Thoughts From A Wake

This past week, the mother of a friend of mine passed away. It was rather sudden, and consequently hit her family pretty hard. I bought a card for my friend, but thought I should also attend the calling hours for her mom, as well. Not having much experience with deaths and funerals, yet, I am not sure if participating in the services would be expected of me, since I am not a very close friend. But my sister in law once told me that if I had any feeling at all I should go, I should go. So I did.

I told Luke when I was leaving that if it was too crowded, I would drop off my cards and leave. But when I got there, I could see how rude that would be to do- it was crowded, but the line of people wove in and out of the funeral home’s rooms, and most everyone could see everyone else. I got in line.

The first room the line crossed looked like the administrative office. Papers were strewn across the desk, including copies of the video of family pictures that was playing in the foyer. I thought it was strange to have the people walk through here, then inappropriate that the family’s personal things were laying out. Since I was alone, it was a challenge to find things to do with myself. I didn’t feel I could strike up a conversation with my neighbor, a hippie type, or my other neighbors, an older couple. It just didn’t seem right.

Once into the hallway, the line actually came round to the end of the family receiving line. Many at that point were giving a small wave or smile to those they knew in the family. One lady was not paying attention, so advanced in line to shake hands with the family, not knowing the line switched back. She ended up behind me.

For some reason, at this point I felt I could start talking to my new neighbor. I found out how she was acquainted to the deceased, and how my friend’s mom actually died. The Facebook posts were vague, and rightly so, so I didn’t have much information. Seems she was feeling tired, and at some point ill enough to be admitted to the hospital. Then, about two weeks later, she passed away during the night. The doctors didn’t know exactly what was wrong with her, were going through a series of tests, but the thought of death was far from anyone’s minds, so no one was prepared for that to happen.

A bit after talking my new friend pulled out her phone. I had noticed, and was appreciatively surprised, that NO ONE in that long long line was on their phones!!! What a testimony to the solemnity of the occasion. And an honor to this woman’s family. But she was not being obnoxious on hers, and I realized I should check mine for messages, so I told her I was glad she had hers out. Now that I was not the only one right now, I wouldn’t appear as rude, ha ha.

As we advanced, another lady joined our quiet conversation about death, what we’ve experienced with it so far, who we’ve lost, how we’ve dealt with the children it affected, and so on. I was heartened to hear their perspectives and theology mirrored my own; this woman who passed away was active in her local church, but also worked in the school system, so I could have been standing beside someone with a completely different faith background. But instead, we were able to encourage each other. Funny how the second half of my time in line went faster than the first, as we talked.

We got to talking about our stuff we keep around, knowing our kids won’t want it, but still we keep it. I told them I had 13 children, and back for our wedding we had registered for the plates with a setting for 12, thinking the 16 was too many (!) The one lady interrupted me- “You have thirteen children?! I have thirteen children!” What’s your name…” And we began to trade big family stories until we reached the family. What are the odds of being in that line with another mother of 13 children? Not odds, but God, for sure.

My bereaved friend was in shock. And all cryed out (for now) and so angry. But she still looked lovely. She told my new friend in line that she was done with life, that she just wanted Jesus to come and have it over with. I’ve been there, too. Read any of my posts about Micaiah if you want a sample of my feelings there. And then, I recalled another funeral (in this same building) I attended, for a newborn baby my friend had had, with so many medical problems he only lived a few minutes. I will never forget the way she looked at that tiny casket, with tears running down her cheeks, as if to say, this really hurts. I hate that this had to happen. Why do I have to say goodbye to someone I just met? Let me die, too.

It is good that my friend was being honest with her thoughts and feelings. And she realized that the funeral was only the beginning. Soon she would return to life with a new emptiness. Thanksgiving next week, and Christmas. And her young children, needing reminded of where Grandma was. She had just posted on Facebook weeks before about how her mom was her rock. Now it would be those left behind to be her support, but ultimately God. Though she is probably upset with Him now, she knows He can take it. That He’ll always be there listening.

 

 

Catching Up

I had a baby three weeks ago. Her name is Chloe May and she is doing wonderfully well. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been using her as an excuse for every failing these past few weeks, much like I was using my pregnancy before that. Sorry we haven’t met for coffee, sorry I haven’t gotten back to you, sorry that isn’t finished…I may just keep this up as long as I can. Ha.

