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
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
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?”
June 19, 2016
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.”
“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.
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
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.
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.
His 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.
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.
The 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.
One 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.
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.
There 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.
The 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!”
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.
“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.
I 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.
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.”
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
My brother Ed always knew when I was wearing a hat to hide my hair. He’d pull it off.
As kids, I’d ride on the back of his snow mobile across ice covered fields—into ditches, up over high mounds of snow at top speed—and not be afraid. In college, he’d drive me home on his motorcycle—90 miles, against the wind in pounding rain at night—I’d feel safe.
He used to laugh at the way I’d pose for pictures—turn head, lower chin, smile. He tried it himself. It gave him a double chin and a super high forehead.
He was named after Mom’s dad, Edward William Rahn—who loved baseball. Ed Rahn and some friends had gone to a game in Chicago during the summer of ‘51. They were on their way home when a truck was stopped along the highway—the driver changing a tire. The car Mom’s dad was in collided with the rear end of the truck. The trucker wasn’t hurt. The friends were injured but recovered. It was believed that Ed Rahn died instantly in the crash. He was 48 years old—one year after Mom and Dad’s wedding.
Mom never talked much about the accident but she’d tell me how her dad was great at taming a wild horse. She’d sit on the fence and watch, frightened by the brute force of the animal—awed by her father’s strength while he wrestled with it. Roping, wrapping and eventually calming and corralling it in. They were farm stock—stoic and strong.
After Mom’s dad died, her mom went on to buy a small house away from the farm, in town on Main Street. Years of gardening, canning and cooking for family and friends—lots of corn, beans and tomatoes along with slip-downs, dumplings and noodles, prepared her to get a job at the school cafeteria. She never talked to us about the accident—preferring to focus on life’s opportunities rather than her troubles. Her attitude was passed on to Mom and then to my brother, Ed. As our big brother, he was always good at leading the way.
Dad told me this story about Ed on the way to church last Sunday as I grabbed for a pen and paper out of the glove compartment….
“After the Christmas at Keikhever’s log cabin when Uncle Harry closed the fireplace flue at bedtime and nearly smoked us out, Ed told a couple of his buddies about it. Of course, they were immediately intrigued and wanted to see the cabin. So they saddled up three of the horses and Ed led them through the woods.
One of them got the idea to go inside the cabin. It’s no surprise that while we were there, Ed had noticed there was a skylight. He told his friends he thought he knew a way in. Standing on his horse, he could reach the roof and he climbed his way up to the skylight. He was always good at taking things apart and putting them back together again so it was no problem for him to unhinge and re-hinge the skylight. He and his friends made it into the cabin and back out again without too much trouble. That is, until Roy, the property caretaker, showed up at our door.
Roy let me know someone had gotten into the log cabin and wondered if maybe our boys knew something about it. I told him I was sure they wouldn’t know anything because we had just spent Christmas there. But then Roy told me they had found a lot of huff prints in the snow all around the cabin. So I asked Ed if he knew anything about it—he didn’t even have to answer me. I could tell by the look on his face that he did. So I told Roy I would take care of it and he left.
Ed and I had a talk. I told him that this time he had gotten himself into something I could not just take care of. What they had done was breaking and entering. I told him I’d have to report it to the police. So that’s when I called a meeting at our house with the three boys and their fathers. I felt strongly that it was important the boys knew how serious what they had done was and that we needed to report it to the police. Forrest Robinson, the father of one of the boys, agreed with me. The other father looked aghast and said to me, ‘I am not going to report my son to the police!’
I called the police department and told them what had happened. They asked me to bring the boys in so they could talk with them. Ed, his friend Gary, Forrest and I went to the police department. We left the other son out because the father was so opposed.
The police took the boys into a room to talk to them. He told them what they had done was breaking and entering and a serious violation of the law. If they continued with that behavior, they’d probably end up at Wales Reformed School for boys, or when they were older, go to jail. Ed was different after that. Years later, we found out that the son who wasn’t turned in, got into some big trouble for robbery and ended up in jail.”
After Dad finished the story he looked at me and said, “I thought you could tell that story and include the scripture about the importance of disciplining children.”
“Okay.” So I looked it up….
“You mean the one that says, ‘Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on track’ (Psalm 32:9)?”
“No, that’s not the one I was thinking of….”
“How about ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6).”
“Yes. That’s it.”
“It may have taken you a little while Dad, but I think that’s exactly what you did.”
