Tag Archives: Hope

Sorting it All Out

My Daddy’s study.  Spiral notebooks of my Daddy’s careful sermon notes, reference books, history books, family pictures, boxes and boxes of correspondence, endless files of minutes from various local church and school committees as well as incredible amounts of detailed secretary’s notes that he took from conference committees through the 70’s and 80’s and beyond.  There were school yearbooks, conference reports, even private files that held the responses of church members dealing with church problems before Daniel and I were back from Ohio.  (I refused to read them, but rather discarded with abandonment and even a sense of having no right to know any of it when I would discover such incriminating evidence.  Did he have to keep this???  Was this something that would ever be necessary for posterity???)

When we left for Claytor Lake State Park in Virginia one Thursday afternoon in September, I was to the point of not wanting to go.  I was bone weary and soul depleted.  There had been incredible amounts of canning, bean picking, laundry, sorting, bill paying, estate work, State reports for OGA and BL to get into the proper persons, and the ordinary household chores that needed doing.  I had been determined that I was going to get it all done before we left, and I fell far short of my goal.  My sister in law, Rose, had done a lion’s share of the physical work at Mama’s house that week, but I felt the pull of all the essence of my parent’s home and their very lives being drained away by the decisions I was making concerning their “stuff” and nothing felt “right.”  It may be possible to read every card ever written to Mark Yoder over the course of his life, (including his teen years) but is that the proper use of time?  Do I take a year of my life to organize all the papers, all the files, all the notes, all the sermons, all the tax returns, all the medical and financial records just so they are organized?  And then what?  Who wants them?  I would like to know what is in all those pages and pages of information, but then what?  My siblings and I conferred (as well as the inlaws) and they all said the same thing:  Unless something is legally important, or specific to your particular family, Don’t Save It! (With the exception of Daddy’s sermon notes — those are in high demand among the grandsons.)

And so, I would run a perfunctory eye over files, riffle through committee notes, check the correspondence for personal letters from or to family members (and that alone was voluminous!) and then turn my head and put them in the large dumpster.  Over and over again my siblings would reassure me, “Mary Ann, we just can’t save everything!”  And they were right, of course, but it was still one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Late that Wednesday afternoon, I left My Sweet Mama’s house barely able to hold back the tears until I was in my car and out of the driveway.  Much of my time that afternoon had been spent going through cards, letters, birth announcements, engagement announcements and wedding invitations that had been sent to my grandparents, Michael and Alma Wert, from Daddy and Mama and my siblings and their families.  The years that were marked in that brown manilla envelope were full and exciting and so far gone.  I had read a letter that I had written to my grandparents while I awaited the birth of our third child, telling about five year old Christina and two year old Deborah and the excitement I felt over the new baby coming.  I held the birth announcement for that baby, and thought about Raphael, now older than I was when I wrote that letter.  I drove along the familiar road through the small town of Greenwood and tried to see through the tears.  I rounded the corner at 16 and 36 and came down the road towards Milford.  The brick church by the side of the road with the familiar cemetery was on the right and there were no cars in the parking lot.  I pulled my van up beside the steps going into the graveyard and stopped.

I had not been to Mama’s grave since the day we buried her except for the day we buried Uncle Eli.  In the days following Daddy’s death, I had stopped often, sometimes going in the dark, sometimes in the rain, usually in the winter cold, but always feeling such a need to somehow be where we had laid his mortal remains to rest.  I knew he wasn’t there, but the part of my Daddy that I could see and touch and talk to was down there — somewhere, and I felt like I could talk to him there.  And I would!  I always ended up with my heart turned toward my Heavenly Father and there was where I found comfort.  However, I always felt better after being there.  With Mama, it’s been different.  To think of her body being there — and knowing how she always wanted to be carefully dressed and combed and smelling good and attractive, and knowing how she hated being alone and cold — well, that has been a huge hurdle for me.  It’s just been easier not to go.  But on this day, I needed to be there, the place where we had laid her to rest, and I needed to tell her my heart, and to sob out the grief and heart pain and indecision and questioning that was eating away at my resolve to be strong and upbeat and cheerful. I traced her name against the hard stone, and thought about her life and the last weeks that took her away from us.  Even as I acknowledged that the Mama we knew had been starting to slip away, it was still this horrible, empty place in that house that was always so cheery and welcoming, and this horrible empty place in my heart where this woman, who gave me life so often gave me comfort or encouragement or just plain took my part — whether I was justified in “my part.”  Or not.

I finally pulled myself away.  There was so much yet to do.  The tears ran on and on down my face as I headed my mini-van out onto Shawnee Road and headed towards Shady Acres.  The sun was heading down the sky behind me and I felt keenly the weight of sorrow and grief and loss that seemed to be embodied in the discarding of the things that were important to the lives of my Precious Daddy and Sweet Mama.

