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Monday Morning in the Bean Patch

I went out to my bean patch on Friday afternoon, and looked very sorrowfully at the beans hanging there. It looked like there was a lot there that were ready to be picked, but I knew it was going to have to wait. I was getting ready for church retreat and there was just no way that I would be able to get to my patch yet that afternoon.

“Maybe I can scurry out here in the morning,” I thought hopefully. “We don’t need to be at camp until 11, so maybe I can squeeze that in before we need to leave.”

The thing was, I wanted to make cinnamon rolls for our church family for brunch on Saturday morning.  Friend Torre was spending the night with us, and she would help me put the dough together when we got home, and all I would need to do would be to roll out the dough and put the rolls in the pans in the morning.

Friday night was hotter than all get out at Mardela Springs camp.  Certain Man took a big chicken house fan along to try to move some air, and we milled about, sweaty and sticky in the big room.  It was noisy with the hum of the big fan and the conversations that went on between the adults and the playing of THE LITTLES.  We ate hamburgers and hot dogs and ice cream and lemonade and tea and finally came home around nine.  I had gotten Friend Normie to stay with OGA and BL, because they really do not like going to Church Camp under aesthetic conditions, much less ones that are noisy and hot, and I was so thankful they were already in bed when we got home.  Torre and I got the dough mixed up and into the refrigerator, and I went to bed.

In the early, groggy minutes soon after five the next morning, I was aware that I had a really insistent headache.  This is not my usual malady.  I almost never get headaches, but I did that morning and I tried to go back to sleep, hoping to sleep it off, but then I remembered that I had cinnamon rolls to make, and that I wanted to pick them thar’ beans, and so I decided to get up and get moving and see what I could get done.  I came down to the kitchen, got some medicine and a cup of coffee and sat on my chair for a bit.  I was soon feeling rather muchly better, so I got the cinnamon rolls started and worked at straightening the kitchen, looked for a recipe for sticky buns that didn’t have milk, got BL up and showered, got OGA her breakfast, and kept my eye on the time.  Then I started the icing cooking on the stove and called Friend Normie and told her we weren’t going to be gone before at least nine-thirty.  I fed BL, iced cinnamon rolls, and inverted the sticky buns onto a hard flat surface and called Eldest Daughter to see if she could pick up the cinnamon rolls and sticky buns to take them over to camp.  Whew!  She could!  That was a big load off my mind.

I kept thinking and thinking about the Lima beans hanging on and thought about just giving them away to someone who would pick them.  But it’s been a slow year in my bean patch, and even though we’ve had some good eating, I haven’t frozen a single bag of this year’s crop.  This wears hard on this Delaware Grammy’s heart, but as  the time got shorter and shorter until our intended time of departure, I realized that there was no way that I was ever going to make it out there before we left for Mardela Springs.  I decided to just wait and see.  Maybe we would be home before dark –?

We weren’t.  And it doesn’t work very well to pick Lima Beans by the light of the moon or the beam of a headlight or even the steady beam of a LED light, plastered against a sweaty forehead and held in place by a big piece of elastic.  I gave it up for the night and went to bed.

Sunday morning came, and it was off to camp again.  There was the usual last mad flurry of activity where church members cleaned up and then Daniel and I delivered non-perishables to the church, took some leftovers to a local homeless shelter for veterans and pulled into our driveway at about 3:20.  We unloaded our ladies and emptied our mini-van, then dropped the van off at a repair shop for a Monday morning appointment and came back home to catch some rest.

“Maybe I should go pick those Lima Beans,” I said to my weary spouse as we walked to the house after parking his pickup in the pavilion.  “I know it is Sunday, and all that, but I also think I am going to lose quite a few the way it is.”

“Well, you don’t want to go do it now,” he said.  “It’s too hot!  Besides, you should take a break!”

“You’re right,” I said, “but do you think it would be okay to do it later, after it cools off?”

“I guess you can do what you want,” he said, without enthusiasm.  And headed up the ramp into the air conditioned coolness of the farmhouse at Shady Acres.

