"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

13 May 2017

A Mother's Day Letter




Four generations . . . 












{The letter I wrote to Mother last year (2016) for Mother’s Day}

Dear Mother,

It takes no special occasion to say “I love you” and we both know how much that’s true both ways.  But today I just want to say it this way.

I’m sorry for the reason you are here in Tennessee already, but every day I thank God you are here.  I love being able to see you and to talk and laugh and cry and gripe with you, to know how human we both are and yet to see – shot through it all – God’s love and grace.

Thank you for your wisdom – all the more precious because you don’t pretend it isn’t hard to live it, hard to win it.  For all the grief I gave you when younger, you were always the Orion leading me back to the Lord you serve and love.

Thank you for your example of loving – family, friends, church, community.  You have given and given and given – and you still are, though you find it harder to see just now.  The staff there [at the assisted living home] love you, the people who come to visit you are blessed by your smile and your humor and the love that shines through you.  I want to be like you when I grow up!

Thank you for your love for Daddy.  You two showed me every day what love is – the ability to care for another more than for yourself, to set aside self to serve another, all that the Scripture tells us love is.  Not holding on to little irritations, but leaving them behind, working together to make a life of oneness.  I know you miss that so terribly, and knowing you will be with Daddy again will make it easier for me when it’s time to let you go.

Thank you for your good humor, and showing me how to be honest about difficulties with those close to you without losing the bigger perspective of God’s love, in it all, even in the hardest of it.

I have friends who have walked life with me, who have loved me and prayed for me, and I am grateful for them all.  But, Mother, you are the one who will always hold a place that no one else could fill – your love has shown me how to love, and your love will always be the most important guide on earth to me.  All that is good in me has come through you and Daddy and the One you have always pointed me to.


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Thank you, I love you, and happy Mother’s Day!



Mother and Daddy's wedding photo.









Children and Children-in-law and Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren . . . (and missing a fair number of them, too!)                                          

16 March 2017

Retirement

 I recall a number of years ago when a sweet 18-year-old wrote a paper explaining how saving for retirement, even thinking about retirement, is sin.  We must use all our resources for the gospel and never consider stopping work before we die.  Anything we save for the future is utterly selfish and taking away from God’s kingdom, and laziness could be the only possible reason a Christian would want to retire from full-time employment.

I was, by that time, beginning to feel some of the chronic pain and exhaustion that has increased over the years, and I found her reasoning to be, shall we say, youthful, as well as non-biblical.  I’ve heard iterations of it since, some just as extreme, and mostly from folk who are either young or have physical constitutions stronger than some of the rest of us.  And I call foul.

Of course, part of the problem is the cultural vision of retirement displayed all around us:  make lots of money so you can fulfill all your hedonistic dreams for as many years as possible, without responsibility to anyone but yourself or anything but your desire for ease and pleasure.  However, retirement need not mean this, not at all.  In fact, this vision of retirement is the one that leads to discontent, boredom, restlessness, and even, for many, early death.

In fact, retirement can simply mean the ability to serve God and others in different ways – and perhaps in better health because it is easier to pace yourself, to rest sufficiently, to say no when necessary.  The problem with modern retirement is not the saving of resources or the withdrawing from full-time paid work: it is a lack of purpose beyond ourselves for the time it gives us.

We are, certainly, to give generously to God’s work from what we earn.  We are also to save for the future so as not to be a burden on others unnecessarily.  How each of us balances this tension must be left between us and God, not mandated at some special rate.  I may give now and find that others cannot give later because they must meet the needs I failed to prepare for; I may save now and find myself tempted to waste my overabundant resources later.  Because there is no formula here, we must learn to walk in the Spirit and cultivate our desire to serve God with our resources, listening to His voice day by day. 

We have a responsibility to provide for family; in a one-income family, if the working spouse dies, it is no bad thing if the other is not thrown into penury.  And for those of us with children, it is a delight to be able to assist them now and know that if there are resources left after our deaths, these can benefit those we love, to help them be more secure and able to serve more freely.  Parents are supposed to do this when they can.

