Tag Archives: Heaven

Chapters in December

The skies are grey and heavy with rain on this Saturday a week before Christmas.  I’m supposed to be editing my yearly Family Christmas letter.  The envelopes are addressed, and stamped, the cards are ready to go into the envelopes, and the letter is mostly finished, but it’s been a difficult task this year.

Certain Man is home today, in the house, working on tomorrow’s sermon for our congregation at Laws Mennonite Church.  I’m sitting for the first time since I got up!  And I did sleep in this morning.  In fact, when I got up and saw that it was after eight o’clock, I rattled around the old nursery rhyme in my head, editing it as I went.

Mary Annie has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till eight or nine
Lazy Mary Annie!

This week has been another week in the journey I continue to make in life.  I think the last months I’ve felt more like I was walking in my Mama’s footsteps than I ever have before.  One of the things that is evident to me is that the Mama I remember best was far younger than I am now.  And often things come up that hit me squarely in the face that were things of the years when I considered her “old.”

One of the things that has been entirely too reminiscent of her has been this thing of getting accustomed to my partial plate.  Mama had a bit more vanity than I do, and she went the route of implants and caps for most of the teeth she lost, but as the years passed, she was forced to go with dentures.  They were a sore trial to her, and they hurt, and they didn’t fit right, and they wouldn’t chew the things she wanted them to chew.  Lots of times she had sores in her mouth from where they rubbed, and she was dependent on me or someone else to take her to her dentist in Dover to get things adjusted or repaired or replaced.  I feel so sorry sometimes when I am dealing with even a minor maladjustment to my partial plate and I think of how she must have felt and how miserable she must have been with the constant lack of satisfaction with her teeth.  I wish that I had paid better attention and tried harder to help her get that one issue resolved.  I felt like I did run her to Dover a lot, but if she felt the despair in proportion to what I feel, I’m certain that she often wished that either she could just do it herself, or that I would have understood better and done more.

And then there is that issue with her feet.  In the last months, the feet that I inherited from her have been giving me a fit!  Last week I had a few days when I felt like I couldn’t walk!  I have been seeing a specialist, and he had told me on my first visit to his office that my feet were not in any kind of good shape.

“The arthritis in your feet, particularly your left one, is very advanced,” Dr. Menendez said that day in September.  “You have some bones in there that are ‘lipping’ and there are calcium deposits and just bad arthritis.”  He sat at the end of the table, holding my foot so gently in his hands, like he was willing it to be better somehow.  I saw a look in his eye that I decided to read as “compassion” instead of “pity” but I knew that he had seen something on the x-ray that told him that I wasn’t lying when I said that my feet sometimes hurt.

“I don’t feel like I’m in any sort of a crisis right now,” I said to him.  “Rather, I’m here for sort of a base line consultation at the advice of Dr. Wilson, and because I have a feeling that in the not too near future, I may need some help.  I also wanted to know if what I am doing now is the best thing I can do for them, or if there is something more I could be doing.”

He affirmed all of the things that I had been doing, prescribed a different anti-inflammatory, and told me that if I ever felt like I needed some shots in those feet, I shouldn’t hesitate to call him.  He did think that “putting them up whenever I could” might be a good practice to pursue.

I went out of his office that day with a heart that wanted to turn away from this aging process.  Dr. Wilson has told me (more frequently than I care to remember) that I’m “a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body.”  Excepting that over the years since he started to tell me that, the “young woman” has mutated to being a bit more age appropriate for the body, I’m rather forced to admit.  I remember hearing Uncle Johnny talking at one of our family reunions some time before he died.  He said, “You know, I’ve always been able to count on this body of mine to pretty much do what I want it to do when I want it to do it.  But something has started to change, and this old body is letting me down!”  Yepper, I’d say that pretty much catches it.  This old body is letting me down.

In the months since that first visit to Dr. Menendez’s office, I’ve had a life so full of happenings that I’ve hardly had time to think about feet.  There’s been canning to finish, lima beans to freeze, a beloved sister in law living in our yard, a dishwasher that needed replacing, seven family birthdays and a trip to Ohio, parties for my grandsons, Grammy days with my granddaughter, an ordination for Eldest Son, a new foster baby in the family, Thanksgiving, a Christmas Open House for Certain Man’s office friends, Christmas preparations and shopping and then the usual things with Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda.  Life just hasn’t stopped, and that business about putting my feet up just hasn’t been a happening thing.  And slowly I became aware that there was something just not quite right with these crazy feet of mine. And last week, when it was rainy for a few days in a row, and I could barely motor, I called Dr. Menendez’s office and asked if I could come in for shots. The thing that really put me over the top was that the foot that hurt the most was my “good” one.  That kinda’ scared me because when my “good knee” went bad on me, it had to be replaced before my “bad” one.