Postpartum is the perfect time for rest, for quiet, for filling the hours with some good-for-the-soul reading. I did have some lows that first week, some times of dread and panic. Telling myself it was the hormones at work and on their way out helped some, but reading good things has helped a lot. I’m going through the Psalms this month, and some real gems have revealed themselves. One trying day I read

May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!

Another day

For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will never be shaken.

I’m also reading through the Love Comes Softly series again. This is a heart-warming story set in pioneer times, showing characters trusting in God during good times and bad.

My stack of Above Rubies is getting read again, too. These are such a treasure. I noticed on my Summer Reading Program sheet that magazines count, so I’ve been keeping track of those in addition to my books finished. Hopefully I can start a good conversation with the librarian if they are curious about the magazine.

One book I read before Chloe came really contributed to my encouragement in life and mothering. It is called Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins. I felt such a kinship with the author, and was dismayed to not find a way of contacting her to tell her how much I loved what she wrote in her book. If it were cheaper, I would buy a copy of the book for every mother I know. It is that good. I eventually found Cindy on Facebook, and am composing a letter in my head that I will message her there. It has to convey my admiration and gratitude without coming across like I am a total crazy stalker.

Today’s encouragement from the Psalms is in chapter 9:

Arise, O LORD, do not let man prevail…

What a prayer to pray moment by moment. There’s my way, and there’s God’s way. I want to want God’s way more and more, but I know there are many places in my life where man and his ways prevail. I’m glad there is a time like this right now in my life, with my newborn, to slow down and fill my mind and heart with good things, with the truth.

New Thoughts

Since having my blog hacked last summer, Luke has outfitted me with a great new password. It would mean nothing to anyone but us, and I love that. No part of our present technological lives is unhackable, but it is nice to have a strong password and feel like we’re doing something in the war for the web.

I’m a book addict, I think. Yesterday I finished a book, and had a moment of panic that there was not another one to pick up. But of course there always is, and if nothing else I have my Aubrey Maturin series which numbers in the teens (I’m only on book 3) and my old standbys, Laura and Father Tim and Ralph. And, there is my read the Bible thru the years challenge, working through Exodus currently.

Two noteworthy books I have and am reading are How to Be A Christian Without Going To Church, and Revolution. The first is by a woman (Kelly Bean), the second by a man (George Barna). Together these have been such an encouragement to me as we navigate this time of our lives not going to church. Even though we don’t attend Sunday service in a building set aside for that purpose, we are still The Church, God’s called out people, learning and growing every day into His perfect plan for our lives. I’m eager to see what the future looks like for our family, without some of the traditional practices that both Luke and I were part of, growing up. God is always up to something new, and I am finally to the point of not feeling guilty, or not feeling guilty about not feeling guilty, if that makes sense. Because for me, so much of ‘doing church’ was exhausting. Being His church is already feeling much more free.

Good Things

Martha Stewart likes to promote the fun, fanciful, and fine with the above phrase. From vegetable noodlers to warm slippers, these are the things to have right now, to enjoy life to the fullest. I read something today that reminded me what the true ‘good things’ really are.

I guess a woman with cancer refused treatment because she was pregnant. Then, the baby, a girl, had to be taken at 24 weeks and did not survive. Then, the mom died, two days later. She leaves behind a husband and five children. Man, right there is a couple of people I would just love to hug. I will look for her in Heaven, but him? He’s got a very difficult row to hoe. I doubt it is feeling very much like a good thing to this husband and father that his wife and baby are gone.

A BSF lesson question ties into this, too, in a strange way. It says, “What results of suppressing the truth (see Romans 1) do you see in your own life and what will you ask God to help you do about it?”

I wrestled a bit with this thought, then concluded that maybe a good place to start would be to isolate some problem or issue I am having right now; perhaps this difficulty is a result of me suppressing God’s truth. But then I thought, that isn’t the only reason we have trouble in our lives. It may be just as likely the bad thing is not a result of my sin, if we’re talking averages.

And let’s not forget these dear ones who hardly know how to move forward without their sacrificial wife and mother. Nothing in this says, they must have suppressed the truth to get here. In fact, this has God’s truth written all over it, but it still hurts. So. Badly.

Sigh. But who of us really know if we would trade a single tear, a single blow, a single loss, if we could see it all the way He does. I would be willing to bet we’d see them as Good Things to rival Martha’s any day.