“Hi Dad! How are you doin’ today?!” I’ve called to check in because I totally missed Christmas Day this year. I slept right through most of it and haven’t talked to Dad since the Christmas Eve service. After all those preparations, the special day came and went without me. Flu does that. Dad’s present is still under our tree, the ham’s still in the fridge and the shrimp…oh my gosh, the shrimp! Is it too late for stir fry…?
Gifts for the relatives that were out of town for the holiday still sit unwrapped on the dining room table. Wrapping presents after Christmas loses its charm. I don’t really feel like being accompanied by carols and sipping wine, which is what gets me through the project in the first place…maybe sip the wine, skip the carols.
“Oh, I’m okay,” Dad answers my question with concern in his voice. I’m immediately concerned. “There’s just a little confusion over here.” Oh no. I assume the worst.
“What’s that?” I’m afraid to ask but already have.
“I got this email.”
Can someone tell me why I suddenly feel like I’m in trouble? Our past conversations and/or disagreements of who remembered what, when and how, come to mind….once a daughter always a daughter.
“It’s really screwy,” he continues as I begin a quick mental inventory of all the things I’ve recently posted or sent to him. “I got a bill that was sent to b.wenzler@……” He goes on, “It says I owe $210.15 and need to pay it right away but I have no idea what it is. So I’ve been on the phone with my phone company trying to get it straightened out. Then I noticed there’s a dot in this email address. Mine has no dot!”
“Oh. That was nice of you Dad, to call and get it straightened out, I mean. You probably saved a guy harassment from some collection agency.”
“I found out the email was meant for a Barry Wenzler. He’s got a dot in his email.”
“Well, there you go.” I close my eyes, feeling the pain you call sinus ache and decide to just listen and not talk.
“My voice is bad today.” He clears his throat, then again and again, his frustration mounting. “I need to do my exercises.”
“Have you had lunch, Dad?”
“No. I just had breakfast!” It’s almost 1:00 p.m. and I realize I haven’t even had breakfast. Well, starve a cold, feed a fever…..or is it feed a cold, starve a fever….? I think for a second.…how could Dad receive an email with an incorrect address? “How did you get that email if it’s not your address?” I ask.
“I don’t know!”
“Well, it’s nice you’re straightening it out.” DELETE IT!
“I’m not being nice! I didn’t notice the dot when I called the phone company to get it straightened out.”
“Oh. Well, it sounds like you have things under control.” I was really hoping to read my new story to him but it seems now is not the right time.
“My voice is terrible.” he says sounding a little like Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino. “I need to go do my exercises. I had lunch with Jonathan yesterday, did I tell you that?”
“I don’t think so, no….”
“I found out you could get a friend to join at the Club for $1 initiation and $10 for the first month’s membership. I told him I wanted to do it for him so I could always say I paid his initiation! You know usually initiation fees are expensive. So I paid the fee and his first month and he bought me lunch.”
“Awww…that’s great and you can work out together.”
“Your voice doesn’t sound so bad, Dad.”
“Doesn’t it?” he asks with good bass. The wonders of a little encouragement.
“No, in fact it sounds pretty darn good.” I’m sounding like my dad.
“Well, thanks.” He seems pleased. His heart valve replacement irritated his lungs and though his heart is stronger, his breathing is bad. He walks for an hour at the club every morning to keep his lung capacity up and does voice exercises. He deserves to feel pleased.
“You bet.” I love making him feel better, even if it’s just for a moment. A moment makes a difference.
“How are you doing?” I’ve been waiting for him to ask me. A girl never tires of a little sympathy from a parent, no matter how old she gets.
“Well, I’m in my chair today so I’m vertical…..and doing a little writing….” I really want to read him my new story.
“That’s good. Anything I can do for you?”
“No Dad, but thanks. I just wanted to hear your voice.” I close my computer to save it for another time. It will be there. Like Christmas.Though it didn’t happen for me on December 25th, it will be there all year long, if I let it. “Go do your exercises Dad, and don’t forget to have lunch.” I can’t help saying it…once a mother, always a mother.
Maybe I’ll give my son a call…he might like to hear my story. Or just post it, right?
I know this is a simple little blog. Have I told you though how grateful I am for each of you? How much your time and encouragement means to me? I am and it does. Thank you. You each make a difference.
Here’s to you and the hope of the Christmas Miracle blessing you each day in the coming year.