They put me on the schedule for Thursday, a week out, and I hobbled about and got ready for the Christmas Open House, and prayed.  And the pain diminished and I felt a whole lot better about things.  I started toying with the idea of not going.  But then I had a regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Wilson, and decided to ask his advice about whether I should have it done.  I thought maybe he would advise against it.  However, it was my first visit to him since he had read the x-rays, and he had some strong words to say about it.  “Go get the shots,” he said forcefully.  “By all means, get them.  It’s Christmas, you are going to be on your feet a lot, and it just doesn’t make sense to not get them.  I really think you should!”

And so, on Thursday afternoon, I tromped off to Dr. Menendez’s office.  I thought I had prepared myself quite muchly for this encounter.  I had taken My Sweet Mama to her specialist often for this sort of thing, and I knew that it wasn’t pleasant, but as I sat on that table waiting for the doctor to come in, I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of Déjà vu that it almost took my breath away.  My feet stuck out the end of the table, and the veins, purple and prominent made their tracks across them in almost the same pattern that I had seen on Mama’s.  And when Dr. Menendez brought his spray for numbing, and sprayed it on my foot while putting a needle into almost the exact same spot that Mama often had hers, the pain from the needle wasn’t even a scosche compared to what was crashing through my heart.  My Mama!  My Sweet Mama!  What she must have felt those many times that she went for these shots, hoping to find relief for the pain that dogged her every step.  What had she thought?  Did she really think it was going to work this time?  Did she think she would spring out of there, able to do all the things that she so longed to do?  Did she somehow know that she was fighting a losing battle with time and aging and a body that was “letting her down?”

It was another chapter in my Decembered grief.  I missed her terribly in that moment, wished for the chance to talk to her again, and ask her more about what was in her heart.  Dr. Menendez put bandaids on the the drops of blood that appeared on the tops of my feet.  He smoothed some callouses off the bottom of my feet and reassured me that I would feel better.  I chatted with him cheerfully over the pain in my heart and took myself out of the office and into my mini-van and headed home.  And then, as I motored towards home, I talked to My Sweet Mama and cried some overdue tears.  The years slipped away so quickly.

But my feet are feeling so much better.  The weeks ahead hold so much promise.  The offspringin’s and the grandchildren are coming home for Christmas and I don’t feel nearly as incapacitated as I did a week ago.  I’m looking forward to the celebrations of Joy that are ahead.  The message of Christmas is that of incredible hope.  A Savior is born!  He came to us, in our sorrow, our need, our pain.  He came to bring Light and Healing and Life.  He came to bring Peace and Joy.  All the things that are wrong with this old world will someday be put right by this Precious Christmas Gift.

And that includes bodies that let us down.  My Sweet Mama’s feet don’t hurt her anymore.  She’s dancing in her brand new feet, and they are beautiful.  What a glorious expectation!  What a thing to look forward to!

My December Heart gives grateful praise.

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

The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .

Matthew 13:33:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”(NLT)

I looked at the proposed lesson for my LITTLES and wondered what in the world I could do to teach this lesson in a way that would help them remember the gist of the lesson.  There were two parts to the scriptural background; the verse about the yeast, and also the two preceding verses about the mustard seed. The word pictures and the activities that were suggested were good activities, but how do I use up a whole class period discussing “The Kingdom of Heaven” with children this young?

And just what is the Kingdom of Heaven in our lives, particularly as it would relate to these verses?  A  small seed, planted, growing into a great bush?  Or yeast, leavening a large measure of flour, completely losing its identity as it bonds with the other ingredients, yet it affects the whole batch of dough, and effects change in unmistakeable, cognitive ways.  What does this mean to me, for Heaven’s Sake?  And how can I make it real for my LITTLES.  I mean, they totally missed the lesson about the sparrows, and this is far more obscure than that.

So I thought and thought, and finally decided to bake some bread with them.  From scratch.  I would ask them what they thought the Kingdom of Heaven was, and we would talk about what it means to do things the way Jesus would do them, and how when we are kind and share and obey and tell the truth, how that “grows” inside our hearts and makes us happy.  I would ask them how it made them feel when other people were kind to them, and shared with them.  What it looked like when other children were disobedient or told lies or were mean, and whether that made them want to be their friends.  And we would bake bread and this time, I would constantly talk about the Kingdom of Heaven and what it means, and how it is like the yeast.  And maybe, this time, they would remember.

So we started out class period by meeting in the basement, and donning our aprons.

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We had two extra children, but that was just fine.  And everyone entered into the discussion before getting to the actual mixing of the ingredients.  But once we got started, there was no turning back!