I followed him in and did some serious thinking.  I thought about my Daddy.  I thought about hay down in the fields on  a Saturday night, needing to be baled, but his unwavering commitment to NEVER doing unnecessary work on Sunday.  I thought about how he would leave everything sit over the Day of Rest, and then get back to it on Monday.  I thought about how he would leave his farm on busy June evenings to be the superintendent for Summer Bible School at a little country church in the rural Frederica/Felton area and how hard he worked to bring children to Bible School.  I thought about people who had no religious sense of obligation, who planted and cultivated and harvested whenever it seemed like a good time, who thought that Daddy was foolish to sacrifice so much for “so little” in monetary rewards.  I remembered Daddy saying to us children, “Always remember that God doesn’t settle His accounts in September.”

I thought and thought, and knew that I was going to wait to pick beans until this morning.  Daniel wondered about what I was going to do, and I said, “I’m just going to get out there in the morning, first thing, and I’m going to pick those beans, and what I lose, I lose.”

Through the early morning while I changed the washer, made beds, showered BL, fed breakfast, and did meds, I thought about my bean patch.  I had sent some fervent prayers Heavenward, begging for protection and that the patch wouldn’t have too many dried and ruined bean pods.  Maybe God would choose to bless the decision to wait until this morning, and give me an overabundance of beans for my freezer.  The longer I thought, the more excited I got to just see how God was going to make this my best picking ever.  Or at least this year.

I put BL on her bus after telling OGA that I was going straight to the bean patch immediately after she was gone, and headed out for my garden.  I got a five gallon bucket from Certain Man’s stash, and contemplated taking the second one that I had convinced myself I would need, but then decided that I would just come back for it.  I left it down where it was easily accessible, and started down my first row.  The dew was heavy, and the sun was warm.  Even with the cooler temperatures, it was still a hot, wet job.  I picked the first five feet and got about that many beans.  Five.  There were almost no dried, brown ones, but neither were there many that were full and ready to pick.  I searched the plants high and low and wondered if I would even get enough to make this worth my time.  The second five feet yielded another ten or so, but also had wilted, green and yellow pods hanging lifelessly from the stems.  The leaves were mostly full and lush, and there were plenty of blossoms, but there were almost no beans to pick.  I looked at the bottom of my five gallon bucket and it wasn’t even covered.  I wondered about my optimism and hope for a good picking this morning.  I couldn’t say that there were terribly many that went to waste, so far at least, but there just wasn’t the abundance I was looking for.  I thought about how I was planning to give God the glory for a great crop, and about how encouraged I had planned to feel if I hadn’t lost very many and had a better than expected picking.  I wasn’t to the point of feeling resentful, but the temptation was growing in my disappointed heart.

And then in my pocket, my cell phone began to ring.  I checked the screen and saw that it was from my brother, Mark, Jr.  I wiped my fingers off on my t-shirt and swiped the screen.  The voice on the other end was subdued, but warm.

“How are you doing?”  We exchanged pleasantries, talked briefly about my bean patch, his bean patch and how nobody’s bean patch seems to be doing well this year. And then he said, “What I really called to tell you was that I got a phone call this morning that I’ve been sort of expecting for a long time, but I still don’t know how to deal with it.  (—-) took his life last night.”

In that millisecond, time stood still.  Around me, the dew still hung on the bean leaves.  The cicadas made their crazy noise and the crickets chirped.  I felt the sucker punch of denial and sadness and shock and regret settle in my stomach with a sick, sick feeling and I tried so hard to not believe what I had heard. (—-) was a childhood friend, born between Mark, Jr. and me.  He often spent the summer days at our farm, playing with Mark and turning brown in the sun.  He was allowed to go without his shirt and he could make those offensive noises with his armpits and he showed off his skill often to the point of sometimes being obnoxious.  I remember his skinny, sinewy arms and his shock of blond hair.  He loved to tell stories and among our family treasures was this one.

His father had taken to doing a little farming in the fields beside their big white house, and one of the crops that he planted was some corn.  Young (—-) watched the corn with great interest, and lo!  And behold!  There came a day when it sprouted tassels out the top the way corn is supposed to, but this phenomenon had never been observed by him before.  He came striding down to our house with the air of something to tell.

