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“We need to hang it high . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

He did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I gave quiet, grateful praise.

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Filed under Family living, Holidays, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, home living, My Life

My heart aches . . .

We are in Philadelphia for the day.  Youngest Daughter (Rachel) had begged us to visit, and since she is still on semester break from Bryn Mawr, it seems like a great Saturday to go.  Though she has been back at her internship for a week, at least there are no papers to write, no books to read and no tests for which to study.  It is the coldest Saturday for some time, and Certain Man and I are bundled up against the wind and cold.  Something about Philadelphia makes everything seem colder:  The big stone arches, huge concrete structures, stone statues and iron gates and cold, cold glass and steel.  Even the big, colorful LOVE statue in the center of town doesn’t help much on this cold day. (Maybe it is just that this is “the city.”)

But the people!  Wealthy people in big cars, various ethnic populations, ordinary people in heavy coats and scarves, all moving along the sidewalks with hurried steps.  They are stepping around and over and away from the various bumps of humanity sitting along the edges of the sidewalks, on the street corners, outside the doors of establishments, swaddled in various garments against the bitter cold.

It is impossible to help all the homeless, I know, but their desperate plights on this freezing cold day is almost more than I can bear.  A little black lady, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, rocking and talking to herself, with a cardboard sign that is illegible.  A man without legs in a wheelchair, cupping a steaming disposable cup of something in his hands, his eyes begging, his words unintelligible.  And the one that really gets me:  A person, I suspect female, but I cannot tell for sure, is sitting wrapped up in a quiet side street near a parking garage.  The sign reads something like this:  “I’m homeless.  I’m hungry.  No job, and I’m too ugly to prostitute.  Please help!

We are scurrying along the sidewalk, trying to get out of the stinging wind, trying to beat the parking meter, trying to find shelter ourselves.  Youngest Daughter is leading the way, and I hurry to stay in step with her long, confident strides and my husband’s naturally long steps.  It feels like my heart will break and I finally say to her, “How do you stand it?  How can you bear all these poor people?  Doesn’t it just feel like you have to do something???”

Our daughter, young, full of life, full of hope, and compassionate to her very core says, “It is really troubling, Mom, and it is especially bad in the winter.  During the summer, I give away anything in my lunch that I think will help — an apple, a granola bar, whatever.  But in the winter, when the biggest issue is the cold, there is so little anyone can do that is going to help.  The churches send out buses when it gets really cold, and will take anyone who will go to a warm place, but there is so much misery and sadness and hopelessness out here.”

It is late afternoon, and the temperature is dropping into the teens, we abandon our walking for a driving tour of historical Philadelphia, and then drop Rachel off back at her apartment and head for home.  The van is warm, dependable and quiet.  Both Certain Man and I are in our own thoughts, and eventually I sleep.  Then home again, safe and sound, I revel in the silence of the Delaware night and the little farm that we call Shady Acres.  Inside the house, Middle Daughter has everything under control and I am home in time to put Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda to bed, and collapse in my comfy chair.  The pellet stove is burning brightly.  The people near me are ones I not only trust, but love deeply.

But I think incessantly about a human being out in that freezing cold, so alone, so hopelessly caught in wretchedness and sorrow with no shred of self esteem . . . (“too ugly to prostitute???”) and wonder again what will be required of this handmaiden of the LORD.  What will my answer be some day when I am called to give an account of how I’ve used what has been entrusted to my care?

The truth is, being faithful where I’ve been called is important.  But there have been many times in my life where my efforts on behalf of all the need I saw were so scattered that I ended up doing more harm than good.  And I have a serious calling on my hands right now on my home front that I am committed to doing with all my heart.

But that doesn’t stop me from praying.  I do not know how God ministered to the needs in frigid Philly last night, but there were people there who were the object of a Delaware Grammy’s prayers and I believe in a God whose hands will reach where mine cannot, and whose ways are far above my understanding.  It doesn’t bring complacency.  It doesn’t keep my heart from hurting.  But it does bring renewed commitment to do what I can do in this time and in this place with what I’ve been given and to the ones I’ve been given. And to share in ways that will help those beyond my physical reach.

This verse, from my favorite translation, The New Century Version, rings loud in my head: (Jesus speaking!)

Luke 12:48b:  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected.

I have nothing that I haven’t (directly or indirectly) been given!

Do you know what?

Neither have you.