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Most of the ingredients, I had pre-measured, so they each got a chance to add something. Here, we are softening the yeast in warm water.

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Here Victoria stirs the yeast while we get ready to put the sugar in.

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Judah dumps in the salt.

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The boys watch the yeast to see if it’s growing.  They get a good understanding of what it smells like, too.  (I don’t think anyone spit, coughed or sneezed in it, but I can’t prove it.  I can say with a great deal of confidence that it did get breathed on!)

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And then we stirred . . .

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and stirred . . .

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and stirred!

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The yeast had been rising all this time, and now it was time to add it to our bowl.

Then it was time to talk about what that yeast was going to do to that bowl of dough.
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(And they all listened carefully!)

And then it was time to add more flour and stir some more!

Then we finally got it pour out onto the table


. . . and every child got a chance to work the dough.  For videos of each child, go to https://www.facebook.com/maryann.yutzy and scroll down.  This was one of the best parts of the whole morning!

And then it was into the pans to rise.  Of course we had to check on the progress!  Sure enough, the dough was rising!


And then it was into the oven:  Whew!  That’s HOT!  But if you put your little hand on the outside of the oven after it was shut, it wasn’t hot at all.  That’s pretty exciting!

 

And then they waited and waited, and finally, the bread was brown enough and we took it out of the oven.

 

Oh, so exciting!  They each got to choose a loaf that was “theirs” and then they buttered the tops and lined up so protectively by the one that was “theirs.”


By that time we had survived the singing of the “blessing song,” when we sang to each child and during which I put my hands on each head when we say their name.  It was when I was doing that,  that we found a tick on one of the children’s heads.  Well, that caused it’s own excitement while Mom and a nurse and eventually Dad came to assist in the removal.  This tamed the excitement somewhat, and eventually, long past the ringing of the bell marking the end of Sunday School, we talked one more time about how the Kingdom of Heaven was like a small amount of yeast that we put into a measure of flour (and salt and sugar and shortening and milk) that made the dough grow and grow until it was enough for nine loaves of bread.  We stood together on  the tile floor in the Gathering Place of Laws Mennonite Church and gave thanks.

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“For all good gifts, thy Grace imparts–
We thank thee, LORD, with humble hearts!”

After the church service, they came to claim their loaves, and to gather bread for giving away and thus ended another morning of teaching my LITTLES about The Kingdom of Heaven!

Will they remember?  I don’t know for sure, but I think they just might!
If not now, then maybe someday.

And I pray God that it might be so!

Photo Credits:  Christina Yutzy Bontrager

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Asparagus Thoughts on a Red Kitchen Kind of Day

It feels like it’s been raining a LOT in Delaware.  I’ve always loved rainy days, and (usually) I’m the one who is delighted when I look out and there are clouds and it’s cool enough to justify running the pellet stove one more day.

The asparagus has started to grow prolifically   I look at the shoots, growing so tall in the wet and spring and wonder, briefly, if there is asparagus in Heaven.  Nope, I’m pretty sure there isn’t.  Especially since you can’t have a crowd of more than two or three without great controversy concerning this vegetable.

I’ve loved asparagus for years, relishing the first picking, often picking it before it was really quite ready, and always taking one of the first pickings to My Sweet Mama.  She often “had a hankerin’ for a mess of asparagus” before there was enough in our sparse patch to take to her.  But the patch has grown over these last few years and we have plenty this year.  I’ve already given away a big bag to a neighbor, and plan to give some more.  There is a lot out there and a whole lot more coming.

I don’t quite understand what is wrong this year with my taste buds. I picked the first batch, cooked it up and scarcely tasted it.  It felt like it stuck in my throat, then lay in my stomach, heavy,  like a bite of bad food.  I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything wrong with it, and was gratified when Daniel and the rest of my household ate it up.  The next picking, The Offspringin’s grilled to go with an early spring cookout.  There wasn’t an abundance, and grilled asparagus has never tempted me, so I wasn’t a bit jealous when they ate that.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve picked it, washed it, snapped it, cooked it, and just haven’t wanted to eat it.

I’ve wondered about the phenomenon over the last several weeks, and felt this gnawing sadness at the back of my conscious thought.  The coming Mothers’ Day celebration has added to the knot in my throat and the catch in my throat.  And then a picture, found inadvertently this week, brought me face to face with the fact that the Mama I’ve had for every single Mother’s day for 62 years is gone.  And I cannot even walk into the place that she called home and find any resemblance of Alene Yoder there.  I knew that in my head, but somehow, stamped in bright read and changed windows and different flooring, was the proof that things have changed forever and my Mama is gone.

