Wednesday, October 26, 2011


My son sent me a birthday card with these words on the front: "Live richly and savor all of life's offerings." I've been offered much and I do live richly. And I am always, ever grateful.

The older I get, the more joy abounds. Today I am overflowing, abundantly full. I have been granted another year to live on this earth. It is a privilege. God has filled me up with precious children, dear friends, and a good husband. What more could anyone ask for? I do not ask for more. It is enough, and when the time comes to leave this earth, I will not say that there is anything good that God has withheld from me. And all his graces have been totally undeserved.

You would have thought it was Christmas morning, the girls in their excitement, anxious for me to open gifts. There are no gifts for them, but they don't seem to care. Their joy is full in giving. I know that Liana has recently been alert to any of my sewing needs and she must have really been paying attention because I unwrap exactly the right tools I've needed--a new rotary cutter, mat, and ruler. The girls had to work for the money to get these gifts, and that makes them even more special. Liana has also painted me a picture in water color, a still life of my sewing machine and table, unbelievably detailed. I am amazed at her talent. She also designed and made me a quilted purse. It is lined and has a button closure. She used no pattern but has an incredible talent of envisioning a project and knowing how to put it together without any directions. I open gifts from my mother. How do moms know when you need jammies? Perfect timing, perfect gifts.

It's sunny and the mums are in full bloom. What a lovely October day! The girls talk me into taking a day off to celebrate my birthday so I let them decide what to do. We all go to the mall and pick up needed items. Arielle says she might get her ear pierced. Maybe... She's been talking about this for awhile. She stops by the piercing kiosk but then changes her mind. Right before we're ready to come home, she changes her mind again and goes through with it! I am so proud of my brave daughter! She had been so afraid it would hurt.

We arrive home to find gorgeous flowers at the back door. My friend Helen has stopped by. I wish I'd been home to talk with her. The flowers bring the fall colors into my kitchen. My sons call and I have e-mails from family far away. Fred and Arielle have go to church to cook for the Awana program this evening, but I plan on making a big pot of chili and apple crisp for anyone who comes by around dinner time. Liana asks, "Why are you making chili?" It's not her favorite meal. I say it's my birthday and I want chili! Just like my mother used to make. It's strange how we crave those comfort foods from our childhood. Liana helps me prepare dinner. She takes great interest in cooking and I think she will be the one to carry on the family recipes.

Soon my kitchen is filled with loud passionate conversation after Damien and Jon arrive. My friend Connie and her daughter come and I assure her that the boys are not arguing but agreeing with each other! They are discussing the important issues of life. Connie gives me a treasured gift, a collection of poems that she wrote over the summer, hand-bound. Earlier I had read a few of them, but here is the full set for me to enjoy. My precious granddaughter Lana bounces around with joy and gives me a handmade card, her drawing of a house on it. It says, "Here's your house that will keep you safe from the rain, but God will keep you safe forever!"

Damien has photos and video clips from his wedding and we relive the special moments. Gretchen begins to cry again as we watch the video of Damien singing their song for her. It's called "Stay Forever." Oh, to keep this moment forever, for all of us to stay forever together. But we can't. Children grow up and we grow old.

Just a few days after this idyllic autumn day we are hit with a Nor'easter. The girls and I are out shoveling ice and snow off the deck since Fred is called into work to plow. Huge branches crash down from our big maple, blocking the street. Under the weight of the snow we can hear the trees cracking in the woods as their limbs break, but the fall is unusually quiet as they land on the ground.

The trees are still full with leaves. This is a strange, early storm, untimely. Not what we expected. That's how life is. So we number the blessings and count our joys. Have you started your list of 1000 gifts? A day will come when the crack and break will be frightening, but the fall will be soft, and we will end as a whisper. The sun will shine the next day after the storm.