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Filed under time away

. . . and the sand keeps sliding through the hour glass

We came home last night to the farmhouse at Shady Acres after being gone for about 33 hours.  We crammed a lot of living in those hours, and had a wonderful time tromping through Lancaster, taking in MOSES! at Sight and Sound, visiting some of our favorite shops, and just enjoying some time away.  The only money we spent for food was for tips, as we had gift cards for everything else.  Motel 6 was extremely clean and comfy and we couldn’t have found nicer accommodations for $67.00.  I had such a happy time with that man that I love most.  The colors were beautiful in Lancaster.  When we were traveling up on Monday, it was raining.  I told Daniel that if we had some sun Tuesday, we would see some pretty spectacular trees.  I was right!

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When we came home, it seemed like things had fared pretty well while we were gone.  Laundry was caught up, the kitchen was straightened, my ladies were fed and contented.  But then it was mentioned that our trusty Miele dishwasher was not working, and that the dryer had taken three hours to dry the last towel load.  H-m-m-m-m-m. I need to see about finding myself a repair man, I guess. Oh, and my experienced eyes warned me that Blind Linda didn’t seem to be doing so well.

The illness and the coming Homegoing of my sister in law, Frieda, seem to be ever with me.  Sometimes it almost seems wrong to have happy days and laugh.  But then I remember that she doesn’t want us to be gloomy and it doesn’t help her any for us to mope about.  So I shed my tears and I grieve and pray, but I’ve also had to laugh, had to eagerly anticipate upcoming events, and have kept these hands mostly busy.

The seats we had for the Moses! presentation were up in the upper level.  By the time I had climbed the several flights of stairs, I was wishing that I had taken the elevator.  When we found our seats, there was a rather portly couple on the end by the aisle.  For some reason, they thought it best to stay were they were and just compact themselves together as best they could to let us pass.  This left a narrow ledge for me to manuever my rather portly body past them to my seat.   There was no hand rail, the backs of the next row of seats was somewhere down close to my ankles.

I’m more than a little bit afraid of heights.  I can have a sturdy wall that is up to my waist between me and the Royal Gorge and still have to stand back a few feet to be comfortable.  No leaning on the guard rails for me!  I get this strange sensation in the back of my legs and it feels like the abyss is pulling me to itself with hungry tentacles.  For years I wouldn’t fly because of how terrified I was about getting my feet off the ground, but there came a day when I realized that my fear of flying was affecting my relationship with my husband and I decided that I would fly with him, even if it killed me.  (Which I was pretty certain it would!)  There was much prayer, much shutting of the eyes and just not looking, much faking of enthusiasm when a Certain Man who was in the window seat (always in the window seat!) would exclaim, “Look, Hon!  See how clear it is!  You can see clear down to the ground!  Right there is the Mississippi River, and if you look close, you can see the big gateway arch in St. Lewie.”  Oh, how my stomach would lurch as I dutifully leaned over him and tried to see.  But I’ve done it often enough now that the terror has been replaced by a general dislike, and is at least manageable.  But I digress.  I only went on that rabbit trail to explain how terrified I am of heights, and believe me, the upper deck of the Sight and Sound Auditorium is definitely “heights.”

So, I looked at those seats, five in, and breathed a quick prayer, scrunched myself together and scooted past the couple who were exclaiming things like, “Do you have enough room???  Can you make it???”  while occupying their space, but pulling their ample stomachs in and leaning back.  I wanted to say, “No, I don’t have enough space, but if I could just hang on to your shirt/blouse while I pass by, I could maybe walk across Niagara Falls on this three inch board!”  But I desisted.   Once past them, I could reach my hand out to the backs of the empty seats and steady myself and, more importantly, lean in the direction of not cascading down the interminable mountain of seats in front of me.

Whew!  Settled at last.  With 20 minutes to spare.  I wondered what I was ever going to do if I needed to use the restroom during the presentation.  Age and Lasix and four babies that averaged close to ten pounds apiece make this a consideration of import.  So I prayed that I could safely sit until intermission and immersed myself into the production.  And all was well.  At intermission the couple stood up and stepped out and there was no danger.  They repeated the favor at the end of the intermission and I gratefully returned to my seat.  The production of Moses! was well done end engaging,  and Certain Man and I enjoyed a wonderful time together.

We came home through the deepening Autumn afternoon, noted the clouds that were spotting across the western sky and wondered at the coming storm.  We came into light and home and warmth and family and a beloved Love Bug at the top of the ramp to welcome us.  This morning, the storm has still not broken, and I put on the CD of “Songs my Father Taught Me” by the West Coast Mennonite Chamber Choir.  The  kitchen window was cracked open a few inches and I played the song, “No more fear of Dying” twice as I thought about Frieda and her unchanged, eager anticipation of Heaven. She sleeps, talks with her family, sleeps some more.  My heart faltered as I considered the sadness of these waiting days.  Then I heard a wren, outside the window, singing her heart out along with the music that was swirling out into the morning mist.  I thought about Frieda, like a wren, living the praise in the face of dying, yes, but also in the light of Eternity.  The wren’s cheerful song  lifted my heart and made me think about things other than the broken dishwasher, delinquent dryer and even the fever that Blind Linda developed in the morning hours.