The kitchen when she cooked asparagus and a thousand other things with the touch that she learned from her Mama, has been decimated and remodeled to someone else’s taste.  And someone else, who has their own memories and opinions and ways of doing things, will soon be rattling around in my Mama’s house, making it their home.  And part of me hates it so much I feel like throwing up.

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I know that things have to change.  I know that it is probably easier for the house to be completely different if there is going to be different people in it.  What am I to expect?  That someone who isn’t my Sweet Mama would move into her house and leave it exactly the way she did, and do everything the way she did?  How would a clone of my mother really work out in my life and in my emotions?  Would it really be helpful?  I promise you!  NO!!!

And so, I give into the changes that have been made, knowing that it isn’t really up to me anyhow.  For me, there is no right, no real choice in this matter, except that I can choose to be happy, to be realistic, to embrace what is mine to remember and to love, to acknowledge that what is most tangible isn’t what is the most real.  And to remember happy times of laughter and love and good, good memories that cannot be changed by a sledge hammer and a paint brush.

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Mothers’ Day, 2015

And so, Mama, once again, I am so thankful for the Mama I had.  I knew that I was going to miss you, and I knew that it was going to be hard.  I’m often surprised at the things that bring a fresh stab of grief and make me pensive and quiet.  Today I remember a year ago when we had no way of knowing that a short 12 days later, a fall in your bedroom would set the course that would take you away from your sunny kitchen and from us.  

I knew I was going to miss you so much, Mama.  I just didn’t expect that missing you so much would cause asparagus to taste and smell like grief.

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Chilly Mornings and Shadows of Sorrow

The promise of a beautiful day made us decide to let the fire go out in the pellet stove. I came down in the early morning darkness, and it was chilly in the farmhouse at Shady Acres.

My heart felt bleak, too.  The last few days have been a struggle to stay optimistic.  I told someone earlier this week that everybody was grumpy!  OGA has been touchy and a little schitzy.  BL has been difficult beyond my ability to understand.  And my own restless heart has been impatient and selfish.  When I felt like even BL’s pulmonologist was a bit peevish this week and I resented being sent for a chest x-ray for BL, I was brought up a little short on the fact that the problem (just might!) lie with me.

This morning, when my alarm went at its usual time, I felt the darkness in my soul.  I turned over, accosted immediately by an unaccustomed ache in my head, and a stuffy nose.  But morning’s work was waiting, so I did what needed doing, the usual morning routines; Making  beds, combing, straightening what needed straightening, washing my face, getting dressed, using moisturizer, washing my spectacles.  Certain Man was already downstairs, having had difficulty with heartburn early in the night.  I came down to find him soundly asleep in his chair.  I went to get my morning vitamins and coffee.

How very much I’m missing my Sweet Mama.  The memories of her last few weeks of life have been hounding me, and the sadness sometimes feels overwhelming.  I know she’s okay now.  I know that she would say that the difficulty of those hard, hard days are but a part of a long forgotten past, and that she blesses the tempest, lauds the storm that tossed her safely on the Heavenly Shore.  I know she’s okay! 

But sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am.  Not all the time.  Not when I have something I want to ask her.  There are just life questions that only a Mama can answer.  Not when I have something I want to tell her. I wish I could see her eyes light up with that familiar gleam, and hear her opinions and reactions and verdicts on human nature.  Not when I just wish for the physical essence that was my Mama for all of my life.  The sound of her voice, the taste of her cooking, the smell of her cologne, the visuals that defined her — her pretty dresses, her neat hair, her beautiful face, her gentle touch.  My Mama.  Everything so gone.  So unreachable.  The aching void is made more acute by the color and light and authenticity of my memories, and by these long nine months.  (“Lord Jesus, she’s never been gone this long!”)

I bring myself into the comfort of the blue recliner that I purchased with money that I was given from Mama’s account, and shiver in the predawn quiet.  Folded on the back of the chair is the trusty afghan that Middle Daughter found, barely started, among her grandma’s things.  Deborah brought it home, worked on it furiously and finished it before Christmas.  When I opened my presents in our family Christmas gathering, there was this lovely blue and white afghan in a familiar stitch, lying in the tissue paper.  And when I heard the story behind it, I knew it would do more than warm me on chilly days.  On this morning, when it is easy to feel bereft, I reach for my afghan and stretch it over my toes and snuggle my arms under its  welcome protection.  It’s time to think.  It’s time to allow myself some grieving time.  It’s time to allow myself to be comforted.

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Allow myself to be comforted?  Sometimes I don’t even want to be comforted.  Sometimes I just want to feel the ragged, broken shards of grief, and I just want to feel the reality of this loss.  Sometimes I don’t want to listen to reason (she was so miserable so much of the time in the last year, she was getting older, we all have to go sometime, it must have been “her time”).  And sometimes I don’t want to listen to hope! (She is healthy.  She is happy.  She is more alive than she has ever been.  She had the promise of Heaven.  She was going HOME to be with people she loved as well her Savior.  She believed.  She had fought a good fight, she had finished the course, she had kept the faith.)

