Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Be a Sunday Family

After we departed the mountain stream in which the children had played for about an hour, we entered Gatlinburg. The wee girl in the car seat began to say, "Clothes!  I want clothes!"  Of all the things children ask for while in Gatlinburg, I have never had one ask for clothes!  There are toys, souvenirs, candy, ice cream. But this little girl's eyes were drawn to the clothes and that is what she wanted.  I have witnessed her big sister struggle to find an outfit for her to wear when we are heading out to church on Sunday morning.  

Mother's Day, 2017, we picked up three adorable children.  Their mama had agreed to let us take them to church and have a picnic in the park. We invited her to go also; it was a day to celebrate her role in their lives; she didn't go. We went to breakfast and then got to church just in time for about ten minutes of Sunday school. We were reminded of the struggles of keeping young children quiet during an hour long worship service; with our "baby" preparing to graduate high school later that month, it had been a while since we had been challenged in that way.

As the weeks have passed, we have continued the pattern of breakfast, Sunday school, church service, lunch, and we have tried to add a fun outing as often as possible.  Our outings have included the Cade's Cove loop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where the children saw their first bear and deer.  A couple of Knoxville's parks are their favorites and are becoming regular stops for us. We've seen a movie; we hang out with them at our house some Sunday afternoons, reading books, coloring, playing with sidewalk chalk.  We made Father's Day cards for their Daddy on Father's Day Sunday.  Right now, we are waiting for cooler temperatures so that we can spend a Sunday afternoon baking chocolate chip cookies for their school classmates. We try to keep it simple. Mostly the children crave attention and love.  We are the grateful recipients of joyous greetings when we arrive to pick them up, hugs, kisses, artwork to hang on the board in our dining room.  

As we traveled back through Gatlinburg on that day,  my mind went on overtime thinking of the possibilities of our relationship with this sibling group, their mama and daddy, and another sweet neighbor girl who has joined us in the last few weeks.   

When the small girl was begging for clothes, I imagined helping her through the years to have a few new outfits for back to school, helping her shop for and purchase a dress for prom.  I imagined helping her parents a bit so that she, her brother, and sister could have something special for Christmas each year.  And as these thoughts rattled through my head, I had an epiphany.  


If each congregation who helps in the Hope Central ministry had a few families who would take on being a "Sunday family" for one sibling group, take the time to feed and spend time with, read with, play games with one or a few of the Hope Central children, what would be the outcome of that consistent love and care over the next ten to fifteen years? How would a child's life be changed by having a consistent exposure to a loving family who serves God and talks with the child about Him and His purposes for that child's life? How would their lives change academically if we could add a little tutoring or reading to our Sunday afternoons with them? How would their parent(s) be encouraged and see God's love through the Christians who are willing to spend a few hours a week with their children and getting to know them (the parents) just a bit?   

I get that some of you are saying, "I'm too old for that, I don't even keep my grandchildren any more!"  But you still send your grandchildren cards, call them to see how they are doing in school, share a Sunday meal with them. You give them loads of attention at any opportunity you have. My challenge to you is to step in and be a surrogate grandparent to a Hope Central family.  If you see a family in your home congregation "adopt" a Sunday child, ask to have lunch with that family once or twice a month and begin to get to know that child or children. Send birthday or Christmas cards to them and their parents.  Make a phone call occasionally to see how everyone is doing.  

Jesus' ministry was about relationship; let's see what happens if ours becomes like His.  We have children and their families just around the corner who can see Jesus living in us if only we begin.  Ask for an introduction to a child or sibling group who could benefit from a "Sunday family."    

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May's Blessings

I am having a difficult time with the fact that it is the last day of May, 2017.  My mama always warned me not to wish my life away when I was yearning for the days to pass quickly to the next great adventure we had planned.  And now I know why; it seems the older I get, the quicker the days are going, becoming months and years which feel as though they just evaporate while I am unaware.  

While reading a blog post from a writer I follow, she gave me the words to  share the conundrum I have found myself in the last few months. As my friends know, John and I and our two still-at-home sons  jumped into inner city life in the final days of February and the early days of March this year.  We had been prayerfully considering our move for two-plus years. We finally decided there is no "perfect" time, so let's just jump in.   

