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Easter Grace, Gravy and Gifts

Sunday mornings are crazy at this house, anyhow, but on this particular morning, I was making sausage gravy for the church breakfast, finishing up some French Silk Chocolate pies for lunch, getting my ladies up, showered, dressed, fed, medicated, and I had a new person filling in for my regular Sunday morning gal, who was off somewhere for Easter – AND we needed to be at church a whole hour earlier than usual.  (We did not want to be late because we had friends with four young sons visiting Laws Chapel for the first time.)

I kinda’ stumbled down soon after six thirty and started the Sausage gravy in a big heavy pan, then got on with the chocolate pie.  Our Girl Audrey came out, then, and wanted some breakfast, so I got her some cream of wheat. and yogurt and a banana, green tea and water and her morning meds  the usual) — and kept an eye on my sausage that was browning nicely in my big heavy pot.

When it was all thoroughly browned, I dumped in the flour, and stirred that until it was all absorbed into the pan drippings and stuck to the sausage, and then poured in the milk and stirred it some more.  I had a very heavy bottomed pot, and I decided that it could cook on low while I did other morning things, so I turned it all the way down, put the lid on it and went about my morning.  Several “stirs” later, I noticed that time was getting away, and decided to inch it up a notch on the heat, and purposed to stir it more frequently.  I kept after the other kitchen things of the morning, and stirred it several times before going to get Linda up.  All was well.  So I got Linda up and on the potty and ready for the shower, then went to check something on my computer in the study.  (I don’t know what was so important right then, but somehow, I thought it was!)  It was while I was in there that I suddenly got a whiff that vaguely smelled like something was getting a bit too hot

To show how incredibly distracted I was, I must confess that, initially, at least, I was puzzled.  I came out of the study, into the kitchen and was greeted by the lid on my big pot sputtering away and the gravy bubbling up and frothy around the edges. I flew over to the stove, cut off the gas burner, grabbed my trusty wooden spoon and began to stir.  Oh, no!  It was really sticking.  I gave the pot a good sniff.  I could smell “burned” if I tried hard enough.  Oh, dear, oh, dear!  This gravy was surely ruined!  I grabbed another heavy bottomed pot from my cupboard and hurriedly dumped the gallon+ of gravy over into the other pot.  The bottom of the first pot sizzled and refused to give up a thick layer of gravy that was obviously “stuck.”  I gingerly ran my spoon over the layer, getting off what came easily, while my head raced a hundred miles an hour.  There was no time to make new, even if I had the sausage needed.  Which I didn’t.  If the gravy already tasted burned, it would only be made worse by scraping the bottom layer into it.  How many people would be at church for breakfast?  Was this going to be enough?  I looked at the thick layer on the bottom and tried to see if there was any black showing through.  There was.  Oh, dear, oh, dear!!!

I plunked the lid onto the second kettle and set it on an unlit burner.  I carried the first kettle over to my big kitchen sink and ran some water in it.  Running the wooden spoon across the bottom only added to my dismay.  It wasn’t coming off any time soon.  The blackest of black showed where the spoon scraped along the bottom and I pondered what in the world I should do on this busy Sunday morning.  I hoped that my house didn’t smell like burned sausage gravy, but I was pretty sure that if I lit into that pan and started to clean it, there would be no doubt.  I didn’t have time, anyhow!  When there was about an inch and a half of water in the bottom of that pan, I plunked that lid right on it and carried it out to my back deck and set it down close to the side of the house and closed the door so that Certain Man wouldn’t see it when he came in from morning chores.  Back in the kitchen, I stirred the gravy I had left, smelled it repeatedly, and prayed!  “Oh, Lord Jesus, PLEASE–!!!

And then, because there was nothing else I could do, I finished up my Linda girl, gave instructions to my Sunday helper, sent the gravy to church with Middle Daughter so it would be sure to be there on time and got Love Bug (who had spent the night) combed and myself dressed and we were ready to go.  In between, I asked Certain Man and Middle Daughter and Sunday Helper and even Love Bug if they smelled burnt sausage gravy, and they obligingly sniffed the air and said they didn’t really think so.  It comforted me enough that I decided that I wouldn’t mention it unless coerced into it by someone saying something like, “This sausage gravy tastes kinda’ scorched, don’cha think???”

So we went to breakfast at church and everything went smoothly.  Our hospitality committee did a splendid job of planning and the tables were decorated very nicely and food was plentiful and fellowship was warm and comforting.  When all was said and done, and the Gathering Place was back in order and the leftovers were being claimed, I went to get the pot that still had some sausage gravy in it.  My good cousin, Donna, champion of the Hospitality Committee, busy with washing dishes and putting things away, stopped in the middle of what she was doing to say, “Honestly, Mary Ann!  That was some of the best sausage gravy I have ever had!”