The weeks have passed.   Almost six to be honest.  I haven’t been back to my Mama’s house since that day. It’s hard to go without one of my sisters with me and they have both had incredibly unpredictable weeks this last while.  And on days when it may have suited them, it didn’t suit me.  But this excuse has come to an end with the return of my brother, Nel and his good wife, Rose, for a few days.  Tomorrow, it looks like we go back to the fray.  And I will be glad to be there with good support and diversion and helping hands.

But I also dread it.  I keep thinking about that house — particularly that spot where her chair sat so that she could keep an eye on everything, and be a part of everything that went on in her big room that was so full of light.  Her bird that she loved, and that she pampered and talked to, is now here at Shady Acres in the care of Deborah.  I come down in the mornings sometimes and take off the polyester wrapping cloth of pale blues and white that Mama always used.  He looks up at me and chirps his questioning noise.

“Good morning, Pretty Bird,” I often say to him as he hops about in the cage she bought for him.  And then I often find myself saying, “Oh, Pretty Bird!  Do you miss her, too?  Do you miss her as much as I do?”  He’s just a bird, but his morning songs comfort me as I remember that last day, as she was sinking fast, how he burst into song on that long afternoon and sang and sang.  He — here at our house.  She — there in the sunny corner room at the Country Rest Home.  He doesn’t often sing in the afternoon, and Middle Daughter, noting the song, told me later that she felt certain that Grandma was about to head on HOME.

HOME.  That’s where she is.  She is safe.  She is happy.  She is with Jesus.  She is warm and comfortable and healthy.  She is where there is no night.  She is not lonely.  She has no need to cry.  She is never afraid.  She has no more pain.  She isn’t being bossed around.   She is beautiful.  She is alive.

The thing I miss most, of course, is the conversations I had with Mama.  Last week, I wrote a note to her, briefly touching on a number of subjects — things that I would develop into a longer conversation if she were here to participate.  This is what it said:

Ah, Mama.  I wish I could talk to you today!  The leaves are falling without changing much color this year, and the beans got froze out early.  I saw a robin and his mate at the outdoor bird watering station in the cold.  Doesn’t he know its time to fly south?  The hummingbirds are gone.  Aunt Gladys has two new great grandbabies, and they are both Naomi’s sons’ children, born less than forty hours apart.  The church building is coming along.  This morning, Daniel talked to the person who called 911 for us.  That was so interesting.  It seems impossible that a year ago, we were waiting for word of Frieda’s homegoing — and now you are there with her.  We couldn’t know how soon you would leave us, it’s true, but I’m so glad we didn’t.  I don’t know if I could have borne that.  Rachel finally found a job, and will be moving to Washington, D.C. next month.  She placed third in the Pennsylvania Society of Clinical Social Work’s annual awards for Clinical Excellence. Our chickens are almost ready for market and we want to go to Ohio and see Raph and Gina and the boys.  We still aren’t finished cleaning out your house.  It’s mostly done, but I think I’m allergic to something in that house.  Everytime I go in, my eyes water and my nose runs . . .

So much to tell you, Mama.  And no more time.

The thing is, as I looked over this note, I realized something.  I was wrong about something.  That business about the leaves falling without changing colors.  That’s how it looked about ten days ago.  The leaves were falling off our trees and they were brown and green and nothing else.  But something happened on the way from then to now.  I’ve had the chance over the last three days to observe a number of woodlands and ponds and lakes — and the leaves are more beautiful than I have ever seen.  it has to be the prettiest display that Delaware has had for — well, maybe forever!  And I cannot get this off my mind.  I was so wrong about the leaves.  Maybe, just maybe I am wrong about this, too.  Maybe this grief that right now looks so dark and colorless and even “terminal” is going to surprise me someday with its color and life and beauty.

Maybe.  And not just “maybe.”

I have to believe that the word is more like “Probably.”

And for that hope, my heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, Family living, Grief, Heaven

Of Ruins and Hope

A sign sprang up on the front lawn of Laws Mennonite Church last week.  It is strategically placed so that it is seen by traffic at the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Roads.  I looked at the bright red against the clean white siding and thought about how GOOD the outside of our church building has been looking.

Laws Mennonite Church Warfel Sign

Certain Man has been keeping the grass trimmed and has been weed eating and spraying the weeds and trimming the roses that he planted around the church sign last year.  To see the outside of our church, it would be difficult to tell how devastating the destruction was inside.

IMG_1598  IMG_1714I looked at the pictures, and thought that my heart would break.  But it didn’t take too long for people to get in there and get things cleaned up.

