My Mom and Me — a Repost for makesyoumom.com

My friend, Laura Brown, has a wonderful new website dedicated to stories/poems/reflections about mothers and mothering. I’m honored that she chose an older post of mine to feature there today. You can read the entire piece by clicking here.

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My mother, in her heyday, was truly a larger-than-life person.

That hat, for instance.

And the gigantic bow atop my head.
She started those bows when I could barely hold my head up,
ostensibly to announce to the world that this was a female child.
Apparently my baldness led many to believe I was a boy,
and my mom was having none of that!

I was a much-wanted child, long-awaited, and adored by my dad.
My relationship with my mom was more complicated,
very different from the easy, quiet companionship I enjoyed with my father.
Part of that is because my mother was a flaming extrovert –
easily the most socially gifted person I’ve ever known.
My father was quiet, reserved, careful.
Mom was glamorous, dramatic, a loud laugher and a loud crier.
She was also an extraordinarily creative homemaker and hostess,
usually operating on the slimmest of budgets.
She set beautiful tables, told wonderful stories,
often acting out each part,
and she brought light and laughter wherever people gathered.

She was also deeply insecure, believing herself to be
intellectually inferior to my dad and to most of her friends.
She had a mother-in-law who was sharp-tongued and judgmental
and a father who belittled and verbally abused her.

So when I was growing up, she depended on me to be
an emotional sounding board and a hands-on helper
with all things domestic.
For most of my growing-up years, she was my very best friend.
I idolized her and thought she was the smartest
and most beautiful woman I knew
and I tried to please her in every way I could.

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My mother loved me and, most of the time, she also liked me.
She struggled to understand me, however.
In some ways we are similar,
sharing 
a lot of the same interests
and laughing 
at the same jokes.

But in other ways, we are most definitely not alike,
and during those early years,
I intuited that it was not okay to step outside the box she drew,
the box of acceptable behavior and language,
of dreams and goals . . .

You can read the rest of this piece, and lots of other really fine writing, over at www.makesyoumom.com Clicking on this line will take you directly my post — but be sure to look around. It’s a grand place.

How to Live When the End Is Near — Deeper Story

It happens to all of us. I’m here to tell you, this is the truth: we all get old, some of us a lot older than others. And that day is here for me. Sigh. Truth be told, I still don’t quite believe it! You can start this little reflection here and then follow me over to one of my favorite places in the entire web, A Deeper Story.

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Four generations on Christmas Eve, 2014

This is a big year for me, one of those milestone numbers. It’s the year that my 3rd grade self decided would be the year I became really old. This is that year — 2015. I was born on January 23, 1945 (which means my birthday shorthand reads like this: 1-23-45. My father was convinced I’d grow up to be a mathematician, just like he was — but I fooled him. Big time.)

 

Yes, this is the year — in fact, this is the month — that I turn 70.

 

But I have something important to tell you right here: that number no longer feels old (as in decrepit). Yes, it does feel old (as in a lot of years), but inside this lined face and underneath this white hair? I feel like I’m about 45.

 

Aging is a strange phenomenon. The longer you live, the further out ‘old’ becomes. When I was 20, I thought 50 was ancient. But when I was 50, and still two years away from a new job that would keep me busy for a decade and a half, I thought 70 sounded old.

 

Now I’m 70 and you know what? 90 sounds ‘old’ to me these days.

 

So as I listened to the end-of-the-year sermon last month, a sermon focused on two of my favorite characters in Luke’s birth narrative of Jesus, I thanked God for every one of these years. For the privilege of walking around on this planet, with people that I love nearby, good work still to do and relatively good health and humor to enjoy. And it was the old codgers — Simeon and Anna — who helped me to say that ‘thank you,’ loud and clear.

 

You remember those two, right? The oldsters who were in the temple in Jerusalem? The ancient ones, the ones who had been waiting for the ‘comfort’ of Israel to show up. The ones who spent their days praying and hoping and looking, both of them described as righteous, devout and faithful. Those two may have been old, but they were still paying attention to the zeitgeist, they were two strong and deeply centered people, ever on the look-out for God’s promised one. . .

