What Mama Said and I Say Too

The other day I had a mom moment. It brought me back in time. I’d asked my twenty three year old daughter, who was heading out on a date in zero degree weather, if she had gloves and a hat. She said, “It’s not that cold,” and gave me one of those “Oh, mom!” looks as she headed out the door. (With no visible gloves or hat in sight, I might add, though I took some comfort in the fact that she was wearing a scarf.)

I remember having those feelings myself. I remember how it annoyed me when my mom worried over me and cautioned me. I was fine. I knew what was best for me. Why was she so anxious about things?

I don’t remember when she stopped advising me. I don’t think I even realized how much I missed her gentle words of mama concern. Until I heard them again.

Now, years later, I still remember the day when Mama said two simple words to me, that left me choked up for hours…

I’d spent a couple hours at Mom and Dad’s that afternoon cleaning up messes, bathing Mom, and shampooing the carpet. It was tiring, but satisfying to see things get clean and to see Mama content and cuddling up next to Dad.

And then as I was getting ready to leave, Mama said two words that warmed my soul. She said something that I’d heard often when I was younger and never valued then. I thought it was just something my overly worried mother always said. Maybe something all mothers said.

But her words stood out that day, fresh and bright, because she hadn’t said them to me for years. And it felt like a moment back in time, with my mom caring and worrying over me and loving me so.

Because that day as I was going out the door, Mama said, Be careful.” And that simple message still brings tears to my eyes.

I miss the years I had that Mama love. That faithful devotion that I so easily took for granted when it was abundant. Her concern for me was overflowing. Her willingness to talk and care and listen was endless. Somehow I thought it could never run out. I wish I had cherished the Mama love more.

And I wish I had cherished Mom more when she knew me.

I wonder if this is a common wish. I wonder if my own sweet children will say the same someday…

Let me reassure them, if they ever do have such doubts. I know that you love me. I know that you’re busy and we don’t have as much time together as we’d like.

But know that my mama heart takes joy in seeing you productively working, serving in your church, growing in skills and abilities, spending time with friends, loving your wives and babies and living your lives. You are flying and I’m proudly watching from the nest.

Our time together these days is limited, but it’s always a blessing. I know you love me. And you know I love you.

And when you don’t have your mom with you anymore, remember that. And then take comfort in the truth that your Heavenly Father is the one parent you’ll always have near. He’s always there to listen and care. He’s always watching you. I hope He’s always proud.

But when you fall short, remember Jesus paid the price for our sins, and ask forgiveness. Trust Him and stay close to Him always. Then we can all know that we will be together again some day and for eternity.

Until that day, please be careful. And wear your hat and gloves. And call your mom when you can.

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Christmas Echoes

I was reading this morning in one of my all-time favorite devotionals, Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman, and was so touched by the words of a song printed there. I don’t recall reading it before, but maybe it just wasn’t meaningful to me when I did.

Now it reveals heart truth to me. And I realize again how every generation struggles through these changes. Every family will at some point have a Christmas that echoes with the memory of those no longer there.  For some of us, we are missing loved ones, even while they are still with us in body.

And whether we are missing our dear ones in spirit or in actuality, all of the traditions stir memories of more joyful days.

We are not alone. Every generation has been here before us. And many are struggling alongside us now. Jesus knows. He is our comfort. He brings “holy gladness still”.

And the story has a happy ending for all who believe in Him. One day all who trust in Jesus will be singing together again, and there will be no tears to hide…

Bells Across the Snow

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
    Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
    With its joy and with its pain?
There’s a minor in the carol,
    And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
    With the holly wreath to-night.
And the hush is never broken
    By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
    To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
    ‘Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
    With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing
    As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
    Of the crown on each dear brow;
There would be no sigh to smother,
    No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
    To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
    This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
    Of our unshadowed glee.
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
    Sweet herald of good-will,
With holy songs of glory
    Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
    And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
    To the “bells across the snow.”

by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) Public Domain

 

My beautiful picture

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To Everything There is a Season

The Bible tells us that there is a time to be born, and a time to die. A year ago this very day, our family felt the ecstacy and grief of both.