Dark Night

My friend Joan's husband came to our door on a dark night two days before my birthday. He had called to say he was dropping something off. We were all in pajamas, watching a movie with the girls and planning to go to bed shortly. We opened the door to find him on the porch with a plate of blueberry corn muffins. For my birthday, he said, since I can't eat cake. Joan would have done that for me. In fact, the muffins were arranged on a plate I recognized. It was the same dish pattern I owned years ago, and Joan and I had laughed about having identical dishes. Then her husband handed me a bag of oolong tea he bought in Chinatown, the same kind of tea Joan gave me last year. I'm almost out. I so wish she were here to enjoy some tea with me. He also handed me some papers, upcoming events and information about things I might be interested in. Joan always used to save things like that. She would attach little sticky notes with my name on them.

He runs back to his car and comes in with a large tote bag. He said Joan told him to give it to me. It is her unfinished quilt. Last year we took a quilt class together to learn to make a unique regional design. I finished my quilt and gave it to Liana in the spring. Joan never completed hers. She was a perfectionist and worked with precision, not throwing things together hastily like I tend to do.

I shake my head no. No, I cannot keep Joan's quilt. She told me while she was sick that she hoped for some time to work on it. She never got that time. The quilt is not mine. I am stunned and grateful, but no. Then I told her husband I would finish it and give it back to him. Maybe he would find comfort in sleeping beneath the soft covering of colors his wife had chosen and skillfully crafted.

After he leaves I am overwhelmed with the gifts. I think of the profound mystery of marriage, the oneness Joan and her husband knew. He, acting in her place, bringing her presence here to my home. Her loss rips my heart once more. I miss my friend. I cannot fathom her husband's pain. I know what Joan would want me to do with this quilt. Give it back. I open the bag and unfold the partially pieced top. It is exquisite. I will not do it justice, me with clumsy hands. I see her small notes to herself, labels for the blocks and rows. She so much wanted to finish this work of art. I cannot look at it on this night.

The next day I unpack her bag with all the notes, her tools, and the careful squares. She is so organized that the quilt will not be hard to finish. I won't have to choose colors she might not have liked. The pieces are already there. I just need to sew them together--with the greatest of care. That would please her. I will do it for Joan. Hopefully, when it is once again in her home where it belongs, her quilt will continally remind her husband of Joan's deep love for him.

Friday, October 21, 2011


This morning I read Charles Spurgeon's questions, "Has he prepared heaven for you? Has he prepared YOU for heaven?" We know Jesus has a place for us. He told his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." John 14.

What made me stop and think was the second question, that God is preparing US for heaven. It reminded me of a biography of Hudson Taylor the girls and I read recently. The story of his life as a missionary to China in the 1800's is told in Hudson Taylor: Deep in the Heart of China by Janet and Geoff Benge. Taylor, a young Englishman, knew he was called to China, but information about this faraway country in that century was hard to come by. He did know his life would be difficult, so he tried to prepare himself in any way he knew how.

"Every decision and every activity became valuable only if it moved him towards his goal. This focus on China took several forms. First, he realized he would need all the academic training he could get...Second, he needed to toughen up his body. He started with a strenuous exercise program out in the cold. He also got rid of his feather bed and began sleeping on bare boards. He gave away many things that were not essential to his daily life. When I get to China, he told himself, my body must be ready. Third, Hudson had to find some way to learn the Chinese language."

Now I don't think we need to practice physical hardships to prepare for heaven. But some of these principles still apply. Are we moving toward our goal in our daily decisions and activities? Are we encouraging others to come along too?

The main point of Spurgeon's words is that God is the one doing the work in us. What does that look like? Maybe circumstances play out in our lives to prepare us for our eternal future. Hudson Taylor knew life would be different in China. We really don't know what heaven will be like. So how can we prepare for it? But God knows. He knows what we need before we get there. Maybe even our difficult situations here on earth are a preparation for life with him. So in all things we can give thanks because it all comes from his hand. We don't exactly know everything he's doing, but that's okay. We'll be ready when the time comes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Wedding

The time has come! The parents enter, walking past the seated guests. As I sit down I remember my camera is not with me! No time to get it. Here are my sons all standing in front, waiting for the bridal procession. My three-year-old granddaughter who is one of the flower girls does not want to stand where she is supposed to be. She runs to her dad, one of the groomsmen. He persuades her to sit beside me. She does for a few seconds, sees Arielle and runs to her. In that length of time, I missed the all the bridesmaids walking to the front! Too quickly, here comes the bride and we all rise. I hope to see the video because it seems like I missed it all.

