Category Archives: Family and Friends

Reflections on the Death of My Mother

Jonathan has been preaching through Genesis in the evening service and a few weeks ago Genesis 46:4 stood out to me.

“I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Our modern world thinks so rarely of the task of closing the eyes of the dead, but it struck me that one of the great promises God granted to Jacob was the promise that his long-thought-dead son would be the one to close his eyes. The intimacy and beauty of that care touched me in a bitter sweet way. I realized that living roughly 1400 km (850 miles) from my parents and 5000 km (3000 miles) from Jonathan’s parents meant that we would likely not have that moment, real or symbolic, of closing our parents’ eyes in death. Three weeks later we received a completely unexpected phone call that my mother was dying of a brain bleed, and there was no way to make it to her side in time to say good bye. The Lord had so graciously prepared me for the situation I could not have known I would face.

There were so many moments of kindness in the journey. Our church session was quick to encourage Jonathan to travel with me instead of sending me alone. Our church congregation, my sister’s congregation (also in our presbytery) and the other churches of our presbytery, and my father’s church all expressed their care and love for us in so many ways. The funeral service was full with people from almost every part of my mother’s life, except her Australia years. We received flowers and phone calls and literally hundreds of emails and Facebook messages with such kind and genuine memories of my mother. The Lord was kind to sustain us, even when we were struck with the stomach flu the night before the funeral.

memorialfrontNow, after seven hectic, but blessed, days of funeral preparations, we are back home, and the chronic nature of grief is becoming real to me. I had not realized how many times every day I think “I must remember that for Mom.” or “Mom would love that story.” or “Take a picture of that for Mom.” I had often joked about hearing my mother’s voice in my head. Don’t we all do that? But I hadn’t realized how very often the every day tasks in my life incorporated a memory of something my mother said, or taught me, or loved, or hated. There are so many irrational moments like seeing my Scrabble board and suddenly feeling overwhelming sense of guilt that I hadn’t replaced the J as I promised her I would before her next visit. There are those gut wrenching moments like being the only member of the family who could disable her Facebook account. There is the reality, as I sit blogging, that I was always certain, no matter what I wrote, my Mom would read it. There is that sense of sadness that I carry with me, inside my chest, without really being able to express it.

My mother loved the Lord and was loved by Him. Her struggles with her health, her body, and her mind are now gone, and she is worshiping in a peace and joy she never knew here. I do not grieve as one with no hope, nor do I grieve as the one who knows the Lord and is certain their loved one did not. However, I do grieve. I grieve in the confidence that the Lord’s promises are true and that my mother is resting in the arms of our Savior just as my first child is. Still, I grieve.  I grieve because I miss my mother. I grieve because I don’t think my youngest daughter will remember her Nana. I grieve because death is the result of sin and corruption in God’s good creation.

People ask me how I am, and I answer “I am doing well. The Lord is sustaining.” It is true. It is not a mindless platitude or the socially expected statement from a minister’s wife. The Lord is kind and is sustaining me in my sadness, just as he prepared my heart for it weeks ago. Blessed is the name of the Lord.

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EIGHTEEN!

Favorite number. I don’t get it. Numbers are functional. Asking for a favorite number is like asking what my favorite gasoline is, or my favorite nail, or screw, or spark plug. My favorite is the one I need at the moment that is close to hand. They serve a function, not a fancy. My only favorite number is “Free,” which doesn’t count as a number.

My youngest daughter, however, has a favorite number. At first I thought it was just the biggest number she could think of. This summer when we were renovating the kitchen, she walked into the dining room, and surveyed my carefully laid underlay with screws every four inches, and said, “Whoa. There must be eighteen screws in there.” At the time it felt more like 1800, so I wasn’t amused. When discussing future family sizes, she often announces that she will have eighteen babies. (Reminded, of course, by her fertility challenged mother that one doesn’t always get to pick.)

We became aware, however, that it went beyond big. Sometimes it was funny, like when Jonathan was counting to twenty for hide and seek with the children. He got to eighteen, and heard, from inside a closet, “Yay! Eighteen.” Other times it was inappropriate, like when Jonathan was reading Judges 20 in family worship. “Eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of them men of valor.” “Yay! Eighteen.” Sometimes it is useful, like when the other kids get 20 minutes of screen time, but she negotiates 18. She can even set the timer herself, because she knows 18. Although one time she set it for 18 hours and 18 minutes. Two eighteens are better than one.