I could see Holy Hill, the highest point in our part of the state, from my bedroom window at the farm. It was like a beacon when surrounded by the setting sun. At Christmas time, I would lie in bed and look out at it, searching for Santa’s sleigh—my eyes devouring the black curtain of a sky filled with glittering stars. One time, I convinced myself that a string of light was actually him on his sleigh and on his way.
On Christmas Eve, my family would exchange the gifts my brothers, sister and I got for each other and our parents. We had a $5.00 limit. We’d shop at Grants at Ruby Isle, a strip mall that went up a couple miles from our house. Then we would have dinner before the Candlelight service at church and afterwards, set out cookies for Santa and sent to bed. But we wouldn’t sleep.
I can still remember those feelings of anticipation and excitement. I think now about all the traditions surrounding Christmas and long to keep them alive. Though traditions remain, feelings change.
The brilliance of the lights, the sparkle of the ornaments, the angelic sounds of the music all pay homage to the Holy One. It’s so easy to lose sight of that in the midst of things and though the decorations are merry and bright, our hearts may not be.
This past week, I woke up in the night wanting to recapture the way I felt about Christmas as a child and was unable to fall back to sleep. I was hungry for the spirit of Christmas that would run deep into my own spirit. I Googled the Real Meaning of Christmas to see what the Internet was saying about it and found what I was looking for—that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To celebrate Him is to celebrate Life, Love and Forgiveness which leads to Joy and Peace in our hearts regardless of what’s going on around us. When we say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays—which is pointing to the Holy day of Christ’s birth—that’s what we’re celebrating.
I want to make the cookies my mom made because the tastes remind me of my childhood and that time of great anticipation. I have saved some of the shiny but discolored glass ornament balls from the farm and still hang them because I remember my excitement when they came out of the attic. I will place one of my mom’s taped together Christmas Carol books on the piano because I want my heart to rejoice at the memory of the sound of her music and our voices singing as she played from it. But it’s so easy to focus on traditions and memories, get sentimental and then miss the real thing.
The baby lay in a manger—there were no quilts or a bed, there were no cookies. The cattle were lowing—there was no piano music. There was hay and the smell of animals, no ornaments or scent of pine. He came as Hope for a wounded world and this is how he entered into it. He is the Hope for wounded hearts if we let him in. We don’t need all the rest.
Mr. Kiekhever, who owned the farm we grew up on, hoped to one day build a house on the 10 acres where our farm house sat because you could see Holy Hill from it. He passed away before that happened and Mrs. Kiekhever never went ahead with the plan. Mom and Dad eventually bought the property and the farm house still sits there. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Kiekhever saw Holy Hill as a reminder of Holiness, as a symbol of Hope and that’s why he wanted the view. We need reminders.
I’m not sure I’ll have time to make the cookies I really wanted to make this year in memory of Mom. I don’t know if I’ll get around to writing cards to those I love.Though our tree is up that may be the extent of my decorating. But I will take time to let Jesus fill my heart with his Love and Light—flowing in to be poured out for others. And once again, I will remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Revered John Henry Hopkins
We gathered at my parents’ condo like we were setting up camp back in the days of our family travels—spending days and nights together. Joanie and I shared the pullout couch in Mom’s office until our emotions grew too large for us both to fit there and I moved to the couch in the living room. We never knew that we would have the chance to care for Mom like she had always cared for us. Her children, nursed in her arms, giving us life and all she had to give. Now she was depending on us to supply her fundamental needs. Does it sound strange to say this was a gift?
The week had started out with Mom’s inspiration—Morning Buns. Her sudden burst of energy provided a morning walk to the store that Sunday with Dad. She had always enjoyed shopping and no less on this day. After breakfast she settled into the chair in the corner of their bedroom. This was where she was most comfortable. “The chair suits my back,” she would say. It was soft and deep but very difficult to get out of. That she could, spoke of her determination to stay strong. The chair was surrounded by the books she loved—the Bible Dad had rebound for her with the two pages from Proverbs missing. She had put the worn thin pages in a safe place—so safe in fact, that they missed the rebinding. She could never bear to part with her beloved book again so they remained loose inside. Behind the chair, was a grocery bag packed full of letters and cards from the many people whose lives she had touched, counseled and loved over the years.
No one knew at the time that the day’s devotion Mom read that morning contained the first scripture she had ever memorized. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14). It was the scripture Reverend Bernwirth had read to her the Sunday she was baptized—a brave ten-year-old recovered from pneumonia and destined to be used by her Shepherd to love others throughout her life and work.