I stopped, my heart quiet in the middle of all the hubbub and Easter bustle, and heard a snatch of melody from somewhere in my brain, that was singing “Grace, grace, Wonderful Grace!”  And I said to Donna, “I’m so relieved!  I was afraid it was ruined!  It stuck really bad this morning, and I put it into another pot and hoped for the best – but I didn’t know . . .”  She laughed and reassured me that it was fine, and I began to wonder if (just maybe!) it hadn’t stuck as badly as I thought it had.

After a worshipful Easter service, we came home, and the afternoon was very full with company and an Easter egg hunt on the lawn for the children of my Bible study gals, and finally, when everyone was gone, Middle Daughter and I cleaned up the kitchen and put things back in order.  When we were almost done, I remembered my kettle on the back deck and went to fetch it.  I brought it in and pulled out a scraper to see if I could scrape it clean.

There was absolutely no reason for that gravy to not taste terrible!  The pan was burned so black that I couldn’t just scrape things off.  Oh, the first layer came off okay.  Thick, gunky strips of browned gravy, soggy with water, and smelling “burnt” peeled off beneath my trusty plastic Pampered Chef dish scraper, but what was underneath took a Stanley Stainless Steel Pot Scrubber, and Middle Daughter’s elbow grease and finishing efforts before the pan was shiny again.

The leftover gravy that we brought home was eaten by the household of Certain Man without any notice of anything amiss.  And through it all, I’ve heard that Melody of Grace Given.  Ah, what an incredible, unexpected (and truthfully, undeserved!) Easter Gift of a desperately needed “common thing,” given to a distracted Delaware Grammy whose heart gives Grateful Praise.

 

 

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First Hummer and Thoughts of Grace

The wind is  blowing wild, wild.  The rain, like a cloud of mist from my spray bottle when I’m ironing, blows around the shed, into the garden and across the yard at Shady Acres.  I feel it smooth over my face as I scramble to cut the last few stalks of asparagus that can be called “ready.”

The house feels safe and dry and warm.  Blind Linda rocks to the gentle music of Fisher Prices “Baby’s First Hymns” in her chair and I call my Sweet Mama to see if it is raining there.  We chat about the surprise storm and then, suddenly–!

“Oh, there’s a hummingbird!”  My Mama’s voice is light and full of joy.

“Really???” I ask, almost enviously.  I’ve been looking for hummers for a couple of days, and even put two feeders up last evening, hoping to entice early scouts to our yard.

“Yes,” breathes my Sweet Mama.  “And I don’t have any food in mine yet.”

I come out of the study into the kitchen and mosey on over to the window.  At that very moment, a flash of green with a ruby red throat caught my eye as it made a dash for my most protected feeder on the deck.  I catch my breath.

“Mama!”  I say, almost unable to believe my eyes.  “I have one, too!  Just now!  It’s the first one I’ve seen this season!  I can’t believe it!  I am so happy!!!”

He darted around for a lengthy amount of time for such a flighty little bird.  He looked healthy and fit and ready for another summer.  I wonder how he likes this unpredictable weather, even while noting that it probably was somewhat the weather that drew him to a stable source of sustenance.  And I gave thanks for the unexpected gale.

The days since just before Easter have been tumultuous for this Delaware Grammy.  Just hard decisions to make, trying to please the right people while not making enemies of the ones who may or may not have the right to speak to the situation.  Wishing with all my heart to spend time with the Ohio grandchildren, but understanding that it just isn’t going to happen right now.  I’m feeling keenly some losses, and also feeling sad over choices made that were not mine to make, but never the less, are still heavy on my heart.  And there have been some difficult psychotic moments with OGA and some trying, anxious moments with BL.   More than once, it has felt like gale force winds and blinding rain. Today, at a funeral for an old lady that I barely knew, I found myself crying and knew it had nothing to do with the funeral and everything to do with how life is on several fronts right now.

I watched that little hummer at the feeder, blown by the wind, but seemingly indifferent to it, and realized again how it is really all good!  All these things that drive us to the stable source of soul sustenance are all good.  And I do not need to fret or worry or be dismayed.  The One who loves me and knows what I need is on the watch, and He will provide.

