from life comes Life

Leave the  cocoon, a caterpillar flies
Sleep to bloom, a morning glory must
Shed its layers, a grain of wheat thrives
Yes from life comes new Life, not death

 

 

 

 

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Sunday with Dad

I was following behind Dad as he took charge of the walker that has lived for two years in the basement storeroom. Anytime we made the slightest suggestion to get it out for him, the answer was, “No”.

He’s good at getting around with it now though and with the wheels, I call him Billy Speedster. As he makes his way around the tight corner between the bed and the dresser I hear him muttering, “It says in the Bible, when you get old, you’ll need help.” These days are blending together and like Dad, I lose track which day is which. But there is some freedom in that, even joy.

I want to have the scriptures Dad treasures engraved in my heart and I spent yesterday morning reading through his favorites–the Book of John, Chapters 14-17. It begins with Jesus comforting his disciples and I love how, all these years later, the words sound as though they could be spoken directly to us. The first verse is one of Mom’s favorites, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for them and will come back for them. When Thomas says that he doesn’t know the way, Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words Dad has lived his life by. Ask a cashier at his grocery store, a neighbor, my son or my husband, or even one of my best friends who might just happen to run into him at CVS, Dad will want to know how your faith is and isn’t afraid to ask if you know Jesus. Dad’s touched hearts and ticked others off.

“Love each other as I have loved you,” Jesus says in Chapter 15:12. I counted seven times that he says, “Remain in Me.” And three more times, “Remain in my love.”

I have the privilege of spending these holy days with Dad and I can’t help but want to share them. Dad is sleeping now so I can’t ask him but I would guess that if he wanted to share anything from his heart to yours today, it would be just that–remain in God’s Love.

“Debbie?” I hear Dad’s voice calling from his bedroom.

“I’m here, Dad,” I yell back as I run down the hall. He’s sitting up and turns his head. Out of the corner of his eye I catch the twinkle.

“I thought this was a Bed and Breakfast ”

“You ready for breakfast, Dad?”

“Yes!”

June 19, 2016image

Tater Tots on Tuesday

Anyone who’s lived in the Midwest knows how brutal the winters can be. Dad’s doctor started recommending he spend the cold months in Tucson with my sister. This is the second winter he’s gone and the trip was hard on him.

There are other things to consider besides cold weather and I was relieved when I heard he’d be coming home a week early. Two weeks ago, when I found out that he was in the hospital after his legs had given way and he’d fallen, I was afraid he wouldn’t make it home. I picked him up at Mitchell Field last Friday and the first thing he told me was how pleased he was with the airport wheelchair service. He thought he’d be able to travel anywhere in the world.

It’s good to have him back in his condo—just three blocks from my office and three miles from where my husband and I live. And it was special to be together again this past Sunday with Dad.

Today, when I was making his lunch, he was crushing his pills and said, “There will be no pills in heaven!”

“Or grief or anger,” I added as I put extra butter on the bread for his sandwich. He’s down to 130 pounds.

“I really don’t have any anger,” he said after a  moment’s thought. “When the Lord is ready to take me, I am ready to go.”

“What about patience?” I asked and he smiled. “You might want to focus on that or you’ll have to stick around until you get it right.” I smiled.

“You know, I’ve lost twenty pounds since my surgery in 2007.”

“You’ve also lost four inches of height, Dad.  You don’t need the weight.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that. You always make me feel better.”

(No, Dad, you always make me feel better.)

I had called him on my way to work after a meeting this morning. He told me his congestion was back and had let his doctor know but they hadn’t yet called him back. “Are you taking your Mucinex?” I asked him.

“No, I stopped that.”

“Why?”

“Because I had put myself on it and then I took myself off it.”

“Well, put yourself back on it.”

“Can I talk to my doctor first?”

“Sure, if they call you back. If they don’t, take it.” He chuckled.

“Well…I left it in Tucson.

“I’ll pick some up.” Walgreen’s didn’t have any on the shelf so I went to CVS and picked up two bottles. I was leaving the store when I saw his text asking me if I could pick up his Warfarin prescription and turned around to head back to the pharmacy.