Our family has six years of inner city ministry "under our belts."  We have worked in a ministry dedicating ourselves to an after school program involving tutoring, meals, recreation, and sharing the Bible and God's love with some of our towns most vulnerable children.  We have fallen in love with the children we serve.  We long to make their lives the best we can; but we are limited in what we can do. Our hope and prayer is that we can do it better by living among them, being available all the time instead of just a couple of hours a day several days per week. There are so many stories among the families we minister to.  I have struggled with the realization that their stories need to be shared; but their stories are not my story so they are not mine to share.  And yet, as Jesika Knight of The Knight Five wrote,  "It's not my story to tell.  But his story (her father's) is forever interwoven with mine.  And the only way I know to make sense of all this mess is to share my part in it. "

And so just as the childrens' stories are not mine, where our lives are interwoven. I try to share in ways that my friends will become aware of the consuming needs in the community in which I live.  I try to thoughtfully keep identities hidden in my writing.  

The month of May brought joy in that we got to spend quality time with three beautiful siblings bringing them to share in worship at the church we attend.  We got bonus time with them each of those three Sunday afternoons, taking them to a city park to play or to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see their first bear; and then this past weekend, I confirmed with their mom on Saturday that we would be by to pick them up to take them to breakfast and that we would feed them lunch before returning them home to her mid afternoon on Sunday.  She told me that they would either be at her house or their daddy's house.  Sunday morning came and we couldn't find them or their mama anywhere.  We know some of her hangout spots so we drove the streets of our neighborhood searching to no avail.  It breaks my heart that they have loved going to church, the extra hugs, the Bible stories and activities and we couldn't find them.   I pray they had food to eat that day and stayed safe while roaming our streets with their mother.  

I made a new friend this month, a lovely young woman just getting started in adulthood.   She called me out of the blue, having gotten my phone number from a mutual friend.  She asked if I could take her to the emergency room; she was experiencing severe abdominal pain. We went thinking she probably was suffering from one ailment and found out that she was actually suffering from a much less serious ailment and a full recovery is mostly easily achievable. Praise God!  

The surprising part of our time together was her transparent sharing of her story with me.  She spoke openly about early childhood abuse and trauma and how it is still affecting her; she spoke about her many hospitalizations over this last year and learning to deal with the long-term affects of the abuse and the resulting conditions she must live and cope with. She also shared her plans for a bright future and the goals she has and the steps that have been outlined for and with her to achieve those goals.   She gave me hope that there are answers and that just maybe she and her generation of children of poverty might be the ones to put the family patterns behind them and succeed in overcoming and achieving a better life for their children.  

This last month has also brought a new realization that just because one pours their life, love, time and energy into the life of another, it in no way means that person loves or cares for you or would not inflict harm, or place you in a dangerous situation. And that my friends was a heartwrenching, sobering realization.  

On a personal note, two of our sons celebrated birthdays in the month of May. The oldest son is thirty-one and the next turned twenty-one. The twenty-one year old began his first professional job with a local school system after graduating from our local Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

And then just in the last week, our baby boy, aged eighteen, and I completed our final year of home education.  I have had him at home since he began fourth grade.  Again, where has the time gone?!! 

I have also had the privilege of sharing many hours with one of my best friends.  She underwent three surgeries in just a month's time due to complications and a fall and resulting fracture after hip replacement surgery.  After she came home following her third surgery, another friend of ours and I spent time with her each week day while her husband was working.  We have changed her bandages, prepared her meals, cheered her on through physical therapy.  I learned to become an advocate for her when I felt there were gaps in information or care.  I have also transported her to numerous appointments, learning that I can do this (though I was scared to death she would somehow be hurt during our first outing.)  I joke with her that she has thoroughly trained me for becoming a certified nursing assistant. 

I named this blog East Tennessee Blessings years ago after a few wonderful days with a niece and her extended family in upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. While my life has taken twists and turns since then, I am blessed to live out my life with God's gifts for me in beautiful East Tennessee.  All blessings come from His hand and I am an abundantly blessed woman!