But in the softness of the afghan, in the reiterating of my sorrow, in the tears and in the memories, I find myself (strangely) comforted once again.  I think of the colors she loved, the spring time yearning she always had to dig in her flower beds and make something pretty.  I think about the fact that she fostered relationship with me and my siblings in such a way that we truly knew her, and in these days since her passing, I have things that bring up specific, wonderful memories that remind me that I was so blessed to grow up with the sort of Mama that she was.  Not perfect, but never wavering from her commitment to raise us to love Jesus and to make sure of Heaven, and to love each other and to do all we can to see to it that the next generation knows the way HOME.

Comforted?  Yes, I’ve been comforted.  Easter is just around the corner when we celebrate the victory of JESUS over death and the grave.  When our RISEN LORD became the cornerstone of our Faith.  Where a cross and an empty tomb became a place for me to hang this heart that sometimes feels so fragmented.

Is it enough?

Indeed, it is!

And this old heart gives broken, grateful praise

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The Train Goes Round and Round the Track, and Mama’s Canary Sings.

Whenever there is noise that covers the immediate area, Mama’s bird, Pretty Boy, turns on the trills and chops until it pulls my heart towards the memories of another room, sunny and comforting, with a familiar form in the recliner.  Mama is listening to that same canary, and there is a smile around her thin lips.

“I love to hear him sing,” she would say.  “He doesn’t sing so much, unless there’s some kind of noise, like water running or certain music.”

This week I needed to go out to Country Rest Home.  I parked in the front lot, facing the window where Sweet Mama spent her last days, took her last breaths, and from where her spirit took flight to Heaven.  I tried not to look at her house, tried not to think, but I knew, I knew that I was going to go over to the house that was first my parents’ home,  and where Sweet Mama lived for almost ten years alone.

I finished my errand at Country Rest, and sat in my car for a bit.  And then, when I was pretty sure that no one would follow me and that I would be alone in my journey, I parked my van in front of the familiar front porch and looked at the curtains and blinds in the windows and bushes and (now wintering) plants that look just about the same as they always have.  Except that there was no light inside.  Mama almost always had light.

I stopped at the mailbox and retrieved some mail, and then went in through the front door as I always did.  It smelled just like my Mama’s house.  Her smell was there.  I felt my heart quicken just a bit with the recognition of the sweet, identifiable scent of Alene Yoder’s house. I was home!

I came around the corner, into the living room and it was then that the import of her absence hit me full.  The house was empty.  From where I stood at the opening into the living room, there was a broad expanse, with almost nothing to break up the space.  All the way at the other end, a lone folding chair sat at one table space, and a hickory rocker was pulled up to another.  A small, rickety bookcase, that had served as her bedside table for as long as I can remember, was against a far wall, and two recliners were snuggled together inside the short wall to my right like Daddy and Mama were using them when they shared their nightly devotions together.  The silence was a roaring noise in my ears.  It felt like I should be able to call, “Hey, Mama!  I’m finally here!” the way I must have done a thousand times over the last ten years, and hear her respond from the next room, “I’m here, come on in!”

I began the trek across the big living room, into the dining room, my footsteps muted on the carpet in the deserted house.  And then I heard the sound of weeping.  A whimpering noise was coming from somewhere in my throat, spilling into the empty house, running rivers down my face and dripping off my wobbly chin.  The sound in my ears made me only cry harder, and I stood helpless against the onslaught of grief, suddenly fresh and raw and anything but reasonable and restrained.  I plodded into the deserted study, hovered at the door of her bedroom where she took her last, catastrophic tumble.  The floors were swept clean, and there was no vestige of my Mama there.  “Oh, Mama, Mama!  You are so gone!  I miss you so much.  I miss you so much!”  I stood where her recliner always sat and wrapped my arms around the empty space and brought them tight against myself as if I could somehow hug the place where she always was, but I came up with nothing.

It was probably in that moment that some things began to sink into my fur brain.  I realized that I was never again going to feel my Sweet Mama’s presence in that empty house.  I would have memories, and as long as the smell was there, and the shell of the house was largely unchanged, I would remember her, and think of her, and feel the familiarity of this place that held so many good times, but I wouldn’t be able to feel like she was there somewhere, lurking just around the corner.  And that was a big enough thought that I decided to not stay any longer.

