One Last Time

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I’m heading over the blue mountains home to Mom and Daddy’s place one last time.

In September I went home for a week and half to help my sisters get Mom and Daddy’s household stuff ready for a sale. We spent days going through drawers, closets, and cabinets. Sorting, packing, pitching. It was a sweet, sweet time of sharing memories and reminiscing. My oldest sister is over twenty years older than my youngest sister, so we grew up in different times and there are lots of different memories amongst us all. We learned things from each other we hadn’t known. We found all kinds of interesting things.

Some of our brothers stopped by from time to time and poked around through the stuff we were unearthing. We laughed together at their old sweaters and plaid pants and motley collection of ties. We looked through old yearbooks for faces we knew. We talked about the great big orange box kite my older brother and sister made from looking in the encyclopedia. We recalled how marvelously it flew despite a younger brother’s deep-seated doubts that it would. 

We set up a table in the corner of the living room for stuff any of us especially liked or thought some of the brothers might want to see. We wanted to make sure special things didn’t get lost in all the hordes of boxes. 

As the week wore on the table for cherished things got fuller and fuller. Special dishes. Daddy’s watches and pocket knives. His shaving brushes. The old tin Chinese checkers board us kids gathered around on long winter evenings. The big blue pottery bowl Mom used to mix up cookies. The elegant crystal sugar bowl we used every morning at breakfast for years and years until Mom discovered it was valuable and replaced it with a plastic pint freezer container. The lovely blue pitcher we used for milk until the handle cracked. The jelly dishes on stands from Granddaddy Shank that Mom used on Sunday when our friends came for countless Sunday dinners of mashed potatoes and roast beef or poor man’s steak. (I wish I knew how many pounds of hamburger got turned into that delicious meal through the years.) The crystal cake stand Daddy bought for Mom to use for the wedding dinners. The old black wire cutter that has been around as long as I can remember. The little square ash tray that evokes so many warm memories of cigar smoke rings drifting through the living room as Mom and Daddy sat reading after supper. (I’m hoping nobody else wants that as much as I do.) The white covered casserole dish that came from Daddy’s home and was used only when it was Mom’s turn to host the New Year’s dinner for Daddy’s siblings. The white-edged hobnail candy dishes. The wooden kaleidoscopes Mom’s brother made. The depression glassware. The red checked tablecloths Mom used on special occasions. (She loved red checked anything.) The little doll baby that has been around since early days. Grandmother Eberly’s elegant white soap dish. The little green glass Grandmother Shank brought Daddy from Baltimore when she rode the train there for cancer treatments before she died when he was six, leaving a family motherless and lonely. The little handblown blue glass pitcher Daddy bought Mom that she kept on top of the yellow pine pie safe my brother-in-law made from wood salvaged from the old barn where Mom and then us kids grew up. The silky fringed pillow case with the writing about “My little wife” that Daddy bought Mom on their wedding trip to Ohio that always hung on the closet door of their bedroom down on the farm. The big clear matching dishes used every day to serve up all kinds of food to hungry children. The King syrup tins that are warm reminders of the countless pancakes Mom fried because she decreed you couldn’t go to school without eating breakfast. (Someday I’m going to see if a pancake slathered with King syrup and topped with a hard-fried egg tastes as good as it did back then.)  The white-handled knife we girls used to split the kernels of roasting ears piled high on cookie trays. Etc. Etc. Etc. So many memories gathered in one spot. It was fun to look at the table and see what got added as the days went by. 

It was a huge job going through everything from the attic to the basement. We spent hours cleaning and boxing canning jars. Pints. Quarts. Half gallons. How well I remember the hundreds of jars that got filled every summer and carried down to the basement. It was an endless job. Ironically there were exactly thirteen jars of applesauce left lined neatly in  rows. One for each of us kids, someone said.

I have no idea how Mom managed to do all the work she did through the years. I never ever remember hearing her or Daddy complain about the amount of work and energy it took to feed and clothe us all. In later years whenever I asked Mom how she did it, she invariably replied, “A day at a time.”

Mom wasn’t a writer per se, but she often jotted down her thoughts in various places. Sometimes on calendars or random pieces of paper. We found some really precious things she’d written as we sorted through her possessions. They all went into a special designated box for safekeeping.

We sisters took turns making dinner for each other. Each day we set the table with different sets of Mom’s plates. The blue willow we’d used every day for years until it met the same fate as the crystal sugar bowl. The pink flowered plates that replaced the blue willow. The elegant gold-edged china Daddy gave Mom when they got married, that was only used for company. 

And the silver spoons. The seven silver spoons Mom had tucked in the drawer all through the years that none of us can remember the story of where they came from. I said us sisters should each take one and laughed that the odd one could be mine since I’m unmarried. And don’t you know, the first day we sat down randomly to eat, that very spoon was at my place. A sign I should have it, surely. Especially since it’s the one I like best. Except, when we were sorting through Mom’s real silverware that Daddy gave her for an engagement gift (when she really wanted a lapel watch) we happened onto another spoon exactly like the odd one. So now there are two odd spoons, eight spoons total. Which creates a little math problem for our seven sister spoon plan. 

As the days went by, the stacks of boxes grew and the paths for walking narrowed.