My family and I covet your prayers for us and our neighbors. There was a shooting a few blocks from us this past Sunday evening just outside a church building. As I sat up late a couple of nights ago trying to quiet my mind from this month of troubles, I heard what sounded like many shots rapidly firing very close. It is difficult to distinguish if the shots are in deed close due to the proximity of our home to the houses on either side and the closeness of all the homes and buildings in our neighborhood. The sounds reverberate off our dwellings and structures and we just look at one another dumbly and say, "Did you hear that? Was that gunshots? How close do you think that was?"  The shots occur far too often. And the children we love so much are just down the street or around the corner hearing the same shots we are. Many of them are growing up not only with chaos on the streets outside their homes, but also inside.

Thank you in advance for your prayers!  I will be praying His richest blessings on you also my friends! 
 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brokenness

"This then is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,
 Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, (in me!) on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.'"  Matthew 6: 9-13

 I recognized the kids first, adorable and chattering with one another. The young man was pushing the grocery cart/truck that held them all. I looked at the young woman and realized that yes, they are whom I think.  We all head to the produce section of the store. I keep watching to see if she recognizes me. We don't make eye contact until I speak to her.  I almost didn't but I'm glad I did reach out.  

She left her husband over a year ago. I have known him since he was a little boy. These kind of meetings are awkward to say the least. Unfortunately, they are becoming more common in my life.  

A few months ago, it was once close friends who let us know they were divorcing. Then a couple of months later, our daughter informed us that she and our beloved son-in-law are also separated and have filed for divorce.  

These past weeks have been one bit of bad news after another. While in the local pawn shop with a friend, I witnessed a young child comforting her mother who didn't have enough money to pay their utility bill after paying the pawnbroker the required fee for retrieving her belongings. She was screaming at the child's daddy on the phone that she needed help.

I have witnessed a house full of children disappear because the adults of the household failed to pay their utility bill. Then when at least some of the residents return, profanity, loudly and forcefully, spews very late in the night for all the neighbors to hear.  

Another young friend had to call E-911 on a stepfather because the very inebriated man's plate of food somehow came in contact with the child's mother.

Yesterday, I sat outside two courtrooms at Knoxville's City-County Building while a friend answered a subpoena as a victim/witness in a case being heard.  I saw so many broken lives filter through that hallway and shared space.  I overheard tidbits of lawyers' discussions with their clients. So many young children having to wait while the drama in the lives of their adults got put on trial!   My heart hurt for those children and their families.

The wee hours of this morning brought a distressed phone call from another friend who was having relationship issues which had to be dealt with by law enforcement.  

We are all broken, messed up, have struggles.  The sadness for me is when I watch the children become the adult, comforting the parent, calling for help, seeing too much, and losing their innocence in the chaos.  

It would be wonderful if I could claim that my children have never been "there."  But sadly and shamefully, I cannot. I've lived my own messed up days, months, and years. My children have been scarred by their arguing parents screaming at one another. They have lived in fear of their family being split up, or maybe in fear that their parents would not split up; sometimes the lines are skewed and difficult to discern.

In my opinion, there is an answer to the madness. The Bible instructs us on how to live in peace with one another. There is no magic that will make high bills, hardships, and sickness go away. But there is a way to live in peace and harmony in spite of present circumstances. There are promises made to help us through the present bad circumstances, help us live a little closer to the Original plan. There is hope for a brighter, better future and an eternity beyond our wildest dreams.   

Your Kingdom come in me Lord today and every day. Help me to reflect and shine your light into the dark places, to comfort those who are hurting, and to point them to You.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Life at The Potter's House

It is Day 19 in our new home.  We had kept our move quiet until this past Sunday.  It felt like a private thing.  