I get immense joy out of solving the little challenges my Dad faces these days. There is always an answer if you take the time to look—even if it might be that you’ve only found some distraction from the fact that you are facing your parent’s mortality. As with my mom, I try not to think about losing him.  He is full of life, in spite of the fact that he weighs 130 pounds, has no appetite, hobbles and coughs. He’s a fighter, a soldier, and carries around a copy of “Onward Christian Soldier” with him in his briefcase.

I love him.

Tonight after work I went by and made a Tater Tot casserole like my mom used to make for our family because he likes it. I made enough for our family because that’s the way Mom made it though it was just the two of us. I lit candles and he said the prayer. When we had finished and the dishes were done, the leftovers put away, he worked his way over to his chir with his new walking stick, slowly lowered himself into it and told me to sit down. “I have something serious to say to you.” I took a seat on the couch beside him. “I know I am getting weaker and won’t be able to stay here in the condo much longer.”

“Oh, I’ve thought about that, Dad. I think we can find someone to come in and help out a little more. They could prepare all your meals and just watch over things.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“One day at a time, Dad.”

“Okay. You always make me feel better.”

No, Dad, you always make me feel better.

Setting the Stage

A sliver of morning light appeared above the roof of the house across the street. I leaned forward in my chair, separated the filmy white curtains and squinting against the brilliance, watched the sun come up. I finished the last of my coffee, closed the books in my lap, stood up and stretched.

High above in the heavens, I wondered if the sun, in all its glory, is but a speck of glitter to God.

Absorbed in my thoughts, I had to dress quickly for work. Fortunately, jeans are fine for my job. I grabbed a black jacket, pulled on some boots, then adjusted the shoulder strap of my briefcase and hopped on my bike.

But as I passed the bluff overlooking the lake, I had to stop. I laid my bike on the curb and walked over to look more closely. Something was missing. A hazy white sheet, cascading like a curtain, appeared to have been thrown down from above, concealing the horizon. There was no visible division between water and sky.

What divides us from heaven, I wondered. What if it’s right here, separated only by a veil we can’t see beyond with our human eyes?

Just then, a string of shimmering light appeared on the water. Like glitter. I stood still, thinking of the words from my devotion that morning …. I am with you, I am with you, I am always with you…..
October 30, 2013

I came across this journal entry as I was preparing to write my next story, The Seven Days of Heaven. The day, October 30, was the day proceeding those seven days in Mom’s life in 2011.

Mom and I, as well as all the women in our family, had been reading the same devotion that year—Jesus Calling. It was a gift given to Mom by my sister-in-law, Georgine, after my brother Ed died. Reading it together, connected our hearts.

I didn’t realize at the time, that the book’s entry for October 30 referenced the first scripture Mom had ever memorized. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14). It was the scripture her pastor, Reverend Bernwirth, had read to her on the Sunday she had been baptized.

As a brave ten-year-old, when the pastor had asked the congregation if there was anyone who wanted to come forward to be baptized that Sunday, without any cajoling from her Uncle Willard who she sat beside, she rose, and walked down to the water. She would step into it—wearing her best dress—and in front of all those present, surrender her heart to Jesus.

A lot happened on that Sunday before the seven days. I’ve already written about some of it in my post entitled Morning Buns. If you haven’t read it, you might want to as background for my post on Sunday, April 20, The Seven Days of Heaven.

Oh….and just one last thing for today, I can’t help but share what I read from that same little book this morning afterI finished writing……

If I pulled back the curtain to allow you to view heavenly realms, you would understand much more. However, I have designed you to live by faith, not by sight. I lovingly shield you from knowing the future or seeing into the spirit world. Acknowledge My sovereignty by giving thanks in all circumstances. April 16 entry from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Dolores Rahn in her Sunday best

Dolores Rahn circa 1940

“What does GPS stand for?”

The hospital staff all commented on how good Dad looked and were surprised to discover he was eighty-five. I had decided things were going well enough on our second day’s stay to slip away for a four o’clock meeting at work. This was when an incorrect instrument had been improperly inserted by an incompetent aide, causing excruciating pain along with some internal tearing. After the third attempt of thoughtless jabbing, he had yelled, “Cut it out!”