As Mama’s youngest great-grandson was struggling to come into this world, Mama was struggling to leave it. I remember praying for my great-nephew’s birth, even as I sat vigil over Mama, holding her hand and agonizing over her labored breathing.

I told Mama the news when her great-grandson was born. She didn’t respond. I don’t think she could have. But I was relieved when she was still breathing after midnight. I didn’t want them to share the same day. I didn’t want the joy of birth shadowed by death. Somehow a few hours difference and separate numbers on the calendar made me feel better.

Mama lingered with us until seven the next morning. And then she left us quietly, with an incredibly peaceful look on her face and even a hint of a smile.

It’s strange to think it’s been a whole year since that evening of life and death. Mama’s great-grandson is toddling around on sturdy legs these days, charming everyone around him. Mama is even getting three more great-grandchildren this coming year, as her legacy grows.

And Mama’s youngest grandchild was born to my baby brother in July. James brings her to see Dad every week.

Dad can’t see little Emma’s face because of his blindness, but she holds onto his finger snuggly while he sings “Edelweiss” over and over to her. And he marvels over her soft little hand. He says it reminds him of Mama’s hands. Because they were so soft.

We all think about Mama and how much she adored babies. We wish she was here with us sharing these joys. But I don’t doubt that there are some babies in heaven who are getting some exceptional grandma loving.

And there is a peace, through the pain of all the grief, in knowing that Mama is in paradise with Jesus.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2,4. (NKJV)

It’s surprising how these times can intertwine. The tears and heaviness of missing and mourning mama mingle and mix with the warmth and joy of grandchildren and holidays and family.

His grace covers us. He knows we may weep, but He is with us. He holds us close in His love and reminds us of eternity with Him for all who believe in Jesus. He whispers tenderly and reassures me of His presence.

And I realize more clearly than before, that there are times when you weep and laugh in the same hour. In the same moment even. There are hours when you mourn as you dance.

This is the season we are in. And I know He will give grace.

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Praying for our First Thanksgiving Without Mom

Abba Father,

My heart is heavy. Something about holidays this first year since Mama went home to You is heartbreaking. I’m not sure why, because the last few years of her life she wasn’t participating with us anyway. And she hadn’t really known me for long before that.

But even though that was hard, I could still bring Mama a Thanksgiving meal. I could feed her mashed potatoes and gravy. I could hold her soft hand. I could hope for a sweet word from her. Sometimes she’d say something that made me laugh. Sometimes she’d thrill me by saying my name.

And I could know that when I left, Mama had Daddy and Daddy had Mama. And Dad would tell Mom over and over how much he loved her. And Mom would flutter tap his back for hours as they snuggled in bed together.

Oh Abba Father, I know Mama is with you now. I know she will have the best Thanksgiving ever. And I’m so grateful for that and for You and for eternity. But I don’t know how to prepare for Thanksgiving on earth, when all I want to do is cry. I have so many blessings to be thankful for. SO MANY! And I am grateful, Lord, I truly am.

And yet the emotions and the tears keep coming. How can I honor You through this, Abba? What do You want me to do?

Help me Lord, please, to:

  • keep my focus on You and Your faithfulness and presence
  • continually give thanks
  • love and enjoy the people and moments you bless me with today
  • be faithful in the responsibilities You’ve given me right now 
  • let go of stress, worry, and perfection and trust that Thanksgiving, with all its details, is in Your hands
  • appreciate my family and not drive them crazy prepping for the day

Thank You, Abba Father, that You are merciful and good and so faithful! Thank You that Your mercies surround us, Your compassions are new every morning, and that Your love never fails.

Tuck me closely under Your wings when the tears need to fall. And then lift me up on wings like eagles when I need to get the work done. Thank You for your tenderness and gentleness with me, Lord.

And Jesus, would You please give Mama a big hug for me? Tell her I miss her and love her so much. And tell her I’ll try to make Thanksgiving as sweet and warm and fun and delicious as she did for us, for so many years.

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Beauty for Ashes–Learning to Trust my Grief to Jesus

I’m getting those feelings again. I call it “feeling emotional”. I think it’s because of the season. This time last year I was debating even celebrating Thanksgiving, because Mama was doing so poorly. She passed on just a couple weeks later, on December 12th.