My Thing

The kids and Luke left to run just a bit ago, and I was left holding the sauce spoon, holding down the fort, holding in my complaints about the way of things sometimes. Even with bigger kids, a lot is left to me, and some days it gets hard to keep a good attitude. Part of the game is learning to love it, learning how to do, whatever my hand finds to do, with all my heart.

The other day I was moaning to Luke that I didn’t have a ‘thing’, an activity that fulfilled me, gave me some joy (I mean apart from marriage and family; that wasn’t the origin of this conversation. I can’t remember what was, ha). Luke immediately returned, “Homeschooling! You have that!” and it was like a light bulb went on, one that has been screwed in the hole for some time, just not screwed in all the way. Luke wants me to embrace homeschooling, to take it seriously, to work at it with all my heart. All these years I have tried to have as little to do with it as possible, like an acquaintance I would only see occasionally, but never dream of having into my home for dinner. Something is clicking with me. I’m not allowed to hate homeschooling. It is hurting my children, but it is hurting me more not to be all in, and allow myself to be changed through the process of teaching my children. I want to repent of this spirit asap, and am working on making time each day even this summer to get up close and personal with what the Lord might want to do in and through us next fall.

Luke and the older four leave for Lynchburg Monday for a week. While I will miss my biggest helpers (see griping above), I am looking forward to having some extra time to myself. The calendar is empty, since much of the to-dos these days involve these five. My to-do list can be a little more focused:

Read to the littles every day and take them to the library

Clean house

Read

Paint

Blog

Cook yummy things that Luke hates

Soak up some sun

If I get any of that done, the week will be well spent.

I’m learning that at this stage of my life, my ‘thing’ needs to be me enabling others to have their thing. It will likely be my most rewarding work.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant…”

 

Reaching Out

I read a blog post today where the lady was very critical of “trendy churches”, with their “coffee bars”, as missing the point when it came to truly reaching those who are hurting. She described the loss of her husband to cancer and noted that it wasn’t her trendy church she credited with helping her get through her difficult time, it was Jesus.

While I wholeheartedly agree that our church programs may or may not be hitting the target, this article seemed to be a little disjointed, if not running on parallel tracks. On the one hand, this woman has experienced a great loss. But to say the things she did about megachurches didn’t seem to go with that. Maybe her own church was unthoughtful or absent while her husband was suffering, and she is now resentful. But it almost seems as if the article is a ‘fake news’ type of publication, where someone grabbed this woman’s story and decided to make it a bash on modern church growth strategies.

This blog post did get me thinking, though. Is it really up to the church at large, the administration, to reach out to those suffering and widows? Yes, James tells us to look after widows and orphans, and no good church would ignore them. But I thought about how those who are hurting would typically be touched: if I met up with such a person, I might invite them over to my house, or to join me in a small group of people with something in common (mommy group, men’s group, etc). I probably wouldn’t invite them to church right away, keeping the connection one on one for a while. In this model, the person would be experiencing the love of Jesus, and the love of the church, but through an individual member of it. At this point in our relationship, my church’s coffee bar or salad bar wouldn’t have much to do with it.

I’m sorry for this woman’s loss, but I don’t see how her church’s flaws play into it. And yet, she now has a deeper awareness of others in their suffering, and Christ’s strength is made manifest in her weakness. In this she can delight.

Easy Button

Days like today should be the norm, but they’re not. I got groceries this morning, the bill wasn’t too high, the items fit well into the recycled bags I bring to Aldi. (Weeks that I don’t have enough bags for it all I get really embarrassed for some reason. First world problems, right?) The kids went down for a nap reasonably well, and I now have a window of free time to choose an activity. For me. To do. By myself. Cool.

But, like I said, this is not what happens every day of the week, and usually what does happen requires great struggle and sacrifice on my part. My wants and needs are often marginalized. I am often asked to put others and their needs first. My gut reaction is usually to complain, even if only inwardly, I didn’t ask for this! Why me, why now?

The first study question of my BSF lesson hit me squarely in this. ” How does this passage (John 18:1-27) show you the Lord Jesus Christ chose to suffer and was not a victim of circumstances? ” Wow.

You could almost say that most trials of life, and our choices while handling them, fall into either one of these categories. We can choose to suffer, ie. die, to ourselves and submit to what we can learn from the experience, or play the victim, and hold on to our rights we think we have to a happy life and NOT this happening, with any number of resulting fits and tantrums, even if only inward ones. I’m queen of the second category, by the way. I’ve played the victim all my life. Jesus is King of the first category, one of many reasons He is holy, so completely ‘other’ in His behavior. I want to be able to look at life and my choices in it the way He did while He was on earth. Not least of which would be His determination in His final days, arrest, and crucifixion. The only Person who could ever have truly played the victim, didn’t.