 

 

Come on over to ADS to reflect with on all three old people . . . Simeon, Anna and me!

 

 

How Blessed Am I? #MyFaithHeroine

This piece is part of Michelle DeRusha’s blog link-up about #MyFaithHeroine, in connection with the recent launch of her excellent new book, #50Women. 

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A Double Delight rose, my spiritual heroine’s favorite.

Life was hard and uncertain when she was growing up. One of four siblings, barely a year apart, with parents who both worked, a father who drank hard and gambled hard, always losing. Then there were “the aunts,” she told me. The three older cousins who never married and who loved all those kids to bits, providing protection on occasion, but most of all, bringing fun and merriment into their days.

Though their mother had grown up in the church, after she married their dad, neither of them ever darkened a church door again. But they agreed that their kids could go.

So every Sunday, they dropped all four kids at the curb and left them to fend for themselves in downtown Los Angeles at that old brownstone building. For my heroine and her sister, it stuck. For their two brothers, it took a lot longer. The sisters loved to go to that place, where they met friends their own age and were sheltered and loved by lots of adults, as well.

One of those older women saw potential in the bigger of the girls, and when she was in junior high school, almost into high school, she arranged for a scholarship to a nearby training seminar. A Christian leadership seminar. And my heroine bloomed, learning to love the Bible, church music and a wide circle of friends, many of whom remained close to one another throughout their lives.

Eventually, she married one of the church musicians, a talented pianist with a bent for mathematics, and they began to build a home and a family. A girl was born, then two years later, a boy and about ten years after that, another boy.

All during those early years, the family continued to attend the downtown church where the parents had met, and they contributed faithfully, both musically and financially. Eventually, they moved too far out into the suburbs and switched to a larger church closer to home. Within a few years, that old church was razed and a used car lot took its place.

Their new church provided wonderful activities and teaching for her children and some powerful teaching during the adult Sunday morning hour for her and her husband. Professors from a nearby seminary came and built small congregations within the larger one. Once again, this woman bloomed and grew, stretching toward the light, exercising her good mind, asking probing questions, reading widely.

She always worried that she didn’t have a degree from college, but then, she never really needed it. Her own reading regimen (everything C.S. Lewis ever wrote, plus a lot of Paul Tillich, George Ladd, Eldon Trueblood, Peter and Catherine Marshall), her willingness to ask hard questions and her fearlessness about seeking answers provided a priceless education, as well as forming her more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

She taught eleventh grade Sunday school (girls only, in those days) for about a dozen years, providing wisdom, grace and breakfast out for every one of them sometime during the year. Each week, she worked hard on those lessons, getting up before the rest of the family to rough out ideas and read scripture. And to pray. She prayed for each student in her classes, regularly, faithfully.

By God’s grace and her own commitment to growing, both spiritually and psychologically, she overcame the difficulties of her upbringing, remaining close to her entire extended family until they each died. She is the only one left now, and that is hard — for her and for those who love her.

She dealt with a lot of insecurities and fears her whole life, but always, there was a joyful sense of humor, a warm and welcoming hospitality, and an immense reservoir of creativity. She decorated her home, her children and herself on a tight budget, and encouraged each of her children to get a good education and build a good marriage. And she loved her husband fiercely, even when he was old and frail and sometimes demanding.

This woman modeled for me what it means to follow hard after Jesus, to commit yourself to learning, asking questions, reading widely, and serving others. She wasn’t perfect — and she knew it! — but she was good. Even in her old age, she hangs onto her faith with all of her diminishing energies.

I visited her over the weekend, in the dementia unit where she now lives. She was sick, with a very sore throat and a nasty cough, all of which makes the dementia worse and exhausts her. I helped her change her clothes and sit in her recliner chair for an afternoon nap and then went across the room to bring her large, whiteboard calendar up-to-date after several months of neglect.