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The thing was, I didn’t go in for even a casual glance until about a month ago.  We’ve been waiting on insurance and blueprints and approvals and permits until it has seemed like a never ending battle.  And I really didn’t want to see it.  But when our offspringin’s were all home for our stay-cation, we decided to stop by the church one afternoon and see how things were coming along.  I had looked hard at the pictures, imagining how it looked, thinking about our empty church, but nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotion as I stood and looked about the church.  The hardest thing of all was that, as I stood there that day, I felt so strongly in my heart that my Sweet Mama would not live long enough to see things put back to right and it made me almost sick.

It wasn’t the dirt and the smoke and the smell as much as it was just the barren emptiness and the lack of anything familiar.

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I stood in the emptiness and wept for all that had been lost and for all that was so uncomfortable.

The other day I was reading in Psalms in my Bible reading and in Psalm 74:3, I was stopped cold by these words:

“Make your way through these old ruins: the enemy wrecked everything in the Temple.”

I felt God nudging at my heart, and I thought about the ruins of my heart, and how completely devastated I’ve been feeling at times.  I thought about how the enemy seeks to steal and to kill and to destroy.  How he seeks to wreck everything in the temple of my heart.  I thought about how it can look like everything is okay on the outside, when inside there is this barren emptiness and ruin.  And so often the ruin of our hearts is not at our instigation or even the intention of others, but rather the enemy of our souls.  Just as the plan to torch our Church had less to do with Joseph Skochelak and Alex Harrington than an insidious master design that has left a lot more in ruins than a building.  Last week was the sentencing for these two young men, and my heart aches for them and their families.

“Oh Lord Jesus!  Make your way through these old ruins:  the enemy wrecked everything in the Temple.  In the ruins of my heart, in the ruins of our church building, in the ruins of the lives of Joey and Alex, may you make order and beauty from the chaos, devastation and destruction.  Even as the sign has gone up on our church property to indicate remodeling and repair, may Hope and Peace and Love and Forgiveness all be the signs upon Your Territory, our hearts, so that those watching may see that you are in the business of walking through ruins and bringing something new and strong and beautiful where there was only ugly emptiness.”

IMG_1634. . . I will not leave you comfortless.  I will come to you.”  John 14:8

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Of Life and Hope and Frieda and Heaven

It’s the first Easter without her. Somehow the resurrection and the promise of The Eternal comfort me like never before. My brother was here this weekend, moving though our lives with grace, some tears, but also a determination to remember the good. He saw family, laughed and watched the activity that never stops when the Yoders are together, visited with Frieda’s family, fellowshipped with old friends, laughed with his cousins, comforted his aging mother with his presence and his tender care, ate pickled eggs and read old books. He was home, but he wasn’t. Never more than a breath away are the memories, drawing him to another time and another place. So many things to remember. He is a more pensive, gentler version of the man he has been, and though the grief has changed him, it hasn’t made him angry or bitter.

Saturday would have been her birthday. It is strange to mark the day without her. Even as I know that this is the way of LIFE, I hate this death business. Even stranger to me is how we mark a death and rejoice in a resurrection on the same weekend, but live as if we aren’t really paying attention to the fact that we have this hope within us. Most of the time, we don’t want to think about dying.

Tonight, I think of those who are already there, and wonder what they are doing. Has it been a split second for Daddy, these nine years since he crossed over? I just cannot comprehend. Sometimes I think I have to wrap my mind around it somehow. But how can a mere mortal understand Eternity, the very presence of God and His GLORY?

I stopped at my Daddy’s grave last week to think and pray and cry. In the next row, Freida’s gravestone, newly placed sat in its simple beauty. I hadn’t seen it there before, and in that moment I acutely missed the grace and honesty and fire that was my red-haired sister in law. I stepped over to her monument and touched the rough top of it, crying now so hard that I couldn’t see.

“We miss you so much,” I said. “I wish I had told you more often how much I loved you!” And then I went through the sharp Delaware wind to my van and came on home.

Home. My favorite place in all the world to be. Here are the people I love most. Here are the memories and the familiar. But even here there are scary things — medical issues, aging, auto accidents, bills, disappointment and reversal and loss. But when we get to THAT Home — ah, there will be nothing to disappoint, destroy, alarm or regret. There will be all the good and none of the bad. And I believe that the people I love most will be there, with good memories intact and none of the bad.

One time, in a desperately difficult time in my life, I dreamed that my Daddy came to me and he said, “Where I am, relationships are so easy because there are no regrets.” Sometimes that aspect of Heaven lures me more than anything else. And gives me pause to consider how to do relationships here with no regrets.

Brothers and sisters. In these days when we are so often bogged down with the things of living, may we fix our eyes on Jesus, believe His Words to us when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!”

And may we live like we believe it.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, Resurrection