Some of the nieces and nephews stopped by randomly to see it all. “I remember that coffee pot from family gatherings.” They marveled at Mom’s classy high-heeled wedding shoes with the suede swirls. They watched as we cleaned out the games and old wrapping paper from the storage space inside the big brown couch that could be opened out flat for sick kids to sleep on. Where some of us slept during Mom’s last days. We had that couch as long as I can remember and it’s as sturdy as ever. I wonder if anyone will want it on sale day. It’s good for another thirteen kids, at least, I’m pretty sure.

One day a brother stopped by with blizzards from Dairy Queen. Heath pieces added to banana split, a special flavor he’d told us about when we were keeping vigil for Mom. He brought them on his bike tucked into coolers. He brought a couple of his harmonicas too and got some of my sisters to play songs he remembered them playing years ago. The next day he stopped by on his way to town and brought us blizzards again. “It was too good a chance to pass up,” he grinned. Another brother brought ice bars on another day. It was a time of feasting for body and soul.

We had so many special times. It was all such a sweet delight. When I’d thought of going home to sort through Mom and Daddy’s stuff and get ready for the sale, I could hardly bear it. The reality of the end. The pain of the finality. It all seemed too soon and the grief too fresh. But I determined in my heart I wanted it to be a time of joy and gladness. I didn’t know how that would be, but I knew it could be. And it was. There was something so healing about it all as we worked and sorted. The remembering and sharing and laughing and crying. Through it all, something beautiful and powerful happened down deep inside. It was as if God Himself had designed this way of turning our sorrow into joy. Or perhaps marrying them in some sort of sweet mysterious union.

Adding to it all, was my youngest sister’s recent cancer diagnosis.Throughout the sorting time she went to various doctor appointments, learning about the stage and the treatment. Our hearts gathered close around hers at the kitchen table when she’d come back to Mom’s and report what she’d learned and compare notes with my other sister who’s walked the cancer journey twice. 

Then another sister’s mother-in-law died, so we took a little break from sorting so she could grieve the loss of her other mother. We were all glad for a chance to catch up with our own hearts and all the emotions from the grief and joy of the many memories.

When the week and a half was over, I came back to Ohio to tend to my life here and wait for the sale date to be set. The first one was cancelled because my sister wanted to get started with her chemo as soon as possible. So we waited until she was ready.

Now sale week is here.

After my night work shift is over, I’m tending to a few things, then heading east. I hope to get there before dark. All seven of us sisters are planning to spend the night at Mom’s house tomorrow night just for fun amidst all the boxes and chaos. To remember together one last time. Thursday we’re going to finish up some last bits of sorting. My local brothers are coming to get the barn stuff ready to sell. My brother from Pennsylvania is planning to come in Friday afternoon. So all thirteen of us will be at Mom’s again. Like we were the Sunday afternoon before Mom died. And the evening after Mom’s funeral when we all gathered in her living room to read her will. To hear what she and Daddy wanted done with their earthly  possessions.

Then Saturday, Lord willing, we will all gather together again in the cold of November at their white house by the side of the road. The children. The grandchildren. The great grandchildren. The great-great grandchildren. We’ll take all the bits and pieces of Home – the big, the little, the precious, the mundane – and offer them up to new owners. New families. New homes.

And the old Home will be no more.

Except in all the many places the bits and pieces go to be used and loved again. Love multiplied and made new. 

And some glad day, in some mysterious way, all things will be made new. In our Real Home.

The best is yet to be. 

A Season of Change

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote anything for this blog. So much has happened since then. Little changes.  Medium-sized changes. Big changes. Some too gigantic to wrap your heart and mind around in one fell swoop – you have to let the quiet ebb of ordinary days ease your raw, bleeding heart into the new now.

The death of the one who bore you. Whose gentle presence was always there quietly abiding through all the days of your life as you went about the business of living.

Now that quiet, gentle abiding has ended. A big silent emptiness sits in its place.

You trek through the valley of the shadow of death, learning to know the Shepherd on a deeper and more authentic level. His sweet comfort. His goodness and mercy that follows us all the days of our lives. The wondrous delight of His promise that we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Oh glad reunion! Oh glorious Day!



Laundered Tales

I wrote this last year and shared it with my Facebook friends. I’m airing it here for others who might enjoy it.

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The laundromat has a life of its own and is filled with a multitude of amazing stories. If you keep your mind wide open all the time and a close watch on the heart of all mankind. (Apologies to Charlie Pride for taking liberties with his great lines.)

One evening the other week an older woman was there washing oodles and oodles of clothes. She had helped her daughter clean out some place of someone who had died she said. She herself was currently living in her pickup truck. Earlier in her life, she had been a bartender and then a truck driver after her children were grown. She was making good money, until she had to stop driving truck because her doctor’s replacement refused to write her a refill for her narcoleptic meds. “You’re taking too much,” he told her. For years she’d thought his refusal was because she caught him hankypankying with his nurse that day when she stopped by for her prescription renewal at lunchtime after parking her big rig across the street. But she recently discovered when looking through old mail that someone had used her prescription and gotten it filled a bunch of times at a pharmacy in another town. That was why the new doctor thought she was using too much of her medication. She suspected maybe the culprit was her daughter who’d gone to school with the young doctor. Since she couldn’t drive without her meds, this new doctor kept her from becoming a millionaire, because she was just getting ready to buy her own rig. She’d already picked it out, she said. Plus a whole bunch of other incredible stuff. I mostly just listened.