I was reading in Isaiah today, and I noticed in chapter 61, a description that fits these feelings well…”the spirit of heaviness.” It is a heaviness on my heart, a closeness to tears, a mourning.

It’s a time of missing Mom. Of realizing that last year was the last Thanksgiving we had together, after a lifetime of sharing the sweet joys of it. And this Christmas will be the second Christmas without her. But last year, the holiday came so quickly after her passing that there was still some numbness and shock as I wrapped gifts and prepared.

I wonder what this year will be like.

And I read this sixty first chapter of Isaiah over again. Especially the verses I have underlined. And they say that Jesus came to comfort and console all who mourn… to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…that He may be glorified.

I know that Jesus came to save us from our sins. He took the punishment for all that stands between us and God, so that all who believe in Him and trust in Him can be forgiven and live with Him forever. And I’m so grateful! Especially because I know I will see Mama again and spend eternity with her!

But He also came to comfort and console all those who mourn! He knows that mourning is heartbreaking. He knows us! And He cares and He loves us!

Maybe the comfort and joy is just knowing that this is not the end. That those who trust Him will have an eternity with Him. That believers who pass are instantly in His presence. And these are priceless comforts for sure!

But these verses say even more to me. They give me a picture of Jesus with His arms open wide. I see Him hugging me close with compassion. I sense Him whispering, I will be with you in this time of mourning. Trust Me. Run to Me. Weep on My shoulders. I will bring beauty out of these ashes. I will turn the weight of these emotions into praise. 

I remember how hard it was walking through Alzheimer’s with Mom. And how often I would tell myself, This is hard. But God will give me grace. And He did, even through the tears and pain.

And now Jesus is walking me through this season of mourning. I picture Him lifting my chin gently and looking into my eyes. I sense Him saying, I know this is hard. I understand. But I am with you. I will give you grace. I will never leave you.

And I believe Him.

It was just about this time last year, that Mama had a very bad night. We thought she was dying. We were crying and praying and calling hospice. And then she came out of it and seemed normal for her again. And we sighed and smiled with relief.

The next morning my daughter was taking care of her, when Mama said, “God is here.”

“Yes, Grandma. God is here.”

And Mom added, “He is bigger.”

Mom was barely talking at all at that point. And though she had a solid faith when her mind was strong, she was never one to speak often about God. So it especially stood out to us that she said this.

And we wondered if she’d seen an angel, or God even. Or if just the nearness of death had made His presence more real to her.

I’m not sure what she saw, if anything. But I know that it’s true. God is here. He is with us. And He is bigger.

He is bigger than Alzheimer’s. He is bigger than death. He is bigger than mourning and grief and the missing. He is bigger than emotions and heaviness and broken hearts.

I can give it all to Him. I can trust Him to somehow bring beauty out of the ashes and pain and grief of it all.

He’s not telling me to stop crying or to stop feeling what I’m feeling. He’s reminding me to trust Him with it all. To remember that He is near. To know that He is the God of all comfort and the Shepherd that restores my soul. He is with me through this valley of shadows.

And I recall the last hymn that Mama remembered how to sing. She sang it often, and a little “warbly” and out of tune…

...What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear…what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer…

Thank you for leaving me with that hymn, Mama. And thank You, Jesus, for being that Friend.

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Some Days You Need to Bake Cookies

I don’t need cookies. But some days I need to bake them. Like the other day, when I was babysitting my two year old grand and wanted to make a memory with her. I had an abundance of peanut butter, so they became the cookie of choice.

I took out my mama’s most beloved cookbooks and looked up the recipe in both. These were the cookbooks I remembered Mama using my whole childhood. The ones falling apart and taped together, with worn pages that had torn through the holes that held them in place.

I looked through them gingerly, these almost sacred artifacts of the past. These books that sing stories to me of Mama young and healthy and laughing. These books that bring back the sweet scents of cookies fresh from the oven and Mama, rosy and smiling, saying, “Wait until they cool a bit.”

I remember standing on a chair at the counter, helping mix up cookies. So, I help my granddaughter stand on a chair by me, and she delights in trying to grab each measuring cup and spoon from me before I quite have it filled. She gleefully drops each measured spoon and cup full into the mixing bowl. And then energetically stirs with my grandma’s big wooden spoon, flipping cookie dough out of the bowl in the process.

