and nephews, made me feel peaceful and happy. I was reminded of how good a childhood our Daddy and Mama provided for us, and how they lived their faith before us in ways that impacted us. We cannot really know how much they sacrificed for us, but the older I get, the more I understand how important the values are that they taught us, and how they must have felt as they watched us grow into adulthood. They weren’t perfect, (they never claimed to be) but they were safe to follow, and they loved us. I am grateful for Daddy’s prayers and Mama’s nurture and for the memories that are always with me.
                After the reunion, our three Ohio grandsons; Si, Liam, and Frankie (now 12, 11 & 10) spent about another week between here in Delaware and Washington, DC. One day we took our oldest granddaughter, Charis, (12) and the three boys to the Sight and Sound production of “Esther.” We had such a happy day, and the production was so good that we hope to take them to see next year’s production of “David” when, if plans carry, they spend another week on the east coast. What a time to look forward to!
                Daniel & I had been planning a trip up through the New England States for some time, and on Saturday, September 18th, when the chickens were finally gone and the local things arranged, we headed out. It was a magnificent time! We headed west, stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania the first afternoon, and got to Raph and Gina’s that evening. We spent a happy Sunday and Monday there, and left Tuesday morning, stopped in Solon, Ohio, for a delightful breakfast with Daniel’s youngest aunt, Esther Zeitz. She not only made the breakfast but sent us on with fortifications for our trip! Later that day, we got to Waterloo, NY, and spent two nights with Rachel (Daniel’s sister) and Ivan Zehr. There we had supper invitations to the homes of two of their children, and met members of the family that we had never seen. From there, we revisited Boldt Castle on the St. Lawrence Seaway (a place we visited on our honeymoon over 48 years ago, and have followed the renovations since by stopping whenever we are in the area). While there, we got to witness a wedding on the lawn of the beautifully refurbished estate. The happy days seemed to run together after that—we visited the Almanzo Wilder Homestead, stopped on whim at the spectacular High Falls Gorge near Wilmington, NY, crossed Lake Champlain by ferry 3X! (It wasn’t planned, but it was still fun!) and stopped at covered bridges in Vermont and New Hampshire. We took a canoe portage trail near Leed, Maine to see an impressive, turbulent section of the Androscoggin’s River, then headed to Bar Harbor where we took an afternoon cruise on a 151-foot Schooner, the Margaret Todd. We took various scenic routes in our travels in hopes of seeing a moose in the wild, but there were none to be seen, much to Daniel’s disappointment. We visited the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory (and YES! I did go up to the top of that 447-foot monster and actually “observed”). We stopped at Historical Fort Knox and wandered around those sobering grounds for several hours, then headed out to see if we could find a “Fresh Maine Lobster” for a Certain Man. We found exactly that at a dubious looking place in Belfast. Young’s Lobster Pound plucked a living lobster from one of their watery crates and cooked it to perfection. Daniel was delighted with it and I enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder that had more clam in it than was necessary. From there we made our way on towards Massachusetts. We considered stopping in Salem to learn more about the witch trials, but the town was overrun by people, so we went on to Lexington where we visited the Minuteman National Historical Park. We walked one of the trails and then went to the North Bridge at Concord, where “The Shot That Was Heard Around the World” was fired on April 19, 1775. The bridge is modest and the grounds uncluttered and peaceful. The stories there, both told and untold, gave us a quiet sense of awe. Then it was back on the road again. All along the way, we stopped whenever there was a lighthouse that was accessible. By day or by night, these New England wonders drew us in and we were always glad. We stopped at an old timey diner in Woonsocket, Rhode Island on the next to the last day of our trip, had an impressive amount of food for an equally surprising small bill, and found our last hotel. Which is also a matter requiring some attention. We slept in some chain motels that were surprisingly good and others that were disappointing. We also slept in out of the way, little places that were absolutely enchanting. We made careful note of those because we really want to go back again. Will we go? We certainly plan to, because one of the places we had planned to see on this trip was Prince Edward Island, but it took almost an act of Congress to get into Canada, so we gave it up. In the months since, we’ve made new friends, Tim and Nancy Jacob and their family, who live in New Brunswick, Canada, and we want to visit them and P.E.I. before too many more years pass. But God knows our future, and we will see what happens.
                Our children and grandchildren continue to give us much joy, as well as cause for prayer. Christina, Jesse and Charis still live down the road from us and we see them often. Jesse still works for Burris Logistics, Christina is a homemaker, Charis, a 7th grade student. Deborah is across the woods and is still a hospice nurse. She has done an impressive lot with plants and landscaping this year around her lovely home, Ambleside Cottage. Raph and Regina are still in Canton, Ohio. Regina is working part time at NuCamp as a receptionist while Raph is enjoying his promotion to Customer Experience Manager at the same business. The boys and Ellie (now 4) are growing and the personalities are diverse and interesting. Lem and Jessica have continued to work from home (in DC, at the same jobs as last year) while coping with Jessica’s serious health issues. A rare stomach disorder has taken a toll on the Jessica we knew, but in the last few months, there has been a marked improvement, giving us hope for better days ahead. Their little Stella, (also now 4) started preschool in September, and loves it. Rachel and Rob rented their own place (also in DC) this summer. Rachel continues as a therapist and Rob is working on his Masters’ degree. The two of them came for our annual cinnamon roll baking day, and Rob helped me roll, cut, fill, and bake, while Rachel got to help with one of her favorite childhood jobs- that of helping her Daddy deliver the finished product to neighbors, friends, and family. It was our best day ever for cinnamon rolls!
                This year has been full of lots more, but my page is full, and I’m going to quit. We trust your Christmas had meaning, and that Hope for the New Year warms your heart and gives you courage! And in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, Everyone!”
                We send our love.  
                Daniel & Mary Ann


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