I later found out that the aide had called for the proper tool but was told they were out and should go ahead and try to use the alternative—which was not suited for older gentlemen. Within hours, his normal complication was not normal.

The problem you are experiencing is due to the trauma of your fall and will probably resolve itself naturally. We know your back is hurting but see if you can get up and move around.

“Well, I’d be happy to if you didn’t have these alarms going off every time I try to get up!”

Now Bill, you are a high risk fall patient. They are there for your safety.

“Is that why you keep asking me where I am, who the president is, and what the date is? I’m getting tired of that.”

That’s our baseline reading, Bill.

“Well, it’s making me angry.”

We did laps around the halls surrounding Dad’s room into the wee hours of the morning, hoping all would be well so he could be released the following day. It didn’t work though and he needed another procedure.

Somebody mentioned to him that his condition could be permanent. As his pain grew and strength lessened, the possibility that he might not be able to return to the life he had known occurred to us both. I didn’t say it but Dad did. His usual ageless glow was beginning to fade.

“Dad, what does GPS stand for?”

“Global Positioning System.”

God’s compass, I thought to myself. GPS…..God’s Peace in Suffering….Trust. It always gets down to trust. Experiencing peace regardless of your situation is the way Mom and Dad had taught us—had shown us—to live.

“You’re being tested Dad. You know…Refiner’s Fire…we’re going to get through this. Jesus won’t let you down now. Eyes on the Prize! This is an opportunity for you to show all these people your faith. How would you rather meet Jesus face to face—beaten down but strong in faith or sliding in with ease but doubting?”

“You’re right,” Dad responded.

By our third night’s stay, the interruptions from hospital staff seemed to increase. It didn’t help that Dad’s bed alarm kept going off. It would beep until someone came to turn it off. The more he set it off the longer we waited for them to show up. It was around 2:30 and he was kicking his feet in the tangled mass of sheets and blankets. There was an eeriness that had descended over the room and an attitude of placation coming from the staff.

We had become a problem at the hospital.

Dad wanted out. “We’ve got a seventeen trillion dollar debt in our country! I don’t want to add to it!”

Surrounded by the shadows of the hallway florescence, I thought how Dad had not wanted to come to ER in the first place—how, in his dehydrated condition, he had tried to row himself out of the room. Now we had more questions than answers—I needed information. And I too, needed to trust.

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Come to Me, Jesus said to Peter. Walk on the water. (Matthew 14:29)

March 11, 2014

What a Wife!

I flew into Tucson for my Dad’s birthday on a Friday, two days before his celebration and just in time for a fish fry. I couldn’t wait to give him his gift—a Kinko’s copy of our blog stories assembled and spiral bound—but I did.

I hadn’t finished documenting his Fellowship which was my goal for his birthday so we spent most of Saturday working on it. We didn’t finish. He had to take time explaining the four zones of the allied occupation of Berlin and I kept confusing West Germany with West Berlin so he had to get the World Atlas out. We finally made it through Berlin but still had Denmark and Scandinavia left to cover.

Map of trip

Total territory covered on Dad’s fellowship

I woke up Sunday morning and waited to see the light go on under Dad’s bedroom door. His “No Birthday gifts!” rule didn’t apply to me because the 172 pages I was planning to give him—with or without the final fellowship segment—were as much a gift to me as they were to him. And it wasn’t wrapped.

He really liked it.

IMG_20140211_180156His birthday was great. We went to church with my sister Joan and her family, and that evening they gave him a big party. My brother-in-law Arthur grilled 26 steaks! We had two kinds of double-baked potatoes, salad, cheesecake and a custard pie. Dad had been asking for that pie for years and Joanie and I couldn’t find Mom’s recipe. I found a recipe called My Grandmother’s Custard Pie on a Google search, sent it to my sister and gave us both computer viruses. But the recipe was spot on and the pie was perfect—thanks to Joanie. I told her I would make it but got busy editing Dad’s story on Berlin. I started the pie and then she took over. Good thing for that. I had added 1/2 tablespoon of salt instead of 1/2 teaspoon.

Joan's family in Tucson

Joan’s family in Tucson

On Monday, Dad and I had the day to complete the Fellowship so here, my friends, is the final section!