 

What He Would Say

I was reading a children’s story Bible to the boys one day, and when we came to the page with a picture of Jesus sitting with some children, I asked what Jesus might have said to these little kids.

“He told them to be quiet and to behave,” Kenan was certain in his reply.

As funny as it was to hear, it was a little sad, too. Is that what Kenan thinks Jesus wants from his four year old self? Good behavior? Is that the message he is getting from home and church, that all important be-quiet-and-then-we-can-do-fun-stuff?

I thought some more about Jesus and the children. I love the pictures that have Him holding the infants and kissing them. He was all in, whatever crowd it was. Newborns or lepers, they were all welcome at His side. I do wonder what He had to say to these littlest of all, most powerless, most helpless. Would He have told them of the heroes of old, like David, like Elijah? Would He have told them secrets of the world to come, what their rooms would look like? What most important things could He impart to a group of young that He may never see again? I imagine it would include, Love God Who Made You And Loved You First. Love Your Friends. Love Your Enemies. Love And Obey Your Mom and Dad. In These You Will Be Blessed.

It starts to sound like Keeny’s answer. Be quiet. Listen for God’s voice. Behave. Honor your parents and do what they tell you. This is the path to knowing God for each and every one of us.

You will say, “How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.” Proverbs 5:12-14

Redemptive Winds

I was reading a magazine article about peacemaking, and the thought came to me:

Have I been the victim in a conflict so long it has become comfortable? If so, am I willing to go through the painful process of resolving the conflict and reconciliation?

That is a tough one. As things develop, and I make choices to be open to change and improvement (in my heart first), I hope I can answer yes to the second question as easily as I do the first.

A quote in Little Britches applies here, too.

“You know, a man’s life is a lot like a boat. If he keeps his sail set right it doesn’t make too much difference which way the wind blows or which way the current flows. If he knows where he wants to go and keeps his sail trimmed carefully he’ll come to the right port. But if he forgets to watch his sail till the current catches him broadside he’s pretty apt to smash up on the rocks.” -Father, to Ralph

In my boat, if I have made a habit of taking every offense to the Lord, and have done all I can to avoid bitterness, those big winds of hurt shouldn’t throw me off course. But, if I haven’t been tending to those weeds of resentment and have allowed them to take root, I’m in trouble even before the storm hits. In this most recent event, I think I could see some real maturity in my reactions and responses. But it also revealed my penchant for being ready to forgive but not being ready to give when the situation requires give and take. It is a lot easier to walk away and say, that’s not worth it, they are not worth it. But people are worth it, and as long as there is hope of peace I must be willing to pursue it.

“So then, let us pursue the things that make for peace, and the building up of one another.” -Paul, to me

God’s Celery

That title may have originated from VeggieTales, not my subconscious, though these are very closely linked. I’ve seen all the shows (old ones, not new ones) so much it is easy to speak veggie.

I’m on a sort of diet, inspired by the book Why We Get Fat. I’m eating a lot more vegetables, and today was really looking forward to a celery snack. When I went to the fridge for some celery to put in tonight’s meatloaf (yes, in that, too), I saw that my bunch of celery was gone, and a bunch of that had been purchased by someone else was unopened but obviously old, yellow and rubbery. And it might have even been purchased that way, in haste. I fumed to Aliyah that I should take it back to the store, but I didn’t have all day to start dinner. I took a stalk and diced it up, grumbling why people had to eat MY celery.

If you’ve read any devotionals ever, you know where this is going. No, it wasn’t my celery, it was God’s celery. I have no claim to anything on this planet, not even my next breath. So thoughts like this began to calm me down.

Later I had the chance to run to Walmart to get, wait for it…celery. And milk and half and half and clif bars and nuts. God is so generous with me that I can afford these things. But you know what I was thinking as I packed the car? “I should tell (the person who bought that bad celery) to take it back and exchange it so they can get some more celery.” Immediately I thought, wait. I just bought celery. What would Jesus do? He would go home, throw away the bad celery, and tell the family to help themselves to the celery He just bought. There would be plenty more where that came from when we needed more.

Remember, God made you special and He loves you very much.