Tag Archives: Memories

Monday Morning in the Bean Patch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Habakkuk 3:17-19

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

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

And so, my heart gives humble, grateful praise!

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

Sunday Morning with The LITTLES

They came into the classroom, full of joy and smiles and LIFE. I looked into their eager faces and mentally reviewed my morning. It was going to be busy, to say the least. And lately, they’ve been so talkative. (Which I absolutely cannot resist. No matter how hard I try to stay on the subject, if I think there might be something one of them needs to say, or some sort of childish wisdom or insight, I cannot bear to shut it down.)

We gathered around the table, and sorted out the chairs and who got which one.  There was an extra again this morning, so the routine of “who sits where and on which color chair” was disrupted a bit, but finally, everyone was settled and ready.  A few months ago, as I was considering the whys and wherefores of Sunday School for these children, I realized that what was most important was that they have a sense of GOD in THIS PLACE, and so we’ve been talking about the fact that “God is here, in this classroom!  He sees us and He loves us.  He is our friend!”  And we follow that by singing the old song that my first and second grade teacher, Sadie Bissey, taught us so long ago:

Into our class
Into our class
Come into our class, Lord Jesus
Come in today
Come in to stay
Come into our class, Lord Jesus

So, this morning, as we were sitting around the table, I asked them the question that I’ve been asking them over the last few months.  “Who is here in our class this morning?” I asked them.  “Who is right here with us today?”

“Jesus!”  “God!”  The answers chorused around the table.

“That’s right,” I smiled at them.  “God is right here with us today.”

He was sitting at the end in his usual spot, and he looked around curiously.  “He’s not here today!” He said with a note of disappointment.

“Ah, but He is!” I told him.  “He’s right here with us!  Even when you can’t see Him, God is with you.  He’s here.  He’s with you when you are in trouble.  He’s with you when you have work to do and helps you.”

“We did lots of work,” he told me earnestly.  “We had to to do really hard work pickin’ up stuff in the yard.  And God didn’t help us at all!”  He shook his little head sadly.  He obviously had some feelings about this.

I pondered a bit and then suggested, “Maybe He did!  Maybe you just didn’t realize –”

“Nope,” he said decisively.  “He didn’t.  We did it all by ourselves!”

Oh, Lord Jesus!  How often have I been so sure that I was alone trying to do jobs that seemed big and hard?  And when I got done, I was sure I had done it “all by myself” when, in fact, I was under the protective oversight of a loving parent, who enabled and gave strength and tempered the job to my abilities.  Thank you for the reminder through one of my LITTLES that we don’t know the half of how your presence surrounds and enables and LOVES us in our “hard work” and never leaves us until the job is done.

Hebrews 13:5b-6a (NCV) “. . . God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’  So we can be sure when we say, ‘I will not be afraid because the LORD is my helper’. . .”

For this promise, for my LITTLES, for shelter on this stormy Delaware evening (and so much more!) my heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Laws Mennonite Church, My Life, Praise, The LITTLES Sunday School Class, Uncategorized

Another Part of my Heart

One year ago, Hortencia Mancilla and I were cooking together.

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In a facebook post, Middle Daughter, Deborah, noted that this picture is of “The mothers making the dishes they are famous for: fried chicken and mashed potatoes and chorizo y huevos.”  And she tagged Youngest Daughter, Rachel, and our “almost a daughter,” Yajaira.  Hortencia is Yajaira’s Mama.

What this post didn’t show was two breaking hearts, for it wouldn’t be too long until Hortencia and her husband would be moving from our rental trailer and flying to Guatemala to be with their 27 year old daughter, Yajaira, their son in law, Ervin, (whom they hadn’t seen in over seven years) and their two grandchildren, Nichole and Joshua (whom they had never seen).  On the night this picture was taken, Hortencia had come to our house, bringing the ingredients for one of Rachel’s favorite Mexican dishes, chorizo y huevos.  (We call it “eggs and pork,” but I don’t know if that’s literal or not.)  It isn’t something I enjoy, but it was eaten that night by Youngest daughter with big blue eyes bright with tears that wanted to spill over, and memories of happier times when it seemed like life could just go on like it was — forever.

And then there came the day that Hortencia and her husband came to tell us a final “good-bye.” The next morning, they would be leaving. It was an incredibly  difficult time in my life.  My Sweet Mama had already fallen and was in very poor condition. My heart was torn in a thousand directions. I could scarcely assimilate the pain that was crashing around my heart. Once again, prevented from saying what was truly on our hearts because of the ever present language barrier, Hortencia and I spoke heart language in hugs and tears and gestures.  Then finally, reluctantly, they began their last trek across the yard to their trailer home. I stood at the door of our garage, watching them go, tears flowing down my cheeks as I realized that the time of having them as our neighbors was coming to an end. And then I heard a sound that still wrings my heart and brings tears. I heard this little Hispanic Mama, sobbing huge wracking sobs as she picked her way across the lawn that we had shared for over twenty years.  America had been home to her for most of those twenty years, but her own homeland was calling.  She had children and grandchildren here.  Family in Mexico.  Her youngest girlie, in Guatemala.  Somewhat broken in health and saddened by life, she was heading towards a lot of unknowns.