I roll the dough into balls and she keeps rearranging them on the cookie sheet. I take a fork from my childhood days, and show her how to press the dough ball down. She pokes at the balls eagerly. I wonder to myself what I was like “helping” Mom when I was two years old.

I looked in my china hutch and found a plate Mama gave me when she still had her memories. She said it was one of her mama’s plates. I think she said it came in a big bag of oatmeal. I know she said some of their dishes did.

I put the cookies I baked, using Mama’s recipe, on the plate that belonged to Grandma. We ate some while they were fresh and still slightly warm. They don’t look as good as Mama’s cookies did. They don’t taste quite as good as I remember Mom’s either. But there is something satisfying in tangibly seeing this connection to Mama’s past.

Something about this plate of cookies makes my memories of Mom and Grandma more vivid. I can picture them sitting at the table with me now, eyes sparkling, nibbling cookies, laughing and talking about recipes and grandchildren and life.

I wonder how many cookies they baked with their own children, and then with their grandchildren. Now they are together in Heaven. But I feel their presence. I sense their smile. “It’s your turn now!” is the message I hear.

Carry on the legacy! Love your family well. Treasure your grands. Pray for them and love them and teach them about Jesus. Tell them about their Great-Grandma and Great-Great Grandma. Read to them, laugh with them, sing with them, dance with them.

And don’t forget the cookie baking. The memories are worth the mess.

I don’t need cookies. But somedays I need to bake them.

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Heavenly Dreaming

It’s a week shy of ten months since Mama passed, and last night I had my first dream about her. Or at least the first dream I have any remembrance of having.

In my dream, I was at Mom and Dad’s house, with my brothers and their wives, and a couple young children. We were working on some kind of project together and watching the children play, when I noticed that Mom was there and up and walking fine! As I watched her I saw that she was almost running gracefully in a circle in the living room! And then she did a ballet movement with pointy toes and everything!

I was amazed. “Mom is walking!” I said.

And my sister-in-law answered, “I know!”

And then all kinds of thoughts ran through my dreaming brain. She’s walking so well! Maybe the medicine they put her on messed up her walking. But no, she was losing the ability before she started the meds. But look– she’s fine! Why did we have a memorial service? Why did we tell everyone she died? She’s alive! She’s fine! She’s better than ever! I have to tell Dad!

Then I went looking for him. As I left the room, I heard Mama laughing with the children who had dressed up silly to surprise her. It was her beautiful laugh from healthy times, full of delight and love! It so warmed my heart!

I found Dad standing strong in a big work shop, busy making something like he used to love to do, with eyes that could see again. For some reason these changes in him didn’t surprise me. I told him, “Dad! Mom is walking fine! She’s almost running and dancing!”

And Daddy’s eyes teared up with joy. He wasn’t shocked that she was alive. He was just so happy that she could walk well again!

I woke up right after that. I yearned to go back to sleep and somehow get into the same dream and watch Daddy find Mom walking and dancing. How fun that would have been to see him marvel over her being alive and able to walk!

I recalled how painful it had been to see Mama’s ability to walk dwindle down to a hunched over mincing step. I remembered the day the hospice nurse said it wasn’t safe to have her even try walking anymore. And then many months later, I recall when the nurse said we should stop trying to get her out of bed.

Around that time Mama spoke some of her last words. She told my daughter, “God is here. He is bigger.” And when she passed home to Jesus, a week or so after that, Mama had such a sweet look of incredible peace on her face.

I remembered all of this, as I reflected on the dream that still seemed so real. Mama was alive and running and dancing and laughing with little children! I couldn’t stop smiling about that.

As we sipped our morning coffee, I told my husband about the dream. He smiled and said, “You dreamt about heaven.” And I agreed.

And though I’m in tears as I write this, I have a deep peace in knowing there is truth in this dream. Mama is able to run and dance and laugh with children today! I know because of Jesus it is true. And I know one day we will be together again for eternity.

Until then, I’m grateful for this dream that gives me a glimpse of Mama’s happiness now. Keep running Mama! Keep dancing and laughing! It blesses me so to know you are surrounded by God’s peace and love!

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV)

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