Tonight there was an older man who was playing the harmonica softly while he waited for his clothes to wash and dry. Beautiful gospel songs and Christmas music. Music that lived deep in my heart from years ago. Songs I sang and loved. And miss.

His wife is in the nursing home for two years now he said. She’d had a heart attack. He plays organ too at his church on Pine Street. The African American Episcopal Church. He learned to play the harmonica when he was little. He held out his hand to show how tall he was when his mom and daddy bought him his first harmonica. He promised the Lord if He’d help him learn to play it that he’d always play for Him.

A pretty bright-eyed woman who looked to be in her early to mid-thirties came in with a basket heaped full of laundry. “Are these the biggest washers they have?”

Yes. You can get a lot in them. I just put a whole bunch of stuff in one.

“I delivered my baby at home myself. I have some bloody towels and blankets to wash.” She busied herself with inspecting the jumbo washers.

I stood there and watched my clothes spin. She started loading her laundry into a machine.

It seemed like maybe I should respond to her comment since she obviously wanted me to know that fact, for some reason. But what in the world do you say to that?

Were you alone? Was your husband with you?

“This wasn’t my first child.” Her voice implied that fact made her totally capable of having a baby without anybody’s help. “But she’ll be my last. My sister was with my other children in the car. I was going to go to the hospital after my water broke, but I had to call to get someone to keep my children. I decided to just take them with me to the hospital. But I didn’t make it out of the living room.”

She kept loading the washer.

I kept standing there and watching my laundry spin around.

How many children do you have?

“She’s my sixth. She wasn’t planned. I work in a profession that’s not safe. I woke up one day and didn’t know where I was. A few months later I discovered I was pregnant.”

She said it all as matter of factly and cheerfully as if she was talking about the weather being sunny and what she’d eaten for Thanksgiving dinner.

She finished loading her stuff into two of the big washers, then asked me and another man who was there what water temperature was best for getting blood out of clothes. “Hot,” he replied without hesitation. She started the washers, then went out to her car where her sister was waiting. I went out to get some stuff from my car which was parked beside hers. “I told her Aria’s story,” I heard her tell her sister as I was getting the stuff I needed. She had her sister google how to launder blood-stained clothes. “Wash like normal.” She got into her car and started the engine.

I gathered up the quarters that splattered on the ground when I dropped the roll I’d just dug out of my purse. I’d told her inside I had extra quarters if she needed some. “That’s okay. I have enough.” She smiled at me through her car window. “I’ll be back.” Then she backed out and drove off.

Inside the harmonica-playing man came over on my side of the room and loaded his clothes into a dryer.

All the dryers on his side were empty. Are these dryers better? I asked.

“My brother told me the ones on this side are hotter.”

I busied myself with my laundry. Then I started talking to him about the music he was playing. How it was familiar. That’s when he told me about his wife being in the nursing home. And how playing music helps him keep his spirits up. I told him I play the harmonica too. We talked about the different sizes of harmonicas we like to play. And he told me about the huge harmonica in Germany that’s as long as several commercial washers. And about the music group he’s in. And that he plays guitar too. And about their church getting smaller because young people play sports on Sunday now instead of going to church. And how our country needs revival.

Pretty soon the new mama came back. She wheeled the laundry cart up to the washers and started carefully sorting through her freshly-washed clothes, checking to see if the blood had come out. She pitched a couple pieces into the trash can. “It’s time to say good bye.” Then she came over and stuffed the remaining kit and kaboodle into one dryer. It was chock full. “I’m going to put all my quarters in and come back when it’s done.”

She headed toward the door. “How late does this place stay open?” she wondered.

Till ten, I replied. It was nice meeting you.

“You too.” Then she stuck out her hand and told me her name. She said I looked familiar and asked if I knew so and so. I didn’t. We exchanged a few more comments, then she left.

The harmonica player took his finished laundry over to the table and started making neat piles of clothes. He chatted as he folded, telling me about working on his dad’s hobby farm when he was growing up. How hard they worked making hay. And how his mom and sisters peddled produce and blackberries in town. And about the Mennonite preacher he knew way back when. How the Mennonites helped them build their church. When he was done, he slung his black garbage bag of laundry over his shoulder and pushed out the door, making parting pleasantries as he went.

I looked at the mama’s laundry spinning as I waited for my loads to finish. The huge bundle looked awfully wet. I tucked a few quarters into the slot. I looked at the clock and back at the wet mass. I tucked in a couple more.

My laundry was soon done. I stuffed my basket and laundry bag full of lovely clean clothes and loaded it all into my car. Her dryer churned merrily in the empty laundromat as I pulled out of the dark parking lot and headed home, my heart full of  sundry thoughts and feelings.

All Clear

“Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, ‘neath the sky,
As we go, this we know,
God is nigh.”

We said good bye to Mr. S today. My first caregiving client with my current employer. The one who looked like Daddy and who, like Daddy, suffered a stroke that took most of his ability to talk.

I remember that day in June – I was supposed to meet the client care coordinator at the facility where our new client was going after being released from the hospital for a broken hip. She took me back to the room where some guys were setting up his hospital bed. The room was pretty stark – a cushioned chair and a few other things. Mr. S’s new home. A room where I would spend many hours in the few weeks. And learn a whole bunch of things. 