To work until one dies is simply not possible for many.  The physical realities of aging can make it imperative to slow down and do less.  If I am not capable of doing my job well, it is not loving service to cling to it; love recognizes it’s time for someone else to do it better.  And no one can depend on dying in the middle of a workday; many people decline in physical and/or mental health to the point where work is impossible and being cared for is imperative.

But slowing down before that point is not by definition stopping one’s service to God.  There is always service to be done, and ways to use the wisdom we have – we hope – accumulated over the years, even if it is “only” to be an Anna praying faithfully in the temple.  She, after all, was rewarded to see the Messiah enter the world and to have her praise and prophecy recorded for all time. 

Some may retire with strength and be able to do much active service in the church, the community, the mission field.  Some may retire with lesser strength and find a place in quieter and more isolated service – writing, mentoring an individual or two, being involved in the lives of extended family.  Again, kinds of service cannot be mandated, nor can they be measured and compared.  The invalid who prays faithfully may be doing more for the kingdom of God than the elderly Martha who insists on heading every activity in the church. 

What, anyway, are we called to do?  Love God and our neighbor.  In every act we take, every thought we think, every word we speak or write, we are to love God and our neighbor.  This call never varies and never ends, to the moment of our death.  My career is not my life; it is only one small part of my life, however much time it may take of my day.  I am teacher, yes, but I am also wife and mother and grandmother, daughter and sister, friend, neighbor, citizen of a community, a state, a country – and above all and permeating all, a believer in the Christ, in whose service all these things are to be lived. 

Am I excusing myself here for the decision we have made that I will retire after one more year of teaching?  I don’t believe so.  It has become clear in many ways that I cannot continue full-time work much longer and do it well.  I am grateful for the way in which God has allowed me to do what was required – to be the necessary sole financial support for my family – by being immersed in teaching the literature and the writing skills that I so love.  And now it is time to withdraw from that work and move toward other works of service.  I don’t know yet what that may look like – writing some of the pieces that have burdened me for years, I hope; serving the home school community in some way, perhaps; more energy to give to family, surely; who knows what may come my way?  


But I know I desire one thing above all else, however imperfectly I live it, and that is to serve Him and honor Him to the day of my death, as I have been privileged to see my parents and others before me do.  I will appreciate the prayers of my friends as we begin thinking through all the implications of this decision over the next year, and most of all that we will be good listeners to His Spirit, letting His voice guide us in it all.

04 February 2017

Gratefulness

My wonderful mother lived at the Veranda (assisted living home) in Dayton after she moved to TN last year. (It's part of the Life Care facility north of town.) From the day she moved in we never had a doubt that it was a wonderful place for her. I can honestly say that we have had no significant complaint at any time, only praise.

The facility itself is beautiful, and is extremely well kept up. It's refreshing and calming just walking into it. I saw a number of the rooms, and the residents have furnished and decorated them with pride; it was so much fun to visit them to see and hear about a bit of their lives.

The nurses and aides and all the rest of the staff -- from receptionists to housekeepers -- didn't just do their jobs with excellence, they did them with love. My mother made friends with the other residents, certainly, but the staff became her friends too. They love the residents like family, making time for conversation and encouraging them every day. Every time I arrived to visit, before I could get to Mother's room I was met with stories of something she had said or done that had made others laugh or encouraged them, and when I got to her room, it was to hear stories of how they had made her laugh and encouraged her.

When Mother returned to the Veranda after a short hospitalization for her fall, the staff greeted her like a family member who'd been gone for months. Each one made her way to her room as soon as possible to let her know she was *home*. They told me they had hoped and prayed she would be able to spend her last days under their care because they had come to love her so much. I am convinced that hearing their familiar, loving voices made those days much more bearable -- not to mention the constant prayer with which they bathed her.

And they give that same love to the families of the residents; I am known by sight and name to many whose names even now I am unsure of, staff members I've only seen a few times. Their loving concern has been for me in these days as well as for Mother, and I have benefited so much from them. As I sat with her, they brought me meals, ice water, anything they could think of; they never left the room after caring for her without asking if they could do anything for me as well. They gave me hugs; they prayed for and with me. They cried with me when she was gone.

If you or someone you love has to have assisted living care someday, pray that you find a place with half the love and expertise of the Veranda and you will be in good hands.

Followers