As I worked in the semi-darkness of her small entry way, I could hear her muttering in her chair. I thought perhaps she had drifted off to sleep and was dreaming. But then I began to pick out a few words, and my heart soared and broke, all at the same moment.

“Oh, Lord,” she said. “Please help Diana to be well, to be strong. She is such a beautiful daughter and I love her so much.”

Before I left I kissed her on the forehead and she smiled up at me and said, “The Lord’s been good. We’ll just keep praying and believing.”

“Yes, Mom,” I said. “That is exactly what we’ll do.”

 

This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. Find out how to participate here. 

Just Write: I Never Stop Being a Mama

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It’s the strongest, loudest piece of me, this mama thing. I was surprised by motherhood when it suddenly showed up. There we were, thousands of miles away from home, totally green about all but the basics of married life. 

And then she was born, and the entire world shifted on its axis. And then her sister and then her brother, and then, oh my! three littles in less than four years. And tired? Unbelievably so.

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But here they were and there I was, a mom. Not a particularly great mom, truth be told. Impatient, overbearing, insecure, torn by wondering if I should be doing something ‘more’ with my life than wiping bottoms and breaking up bickering.

But I chose to be there, at home, doing exactly that. And I have never regretted it, not even when my eldest questioned that choice when she was about twelve, wondering why I didn’t have a real job like all her friends’ moms.

The most wondrous thing is this: that as they began to grow up, they each showed signs of independence and quick intelligence and wonderful humor and insight. And I became their student, in so many rich and wonderful ways.

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My children have taught me so much. About humility, first and foremost. About laughter and anger, about love and disdain, about temperament and truth. Each one of them, wildly different from one another, beginning with that first flutter-in-the-womb. And yet so closely woven together. So close.

Yes, indeed, they were mean to one another, on occasion. I’ve learned more about their childhood meannesses since they’ve grown up! But underneath all of that there has always been a fierce loyalty and love, a deep desire for the best in one another, a willingness to come alongside in the tough times and to joyfully celebrate the great times.

I now have a grandson the same age I was when my first child was born: 23. LORD, have mercy! How is this possible? I truly don’t know how time can sprint by in a blink. I can call up elementary school orchestra concerts (on, my ears!), youth group scavenger hunts, early dating experiences, and long courtships for each of them.

And then suddenly — here we are! Three thriving families, eight grandchildren, every one making real contributions to their community, their church, their friends. 

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So I am still learning from them. Every day. And I am still mama at heart, at base, at center. One of them is facing into back surgery; a little grandgirl has a chronic disease; one has been widowed and remarried; two grandkids are searching for ultimate answers, the prayers of us all undergirding their journey. 

No matter what else I have done or will do, no matter how many people I interact with, love, preach to, partner with or direct — these ones, these children, children-in-love/law, grandchildren, along with my husband — these are the community of first commitment and most essential ministry. 

How did I get so lucky?

I haven’t done this in ages, but I so love it when I do. Joining with Heather at EO for her Just Write this week. JUST WRITE whatever comes, then join the community and see where everyone else landed. It’s fun, I promise.

I’ll Love You Forever

The longer I live,
the more convinced I am that
the way fathers love their daughters
has a profound impact on the
fabric of society.

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My dad, half-smiling on the outside. Always smiling on the inside.

 

As we have walked this last leg of the journey
with each of our mothers,
we’ve seen this truth in surprising,
and sometimes beautiful ways.

My mother-in-law grew up with an affectionate,
charming, faithful, imaginative, wordsmith for a father,
a man who adored his daughter
and told her so with every breath.
She never once doubted herself,
even as the fog of dementia rolled in

and slowly erased her life.

My mom grew up with a damaged dad,
a man who left his family of origin after 
being cheated by his own father,
and then drank and gambled his way
through mom’s early years.
He seldom had a kind word for 
anyone in that house.
And my mother is riddled with self-doubt,
often convinced that others
believe her to be a terrible person.