After showing me the client’s room, the coordinator left and I sat in the lobby and waited. An hour or two later a transport ambulance arrived and they wheeled my client back the hall to his room. I followed, clueless about what to expect. 

The transport techs put Mr. S. in his bed and left. He was clearly distressed. A debilitating stroke. A broken hip. The hospital. Dementia. Now this new place to live and no family or friends to provide a voice for him. He had lived in an apartment and his property manager noticed that he needed help. She befriended him and was able to locate his elderly sister and a couple nieces. Later she became his legal guardian and made his necessary medical decisions. But she wasn’t there when they brought him to the facility. He was all alone. All I had was an assessment sheet with information that had been given to our company. Mostly bare facts. Nothing much about him as a person. And he couldn’t talk to let us know what he wanted or needed. No wonder he was so distressed. Of course, he would be. 

Staff from the facility were in and out of the room, but mostly it was just him and me. Our company was providing 24 hour care for him and I was scheduled to be there all evening and through the night. We had specific tasks we were to do: feed him, assist the staff with transfers, make sure he didn’t fall out of bed, etc. I was brand new to it all. I didn’t know what exactly I was supposed to do. Our training had focused on caring for people in their homes. I didn’t know what was expected in a facility where the techs have their own routines. I didn’t know how to care for someone who had a broken hip. Our training instructor had assured us we would be able to shadow another caregiver when first caring for a client. But Mr. S hadn’t had a caregiver, so I had to wing it and learn as best I could. I sat in the upright cushioned chair and watched and listened and learned. It was a long night. 

In the days that followed, Mr. S. was often very restless. A new place. People he didn’t know taking care of his private needs. The pain that goes with a broken hip. Restless leg syndrome. Constant invasion of his personhood. Loss of dignity. I’m sure it was all agonizingly horrible for him and his face often wore a distressed expression. Our team of caregivers tried to learn what we could about how to make his life as good as possible, but his inability to talk, coupled with his physical problems didn’t give us many options. We’d push him around in his wheelchair and take him outside sometimes and feed him at mealtimes. Eating was his main pleasure and he always seemed to be hungry. Some of us would feed him snacks in the evening on our shift. He liked bananas so I’d check for them in the facility’s snack basket when coming in to my shift and nab one or two for him if any were there.

Over time, Mr. S’ s condition gradually worsened. Hospice became part of his care team. His morphine was increased. My shifts with him became less and less due to both his POA reducing his care hours and my being assigned to other clients. But he still held a special place in my heart. He and I had begun our home health journeys together. 

Several months went by.

One evening when I got off a shift, I saw the office had texted me asking if I’d do a 6-9 shift with Mr. S the next morning before my regular client. Yes! Absolutely I would. Gladly! I quick called the office to see if the shift was still available. It was! I found out then that he was in the dying process. A week or so one of the staff thought. We weren’t supposed to give him food anymore because he had been choking some. Just thickened liquids a teaspoon or so at a time every half hour the tech told me. He had chocked for her earlier and she was afraid it would happen again. In the short time I was with him, numerous people came in his room discussing what was best for him. Nurses and techs from the facility; the Hospice tech, then the Hospice nurse. Opinions varied on whether he should be given food. The official order was No. 

When I left Mr. S’s room, I didn’t know if I’d see him alive again. People can only live for so long without sufficient sustenance. It was a hard thing to think of him not being given food anymore. Especially knowing how eating was his only pleasure now. I was extremely grateful the scheduling girls had given me that one last slot of time with him. 

I stopped by to see him a couple times later that week when coming home from my other client. One evening when I got there, the staff nurse was sitting on his bed feeding him chocolate ice cream! She had seen how hungry he was and had gotten the okay from Hospice to give him comfort foods. I was thrilled! Different ones of us caregivers KNEW he was hungry, but we had to obey orders. It was so wonderful to see him eating again. I left the facility with a glad heart. 

The next week went by. I thought of stopping by and checking on Mr. S., but didn’t. Then I was going to Sunday, but it was raining so hard when I was out, that I decided to just go home. Two evenings later, I stopped in on my way back into town. I punched the button to unlock the door to the memory unit and started down the hall toward his room. The staff nurse and I passed each other and said Hi. Then she asked who I was here for. I’m just stopping in to see Mr. S I said. “Oh, he passed yesterday afternoon.” I stood there in the hall and absorbed her words. Mr. S had died. Could I walk back to his room for a bit? I asked her. “Yes. I don’t think anyone else has been put in there yet.” She walked down the hall with me. I went in the door I’d gone in and out of countless times.  The room looked much different. His bed was already gone. But the brown recliner they’d gotten for us to sleep in was still there. The one I’d spent many long nights in. Our caregiver journal was still there, so I picked it up to return to the office. It was comforting somehow to take that with me. The book where we each logged what took place on our shift. The story of Mr. S’s life here. 

I walked back down the hall to leave. Hannah, the sweet little evening staff tech, came over to unlock the door for me. She gave me a hug and a warm smile and murmured kind words. She’s especially gifted in her work and knows about losing people you take care of. How they leave fingerprints on your heart.