I picked up the rickety little bookcase and thought I would take it home and see if Certain Man could sturdy it up and maybe it could be useful somewhere in the house.  And I got into my van and headed for Milford.  Home was waiting, and the afternoon was gray and chilly.  I came around the corner at 36 and 16 and considered stopping at Mama’s grave.  When all was quiet at Greenwood Mennonite Church and there were no cars in the parking lot, I pulled in and parked beside the brick steps going into the country cemetery, and walked over to the granite marker where we laid her body to rest.

I was crying again, and I traced the letters on the stone.  “Why???” I asked aloud.  “Why???”

And that was when I felt like I was held gently by my Heavenly Father.  “Are you asking why she went to where she is happy, healthy, and free?  Do you think she is worse off now than she was when she was with you here?”  I looked at the grass, almost totally grown back over the grave, and thought about Daddy’s body, now there for ten years, and thought about why the grief was so unmanageable on this January day. I thought about her there, in Heaven with Jesus and Daddy, with her parents and many, many friends.  I thought about what it was like up there, and wondered again just how it would be.

“There’s a city of light mid the stars we are told,
Where they know not a sorrow or care.
And the gates are of pearl and the streets are of gold
And the building exceedingly fair.”

The song rose unbidden in my heart and the next thing I knew, I was singing it in a shaky voice to the falling light.  The cemetery was quiet, and the notes were anything but beautiful, but I grew stronger as I plowed on.

“Let us pray for each other, not faint by the way,
In this sad world of sorrow and woe.
For that home is so bright
And is almost in sight,
And I trust in my heart, you’ll go there.

Heaven.  Our someday Home.  Her present Home.  I cannot begin to understand what was waiting for Mama that June night when she left this all behind and stepped into GLORY and LIGHT and PEACE and PRESENCE and ETERNAL LIFE.  But this I do know.  It wasn’t empty.  It wasn’t quiet.  It wasn’t full of any memories that made her weep.  Mama was Home, and I believe it somehow smelled and looked and felt familiar, but still so far beyond her wildest expectations that it’s unfathomable to us mortals.

I turned away.  Homefolk were going to soon be worried.  It was time I headed on out to Shady Acres where my life still is, and where the people I love still gather.  My tears were over for now.  There will be more, and there will be days when the grief feels fresh and raw and unmanageable.  I’ve come to know that it’s all part of the process.  I don’t like it, but I’m trying to make it my friend. There are valuable life lessons to be learned here, and I don’t want to miss them.

And so, tonight, for the process of letting go, for the part that empty houses and tears and gravestones fill in that process, and for the hope of Heaven and for Jesus, who made it all possible; for this and so much more:

My heart gives grateful praise.

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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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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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The siblings break bread

It is a Tuesday afternoon.  I stir the white sauce that is slowly thickening on my front burner.  On the back burner, a large kettle is beginning to simmer with carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and seasonings.  The shrimp is thawed in the over the sink mesh colander, waiting for its turn to be added to the chowder that I’m putting together for our evening meal.

I hear the door into the laundry room entry way open and feel a surge of anticipation.  He walks into the kitchen with that familiar tread.  My brother is here!  I put down the  scissors I am using to cut the shrimp and dry my hands.  He is not a hugger, but he doesn’t mind a hug sometimes and this is one time when I get away with it.  His smile is steady, but there is a quiet in his bearing that stabs my heart.  He has traveled many miles alone over the last thirteen months, and today was no different.  There are 600 long miles from his home in South Carolina to Shady Acres, and he has driven them repeatedly in the last year.

It isn’t long until the door opens again and in come Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys.  We had invited them to join us this evening. These two. Our Daddy’s brother and our Mama’s sister.  Their presence and persons comfort me like no one else can.  Their support and understanding and love have been inestimable, and in them are the tangible remembrances of the two who were our parents.  It feels so right to have them here.

The doors keep opening and shutting behind my beloved siblings and their spouses.  Bert and Sarah come, bringing tender and delicious homemade biscuits.  Alma comes with luscious looking pumpkin pies, lamenting the fact that Jerrel has a DFA meeting, and then Mark and Polly complete our circle, with Polly bringing a marvelous tossed salad to round our the simple meal.  There are beloved faces missing.  Nel and Rose are in Pennsylvania.  Frieda is in Heaven.  Daddy and Mama — I fight back a catch in my throat, and purposefully put it away. We will be glad for who we have in this place, at this time.  We gather around the long dining room table, ten of us at this gathering, and Uncle Jesse prays the blessing.

How many times did I hear Daddy’s voice, raised in prayer at a meal time?  It’s been a long time, but the words of my uncle’s prayer wrap themselves around me with familiarity and quiet comfort.  He thanks God for the food, for the opportunity to be together and prays for blessing on this time shared and for the ones who made the food. Around the table, the hands are joined and we listen to his quiet voice.