Gretchen is breathtakingly beautiful. Damien's eyes light up. As I see him standing there, for some reason I remember him in a soccer uniform. The skinny legs, but strong and muscular, clad in shin guards and dirty cleats. My little boy, now a man. It happened in a flash. I wish I had a video of his life because I have missed so much, busy with other things.

Damien and Gretchen say tender vows. Arielle addresses the congregation, to charge us all to uphold this marriage, to encourage Damien and Gretchen and not to judge them or come between them. Then the ceremony is over. We applaud the new married couple and go to our tables, ready for a feast. The bride and groom dance and everyone watches. Then the bride and her father have a dance. Not me! Thank you, Damien.

We have a delicious meal and visit with people from long ago. Liana, Mattie and Lana can't wait for the music to begin. And when it does, they do not sit the rest of the night. With pure joy, they dance and dance and dance. Arielle gravitates to the little ones, carrying Laci around and playing with Deacon. Damien's band plays and even Damien joins in on the drums. I move to the front to see my son in action. He catches my eye and smiles.

I heard a rumor that Damien would be singing a song to Gretchen. Damien doesn't sing--ever! Not as a boy, not now. So this has to be good. He takes the microphone and begins to sing--"their song"! The crowd surges forward, sensing a very special moment. Gretchen comes to the front, sits with the band. Damien kneels beside her, oblivious to the public gaping at him, and sings to his bride. Gretchen begins to sing with him. Marissa is standing next to me watching and we both have tears in our eyes. This is a moment from a movie! I feel so privileged to witness the love my son has for his wife, to see his sacrifice in doing something difficult for him that he knew would please her.

The song ends and the crowd retreats. Women are sniffling and wiping their eyes. Later, Liana wrote a poem, "When Damien sang a song for his bride, it was so sentimental that all the girls cried."

Cake cutting. Love and respect, no smashing cake in the face. A lovely dessert table is spread for us. The evening winds down. Laci and Deacon fall asleep. It's been a lovely wedding.

The next day after the wedding, I read these words: Damien and Gretchen, "You are in our hearts...I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort...I am overflowing with joy...I rejoice because I have perfect confidence in you..." (II Corinthians 7) God's plan is unfolding.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Preparing for Another Wedding!

I have a new daughter-in-law! I've always loved Gretchen, but now she is officially part of our family. It was a glorious day for a wedding--bright and sunny and warm, with autumn peeking around the corner. We were privileged to ride with the bride to the hotel where hours of hair and make-up filled the morning and early afternoon. Two hairdresser, many girls to get ready.
We all rode in a van to the venue, our driver a little boy I knew long ago who ate birthday cake with us every December. Now he is grown of course, just like my son. I got a picture of Gretchen in the van, just like the one I took of Stacia when she was on the way to her wedding. Stacia appeared calm and reflective. Gretchen seemed bursting with joy, apprehension, and excitement.

The wedding and reception would take place in an incredible facility. In 1871, the first factory in the world for the manufacture of optical glass was built here. This building was in operation creating many different products until 2002! Then it was renovated and became an art center with galleries and art, music, and dance studios. I can see why it appealed to our artsy Gretchen. It is a beautiful old building with a lot of character. All wedding guests would even walk through an art gallery upon arriving before continuing upstairs to the reception hall. And what a great place for taking creative wedding photos! Unfortunately, I had camera problems and have very few good pictures, and none of the actual wedding ceremony!