“It’s very evident to me, that none of our trip throughout Europe would have been possible without the attitude and ability of Dolores.” I could tell Dad knew exactly how he wanted to summarize his experience. “I believe, having been raised on a farm, without electricity until she was thirteen, really prepared her to manage all of the challenging conditions of our trip from day to day.

While I pitched the tent, the three kids would play around—often with other kids from the campsite. Dolores would take the car and go into town, going from store to store to find our supplies and groceries.  Most of the time, she wasn’t able to speak the language but that didn’t seem to bother her.

Through all of this we stayed healthy. There were times when tension in the tent rose. For example, Dolores would bathe the kids each night in one of the green tubs we had bought along the way. I remember in Spain, she had finished getting the kids ready for bed when one of them stepped on the edge of the tub and spilled the water all over the inside of the tent, including underneath the sleeping bags. But through it all, I do not recall one time when there was a harsh word between us. Everything was seen as an adventure and enjoyed—even that spilled water. We would somehow find a way to see the humor in a situation. Instead of hollering at each other, we’d sort of laugh.

So there was no illness, no tension, never anger and really only one answer…the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire trip.

From West Germany, we drove on up to Denmark which was beautiful. We found an open space along the road and set up camp—it was warm and sunny and there were no bugs that I can recall.

20140105_182749_resizedHowever, the second day in Denmark it started to rain.

20140105_182802_resizedThe following morning, we got up early and did the routine—taking down the tent, and packing it up. We took the ferry and traveled on to Oslo, Norway. You could camp at any appropriate place you wanted along the road. The scenery was beautiful there too.

20140105_182628_resizedOne of the most important things I learned on the fellowship was about Scandinavian planning. I reflected on what I had learned from the city planner I had met with when we were in Amsterdam. He explained to me the reasoning behind the significant planning in their cities. In order to develop the land for their country, they had to plan years in advance because they were below sea level. In America, we expand into farmland surrounding the city.

When Norway and Sweden planned to expand a city, they would extend the transportation routes and subways beyond the existing city to create a new town. There, they would build a station for the subway and develop the town around it. This way, every one of their expanded towns had a means of transportation back into the central city. Individuals could buy a yearly pass for transportation and this could reduce the number of cars used. Many Scandinavians had cars but they would only use them on weekends and for vacations. They could use their mass transit for everything else.

It rained and rained all throughout Norway and Sweden. Fortunately, I had learned how to put up the outer section of the tent first when it rained, followed by the inner tent, so that it would be dry. This worked well for four or five days but after that, the continuous rain got everything soaked.

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Wet little Debbie

We found a hotel to stay at in Sweden so we could get the tent along with everything else dried out. I remember well, stretching the tent across the room and out to the balcony.

So to recap, after England, we went to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Holland; across northern Germany to Berlin; north through Denmark and across to Oslo, Norway; east to Stockholm, Sweden; south to Copenhagen, Denmark; and back to Bremerhaven, Germany. We traveled a total of 12,000 miles and camped up until the night preceding sailing home—we probably would have camped the last night too, but we had to deliver the car for loading of the ship by 4:00 p.m. preceding day of departure.

20140105_183601_resizedThere is one rather amusing side light here. When we realized that we would have to spend one night in a hotel, we began to look forward to the prospect of a bath. Our last bath had been when we spent a night with friends in Heidelberg, Germany a month earlier. It turned out that the hotel we stayed at only offered baths in winter when the central heating system heated the water. We recovered from this disappointment and began talking of ‘taking a steaming bath every day on the ship.’ About five minutes after we boarded, we made arrangements with our cabin steward for baths the next morning.

20140105_183736_resizedThe tub was really full and the water very hot, but we were a little disappointed. It was filled with salt water which we found far from satisfactory for bathing purposes. ‘Oh well,’ we thought, one more week and we would be back home.

Reflecting on this whole experience, it’s interesting to recognize the responsibilities and roles that Dolores and I shared. I had studied and prepared for the trip and my part was seeing all the architecture, following through on the itinerary and details of the fellowship. Dolores’ responsibility was feeding us, keeping us healthy, washing all our clothes by hand, and making sure the kids were clean. This really was a much greater challenge than mine. She kept us all calm and happy. Except for setting up and taking down that double enclosure, two-room tent, my part was easy. What a wife!”