“You’ll never guess what!” He said with great excitement.  “My dad planted all of his corn upside down!  The roots are growing straight up in the air!”  He paused a bit for effect and then said, shaking his head with disbelief, “How dumb can you get?”

Life so often disappointed him.  He never married, and had a succession of failed relationships, failed enterprises, and failed dreams.  He often told my brother, “You’re the only friend I have.”  Mark was always kind to him, lending mowers and other equipment to him, always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, always trying to speak Jesus into his life, but also sought to give him the space he 0ften desperately seemed to fight for. And now he was gone.  The thought hung heavy in the morning air.

“I know he had choices,” Mark was saying now, and I brought myself back to the bean row and his voice.  “But on mornings like this, I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for the home that we had, for the parents and the upbringing we had.  Sometimes it just seems like there are some people that are just so shortchanged on so many counts.”

I looked at my almost empty bucket of beans and thought about how easy it is for me to expect God to do the special things or give special gifts because I am keeping my attitude right or because I am doing the right thing, and I suddenly felt so ashamed of my petty expectations and my selfish heart.  There was more than enough reason to give glory to God and to shout aloud His praise.  He had given me so much in so many ways that counted far more than a bean crop from a Delaware summer.  I finished my call with my brother, and looked at the sum total of beans in my bucket.  It wasn’t even half full.

But my heart!  My heart!  It was brimming over with praise for God’s incredible Mercy towards me in a thousand ways with every single breath.  I felt the sting of sadness for our friend and his family, and I don’t think I will ever make my peace with suicide, but I also can stand in the presence of an almighty God and lay the questions at his feet, and decide to trust Him with the things that I can never personally explain.

God doesn’t settle His accounts in September.  And God’s mercy is not measured by a five gallon bucket that is standing almost empty.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

And so, my heart gives humble, grateful praise!

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Filed under home living, Laws Mennonite Church, My Life, Stories from the Household of CM & CMW, Suicide, Uncategorized

Sing Me a Song of Heaven

I came to this past weekend and our annual church retreat with a sense of restlessness and even heaviness.  I have always loved our church retreat weekends.  And I was looking forward to this time together.  But I just felt grumpy and irritable . . . and sad.

The books tell us all about the seasons of grief.  And sometimes the thing that is the most noteworthy to me is how unpredictable it is.  There are stages, and I am so aware of this.  But experience has also proven that the stages of grief get all mixed up, and they may have a predictable pattern, but more often than not, there is a stage that pops up all out of the order in which it was supposed to appear.

And this past weekend, with its full moon and its busy-ness and the whole thing of a completely different venue for our church retreat, made my emotions and my heart feel so unfamiliar and wretched.  I was happy to help with things for retreat, and made sausage gravy and tea, took snacks and diversions, lent frying pans and drink dispensers and wasn’t at all resentful of any of that, but there was this unruly, childish inclination towards irritability that colored and clouded my enjoyment of the time together.  Things really were done decently and in order, but nothing felt quite right.

“I just need an attitude adjustment,” I told OGA, on our way home on Saturday night.  She thought that she was somehow responsible for the fact that I left early and was lamenting her life and needs and supposed impositions and pretty much everything in general.  “It has nothing to do with you, Audrey-girl.  I just wanted to come home.  I’m tired and sad and irritable and nobody can do anything to please me.”

“Oh,” she said in the darkness beside me.  And lapsed into silence.

“I miss my Mama,” I said then.  And started to cry.  I thought about how My Sweet Mama never liked going to picnics and church retreat and anything that was less than convenient when it came to eating and socializing.  She tried to overcome that, but it was rare for her to spend much time at church retreat on a good weekend, much less when she wasn’t feeling well.  But I could call her and tell her all about everything.  What we ate, who did what, what the activities were, who was there, who helped with the cooking, how the serving went, whether there were many leftovers, who did the work, who cleaned up, and always, all about the children and little ones and what they did for fun and mischief and amusement.  But on this weekend, there was no outlet for my observations, no one to comfort me in my sadness, no one to validate my feelings, (whether legitimate or not).  Mama was in Heaven.