The women and girls were secluded in a locked room so we could get ready. Gretchen's bridesmaids helped her into her spectacular dress, the little girls gathered around fascinated with her garter. Three of my granddaughters were flower girls and they needed to get into their dresses. Sashes were tied, hair fixed, new black shoes taken from boxes. Laci was wearing the same dress Arielle wore to Anthony and Kim's wedding when Arielle was four years old! The little girls had fun swirling and twirling, feeling like princesses. Soon we would all line up to make our grand entrance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Special Treat

A gift for you: Find joy!

The Future

Over the weekend my number three son, Damien, got married. It was a wonderful wedding! More on that later. I'm still gathering pictures. But two things happened over the weekend that got me thinking about this post.

The night before the wedding, my number two son, Dominic, drove us to the rehearsal since I just can't drive in the dark anymore. On the way home I was snuggled drowsy in the back seat with Arielle and Liana as Dominic drove, feeling totally secure in my son's hands. I thought back on how many times through the years this son of mine was crowded into the backseat with his brothers as I drove them to soccer games or scouting events. I was the chauffeur and they the children who needed to be protected. Now I need help.

Damien's best friend Jeff from first grade was at the wedding. It was great to see him again. So many memories! Jeff's parents came also and we "old" people had a chance to catch up. We talked about the good old days when our boys were little and we were young. Jeff's mother gestured to our grown sons and said, "They are us now." We step back. They go on.

I saw a glimpse of the future of our family on a hike through the park Sunday. My daughter-in-law and Liana and I were lagging behind and I noticed Dominic and Arielle up ahead. I don't know what they were discussing. They paused under a tree and then led us down the path. Dominic is already fulfilling some of his dreams, but now here is Arielle just beginning her journey into adulthood, these two trailblazers who want to change the world. I hope when I'm long gone they will sharpen each other with their visions and grand plans. I hope they will lead the family in carrying on our history and our traditions and leave a legacy to be remembered.

At the rehearsal I was talking with the young minister who would marry Damien and Gretchen the next day. He had just returned from a mission trip to Brazil where he daily risked his life in a dangerous area. I told him Arielle won't always be mine. She belongs to the world to fulfill God's purpose in her life. She's already beginning to separate from me with ideas different from mine-- secret plans and deep thoughts. She's biding her time, traveling the globe in her books, but so anxious to grow up. I want to just hold on to her. I saw this in Dominic too. I always knew he would go off and do great things. These two--excited about the future with a strong sense of justice and curiosity about people of the world. They both, with their calm demeanor, have the perseverance to accomplish their goals. What a privilege to be a mother to these children of mine!

I'm a simple person who loves home. I don't dream big. I'm content where I am. But for Dominic and Arielle...who knows what the future holds?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Fall Harvest

What still clings to us that we can't see the bounty God provides? Sometimes it's hard to remove the dirt and enjoy what lies beneath. If carrots are left in the ground too long, they become bitter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Wings on My Shoulder

Yesterday we went to the Natural Science Museum in the city. Besides the fun of riding the train and walking beneath the towering skyscrapers amidst the bustling crowds, we had an unexpected gift. Butterflies!

In a small, warm and humid room laden with flowering plants, we stood awe-struck as exquisite butterflies fluttered over our heads and in front of our eyes, even landing on the floor beside our feet. Dazzling colors on their fragile wings, with unfurled proboscis they drank nectar from ripe fruit and blossoms. Moths with wing span larger than my spread fingers flew like small birds, landing on the wall to display their designs. If you were still and watching, you would see one, then another, and another in the foliage, each more beautiful than the next.

I was quiet, wanting to blend into the flowers of their world, mesmerized, and suddenly I felt the lightest touch on my right shoulder. Tiny, threadlike legs perched on my green sweater. Inches from my face, I gazed directly into the magic of this gorgeous insect pausing mid-flight. A gift--for me!

"Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy." (Ann Voscamp) I could not grasp this winged gift to hold or keep it. But by pausing in the moment to really see, we receive our gift. And then we give thanks to the Giver of the gifts.

Liana and Arielle were busy with their cameras taking amazing pictures, as you can see.