Day 1 brought tears, heart wrenching, from the deep places of the gut, tears and wailing.  It  caused this mama to question every decision she has contemplated over the last two plus years.  I didn't set out to hurt my own family when John and I set out to become inner city landlords.  I never even considered moving to the inner city myself until one of our friends misunderstood our looking at the house next door to his and thought we were looking for our own family.  The seed was planted in our hearts in that moment and over the next eighteen months, God moved us gently towards the idea of our taking up residence among the souls we had come to know and love through the ministry we shared in at the little blue house.   And then, like Jonah, we ran away from that radical idea for nearly two years.  We made excuses, found renters, suffered through what came from renters in a 100 year old house, made more excuses.  Finally, nineteen long days ago, we began our move.  The first three nights, only John and I (and our littlest dog) resided at our new home.  I returned to the suburban home the first two days for school with my senior.  And then day four brought our two youngest sons and our two biggest dogs to the city to live.  

There have been many complaints- the kitchen is too small, you are trying to bring too much of your "junk" into a house that is too small, I want to go home.   

There has been sickness:  strep throat, a sinus infection, then an allergic reaction to the antibiotic used to treat the strep requiring an ER trip.  So for the first nearly three weeks of living in our new home, I have hunkered down and concentrated on our family.  We have spent time doing school, unpacking boxes, making trips back and forth between the new and old houses.  I moved here to be an intentional neighbor, to bring the light of Jesus to those around me.   It seems my time walking the sidewalks is spent teaching only the canines in my life that the bathroom is outside while attached to a leash.   (They were used to having a backyard to go directly into to do their business and to access the neighbor's dogs and argue with them.)  The fence we have up at our new house isn't very secure and we have only let them run around out back one day while they were closely supervised by a person.)

We are SLOWLY adjusting to bright lights right outside our bedroom window all night long, sirens close by all hours of the day and night, the sound of gunfire on a regular basis (and knowing it's not our former neighbor, the gunsmith.)

Yesterday, one of my friends asked me if I had heard the gunfire the night before around midnight.   I replied that I had not but that I did hear multiple sirens just after that and that my neighbor's dogs had howled and barked for one to two hours after that.  She had heard that there had possibly been drive-by shooters about a block away from our house.   When I left her at her door, she told me to be safe and I told her the same.    

I am trusting that I will pull "us" together and we will begin reaching out to our friends we have already made and our neighbors that are not friends yet and we will begin to make new friends and share the love of Jesus in tangible ways with those around us.   

For now, I am trusting God with us and the decisions we have made and to know He is working all these things for our good.  His promises have never let me down and I know He won't forsake me now. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

HIS Love Overwhelms Me

I will sing the LORD'S praise, for HE has been good to me.
Psalm 13: 6

His love amazes me!   The way He speaks to me in numerous and unexpected ways stops me in my tracks, brings tears to my eyes.   

Early in December, I discovered a daily Advent message from Biola University which could be  delivered daily to my email inbox.  It has scripture to meditate on each day, a musical selection to listen to, a beautiful piece or multiple pieces of art to gaze upon, a short message from one of many writers/theologians.   I got behind and haven't read all of them.   But today, I opened my gift from Biola and I read.   The message touched me and then I saw the name Bach.  What?   Bach?  - Only my favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.  He composed something about Jesus?  What?  And then I hit play.   My eyes filled with tears.  I could not believe that my "happy music" is titled Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and I NEVER knew it!   Let me share a brief backstory.  

My daughter and her soldier fiance decided to marry in May, 2005 in Las Vegas, NV while he was home on leave from Iraq.   They had flown to California to spend the two weeks with his mom, dad, and siblings.   Two nights later, we got a phone call asking if we could be in Vegas by the upcoming Friday.  It was Monday night.   "Sure, we will be there, we wouldn't miss it!"   We pulled our two youngest out of school a few days earlier than the system's official end and we flew our first flights and we witnessed with joy their union in the clerk's office in Las Vegas.   

Fast forward one year.  Son-in-law finished his enlistment commitment, he and daughter are living in Tennessee a few hours from us.   They had decided to renew their vows in June, 2006.  Extended family, church families, friends are invited.   I mentioned to darling daughter that I would love to be escorted to my seat with Mr Bach's music playing.  I explained to her it is my "happy music," love at first listen.   It is such a joyful piece of music.   I gave her the track number and never paid attention to the title.  I know; I'm more than a bit ridiculous!  Listen here to this beautiful piece.  