Heaven.  I’ve thought more about that place in these last three months than probably ever before.  I thought about it a lot after Daddy died, and felt a sense of wonderment and curiosity about this uncharted territory.  But Daddy always pretty much could take care of himself, and I had no doubts that he took Heaven in stride and went about with his insatiable curiosity, discovering all sorts of things, filling in the spaces of all his questions, and meeting new people.  Yes, I didn’t think too much about how Daddy was doing in Heaven. But I did wonder about the place that we call “Heaven.”

“We say we know where Dad is,” said my brother, Clint, one day.  “We say he is in Heaven, and I believe he is.  But where is Heaven?  We can’t really say where Heaven is.  So in some respect, since we don’t know where Heaven is, we don’t really know where Dad is.”   That was an interesting observation to me, and I chalked it up to another one of the mysteries of the life beyond the here and now.  It wasn’t troubling nor did it cause disbelief.  It just was.

But since Mama died, I keep coming back to this thing of Heaven, and wondering what it is like.  Wondering, more specifically, what it is like for Mama.  I know she is healthy and whole and beautiful and happy.  I know she is with the LORD and Daddy.  I don’t think she misses us, and I know she doesn’t want to come back.  But does she ever think of us?  Does she talk about us to the ones already there?  Do we even figure into the equation of LIFE in that place.  And why does that even concern me?  Why does my heart lurch at the thought of her being so alive and happy and present with the LORD that life here is forgotten, swallowed up in victory?  Am I this selfish? Or am I wondering about how the things I give my life to will matter when I leave it all behind?  Or is this just yet another stage of the grief that dogs my days?

I came down to the kitchen on Sunday morning.  The weariness that pulled me back on my heels was that of a heavy heart and not enough sleep, coupled with the morning things pressing in.  Checking in on my ladies, I realized that Audrey had a potty accident in the night.  She had stripped herself of her soiled nightie and piled it and her protective bed pad into an odiferous mound on the floor of her bedroom.  She had soiled the sheet under the pad (how did she do that?) and had opted to put on a clean nightie and to wrap herself up in a blanket and finish the night on her chair rather than get back into bed.  She must have moved stealthily in the night because I hadn’t heard her on the monitor.  She was full of apologies and very embarrassed and sad.  My heart ached for my Audrey Girl.  Life was hard enough to cope with at this particular juncture of the Moon and Earth and she already was struggling mightily with feeling like she was a burden.  I looked at the disarray in the bedroom, and struggled with the whole thing of readjusting morning plans to allow for the catastrophe at hand, getting to church retreat in time for breakfast, and the contradiction of just wanting to sit down and do nothing.

Somewhere in the middle of the whole mess, the thoughts about Heaven came crowding in. I had this sudden urge to know what Heaven is like.  I was pretty sure that it held very little of the present dilemma, but there was this deep, deep yearning for something explicitly definitive and descriptive.  I wanted to find Certain Man and crawl in close to his heart and whisper, “Tell me what you think Heaven is like.  What will we do?  How will we be?”  But he came in late from morning chores with almost no time to spare to get to retreat on time, and the words wouldn’t come.  I finished the tea for the noon meal, and he hurriedly loaded it and prepared to leave.  When he hugged me, his eyes clouded over and he asked, “Are you okay?”

It was the perfect chance, but the words stuck in my throat.  I finally said, “I’m just so grumpy and sad.  I’m really missing my Mama.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Mama didn’t even like retreat.  Why does this retreat make me miss her so much?”

He was understanding, and he didn’t dismiss my feelings, but we both knew he needed to get ice down to retreat for breakfast, and he was running late.  He sympathetically said, “Well, Hon, that’s just the way things are sometimes.”   And he was off to breakfast with the rest of our church family.

I decided to just get to the lodge in time for the morning service and the noon meal, and I methodically organized the morning, changed the bed, put the linens in to soak, gave Linda her shower and dressed her, checked and counted the day’s meds and fed breakfast.  Automatic things while my heart was turning over and over again the restless longing for another place beyond this terrestrial plane.