And then the “Amen” is said and the food is passed and the conversation weaves a pattern of memories and laughter and tears.  We share so much common ground with each other and with these two whose genetic heritage is the same as ours.  There are stories of Grandpa Dave, and the laughter is vibrant and genuine.  We ask questions and talk about our childhood.  We wonder how our daddy would have handled getting old and infirm and dependent and agreed that God was incredibly merciful to him and to us when He took him HOME.

We don’t speak much about our Sweet Mama.  The missing has settled into a deep and dark chasm for me and there are days when I feel like my heart will burst with all the things I need/want to tell her. I know she is safe.  I know she is happy.  I know that it really was God’s timing.  And I also know that it won’t always hurt this bad.  But it’s hard for me to talk about her without the tears.  At least for now.  And so we remember the good times, several “safe” things, and draw strength and comfort and courage from the time we spend in sweet, sweet fellowship.

All too soon, the night is over.  Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys have a somewhat long trek back to their home in Dover and it’s dark.  I worry about them heading off into the November cold, but they are cheerful, dispensing hugs and thank yous and beaming good will to us all.  My brothers and sisters and their spouses gather their leftover food and also depart.  Certain Man takes down the table, puts away chairs and helps to straighten the dining room while I load the dishwasher and put away leftover soup.. The neight has been exactly what I’ve needed.  When I kissed my auntie good by, I smelled the sweet smell of cologne and her cheek was so soft against mine.  It wasn’t my Mama’s signature Chantilly, but it was reminiscent of how important it always was to our Mama that she smelled good.  Oh, Mama!  How I miss you!

The years did pass so swiftly.  Sometimes it seems like Daddy and Mama have been gone forever.  This isn’t something new or unusual or peculiar to the children of Mark and Alene Yoder.  It’s just life.  We had excellent parents.  Truly the best!  Human, flawed, and with their own foibles and peculiarities and sometimes follies.  But so right for us.  So full of faith that they lived before us, and they loved us.  This night reminded us so much of our Daddy and Mama.  But for me, the one thing that shone the brightest though the presence of our precious Uncle and Auntie was the faith mixed with that unconditional love.  We were so blessed.  We are so blessed.  The gifts that we’ve been given through no effort of our own, are gifts that many, many people all over this world have not been privileged to have.

For the gifts of Heritage, warm memories, siblings that are good friends and an extended family who cares — for these good gifts, —

My heart gives humble, grateful praise.

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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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Marking the Years

She was lithe and young and beautiful.  Her long navy dress with its spaghetti straps looked out of place at the minimal services roadside rest area.  Her hair was flawlessly casual, and she washed perfect hands under the free standing sink beside mine.  I halted in my handwashing, my hands suddenly still under my own stream of water.

“Wow,” I said softy.  “You are all dressed up!”

She laughed.  “Oh.  Well.  Thank-you!”

I finished washing my hands and went around the corner to the side power blow dryer and held my wet hands under its blast.  I watched as the skin on my hands rippled and moved under the powerful stream of air, and the skin looked old and droopy — like my Grandma Yoder’s did when I was a little girl, and I watched her peeling peaches or washing dishes or braiding rugs. The similitude startled me and I felt a sudden sense of strangeness with the hands that have been mine all my life.  I finished the drying and went back out into the sunlight where Certain Man was waiting on me.  He was in his usual good humor, and he smiled when I walked over to him.  The smiley crinkles that I love so much ran along those perfect eyes and deepened as I came towards him.

“Are you ready to go?”  He asked in his pleasant voice.

“Sure am!” I replied in an effort to keep my voice light, happy.  I couldn’t voice the unrest I was feeling, how old and clumsy and worn out and uninteresting I felt.  We both got back into the mini-van and headed on down Interstate 81 towards Delaware and Home.

It had been such a restful weekend for me.  We had been planning this Yoder campout for almost a year, and it had been on a whim that I had signed up last November.  I had thought that maybe even My Sweet Mama would feel good enough to go along, and I had rented a cabin that would hold six people as soon as it became available.  But instead of planning and packing for Mama’s comfort, I had spent the week (before we went to the campout)  helping my sister in law, Rose, clean out some cupboards in Mama’s house, and we (mostly Rose) had even made great progress in the room that I had dreaded the most — My Daddy’s study.  It was a satisfying week, we accomplished a LOT, but there is still a long way to go, and the reminders of the passing of time and my own mortality were rife in the boxes and files and notes of a lifetime.  Where did the years go? How did I get to be almost sixty-two?  Am I really ten years older than Grandma Wert was when I was born?  I mean, she was old!  Am I really only two years younger than Grandma Yoder was when I was born?  She was ancient!