I could not bear the sound.  Hortencia is feisty and loyal and determined.  She has been strong when I would have crumbled, resourceful when it looked like there was really no way through.  She held on to a marriage and made it work when lesser women would have given up.  And she has almost never allowed me to see her cry.  But that night, as I listened to the noise of her grief as she made her way through the twilight to a trailer that had already been pretty completely emptied except for boxes that were to be shipped, my heart ached with the sisterhood of motherhood and loving and losing and change and farewell.

She is often in my thoughts, even now.  And I realize that I am probably going to be judged for my stand on this whole thing.  I know that there are people who come into this country and live here illegally and collect undeserved benefits.  But I’m going to say it again.  Illegal immigration looks so different when it has a face that you’ve learned to love.  Illegal immigration tastes totally different in your mouth when it’s chorizo y huevos, made by people who feel like family.  Illegal immigration sounds totally different in your ears when it’s the laughter of a baby that seems like one of your grandchildren.  Illegal immigration is easy to dismiss unless you put faces, voices, fiber and family stories to the issue.

I didn’t do it on purpose.  I would probably been far more comfortable for these last twenty plus years if I had never rented my trailer to a family on a dark night when they came knocking on the door, asking for a place to live.  I didn’t realize how things were.  By the time I did, it was too late to undo my heart.

Tonight, this family I love is no longer in the USA.  Yajaira is in Guatemala with her husband and two children.  She is expecting her third.  She has made a life for herself and is happy.  Hortencia and her husband, Christino, are in Mexico.  Are they happy?  I don’t know.  I hope so.

Part of my heart is, and will always be with them and Yajaira.  And even though seeing pictures like this hurts, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I have loved and I’ve been loved back.

And that is good.

 

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Filed under Family, Immigration, My Life, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, Heaven, Holidays, Praise, Resurrection, Uncategorized

The Perpetuity of Joy

It comes to me in the quiet of the gray of February.  Sometimes I want to push it away, to savor the sadness for a while longer.  But it insists on having a say.

And it whispers in the warmth of a pellet stove’s comforting flame.  I feed yet another bag of fuel into the waiting hopper and think about how happy it makes me to have this source of heat in a farmhouse that is drafty around the edges.

It talks to me in the voices of friends and family, and I hear the love and sense the care.  I can almost touch the intangible when I see their help, freely given.  A clean house, an encouraging note, an errand run, an understanding word, a listening ear, pellets brought into the garage before I had to ask, trash taken to the road . . . The list is endless.

I smell it in the warming scent of chicken cooking on my kitchen range.  The celery and onion combine with the smell of chicken and it makes me laugh to think that I got to the store at the right time to get two chickens for $.75 a pound just in time to make a big pot of soup on this gray day.  When I go to the freezer, there is corn just waiting to be put into the big pot of broth.  And I remember hot summer days and so much corn I wondered what in the world we were going to do with it all.  And then I remember the helping hands and the conversation and the incredible results with more than enough corn for everyone.  I rummage in the freezer and find the Lima Beans that  are carefully stashed from last summer as well.  I remember long hours in the bean patch, with the biting flies and  wasps and stink bugs.  The memories of having bean plants that good friends gave us, picking fat Delaware Limas that my strong husband planted and weeded and tended so carefully, along with the memories of the sweet yellow corn, make me happy down to my toes.  The green limas look vibrant, and I know will taste wonderful.  I drop them into the soup along with with the corn, shred two long orange carrots and put those in for some color.  The lid of my big kettle pops a merry tune while the soup simmers.  It makes me so happy to be able to make soup, enough for us and to share.

On a busy Saturday, my neighbor stops by to get some of that soup.  I’ve not known her long, but she is kind and she offers friendship and smiles and diversion.  We visit together while I fold my laundry and it’s an interlude of shared life and the joy finds me and reminds me how good it is to have new friends and neighbors that are friendly.

The days have been the strange mixture that I’ve learned is normal for February and also for this season of my life.  The sadness wants to crop up, unexpected and unbidden, to drip onto the counter where I’ve turned to try to hide the fact that, once again, I’m crying. And I think about the losses, and  I miss my Sweet Mama, and I want to just stay there in the sadness for a while.  I want to sit on my chair and think  about, well, stuff.  But often, when I go there, there is this little bird that chirps a greeting, and often sings a chop and a trill of joy.  He’s a grey canary, and he lived with my Sweet Mama for the last years of her earthly life.  On days when I’m missing her the most, I’ll stand by his cage and ask him, “Pretty Bird, do you miss her, too?’  He’s often very quiet while I weep.

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But sometimes, he sings.  He sings a song that speaks hope and Heaven to my heart.  He sings of contentment and he sings joy.  I listen to his song and think about another bird, no longer caged, but truly home and free and alive and singing.  I know she’s singing!

And through the sorrow, I know the perpetuity of joy.  It seeks me out, it will not let me go.  I will always miss her, and this life will always hold sorrow of some kind, some how (and usually, today!).  But it gives all of life a different color to have glimpses of joy where ever I look and in whatever I see.  Sometimes it’s so fleeting I’m not sure it’s there.  But usually (usually!) I can find it if I look for it.  And so, I will look.

And for this gift of constant joy, my heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Grief, My Life, Uncategorized

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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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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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Grief, My Life, Uncategorized