I walked out the winding dark walk to my car. I sat and googled to find the address for the funeral home where the nurse had said Mr. S was. Maple Avenue. I live right off Maple, so it had to be close. I looked at the google map closer. There it was. Just down the street from my apartment. I didn’t even know there was a funeral home close by. I drove down the street looking for it. Sure enough. There it was. I drove in the parking lot. There weren’t any cars in the lot, but a light was on inside. I parked and walked to the door. It was locked. As I walked back to my car, a car drove around in front and the driver stopped and asked if I needed something. He was one of the owners of the funeral home, he said. I explained why I was there and he told me the arrangements for Mr. S. I thanked him, got in my car, and drove home, processing it all in my heart. Mr. S’s life here was over. I gathered my stuff and Mr. S’s care journal and went up the stairs to my apartment. Then I sat down and read through the log sheets to see what his last days were like. Whether he had gotten to eat until the end. Who had been with him in those last hard days. I saw he had been given comfort food for about a week, but then he asphyxiated and all food was stopped. So that tech who was so concerned about him choking the day I was there was right. But he’d had a nice amount of food before that. I was glad for that.

Some of the caregivers wrote about reading the Bible to him and singing and playing comforting music on his CD player. The caregiver with him when he died was one who’d been with him often before and I knew she cared deeply about him. I was so glad he had her with him at the end and didn’t die alone in his isolated room near the end of the hall. God took care of him.

My route to work goes right by the memorial garden where Mr. S was to be buried. When I drove to work Friday, I saw the tent over his grave site.

Today at his visitation Mr. S looked so peaceful. That distressed look he’d worn so often was totally gone. His last surviving sister and two of his nieces told us stories about Mr. S. How he was a hard worker and had no time for foolishness, but had a  good sense of humor. They talked about what a good brother and uncle he was. His sister said how close she and he were growing up. About how happy their home was and what a wonderful mother they had. She said Mr. S told her different times he had read the Bible all the way through. She couldn’t say enough good about him.

His former boss and a coworker told stories about him too. His being given the nickname Jimmy Donut at work. His boss talked about what a good employee he was. About different jobs he did. He told how at 5:30, Mr. S would call in from wherever he was in his work truck to report he was going off duty and heading home. Every evening his “All clear” would come across the two way radio. A man who had known him all his life told us more things. Apparently Mr. S was a man who lived a quiet life, with honor and respect for his God and for all whom his life touched. One of the caregivers told about seeing tears in his eyes one day when “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” played on the CD player. It was all so precious to hear these bits and pieces about Mr. S. and learn things about him that he couldn’t voice. I wish I had known how he liked Donald’s Donuts. And that he had read the Bible all the way through. I could have told him I lived close to DD and would bring him whatever he wanted. I would have asked if he wanted me to read Scripture with him.

The funeral service was very small. Nine or ten people who loved him, gathered in the room where Mr. S’s body lay, his casket open. Words were spoken from Scripture. Words of comfort. Of love. Of Jesus. Of life. Of the Resurrection. 

After the service we drove down Maple Avenue to the street that led to the cemetery. The road was full of Saturday traffic and I marveled at the beautiful tradition of cars stopping and paying respect to the deceased as a funeral procession drives through town. Honoring a life that was. The person who walked and talked and lived his life as he saw fit.

Mr. S’s burial plot is on the backside of a large memorial garden. As our short procession drove back to the bottom of the green hillside, the men gathered to perform military rites to honor Mr. S’s service in the Navy stood at attention, waiting on the hill. The bright colors of autumn were spectacular in the crisp air. The funeral directors positioned the casket and ushered people to the graveside. The pastor spoke some final words of commital and had us recite Psalm 23 together. Then the men in uniform paid their last respects to Mr. S. and the haunting notes of “Taps” were sounded into the blue autumn sky. The flag on the casket was folded with meticulous care and presented to the sister. The attendees dispersed. And we left Mr. S’s body resting on the bright green hillside under a smiling November sky.

All clear.

What We Don’t Know

There’s a lot going on inside everyone’s heart and mind that we don’t know about. A lot. You can count on it.

This inner stuff living in our hearts drives our responses to each other as we go about our daily lives. It influences what we say, what we think, what choices we make.

It does this without our being aware of it.

Until we have the courage to reach deep into our heart and pull its contents up into the light. Lay it all on the table under the microscope of Truth and Love. Look closely at the conglomeration. Sift through it. Examine the content for truth and error. Feel the feelings attached to each piece.  Anger. Joy. Fear. Grief. Desire. Confusion. Longing. Pain. Happiness. Delight.

Let the feelings seep deep into our being. Make friends with it all –  the light, the dark, the in-between hues. Own every piece. Because to reject any is to reject a vital part of what has made us who we are. Which leaves us broken and walking wounded with missing parts. Never whole.

Then after we become friends with all the bits and pieces, we can lay them to rest. Gently.

And live.

Fully. Freely. Joyously.


Relentless Pursuit

The other night my friend Sandy and I were talking about God. About what He’s doing in our hearts. What He’s using to do this.

Sandy and I have spent a great deal of time together in the last eleven months. We’ve watched each other walk through hard, lonely places. An autistic daughter. Cancer recurrence. Disappointments. Hard changes. Grief. Confusion. Anger. Fear. Places where there’s nothing much a friend can do except simply be there with the quiet gift of presence. We’ve been raw and honest about our struggles in those places. About the true state of our hearts. Our need for each other’s prayers.

We talked about how we live glibly along for years, believing we are depending on God. We pay verbal homage to Him; pray passionate prayers. But in truth, whenever we can, we turn first to ourselves or spouses or friends or any number of other avenues to fix our problems.