And then, curling around the edges of my brain swelled  an old, old song that My Sweet Mama sang when I was a little girl.  It embodied the longing, gave words to the ache, and gave substance to Hope.  I began to sing the song as I remembered her singing it.

Sing me a song of Heaven, Beautiful homeland of peace.
Glorious place of beauty, there all my trials shall cease.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.

The music comforted me, even more than the words.  I could hear My Sweet Mama’s voice singing from somewhere in my memory, and I thought some more about Heaven.  One thing I so often get caught up on is that we’ve said so many things about Heaven that we don’t really have scripture to back up.  What we do have from scripture leaves lots of room for the imagination, to be sure, but the Bible says that we cannot imagine what God has in store for us.  Over these last months, I’ve clung to what the Bible says about Heaven and I’ve come to realize that it isn’t so much what is there that I long for as much as I long for what isn’t.  No more parting.  No more pain.  No more death.  No more sin, sadness and the brokenness that sin brings.  No more war.  No more bad attitudes.  No more restless selfishness. No more grief.

But there is one thing that it says will be there: Singing.  Praise.  Mama is singing.  How I longed to hear that voice again! It had been a long time since she did any singing here on earth, and I could imagine that it is one of the things about Heaven that she enjoys. And so it was, on this Sunday morning in late September, when it felt like I had to hear something from Over There, that My Sweet Mama sang to me a Song of Heaven.  She started to sing it decades ago, but it only really got to my heart after she was There.  And just when I needed it most.

Yes, Mama. I hear you.  Sing it!  And if you should be listening, I’m singing it, too.

Sing me a song of Heaven, when life shall come to a close.
There in the arms of Jesus, my spirit shall find repose.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.
-Haldor Lillanas

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Golden Autumn Days and Besetting Sorrow

For the last ten days, I’ve been posting signs of Autumn over there on Facebook.  I’ve searched for the beauty and even the “not so beautiful” things that remind me that summer is waning, and my favorite season has truly begun.

Today was one of those perfect autumn days.  The weather was gorgeous.  The day was sweet.  Certain Man was home today because the big old lard buckets that are our chickens are going out.  How glad we both are for a bit of a break.  It looks like this layover is going to be a “nice” one.  The company is saying that it will be two weeks, but encompassing three weekends.  Today starts our church retreat at Denton, Maryland, and even though we don’t stay over at night because of our ladies, it is nice to not have to worry about chicken house alarms and fans and feeders and lights and ventilation and floods.

The day went well.  I had a big cheesy noodle bake to make for lunch on Sunday at retreat.  That came together well, and it was with a great deal of satisfaction that I got it into the fridge this afternoon all ready for the oven.  I checked the list of other things that I was to take and sighed with relief to realize that everything else was already there, sent with friend Ruby on Wednesday.

So many happy things to enjoy.  The blue jays are busy, the flowers still blooming, the air is cool and there are apples on the counter, crisp and sweet.  The crickets chirping don’t even much annoy me unless I am trying to sleep.

So.  Why the besetting sorrow?

Because six hundred miles away a story is being written of love and faithfulness and faith and an insidious disease and we don’t know how it will turn out.  My brave sister in law says she knows how it will be.  OKAY.  Because she knows Whom she has believed.  She trust her Heavenly Father to do what is best.  She is unafraid.  My Oldest Brother is pensive, even while he holds fast to the promises that remind us of a God who is THERE and who is neither surprised or stymied by the events of these last two years. My heart aches for him and their children and grandchildren and in-laws.

I sometimes think that Clinton has loved Frieda since the day he laid eyes on her.  That would have been back in about 1963.  They’ve loved each other a very long time.  That love and the faith that has marked their lives with adventure and grace and glory holds them steady in these uncertain days.  They cling to a God who has proven that He is to be trusted.  And we pray.  And pray.  And pray.

But on this glorious autumn day, the tears want to spill.  There is so much to ponder.  The sorrow is besetting.

“Oh, Lord Jesus.  There are no words to say what is in our hearts . . .”

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