I’m sure there are more factors at play than just this one. Basic personality traits between these two good women
are markedly different in several ways.

However, I remain convinced that ‘just this one’
marks out one of the most basic ways
in which our two moms have faced
into their long, last journey in life.

I believe that a father’s unconditional love is foundational
for each one of us.
But for female children?
It is critical and crucial.
It can sometimes make the difference between
humble self-acceptance and crippling self-doubt.
I also believe that the formation of the female spirit is
critically important for the healthy development of
family, culture, church.

In other words, it’s a big deal for girls/women to have a loving father (or father figure) somewhere in their story.

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Working through some puzzles with our eldest daughter, one of several in our family tree who have inherited his mathematical and logical gifts. I am not one of those.

My own dad adored me.
And I knew it.

All my life, I have been deeply grateful for that truth.

I’ve got insecurities by the bushel basketful,
that is true enough.

But I have never doubted my father’s
deep and abiding love for me.

Not once.

And I believe that sweet piece of my story says a whole lot about who I am today.

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Mom and dad in the 80s.

My father was a school teacher and a musician,
a handyman and a thoughtful, interesting person.

He liked butter on white bread, Buicks,
and playing the piano.

He was quiet, wise, gentle and good.
And he had an absolutely killer sense of humor,
a dry wit that would pop out from time to time,
most likely very soon after you’d decided that he 
wasn’t even really listening to the conversation.

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My beautiful, fun mama.

He was crazy-nuts about my mother,
and they made quite a pair,

she all bubbles and up-front laughter,
he behind-the-scenes deep and sometimes mysterious.

My father’s hands were big enough to span an octave,
plus 2 or 3,

and strong enough to hold a crying baby,
bringing calm and quiet more efficiently than
anyone else I knew.
He loved being a grandfather
and his grandkids idolized him in so many ways.

 

IMG_0224Me, in the 80s – a combo of the two of them, don’t you think?

He gave his testimony in church once,
speaking honestly about his own wrestling spirit,

and eloquently about the truth that his faith was his life.
And if it wasn’t his life —
if it wasn’t changing the way he lived that life —

then it wasn’t worth much, was it?

Dad believed that a Jesus-follower should be steady,
sturdy,

         devoted and
                           careful. 

And more than once,
he gently but firmly reminded me to 

live that way, too.

 

I love you, Daddy.
I miss you every day and,
as you know —
I talk to you with some regularity!
You’ve been gone from this place for
almost a decade now,
and though I’m grateful that your struggles
with health and frailty are behind you,
I wish you —
the healthy, happy you —
were still here with us.

I miss your advice,
your kindness,
your steadiness
and your unshakeable loyalty.
The older I get, the more I realize
how rare those qualities are,
and the more I miss your being here to model them for us.

I’ll love you forever, Dad.
And I thank God for your love every day that I breathe.

About Settling Down . . . A Deeper Story

Every month, I share a story at one of my favorite websites ever, A Deeper Story. This month, I am once again writing for the Family Channel. Here’s a piece of this month’s story and a link so you can read the rest:

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You think you know so much when you’re twenty years old. When that third decade begins, you’re a little bit full of yourself, impressed with what you’ve learned in school and in life, and convinced that you’ll be able to handle whatever life throws your way.

And, if you were a 20-year-old raised in the 50s and 60s, you also understood the order of things, especially if you were a female. Even more especially if you were a female raised in the conservative wing of the Christian church. Your life was pretty well mapped out for you: childhood, adolescence, a little bit of young adulthood, marriage, motherhood.

Being an eldest child with a strong sense of propriety and extraordinarily overactive responsibility glands, you did exactly what was expected of you. So, in the year you turned 20, you got yourself married. You found a good, Christian man, dated him (carefully!) for a good long time, got engaged and then, of course, you “settled down.”

Well, five out of six ain’t bad, right? The meeting, finding, dating, engaging, marrying thing you did according to plan. It’s the settling down part you’ve struggled with for the last — how many is it now? — FORTY-EIGHT years.