But God wants something more for us.

Life brings difficult situations to us all. Situations that result from our own choices. Or the choices of others. Or from living in a broken world. Or a combination of all three. And sometimes situations that seem to have no discernible cause at all.

As I said, our default mode is to turn to the knowable in these times – our own abilities, other people, the wisdom and knowledge of experts.

Or, sometimes, we immerse ourselves in a multitude of other things to distract our minds from the pain or anxiety of the difficult situation.

Or we wallow in the misery of it all, feeling powerless.

Or we try to block it out. We put on a happy face and “get on with our life.” We refuse to let this “thing” get us down or make us whine. We muscle out way through it.

Sometimes we spend years of our lives doing these things. We don’t understand how our busyness, our pursuit of living a good life, our multiple distractions are often attempts to quiet our anxious hearts. We don’t realize how much fear and anxiety is building up inside us all the while.

We get very skilled at fooling ourselves.

But God is for us, always. And He uses the day-to-day things in our lives to continually woo us to Him. Interactions with people, challenges at work, debilitating illnesses, circumstances we can’t control. All life’s stuff. Sometimes the complete opposite of what we’d expect God to use.

He gives us opportunities to respond to these things in a different way. To turn to Him as our default mode. To depend fully on Him.


As we sat there in soft quiet of the long day’s end, Sandy talked about God’s kindness in allowing hard things in our lives to teach us to depend fully on Him. We talked about the changes occurring deep in our hearts as we walked through our valleys. About learning to relinquish our fears and anxieties fully to God. About what God really wants for His children. And how He brings us, finally, to a place of trust and dependence. A place of peace.

The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”


Secondhand Goods

I seldom go to Goodwill anymore. Just once in a blue moon.

It used to be an addiction of sorts to slip down the street a few blocks. Poking around through everything is so much fun. Thrift stores are the only kind of shopping I enjoy much at all. I love the thrill of unexpected finds that you would never ever run onto in a regular store. The lure of the unusual or exquisite.

It’s way different from going to the typical store where everything is exactly what you expect and pretty much exactly the same as what’s available everywhere else. That kind of shopping is mind-numbing.

But thrift stores are a shopping adventure in a class of their own.

Not like yard sales where people are selling stuff they don’t want like used toasters and empty Crayola boxes and irregular glass jars without lids. And pink ruffled bedspreads with matching curtains. And all kinds of other nostalgia-inflicting goods they can’t bear to put on the ash heap so they price it at 25 cents. And you pay perfectly good money for it because it’s dirt cheap  and definitely worth a quarter because it’s exactly like what Aunt Martha had when you were six and spent the night there and wished you could have too. Then you get it home, and you understand completely why they were selling it for such a piffalous price. And you ask yourself “What was I THINKING?!” And the truth is, you weren’t. But it’s too late.

Or antique shops that have every nook and cranny chock full of everything you’ve never seen and even junky stuff is outrageously expensive just because it’s old and rusty. It’s all mostly things you would just set somewhere for “pretty”and have to dust. And who wants more stuff to dust? Especially if it’s overpriced and not even useful.

But thrift stores are different.

There’s often a lot of stuff there you can use. Or sometimes just so wonderfully unique it provides its own usefulness by the delight it invokes. And it’s all usually priced way under what you would pay for it new. On rare occasions, you can even nab some extra fabulous steals. It’s especially fun if it’s something you’ve been wanting or needing, but never expected to find at a thrift store. Those are the real thrills.

Like a solid oak end table for a few dollars. I recognized its quality at first sight. It was the exact size I needed – the lamp table I’d built from baskets and books was prone to tipping – but I wasn’t sure about the water rings on it. A customer walking by as I was pondering said he’d charge two or three hundred to make that piece. Another person gave me tips on how to rub the rings out. A few hours and a lot of elbow grease later, I had a gleaming stable home for my lamp.

Some months down the road I found a solid oak coffee table at the very same place. It was the same color of finish as my end table. And way underpriced also. It just barely fit into the back seat of my car. Hardly an inch to spare. I lugged it up my apartment steps and gave it a happy welcome. My beautiful oversized volume of The Chronicles of Narnia (another thrift store find) adopted it.

That’s the thrill of thrift stores. Delightful things you enjoy immensely, but would never have bought new.

But after a certain point, enough’s enough. In truth, what you really need to live is quite limited. Superfluous stuff clutters your space and your mind. Human-made cobwebs.

So I seldom go to Goodwill anymore. Mostly just when I get this hunch that there’s something there I’m supposed to get. The hunches don’t happen very often. They aren’t always accurate either. But often enough that I’ve learned to listen to them.

My hunches aren’t usually about major items. Mostly little things for a specific purpose. Like the hot air popcorn popper I’d been wanting for a friend to roast coffee. It was in pristine condition. I knew right away it was the reason for the hunch. I was delighted. She was too.

So I pay attention to my hunches, because you never know what God is up to. He’s got His eye turned toward us all the time. Even at Goodwill.

I stopped in the other week when the hunch happened again. But there was nothing that caught my eye in particular. Okay, so what was the hunch about? I wondered to myself. Apparently I’d misread it this time.

I wandered around some more. Poking here and there.