Now that I know the title, my happy music is all the happier, truly joy-full!

Last week, I stood a few feet behind a dear friend and her family as they prepared for her mother's burial.   The minister, standing between the casket and the family started reading from John 14.   I smiled to myself briefly.  Really God?   Are you speaking to me here?  Now?   That morning, I had "slept in."   My sons and husband had gotten up about the same time I did.   I missed my quiet time with God.   As they conversed and the television played in the background, I reached out to the devotional book I have been reading from daily.   I hesitated, and then I grabbed it.   Usually, I am alone and the room is quiet when I share this time with my Father.   But I reasoned with myself that it was the last day of 2016 and I wanted to see what God had to say to me on this day.   The last scripture reference listed by the author for that day's reading was John 14: 26-27.   I turned to it.   Oh my!  Verse 27 leaped off the page and into my heart, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

He knew what my thoughts have been since the week after Thanksgiving when our city house was broken into and robbed.  He knew about my second thoughts about the next chapter of our lives and our desire to become His ambassadors in our inner city.   He knew that I had chosen PEACE as "my word" for 2017.  And apparently He also knew that I needed a second dose of that verse for the day, for the coming year, while I stood at that graveside. I wonder if the imagery of the grave was another message to bury my fears and trust HIM in complete peace?  He knows that I quite often, just like a wayward child, have to be told more than one time what it is He wants me to know, to believe.  He is so good to me.

His love overwhelms me!




Friday, December 30, 2016

Ignorance Is Not a (Good) Excuse

I recently had a wonderful talk with a girl I have loved since she came into my life when I was the ripe old age of thirteen.  We had stumbled into a bit of an impasse in our communication with one another.  I had sent her yet another written message (my preferred mode of contact) and she followed up hours later with a phone call (her preferred mode of contact.)   I (childishly) looked at my phone screen and saw it was her; I didn't want to debate; I didn't want to be lectured; I just wanted to bury myself in the oblivion of the television and eat my dinner in peace.   But at the root of my being, this woman child is someone I love and value beyond my own comfort.   I answered.   

Our talk lasted ninety minutes. At times, we tried talking over one another which is largely impossible when using cell phones. Mostly, we both tried hard to listen to one another and find what we agreed on and not worry TOO much about the things we disagree on. I think we both came to realize that we agree about more than we disagree.  We realized that we both have a passion for the subject we were discussing; we just have different focus points in dealing with the issues which tripped us up.   I think that, in the end, we agreed that what is the natural and best way to approach one another is with the deep-seated love which has always been the foundation of our relationship.  It had been years since we had spoken for so long and we were both pleasantly surprised I think that we had so much to discuss and to share.  

Before we ended our time together, she gave me an affirmation that is priceless; that is one of her gifts. She remembered with me the twenty-something year old me living in the "penthouse" apartment in what had once been a beautiful old home on East Watauga Avenue in Johnson City, my hometown.  The "penthouse" was the attic which had been converted into a very small one bedroom apartment, with a "bonus room" which served as the nursery for my first two babies. The roof gables were our walls and ceiling.  The entire house, home to a real estate business and a total of four apartments was roach infested.  We lived sometimes with and many times without my first husband.  I had an army of angels on earth who helped me get by, taking me to doctor's appointments, to the grocery store, and to church.  But even with that, I had little money, sometimes none.  I was often dependent on government assistance programs, and I was so ashamed of what my life had come to.  This was not the dream that the twenty-one year old bride had imagined! My middle class life had derailed in a major way.  

But this younger woman in my life talked about how I had allowed those early years of my adulthood to develop in me a compassion for and desire to help other single or pseudo-single moms.  (I just made up pseudo-single!  It's when you have a mate/partner who is present but not really providing support in any of its forms- financial, emotional, spiritual.) And now thirty years later, here I am living out my passion making new friends and planning to live among some of the poorest citizens of my city, ministering to them in tangible ways with transportation, friendship, shared meals, spiritual guidance and teaching, entertaining, tutoring and loving their children as well as them, the adults.    