I chalk it up to delayed and extended adolescent rebellion, that’s what. As an eager-to-please, hyper-obedient child and youth, you never truly rebelled against anything or anyone. And that remarkable man you married? He wasn’t exactly a rabble-rouser, either, was he?

Yet somehow, you’ve traveled this wild and wooly, sometimes adventurous, always unique journey-through-life that began with an afternoon of “I do’s” at the end of 1965. Now you’re taking a gander at 2014, as it rises out of the fog and begins to take shape. Holy crap, next year, you’ll hit the big 5-0. Can you believe it? Doesn’t that happen to old people?

I look at the pictures from this most recent anniversary and I still see those kids in there, those good kids who so wanted to do ‘the right thing,’ whatever the heck that was. Yes, the years have added pounds to our frames and lines to our faces and a whole lotta white hair to the head of at least one of us.

But you know what else I see? A couple of undercover rebels, that’s what. We obeyed the rules, we followed the protocol, yet somehow, we never managed to settle down, did we? At least, not in the way our parents envisioned settling.

Please click on this line to read the rest over at A Deeper Story. . .

A Letter to December

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Ah, Dear Friend,

We know each other well, do we not? So many years of immersion in all the folderol and all the richness of your seasonal gifts. Shall I list the ways?

  • the wedding plans, midway through my senior year of college
  • and all the subsequent anniversaries that got lost in the shuffle, some years more seriously than others — and there have been a lot of years, haven’t there? 48 on the 18th
  • a beautiful baby girl, 2nd of 2, born on the 2nd, with big brown eyes and a deliciously feisty spirit
  • choral concerts up the wazoo, every Christmas for most of my years until . . .
  • we moved to Santa Barbara for me to take a pastoral position in a church without a choir. Go figure.
  • writing Advent invitations for worship for about 20 years
  • preaching one Sunday in Advent for about 20 years, too
  • decorating the house with W-A-A-A-Y too many Christmas decorations, collected over the decades, starting with homemade delights from each of the kids and this year, adding some special ornaments from our moms’ collections
  • sweating (and swearing) our way to a steady, straight fresh tree in front of the windows; it gets harder every dang year
  • enjoying nativity sets collected from round the globe
  • singing the songs
  • reading the scriptures
  • pondering the mystery
  • regretting the over-spending
  • enjoying the gift-giving
  • collapsing on the 26th, exhausted but generally, more than content

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with you, I must admit. The candlelit service on Christmas Eve gets me every time. But the lugging of bins, the setting up the stuff, the overkill with gifts — yeah, that has gone above and beyond what is needful and what is healthy at points. 

So, December, what’s it gonna be? Will we find our way to a happy medium this year? Just enough of the good stuff and a little less of the not-so-good?

I pledge to do my part. Can you say the same?

Fondly,

Diana

This post is written in response to a prompt from Elora Nicole at her fabulous Story Sessions site. If you would like a series of thoughtful, evocative writing invitations, if you would enjoy being connected with a smaller (but ever-growing) group of other writers, may I suggest you check this site out? Just click here to read all about it.

31 Days of Giving Permission to . . . READ, READ, READ, #2

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Quite simply, this is a stunning book. Filled with laughter, tears, searing honesty and gorgeous writing, this is one of the best reads of the last year or so. Kimberlee Conway Ireton is a ferocious writer. Thoughtful, lyrical at times, straight out funny at others, she weaves together the story of an unexpected pregnancy, after she thought her family was complete.

The pregnancy itself was enough of a shock, but then she found out she was carrying twins.

When, she wonders, will I ever get to write again? How will all these very needy, very small
human beings, each one needing care 24/7  leave any space for me to do what keeps me alive?  

Because for Kimberlee, writing is akin to breathing. This is more than sadness, it is existential angst, cutting deep and leaving scars.