Last week I had the blessing of driving to Fredericton with only the snickerdoodle. On the way home we slowed down at the 218 kilometer mark so she could see it and say “Yay! Eighteen.” When we passed exit 188, she said, “It’s an eighteen and a broken eighteen.” The entire family has begun looking for eighteens just because it makes our youngest say, “Yay! Eighteen.” Eighteen has become her thing. When the older children get eighteen as an answer in their math problems, they call her over and show it to her. When they find something with 18 written on it, they automatically assign it to their youngest sister.

When my mackerdoodle was the same age that the snickerdoodle is now, I was often quoting her to people and listening to her little quirks. The two youngest children have speech issues. The oldest got to be the only one speaking for a long time. I don’t have those same moments with my youngest. I am catechizing and teaching spelling and reading and grammar and math. I am drawing maps for history and experiments for science. I am answering a thousand questions an hour, and only a fraction of those come from my almost five year old. The cuteness gets lost in the mist of daily doings.

I am always aware of the tension between what must be done and what must be noticed, because it is so fleeting. I didn’t realize that my mackerdoodle had been aware of that same tension. Earlier this week she had been doing nine times tables, so the number 18 was making regular appearances on her work. The snickerdoodle would stop every thing to come and see every single 18. On the last problem, the mackerdoodle looked into my face and said, “One day she isn’t going to say ‘yay. eighteen.’ any more. One day it will just be another number again. Please write it down so we don’t forget.”

From now on eighteen will remind me not only of my wonderful third child and her child like wonder at the things we barely even notice, but also of the growing maturity in my oldest who doesn’t want to forget the days her little sister said, “YAY! EIGHTEEN.”


Entrepreneurship at the Table

Today at lunch the children were talking about opening business. The conversation went roughly as follows:

Cheesedoodle: (boy, 6) “I will open a waffle business, and I will buy waffles, store them in my freezer and eat them.”

Mackerdoodle (girl, 8) “I don’t think you understand how business works.”

They went on to discuss selling things for money and building businesses. To my delight, they all wanted to have businesses beside each other. The Cheesedoodle was insistent that he was going to be in the waffle business. He grasped that he would sell the items, not just eat them, but he would open “a waffle store,” in his words.

The Snickerdoodle who had been listening to this whole conversation, quietly, chimed in with “And I will have a chicken store next door.”

The Mackerdoodle answered, “and I will be in the alley between them selling chicken and waffles.”

Everyone laughed, but the Snickerdoodle wasn’t finished.

“I will sell chicken, and I will be open on Tuesday,” she announced.

“Only on Tuesday?” we asked.

“Yes. And my words on my restaurant will say, ‘gravy on every table’,” she finished, decisively.

Of all the business ideas discussed in my house, I think that one would have a chance.


Things We Learn When we Aren’t Trying

All winter I lived aware of the possibility of losing power. Every time a winter storm was predicted we went through the discussion of how much water we had, and wood for the stove, and meals that could be cooked on said wood stove. We had candles and an emergency flash light. I had spare blankets for the children’s beds.

In the irony of 2014 weather, it wasn’t a winter storm in which we lost power. It was Tropical Storm Arthur. Jonathan and I have lived through a number of hurricanes and tropical storms in our years in Georgia, but this year these places seemingly traded weather, and neither fared so well.

We lost power at 8:30 Saturday morning while cooking for a church breakfast. On Sunday morning I told the children, “this is just like camping, except we got to sleep in comfortable beds!” On Monday morning I muttered to Jonathan, “I’m so over this! I just want a shower.” And when I was woken at 4:30 Tuesday morning to the beautiful sound of our toilet tank filling with water and the blinking 12:00 on my alarm clock, I said, “thank you Lord!” with no sense of flippancy.

Over all, I am pretty pleased with how our little family fared. The children mentioned T.V. only once. We cooked and ate our own food. We had enough water to drink. We spent a lot of time outside working in the garden. (The pea trellises did not approve of Arthur’s Saturday rampage.) Jonathan and I read more and went to bed earlier. I even got to the point of asking a friend if I could borrow her laundry scrub board and hand crank wringer to do my own laundry by hand. (The Lord gave me back power before I had to do that, but I was, at least, willing to try.)

I was also so encouraged that in the midst of personal inconvenience, a good number of our church congregation still arrived at church for both services. Some of them (*coughflewellingwomencough*) looking just as put together as any other Sunday. Some of us looked a little worse for wear. Our worship, however, continued despite our circumstance; possibly even sweeter for it.

So we learned we are capable of enjoying life with less convenience, and we are renewed in our thankfulness that we don’t have to. We are grateful for things we often take for granted, and are grateful for the time and place in which we live and once more thankful for the church to which The Lord has called us.