It also included verses 27 and 28 from that chapter. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. I’m sure these words along with the devotion’s text (I am with you, I am with you, I am with you. Heaven’s bells continually peal with that promise), must have deeply comforted Mom that morning.
“You go on to church,” she told Dad. “I thought I could go with you today but I’m not feeling quite up to it now. It must have been the walk. You go. I’ll be fine.” I can imagine her smiling up at him, inhaling a whiff of his Old Spice aftershave as he would give her a kiss.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Go and pray.” She may have added.
“Okay, darling,” that he could do for her. “I love you. I’ll hurry home.”
I think of her reflecting on their past 12 hours together—the chili and football game the night before, the fresh air of their morning walk, the pleasure of a little shopping and the stunning colors of the produce so beautifully displayed around them. I wonder if the unexpected energy she experienced had given her any hope that she might be getting better. Many things we take for granted had been taken from her. Her fingers hurt when she played the Chopin Etudes, Debussey, hymns and improvisations we loved to hear but she didn’t stop. Music had been such a big part of her life—she wasn’t willing to let that go too. Hospice had told her she wouldn’t be able to leave the house alone once she signed the papers confirming their care, not even for a walk. There would be no more driving, her independence was coming to an end. She had flinched at that, I had seen it.
I know she would have preferred to go to church with Dad that morning. Instead, she reflected on how God’s magnificence surrounded her. Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear My voice,* she continued to read from her little orange-covered book. That was the place she was most comfortable now. She had told me that.
In earlier days, Mom and I loved to shop together. She was shopping when she was getting ready to give birth to me. Among the racks of a department store, her knees had buckled and people gathered around her wondering what was wrong. A baby—she was getting ready to have a baby. And so this is where I prepared to make my entrance into the world, amongst the whiff of new fabrics and the sense of excitement a new purchase can bring. I wasn’t born in the store but it wasn’t too long after that. So it was my mom, as well as her mother before her, who are partially responsible that I love to shop.
When Grandma would come to visit, we would help her unload her suitcases and boxes of baked treats containing tins layered carefully with cookies and fudge placed between sheets of wax paper. Then she would head straight to the nearest mall—Mayfair when we lived on the farm and Capital Court when we were in town. I still have dreams about girls’ dress departments and being surrounded by circular rods filled with ruffled satin and lace, or heading up and down escalators that lead to shoe departments. Mom would always stop at the candy counter for caramels and cashews before we began. I was too excited to eat, my eyes darting and head jerking from one thing to the next, dazed by all the new possibilities. My husband says that one of these days I’ll sprain my neck.
In the last months of Mom’s life, I began going overboard buying new clothes for her to wear. She had lost so much weight, nothing fit and this had bothered her. Anyone who knew Mom remembers her impeccable style. I went to the shop we had most recently been to together. It was a fun trip where everything she tried on looked perfect. We left with several bags and it had perked us both up. That’s what it was always about. We cheered ourselves up shopping. It’s a superficial thing, I know that—a false promise of hope for a new beginning by looking differently. It only a short time before you want something else but its an escape. I learned how to hide a new purchase on a shelf out of sight until the right time presented itself. “Is that something new……?” Todd would ask me. “I don’t remember seeing that before…….?”
“Why no—I’ve had this for a while….,” I’d respond.
So during Mom’s last months I bought her more than she needed. I later found the things in her drawers with their price tags still on. It was upsetting to be reminded of so I quickly gave them away. I know the things she did wear lifted her spirits a little and that was something small I could do. I also know I was trying to hold on to her.
“Please don’t get me any more, Debbie,” I didn’t want to hear those words. “I’m not like that now. I’m different. I’ve changed. I don’t care about clothes.”
Mom had let that go. There was no place for anything superficial in her life now. For me, more than the awareness that I should let the empty endeavors go myself, it was the beginning of my acceptance that I would have to let Mom go. God had given us this precious woman as our mother and as Dad’s wife on this earth but this great gift wasn’t ours to keep. Ultimately, she belonged to Him.
I needed to hear the words in my heart, I am with you, I am with you, I am with you, and I read them and reread them from that little book on the page dated October 30. It was time to return the great gift to the One we had received it from and not try to hold on to it. To be able to return a gift of love to the giver is the greatest gift of all.
Mom’s devotion: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young