Heaven. It’s on my mind.  And thanks to the events of this last week, it isn’t a “heavy” even though parting is a sorrow.  Listen here and be blessed.  My heart gives grateful praise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcQXZOMCNF8

Lyrics:

Jesus has arisen, joy and hope are given
Those who call upon His Name.
He shall be exalted through the endless ages;
Name above all other Names.

No more fear of dying – no more need to doubt.
Every one shall answer, every knee shall bow.

Jesus has ascended,
Not like He descended – in a low and humble way.
He has been victorious, lifted up and glorious
Now He holds His rightful place.

Jesus is returning, joy and hope are burning
In the true believers heart.
King of all creation, come with celebration,
May we never more depart!

No more fear of dying – no more need to doubt.
Every one shall answer, every knee shall bow.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, home living, music, time away

Salmon Soup and Family Memories

I was looking for a quick and warm supper for tonight.  As my mind was floundering about, I suddenly remembered that I had bought a can of salmon some time ago and put it on the shelf for such a time as this.

Salmon Soup.

Many was the Saturday night after a long day of cleaning and shopping and such that our tired Mama would bring out a can of salmon, warm the milk and add a few of her own touches along with a can of salmon and feed her six hungry children and husband on that can of salmon and milk from the bulk tank.  The melted butter floated in the top and the salty crackers broken up in it made a warm and nourishing soup.  She flaked the salmon small and we savored every morsel of salmon that sank in our soup bowls while we all sat around the kitchen table, and had bread with King Syrup on it to serve as an accessory to the simple meal.  Daddy probably had home canned peaches to finish things off.

Just about the time I had made up my mind to make Salmon Soup for supper, the phone rang.  It was my Sweet Mama.  She has been spending some time with my brother, Nel, and his wife, Rose.  She gets such good care there and I’m always glad for her sake when she can go.  However, she has been sick and still sounds tight and wheezy in her voice.  Her good doctor prescribed antibiotics for her as well as an expectorant, but I’ve had some anxious thoughts since she has been gone.  Not that she would get better care if she were home, but she seems so far away.

“What are you doing?” Her familiar voice rang cheerily over the phone line.  It is her typical question.  (There have been times when she asked that question and I didn’t want to answer and I would scramble for something to do quick so that I could answer something that would meet with her approval or that I would feel comfortable telling her I was doing.)

This time I could tell her what I was doing for most of the day.  “I’ve been working on my Christmas letter,” I told her.  “And I saw the dentist this morning for an appliance for those front teeth that are hurting, and I’ve been home.  It’s been cold and snowing.  I’m getting ready to make some supper.”

I paused and then said, “How did you make your Salmon Soup back when we were children?  I would like to make some for supper, and I’m not sure I remember what all you put into it.”

She went over the simple steps, asked Sister in Law, Rose, how she did it and we had quite a discussion.  Suddenly, I was filled with a deep and pensive longing.

“Oh, Mama,” I said.  “What I wouldn’t give to be a little girl again tonight. To pull my chair up to that kitchen table with you and Daddy and all my brothers and sisters and have a bowl of your Salmon Soup.  To not have any responsibilities except to be a part of our family as a little girl . . . ”  I couldn’t go on.  The tears were clouding my voice.

She was quiet for scarcely a second, and then she said gently, “That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

And then we were on to other things, but the longing had been stirred and it followed me the whole evening.  Certain Man and I, sitting at the counter with our bowls of Salmon Soup, were enjoying some quiet moments together, and I was still pensive.

“Sweetheart,” I finally said, tentatively, “do you ever feel homesick to be back with all the family around the table again?”

He looked at me puzzled and said, “Well, it would be nice, I guess, but they are all scattered, I mean, they DO come home, but I guess it’s not the same –”

“Oh, I didn’t mean OUR children,” I hastily interrupted.  “What I meant was when you were children.  Do you ever wish to be back around the table with your sisters and brother and Dad and Mom –”

His eyes were suddenly guarded and he shook his head so slightly.

“Don’t you have any good memories about being together for supper or having fun around the table–?”  My voice hung in the air, and he turned his head away.

“Not that I can remember,” he said tightly.

This time, my tears were not selfish.

There are far worse things than wishing you could somehow be back in the happy, warm, embracing, comforting, encouraging memories of long ago.

One of them is to remember your childhood and to never wish to be back there.

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December 11, 2013 · 4:10 pm