Suddenly words of the song that was playing grabbed my ear. “Always stay humble and kind.” The lyrics wound on in typical country music honky tonk manner. But that gentle powerful line kept repeating: “Always stay humble and kind.”

“Always stay humble and kind.”

The message hunkered down in my heart.

It was Jesus’ modus operandi tucked into five little words.

Words I’ve seen my mom live out quietly year after year, decade after decade. A living legacy.

Words I struggle to put actions to in hundreds of nitty gritty everyday places that crop up daily. My spirit is willing but my flesh has an incorrigible mind of its own.

A week or so later, another hunch. Not very big, but there. Within minutes of my stepping inside the store it started playing again: “Always stay humble and kind.”

“Always stay humble and kind.”

“Okay, God, I get it. I hear what You’re telling me.”

If only my mother’s humble kind spirit were coded into my DNA.

But, maybe – just maybe – if you live long enough and play your hunches right – it’s possible to get your parents’ good traits secondhand. High quality goods pre-worn and broken in. Like that stuff you want but never expect to find at a thrift store. But then God surprises you.

Just maybe.


Where His Feet Pass

Some people see God best in nature. They love walking in parks and botanical gardens for hours. The natural world breathes life into their spirit. It’s where they prefer to be.

I’ve never been one of those people.

It used to sort of niggle at me that I wasn’t more of a nature lover. As if it were some sort of flaw that I’d rather hang out with friends and drink coffee or read a book than take a walk in the woods outside my door. If God is best seen in nature, surely a person should want to be there as much as possible, right? Or at least live in the country. Surely.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeing God in nature. I do. Very much. Quiet hiking trails along trickling waterfalls. The varied greens of every new springtime. The grandeur of the Continental Divide’s rocky ranges unfolding for miles. The lulling lap of endless waves breaking on white sands. Sunrises. Sunsets. Rainbows. The peace of the Valley’s blue mountains that fulfill “the promise in the Book.”  Fireflies flitting through quiet summer twilight. Flowers blooming Welcome beside the doorstep.

These marvels silently shout God’s glory. Tangible proofs “Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love.” They quieten the heart and speak “Peace, be still” to body and soul.

Grand and glorious revelations of His presence, without a doubt.

But where I most love seeing God is in His image bearers.

Beings He first molded from dust with gentle hands and breathed into their nostrils the breath of Life. Then placed in a special garden: a paradise of love and beauty for them to live and move and have their being. To bear His image and share in His work. “And, behold, it was very good.”

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy living in an apartment complex so much. The people. It thrills my heart in a deep place to live amidst a constant flux of humanity. I just love seeing them and connecting and interacting. All of us doing life in our little neighborhood.

I’m not sure why this brings me such joy. It just does.

People of all colors, ages, and walks of life. Coming, going, working, visiting. Each one breathing Life born from that First Breath and bearing God’s image in their special, unique way. A constant livestream visual of God’s love for diversity. Divine creativity clad in human cloth.

All busy going about the business of living. Doing life’s daily mundanities. The bits and pieces of living that hold the elixir of life. For it’s in the little day-to-day duties where we spend most of our lives. And it’s in those little bits and pieces of living and loving and being that life’s deepest beauty and meaning are found. In the fleeting dust of Everyday Ordinary.

In truth, when I’m with people, I seldom actively think about their bearing God’s image. But there are some things the heart just knows. These truths influence our minds and we respond intuitively. The sacredness of life embodied in humans is one of those truths. We instinctively value it above all other things.

But we humans are so – well – so human, that we often overlook God’s beauty in this life force in people. The God-glimpses in ordinary humans going about everyday living.

This morning I opened my curtains and looked out on the world. The sun was up. Birds were singing at the top of their lungs. “Morning has broken like the first morning….Born of the one light Eden saw play.”  Fresh cool air held a hint of coming heat. Filled parking spots told which day of the week it was. Or, rather, wasn’t.

It was a glorious day in the neighborhood.

Across the complex a dad was coming down the sidewalk flanked by two young children. The box in his hands looked like those from the family-run donut shop up the street. As the little group turned into the walkway leading to their apartment, the early sun cast their short shadows bobbing along beside them.

My eyes feasted on the beauty of it: a loving dad and his eager kids bringing donuts home for a Saturday morning treat. Perhaps to a waiting mom, savoring a few sweet moments of alone time.

The dad unlocked the door and stood back to let the little people enter ahead of him. Then he followed them in, carrying the box of goodness to be enjoyed in sweet relaxed togetherness. A little Sabbath.

What a beautiful image of our heavenly Father.

A Dad Who walks before us, beside us, behind us. Who sometimes steps back and lets us go ahead while He brings up the rearguard. Providing guidance, protection, comfort, goodness. Sweetness in life’s little places. True Sabbath. Daily.

“God’s re-creation of the New Day.”

In His image-bearers. In your neighborhood.


What You Know First

Patricia MacLachlan wrote a poignant book about a young child who doesn’t want to leave her home when her family has to move during the Depression era. The child plots ways to stay, talking herself through the process of leaving behind the things she loves best at her prairie home. Her mama, allowing her to process, says her little brother will need someone to remind him of where he came from.

“What you know first stays with you,” her papa told her.

Eventually she decides she will move with her family, but take with her a cottonwood twig and a small bag of dirt (like the author herself did) to remind her of the prairie in case she ever forgets.