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On the ship headed home.

Crossing the Soviet Border

Around the time of Dad’s fellowship, the Soviets had been known to occasionally take Americans hostage for negotiating purposes. That didn’t influence Dad’s desire to see Berlin. He was interested in architecture in West Berlin and just plain curious about East Berlin. When he was making the decision to cross into Soviet controlled East Berlin, he was not going to be intimidated. Having been the smallest kid in his class at Fratney Street School, he understood what it meant to be bullied. He knew real power was not gained by creating fear in someone else in order to win the upper hand. Dad will tell you that his strength has always come from the Lord. He wanted to experience for himself the effects of the war and the impact of communist control.

Road entering Soviet zone

Entering first Soviet zone. No border check on the autobahn.

“The tension was great between the Soviet Union and the allies—France, England and the U.S.,” Dad told me during a Saturday afternoon history lesson to help me understand this story.

“I had stopped at the Consulate in Bremen to discuss the situation. They told me the only way that they had ever heard of civilians driving through the Soviet sector into Berlin, was in a military convoy. They said they couldn’t recommend anything to me but they did add, ‘If you do it, will you stop on the way back and tell us how it went?’

That night in West Germany, we heard artillery fire and we prayed for direction. In the morning a German told us that the Soviets did the firing intentionally to keep the German people nervous. Then I noticed that our VW had a flat tire—I hadn’t had any trouble up to that point. I took the tire off, put the spare on and Ed and I went to a garage in town. The mechanic checked it over and told us there was nothing wrong with the tire. He couldn’t explain why it went flat so he filled it with air and gave it back to me.

I suppose I could have interpreted this as a sign to listen to the words of the Consulate.  I didn’t know if somebody had flattened the tire to discourage us, but whatever happened, I felt compelled to get into Berlin. So we ignored it and continued on. But that’s how much tension there was.

When we got to the East German border, we had to go to the Soviet office to be checked out. They wanted to know who we were and what we were doing. I showed them my data from the University on the fellowship, told them I was traveling with my wife and three kids and that we were camping.They said they’d get back to me. So I went back to the car and we waited there while they checked us out. Before long, a guy in uniform came over to our car, said it was okay to go on and gave us a pass.

About this time, I had gotten word that the new tent we had ordered arrived in Bremen at the American Express office—always our connection point. This new tent had a covered area that we would be able to cook and eat under. We used our original tent while we were in Berlin because I knew the new one would take a while to figure out how to set up. So we went to pick it up and put it in our car-top carrier along with everything else.

We drove to Berlin without incident, and found the camp site there. We saw the architecture I wanted to see in West Berlin over several days. Dolores and the kids stayed at the camp site in the German sector while I went into East Berlin. The border of the German sector was at the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenberg GateI got checked out by the Russian guards and was permitted to enter. West Berlin was already rebuilt by this time. I couldn’t get over all the war devastation—bombed out buildings and rubble—still evident in East Berlin. I believed it was the difference between the economic systems and freedom.

East Berlin

East Berlin

East Berlin (2)

After I had spent several hours walking around East Berlin observing the conditions, it felt good to get back into West Berlin. I went to our camp site and discussed my experience with Dolores. The next morning, I put up a sign that said Zelt Verkaufen (Tent Sale). Almost instantly, it was sold. I guess the Berliners didn’t have much access to outside merchandise.

The buyer of the tent came by the next morning, after we had packed up. We drove back to West Germany and found a camp site there. I couldn’t help but recall the beautiful site in Florence that had convinced us to camp. This site was a vacant lot in an urban area. I unpacked the new tent and realized two things. First, it wasn’t the one I intended to buy and second, it had many pages of detailed instructions on how to erect it—all in German. As I was pondering my situation, another camper noticed me and offered to help. He could read German and helped me put it up. It was very difficult and took us a while. After about six times of putting it up and taking it down myself in the days ahead, I could finally get it all laid out and set up pretty quickly.”

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Then it was on to Scandinavia with our new two-room tent.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. II Timothy 1:7 NLT