In my heart ring the lyrics of my Grandpa Dave Yoder’s favorite song:

  1. If, on a quiet sea,
    Toward Heav’n we calmly sail,
    With grateful hearts, O God, to Thee,
    We’ll own the fav’ring gale;
    With grateful hearts, O God, to Thee,
    We’ll own the fav’ring gale.
  2. But should the surges rise,
    And rest delay to come,
    Blest be the tempest, kind the storm,
    Which drives us nearer home;
    Blest be the tempest, kind the storm,
    Which drives us nearer home.
  3. Soon shall our doubts and fears
    All yield to Thy control;
    Thy tender mercies shall illume
    The midnight of the soul;
    Thy tender mercies shall illume
    The midnight of the soul.
  4. Teach us, in every state,
    To make Thy will our own;
    And when the joys of sense depart,
    To live by faith alone;
    And when the joys of sense depart,
    To live by faith alone.
    ~Lowell Mason

The sun is suddenly peeking out on this unpredictable day, and women I love are coming for our own small group while the men go to see Gary Burlingame.  There will be kind words, prayers and encouragement.

These days are made better by these glimpses of glory, touches of grace.

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Hearing Frieda’s Hope

The phone is ringing in my Sweet Mama’s sunny kitchen. She is in her chair, and I am sitting at her table, working on her weekly med planner. It is an ordinary Tuesday and the day is sweet with quiet conversation and peaceful camaraderie. I pick up the call for Mama.

“Hello, Yutzys – I mean, Yoders.”

“Oh, Mary Ann!  You’re there at Mom’s?”

The voice at the other end is lilting and familiar.

“Yep, it’s Tuesday, and I’m here!” I puzzle a bit over the voice, but suddenly realize that it belongs to my sister in law, Frieda. She was hospitalized over the weekend with symptoms that were troubling. She has been fighting an increasingly challenging battle with an especially insidious form of breast cancer that has metastasized.

“Is Mom there?” The voice is joyous, strong. Maybe there is good news here.

I hand the receiver over to Mama, and note with satisfaction that it is on speaker phone. I watch as she cradles the phone to her ear, her face a glad light, and she greets her daughter in law with a note of anticipation in her voice. And then.

“Mom,” says this voice, carrying across the kitchen, every word hanging in the air, held by an incredible thread of joy, “I’m calling to tell you that the tests are all back and I’m going to get to go to Heaven and it looks like it’s going to be really soon.”

My Sweet Mama’s face crumbles into a mask of sorrow. Across the room, I sit frozen as the import of the words settle into my soul with a bleak sorrow that begs to be repudiated. How can this be? My sister in law, part of our family’s fabric for almost fifty years, a beloved wife, dedicated mother and wonderful Mimi to her grandchildren, cannot be leaving us. What will they do? What will we do? The tears begin to slide down my face.

But Frieda isn’t about to let the news lie with one or two sentences. She speaks comfort and peace and hope and joy into the room while Mama and I weep. “Just think of it,” she carols. “I’m going to be in HEAVEN. With Jesus! I’ve lived my life for this! I’m going to this beautiful place and it’s going to be so good! And think of all the people I will get to see! I will meet a grandmother that I never knew here. I’ll see my grandmother that was one of the Godliest, most wonderful woman that I have ever known. I loved her so much! I’ll see Dad and all those Yoder boys that have gone on before! It’s going to be wonderful! And Janice Root! She’s going to be there!”

That gave me pause to consider a bit as I thought of Frieda walking into Heaven. I thought about Janice, there in the presence of the Lord for these long years (for us earth people) and I thought about her great laugh, ringing down the corridors of Heaven and could almost hear her saying, “Frieda! You here already??? Well, welcome home!!!” There could be some joy in that thought . . .

The conversation took many turns, but there was never anything but eager anticipation on Frieda’s part. She discussed the medical issues with the same detachment she might have used for book review. “They found cancer cells in my spinal fluid,” she said nonchalantly. “The cancer has spread to the lining between my brain and my skull. The doctor says that there is nothing more they can do. They say that I will just sleep more and more (and I’m already just sleeping and sleeping) and that I will slip into a coma and then I will go to Heaven! She says that I don’t have months, just weeks. Isn’t it so exciting?” I try to catch her enthusiasm but it just. Isn’t. there.

Oh, Frieda! Wake me up and tell me this is all a bad dream. Tell me that you beat the terrible odds and are going to get better. Tell me that Daniel and I will have a chance to bring Mama to South Carolina and visit you and Clint in your lovely home beside the lake, that we will pick up pecans and watch the season play its changing tunes in the woods and fields. Tell me that you will be back to caring for your patients in your home health care job and that you will rake the leaves and pull the weeds and run off frequently to see those grandbabies of yours. Tell me that you will keep on loving Clint and praying for your children and their spouses and grandkids. Tell me that your inimitable honesty in counsel to them and to us all will go on for years until you are old and gray and you do it from an old hickory rocking chair. Tell me that this is all a big mistake and we really do have another twenty or thirty years. Tell me!!! I beg of you. Tell me!!!