All of that from a tropical storm in the North Atlantic.


It’s the Little Things.

On Friday, May 2, Jonathan had his last class of seminary. Ever.

For four years we have celebrated “last class day” each semester with friends and neighbors. It was one of my favorite traditions. But Friday was different. As Jonathan emerged from his computer streaming for the last time, I was overwhelmed with a tremendous sadness that this grandest last class of all those last classes would go uncelebrated. I had tears in my eyes as I washed the lunch dishes and remembered our friend Chad playing the Hallelujah chorus across the shared lawn in our seminary neighborhood. It seemed so wrong to miss that today, of all the days.

Jonathan had suggested we get ice cream to celebrate and I had posted that to Facebook on Thursday. When we arrived at the Dairy Bar this was what greeted us:

008So I am still missing our seminary friends today, but I am overwhelmed at how blessed we are that after only four months here, these people would come to celebrate a moment that they didn’t share. They weren’t there out of a shared experience, they were there to celebrate with us (and enjoy that ice cream, because OHMYWORD!) because they love us. We are blessed, and the Lord is good.


Peace and Settling In.

113“Are you settling in?” I don’t know how to answer that. I understand it is the conversational equivalent of “How are ya’?” when one has just moved to town, and people know you well enough to speak, but not well enough to know what say, exactly. I generally answer in a generally positive way, because the person asking doesn’t really want to know the details of my life, and settling, or not.

How does one define settled? In some ways I am feeling decidedly un-settled. Almost everything I own is stacked in a two car garage and will be until May, most likely. Our van has been parked in Maine for a month, because the United States Postal Service seems to have lost the title so we can’t import it.  I went grocery shopping this week and remembered that I can’t buy sherry at the grocery store in Canada. One of the children’s favorite lunches is the Pioneer Woman’s Sherried Tomato Soup, and I had all the ingredients except the sherry, but I couldn’t buy sherry in the grocery store, and the liquor store was closed. I sat in the borrowed Honda Pilot we are driving and said, out loud, to no one in particular, “Why is everything so complicated?”

But those moments, while real, are pretty rare. In the moment to moment I am feeling more settled than I have in years. I haven’t had to rush the children out the door since we got here. I haven’t told anyone to “just hurry up! We are LATE!” Every morning at 8:30 Jonathan sits at the dining room table and begins his day, and the children and I go to the living room and begin school. There is no commute. We can finish up breakfast at 8:15 and have plenty of time to get dressed and make it to our 8:30 start time. I have baked bread, and made petite pain au chocolate for breakfast, and had people in for meals, and been to other peoples’ homes for meals, and I have still been able to keep up with the laundry. We have been to the local public library (twice) and the children go outside to play on most afternoons – weather permitting.

I spent the last year feeling like I was doing everything poorly because I didn’t have the time to do anything well. I felt like I dropped more plates than I kept spinning, and I told the children “No, we don’t have time” more than I was able to make time to say “yes.” Now I feel like I can breathe. In November the mackerdoodle asked me a question and I answered, “Ask me that again when we aren’t in the car, and I can look up the answer for you.” She answered, “We are always in the car.” Today she asked me “What do penguins and polar bears drink, if they live where the water is frozen?” I Googled it. (Penguins drink salt water, and Polar Bears don’t drink at all! Isn’t that interesting?)

So, are we settling in? In all the ways that count. The Lord is teaching me, one minor inconvenience at a time, that settled and unpacked are entirely different things.


Beautiful Book End

In 2010 we had our first seminary US Thanksgiving. We weren’t going to travel, and our new neighbors, the Baudhuins, had just brought a baby home from NICU, so they weren’t traveling. We decided to celebrate together. (I posted about it here.)

I remember vague things about that Thanksgiving, but mostly I remember that the subject of how long 4 years really was came up a lot. There was no real way of knowing that we would walk closely through these years together. For two years Bliss and I and our children ate dinner together every Tuesday evening while our husbands worked, or were in class. We have celebrated other holidays together, and birthdays and the ends of semesters and the ticking down, class by class, of those four years that seemed so daunting this time in 2010.

This summer as we were meeting the church that would become our new home, the Baudhuins were doing the same and when we came back to our neighborhood with the news that we would be leaving a semester early, Chad and Bliss literally jumped in delight, because they, too, had abbreviated their four years to three and a half. So we arrived together and will step out together. It only seemed fitting to celebrate this Thanksgiving, our last Thanksgiving, together like we had our first.

Here we were then:

Thankful for friends we didn't know six months ago.

And here we are now:

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