And so, the long journey through a very dark valley begins to unfurl. The pregnancy is difficult at points especially with two young children to care for, and a newly published book that is tanking. Delivery day arrives, and Baby A is delivered surprisingly fast – and easily. But Baby B? Again, birth is relatively easy, but crisis looms within hours. The story is harrowing at points, and serves as a portent of things to come

Because the darkest part of the valley shows up slowly, but steadily over the next six months. Kimberlee has advised others to seek medical help much earlier than she did and that is sound advice. Postpartum depression is not a thing to be trifled with, and as I read of the endless fatigue, the early weeks of deep anxiety about Baby B, and then the relentless cloud of anxiety that covered every waking minute of her life, I found myself yelling into the pages, “Get to a doctor, Kimberlee! Get some help.”

All the way through, she journals her faith, even when she isn’t sure she has any. And all the way along, she writes exquisitely. Her deep love for her children, all four of them, shines
through these words, even the hard words, even the longing words, the longing for the life she once had, that is no longer possible. She gives both explicit and implicit testimony to the depth of her commitment to writing, to the truth of the nourishment she finds there, and to the grief she carries because she simply cannot do it all.

But lacing in and out and in between and through is the shimmering story of her connection to God, of her love for the church, for liturgy, for the language of faith and the steadiness
it provides, even in times of disequilibrium. Of special note is the undergirding presence
of family and of so very many church friends who helped to shoulder the burden of this hard, hard time. 

Kimberlee prays Psalm 63, a lament, all the way through the darkest part of these months of upheaval and pain. And in so doing, she joins a long line of the faithful across the centuries who choose to turn toward God rather than away when life overwhelms. Because God is not overwhelmed by our fear, our sense of loss, our pain. In fact, God is the only safe place to carry all that weighs us down, all that shuts out the light.

She practices gratitude, faithfully. She clings to hope, fiercely. She finally seeks help, almost unwillingly. And when she does, she finds God there, too.

This is a remarkable story, beautifully told, Threading together journal entries, blog posts,
prayers and reflections, Kimberlee chooses the structure of the church year to tell this tale. In the end, rest comes. Help comes. Light dawns. Life does not become miraculously easy, that’s not possible, nor even desirable. But it does become bearable. It becomes breathable. Livable.

And I, for one, am deeply glad that this story made it out her fingertips and onto the page. I would not have missed it for the world. 

“Each day,” she notes, our children grow a little older. . .
“I somehow didn’t expect it.
They forget to tell you when you’re pregnant that motherhood is a long,
slow process of letting go, a daily dying to what was in order to
embrace what is. They forget to tell you how your heart breaks
and breaks and keeps on breaking.
They forget to tell you how much it hurts to love a child. . .
[but] . . . I wouldn’t have it any other way. This ache,
these tears say to me that my heart is still soft, and love grows
in soft, broken places. . . “ (pg. 129) 

The Beauty That Remains

My thanks to my good friend, Sherry Peterson, for this photo,
which she took as she was walking by us at The Samarkand. Sherry is lead chaplain there,
and mom told me she preached a powerful sermon this morning! 

We take the walker everywhere now;
her balance isn’t what it once was,
and we all feel just a bit more secure,
knowing she’s got support when she walks.

On Wednesdays, I join her for lunch.
And while the weather is as glorious
as it is right now,
we’re choosing to eat that lunch outdoors.

There’s a small cafe near the community swimming pool.
Sandwiches, salads, occasionally soup
and a hot choice.
And a small freezer full of ice cream delights. 

We don our pink hats, steer that walker towards the outdoors,
and wend our way over to the beautiful place,

the space where the sun shines and the breezes blow,
where we can talk if we wish,
or just sit and enjoy the distant mountain view.

We share a bottled Diet Coke
and laugh about the tickle-fizz of it,
and the sharp taste as it slides down our throats.
She always asks how my kids are doing.
Always.
And I say, “They’re doing just fine, Mom. Just fine.”

Conversation is harder to come by these days,
but we are relaxed about it.
She often surprises me with a small joke,
usually one that is self-deprecating.
We both laugh.