But these are not the words that she has for us. She knows whom she has believed. She knows where she is going. She doesn’t want to prolong it or inconvenience her family. The plans are in place. She is unafraid. She is at peace. She is unfaltering.

Oh, Lord Jesus! How very much we need you now. Shine your Glory into our hearts though her example. We are so sad.

Frieda says to Mama, “Is there anything you want me to tell anyone up there? I can take messages to Heaven for you.” Oh, my! What a precious thought!

Mama is startled, then a torrent of words for the love of her life that she misses every single day. “Tell Daddy that I love him, that we miss him. Tell him I’ll see him soon!”

“I’ll do that,” says this brave lady. “And I know that you would have preferred to hear this from Clint, but he just felt like he couldn’t talk. Maybe he could talk now.” Mama is crying so hard she can barely talk and when Clint comes on the line, his voice chokes and there are no words. It is so hard to talk to a loving parent when our worlds are upside down and bleeding out. I take the phone from Mama and speak what seems to me to be some babbling nonsense to my oldest brother. He regains his composure and is able to talk, and there is much there that is rich and comforting.

“I feel like the Lord has impressed several things on my heart,” he says quietly. “One is, ‘what kind of husband is the best kind of husband for Frieda right now?’ And I intend to be that kind of husband. This is going to be hard. And I’m going to have some really hard times. I’ve already had some really bad times. But, you know, there were times when we lived in Delaware and Frieda would go off alone to visit Shana or Chip and she’d be gone for quite a long time, but I was okay. She would always come back eventually and we’d go back to our usual routines. And now Frieda is going on another journey alone. And she won’t be coming back, but I’ll be going to her. I really don’t know how soon I will see her again, but it may not be all that long. It’s going to be hard. But I know that God will be with me and I know it’s not forever.” His voice is calm, trusting. My tears won’t stop.

“God has been so good to us,” he says. “We’ve enjoyed a tranquil life. Even with Dad going, and that was hard, but even with that, we’ve been so blessed and the lines have fallen to us in such pleasant places. We’ve not seen a lot of tragedy and hard times.”

There was so much more said – and so much left unsaid because there are no words for much of this. The conversations ended with promises to pray, affirmations of love and missions to accomplish.

How can we begin to go back to ordinary after such a brush with the eternal? I couldn’t think, could scarcely remember what the usual tasks were. But I kept thinking about the things that Frieda had said, and how important it was to get on with the living and believing and even being glad for her as she looks forward to Heaven without a flinch, without fear, without regret. She wants us to rejoice. She does not want anything to distract from The Glory of her Homegoing.

I am in awe of her, in awe of my brother, whose responses are nothing but illustrations of God’s incredible Grace. In an almost unbelievable demonstration of God’s intentional love for us individually, something happened several days before this diagnosis was given that reminded me of how up close and personal our God is. A song was requested at our annual church retreat on Sunday morning. Aunt Dottie had asked Dave and Ilva to sing, “Day by day, and with each passing moment . . .” as their special music. Dave had prefaced their singing by dedicating the song to Clint and Frieda, requesting prayer and testifying to the grace that they have found. The words of the song floated through the Crowder Center at the old Denton Wesleyan Camp moving many of us to tears. At about the very same time that Dave and Ilva were singing that song, Clint was leaving church after having taught Sunday School. He was weighed down by the sadness and he turned on the Back to the Bible broadcast on the radio. Immediately across the airwaves, came the very same song.

“That song is for me! It’s right where I am right now,” he thought and went home, looked it up and got a link ready to send to our family google group – not knowing what had happened in the gathering at Denton, MD, that morning.

(Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNVCcph6cnI&list=RDlNVCcph6cnI)

I listen to the words of this old hymn and am comforted and encouraged and even hopeful. We wish that she wouldn’t need to go. Wish for more time, wish for opportunities to say “I surely do love you!” a whole lot more than we’ve said it in the past. But it isn’t a time for wishing. She doesn’t want us to wallow. She wants us to think about going to Heaven as the wonderful adventure we all have before us, looking to Jesus as the Author and Finisher! of our faith.

I pray that we can follow this shining example. There is so much to look forward to. There is JOY set before us.  We will remember.

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