I read this story some years ago and have thought often of the words: “What you know first stays with you.” Of how true they are. How this truth is lived out around us all the time. Not just in the physical things that MacLachlan mentions in her book, but broader ways too. Patterns, values, and attitudes learned in childhood perpetuated across varied lifestyles.

What you know first lives deep in your soul. What lives in your soul leaks into real time often in ways you don’t even recognize.

Hard work, love for the Lord, kindness, hospitality, thriftiness, a green thumb, ingenuity, benevolence, caring heart, music/singing, intellectualism, business savvy, concern for the poor, open-handedness, laughter, generosity, love of peace, dedication, etc., etc. So many varied ways to be in the world.

And negative aspects as well, which don’t need to be listed, but are perpetuated just as readily unless deliberate effort is made to change.

Somehow getting older mellows your heart and circles you back. Life’s changes and challenges make you face and accept your weaknesses and your complete dependency on God. At the end of the day you realize that what really matters in life is very, very simple. Connections with friends and family. Love. God. Forgiveness. Joy. Peace. Jesus.

You see how the things you knew first set the stage for your life. How God uses both the good and the bad of those things to mold and shape you and draw you to Him. You understand why what you know first always stays with you. How it reminds you of where you came from and the importance of remembering that. And how Jesus was there in it all. Always.


They Just Showed Up – G & K

Kara Tippetts started Mundane Faithfulness to chronicle her journey of being faithful to God in the mundane things of life using “love is kind” as her guiding bar. When cancer struck, Kara’s blog became a chronicle of her emotional tango with that relentless taskmaster. And the grace that accompanied her and those she loved around and around an uneven dance floor as they mastered steps to a dance none had ever wanted to learn.

Kara wrote more about her journey in a book, The Hardest Peace. She had a rare gift of expressing raw emotions with endearing transparent honesty, while always pointing to Jesus and the grace to be found in the midst of the hard.

During some of her last months, Kara and her friend Jill wrote Just Show Up to give practical insights on how to walk well with people going through hard places. That difficult dance for those on both sides of the showing up scene.

Kara’s gift for connecting led to many friends, both real life and online, walking alongside her on the journey and finding inspiration and hope for their own lives in her honesty and faithfulness. Following Kara’s death this past spring, her friends developed a plan to continue Kara’s legacy of love and nurturing community via her blog and Facebook.

Today Mundane Faithfulness is linking readers’ stories about how people have “just showed up” for others during life’s hard places.

There are many, many people who’ve showed up in my life when I needed help, guidance, or simply a caring human presence. Sometimes they showed up in real life, sometimes online, sometimes both. I could write story after story of the how, when, and where of those varied showing-up times and places. I know God orchestrated every one of them in His great goodness and love.

But my story today is about Kara. How she showed up in my life without her ever knowing she had. That’s likely the same for hundreds of others – Kara showing up and drooling love across computer screens she never knew about.

I had no idea who Kara Tippetts was when I saw her name in an Ann Voskamp blog that a friend forwarded to me. I don’t read many blogs, but for some reason Kara’s name caught my attention. I don’t remember the sequence of internet gymnastics involved, but somehow I ended up on her blog.

I was intrigued with the blog title Kara pulled from Martin Luther’s quote: “What will you do in the days of mundane faithfulness?” A question that digs deep into your heart. Because in the midst of mundanity is where we spend many days. Many many days. So the question is huge. It addresses a huge chunk of everyone’s life.

I don’t remember for sure, but I think Kara had already died when her blog showed up in my life. But her words were very much alive. They spoke life to me as I wrestled with my own hard stuff amidst life’s mundanity. Not hard stuff like she and her family and friends walked through, for sure. Not by any means.

But living through life’s mundaneness can be a very hard thing. In truth, part of the hardness of mundanity is its ordinariness. People aren’t showering you with love and prayers and offers of help as they do when you’re facing “real” hardness. So you’re pretty much on your own. Which is very lonely. And hard. Many, many people slog through the noise and clatter surrounding silent lonely hardness day after mundane day. It takes fortitude and courage to keep your chin up. To open your heart to God’s grace turning mundanity into a place of life and joy. To keep on keeping on.

Kara modeled the keeping on thing beautifully. She showed up regularly, wearing raw realness with a style anyone can copy regardless of whether their own hard is a “real” hard or an ordinary hard. Her style fits both.

And she brought God along with her. And pointed to His Grace. Every time.

Or maybe it was actually God that showed up and He brought Kara with Him. Maybe Kara herself is part of His gift of grace.

Either way, they both showed up. Together. Arm in arm.

The duet of Grace and Truth they sang in voices intimate with both suffering and joy speaks Life and Hope into countless lives time and time again. Heavenly harmony in crescendo. Their harmonious duet is more alive now than ever.

“And, Behold, it was very good.”


There are many and varied ways of showing up. It doesn’t require doing anything marvelous or great. Sometimes it’s merely a whisper of presence. A touch of kindness. A tendered word. Very small, very quiet, but big enough and loud enough to spill love into some heart’s deep need.

Years ago my dear friend Jane wrote this poem in my birthday card. It was her own quiet way of showing up for me, of telling me she was there if I needed her. I loved the poem then. I still do and have thought of it many times through the years.

They might not need me; but they might.
I’ll let my head be just in sight;
A smile as small as mine might be
Precisely their necessity.
~ Emily Dickinson