I felt the years in the pages of the memories that I packaged and brought home to peruse.  I felt the years in my bones as I realized that there were a whole lot of things that weren’t going to get done.  I felt the years in these replaced knees as Rose crawled around on the floor, getting into places that were just not accessible to me.  I felt the years in the weariness that came from activity that, even ten years ago, would have been remedied by a good night’s rest.  And it was with a sense of how mortal we all really are that I packed for the weekend away with my cousins, and knew that we would have even fewer faces than we had only a year ago.

The weekend was wonderful.  My cousins are mostly older than me, and I looked at the beloved faces and saw the tears and heard the laughter and felt the joy of belonging to a family who knows they aren’t perfect, but still enjoy the heritage and the memories of being a part of Dave and Savilla Yoder’s expansive family.  Most of the weekend, there was only one of the older generation there.  Uncle Paul came early and stayed to the end.  On Sunday, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys and Aunt Miriam put in brief appearances, and there was a smattering of the next generation, but mostly it was the cousins and their spouses, sitting around, talking and remembering.  The thing is, from the youngest of the grandchildren to the oldest, there is only 24 years.  When you consider that there were sixty-one of us, that’s pretty impressive!  Over the years, we’ve lost some — Rhoda Arlene and Steve (Uncle Monroe and Aunt Naomi) Robert and Joseph (Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys) and Eugene (Aunt Miriam and Uncle Elmer) but there were 35 of us born in the 50’s. (15 in the 40’s and 11 in the 60’s.)  So what that means is that, as cousins, most of us are growing old around the same time.  This weekend, along with the memories and songs and eating and tears and laughter, there was talk of retirement and pensions and aches and pains.  There were assistive aids and talk of surgeries.  We really are getting older.  But in that company, with the people I’ve known and loved from my youth, I didn’t feel old.  I just felt typical and familiar and ordinary and comfortable.

But now, at this roadside rest, face to face with this adult and vibrant youth, my age and mortality were sitting uncomfortably in the pit of my stomach.  “You don’t mind getting older,” I told myself, chiding the wistful longing for the vitality and opportunity that suddenly seemed long gone.  “You have always embraced the passing years, relishing maturity and wisdom and experience and the stages of life as they come and go.  What is going on here?”  I shook back the tears in the seat beside Certain Man and redirected my attention to the book on tape that we were listening to.  The stories of James Herriott filled the car and we went on down the road.

I stole a look at the profile of this man that I love most.  His observant eyes were on the road, his strong hands on the steering wheel.  I saw his muscular arms, tanned dark from his many hours outside on our farm.   His hair is silver, his beard white.  The glasses have been a constant since before I knew him, but I never think of him looking old.  His face is unwrinkled except for those smiley crinkles, cheekbones still that defined, chiseled look above the beard that he has had without reprieve for forty years.  I think about the life that we have had together for over forty two years and everything seems so timeless — yet brief.  I think about our children, scattered and making their own lives and I think about My Sweet Mama, now home to Heaven, and how very short everything about this life really is.

It’s an old, old story, and it’s been told to every generation from the beginning of time:  Life just goes so swiftly.  Time doesn’t stop for anyone.  Before we know it, we will be — well, HERE!  And it hasn’t taken but a blink of an eyelash to get here.  And someday, down the corridors of time, but in that not too distant future, our grandchildren and great grandchildren may gather on a lovely September day and talk about the kind of people we were, the loves and misadventures of our lives, and the implications of the mistakes, the value of the successes and the memories they have of who we were and what we did and how we lived our lives and how we died.

And in all of these things, I pray that they laugh.  I pray that they will forgive.  I pray that the memories will be encouraging and that there will be understanding granted for our humanity.  I pray that they will be able to say, as I did this weekend, that when there was nothing else for Grandma Yoder to do but to hold on through the hard times, that she did what needed doing because it was the right thing to do, and she was committed to doing the right thing.

But if they talk of nothing else, I pray that they will speak of the Faith that held me steady.  That the One who died for me is a Redeemer, not only of broken lives, but of broken hearts, and bad situations and mistakes and follies and foibles of a woman whose humanity sometimes causes her to catch her breath with longing at that which is gone and can never be regained.

And I pray that they will think of me There!, in that land where we will be forever young, forever whole, forever healthy, and that they will know beyond all doubt that I am more alive at that moment than any of them are.  And that there will not be a single thing There! that will cause me to turn a wistful glance towards a long ago past.  It will be forgotten.  And what I’ll have there will be far better than what I left behind.

Ah, my friends, my cousins, my siblings and most of all, that Man that I Love Most– hear this, once again one of my favorite quotes from the pen of Robert Browning:

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

And so, for what has been, what is, and what is yet to come, my heart gives grateful, expectant praise.


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Filed under Aging, Family living, My Life