Sometimes, she seems aware of things
happening outside her increasingly small world.
We’ll touch on it gently,
and then she’ll say,
“Well, if they’d only ask us,
we could solve all the world’s problems, couldn’t we?”

That was a favorite line between us for years,
a sentiment that one or the other of us offered
whenever we spent any time lamenting
the current state of affairs in the world.

Somehow, it was a way to close off
that section of the conversation,
to move away from what sometimes
began to feel like constant complaining.

Neither of us can sit in complaint for long. 

This week she asked me something
that felt a bit as though it came from out of the blue.
I’m learning that things seldom are as random
as they might feel in this strange, half-lit world of dementia.

“Do you know this song?” she asked me.
“It’s been going through my head
 all the time lately.
It’s called, ‘Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad.’

“Nope, Mom. Never heard of it. Tell me how it goes.”

She’s a bit embarrassed to sing,
her once lovely alto quavery and weak
 these days.
She is 92 years old, I gently remind her,

and eventually, the words come out.

Life is like a mountain railroad,
with an engineer that’s brave;

We must make the run successful,
from the cradle to the grave;

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
never falter, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Refrain:
Bless’d Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

You will roll up grades of trial;
you will cross the bridge of strife;

See that Christ is your Conductor
on this lightning train of life;

Always mindful of obstruction,
do your duty, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Refrain

You will often find obstructions;
look for storms of wind and rain;

On a fill, or curve, or trestle,
they will almost ditch your train;

Put your trust alone in Jesus;
never falter, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Refrain

As you roll across the trestle,
spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,

You behold the Union Depot
into which your train will glide;

There you’ll meet the Superintendent,
God the Father, God the Son,

With the hearty, joyous, plaudit,
“Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”

Refrain

–M.E. Abbey & Charles Davis Tillman

The words are close to kitsch
and they make me smile.

My momma remembers one verse and the chorus,
and I pull out my iPhone and find the rest
on Google, astounded as always,
by what you can find in 30 seconds
in this internet world.

Hearing it sung helps me to see
the church into which I was born,
the one where my mom and dad met and married.
That old brownstone in downtown Los Angeles,
whose nooks and crannies were as familiar
to me as my own home.
That place where I learned sometimes bad theology,
but a lot of absolutely magnificent ecclesiology,
where church was welcoming, warm,
even fun from time to time.
Where I went forward to receive communion
at the rail, while my dad played the piano,
and my mom sang in the choir.
That place where Jesus was near.

We never sang that song while I went there.
Oh, we sang lots of gospel music,
a gift for which I am deeply grateful.
But never this one.

Somehow, it feels perfect for this summer luncheon,
perfect for this old saint and her old daughter.
Thank God for the brave engineer,
the One who will carry her safe-home.

And me, too. 

Here is a link to Johnny Cash, the Carter Family and Earl Scruggs (among others) recording two verses of this old chestnut. (They use ‘railway’ rather than ‘railroad.’)

It’s perfect. 

“Life is Like a Mountain Railway”

Joining this one with all my friends on this lovely Sunday evening. Most of my writing efforts this week will be directed toward a small sermon, to be preached next Sunday in my mom’s ‘church,’ the chapel she can walk to from her room.


The Gift of a Long Life — A Deeper Family

It’s the first Thursday of the month and time for my monthly post at A Deeper Family. And this one crept up on me, bigtime. Somehow, I thought the first Thursday was next week (duh!) and had set aside tomorrow afternoon to write this piece. Fortunately, truth dawned at approximately 9:00 p.m. for an essay that was due at midnight. 

With the grands at Shell Beach, one year ago this month.

 

Forty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Thirty years ago, I had two teenagers and a pre-teen, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Twenty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Ten years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write on my blog, here at ADF, and several other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am mother to my mother as she fades into the dim recesses of dementia; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are college students, for Pete’s sake.

And at this moment, on a warm California evening, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another fifteen, twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during however many decades remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question:

Please join me over at A Deeper Family for the rest of this post . . .

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