That young mom grew up into the woman I now am and my younger friend gave me a verbal blessing by praising me for letting my hard times inspire me to "give back."

Doesn't that feel so good?!!

But you know what?   None of it is to my credit.   My angels on earth got me through those years and they did it because they serve/served an amazing God Who has gifted us with redemption from the Garden on down through history.  And you know what else?   I didn't choose the hard times and I don't deserve the good times.  I am blessed. And that means I have a responsibility to "pay it forward."   You see, I was blessed to be born to middle class, white parents who nurtured, loved, supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually.    I never faced ongoing and repeated abuse from either of them.  We always had nourishing food in the house.  We always had clean beds to sleep in and clean clothes to wear.   We had help and encouragement to do our homework and the expectation that we would do it to the best of our ability. My siblings and I didn't have parents who were slaves to addiction. Our parents were respected by the community of their peers and they lived upright lives. My dad was in a very hated profession, he was a tax collector.   And yet, through my young life and well into my middle age years, I have had people share with me how much they loved him and admired his integrity and work ethic. That is an amazing gift! I always believed, in my darkest hours, that my life and circumstances would be better someday.  I knew that I didn't have to stay in poverty.  I knew another life and I had the tools and the support to achieve escaping the poverty I found myself in.

I have friends whom I love who have had none of the advantages from which I benefit.  They were born into poverty, with darker skin than mine.  They had parents who were abusive, addicted, not there or combinations of those states.  Some of my friends have known only poverty all their lives, poverty in their financial, emotional, and spiritual circumstances. And that was not their choice any more than my middle class birth was my choice.  

I didn't "pull myself up by my bootstraps."  I had tons of support and encouragement, and I had the know how, the college degree, not because I was so smart and able to realize that someday, it would enable me to escape poverty.  My parents were the ones who ensured that all three of their children moved on to higher education!  What if they hadn't cared if my homework was done.  What if they hadn't been able to function beyond an elementary school level in their reading and writing?  What if they hadn't worked hard and saved, and had a pension which paid for college (even after my father's early death?)  What if our household had been full of chaos with mama's boyfriends over trying to "mess" with us?  What if mama or daddy had spent their hours ignoring us pursuing their phone screen wanting more "likes" on social media or in their day, out in the bars looking for the next high or fix?  What if mama or daddy or both had been in and out of prison throughout my childhood and I was passed from friend to family and back again and could never totally trust where I would be staying on any given night? What if they had spent the evening hours yelling at and cursing and beating us? How different would my life be?

And see, none of my blessings were my choice nor my design.  I don't know why I was chosen to be born into and live in the family I have.   I don't know why I have all the blessings and others have few or none. Some people want to say there is not a good God or it wouldn't be this way. I don't agree.  If we read the word and believe it, we see that God created a perfect place for man and woman to live and work.  He gave them all good and continues to provide goodness to all of mankind.  Mankind has chosen all through time to believe the lies of the enemy of God and stray into choices that are not from God. I was blessed to come from parents who chose to serve God and make choices which followed His word and commands.  

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.   1 Timothy 6:17-18 (NIV)
 

The other thing I know is that God did not bless me so that I could live a rich, comfortable life.   He expects me to do what His son, God with us, Jesus, did.   My "wealth" is not for me; whatever my gifts are are to be poured out and shared.   God is about redemption and love.  That is what I am to be about in order to be about my Father's business.   For God says to each of us, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Luke 12:48


 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

When Daddy (or Mommy) is Gone

Last Sunday morning as we gathered for Bible study, the teacher asked if any of us had prayer requests; one friend in class held up her hand and related that one of her daughter's friend's mother had passed away that past week suddenly and unexpectedly.  The daughter's friend is a fourteen year old high school freshman.  I remember that vulnerable time of life.  

Later as the worship service began, our minister shared his own prayer request.  He had a call that morning that a beloved friend back home in Michigan had passed away leaving his wife and young children.  Again my heart hurt for those suddenly fatherless children and that motherless young girl. 

Tomorrow would have been my daddy's 90th earthly birthday; instead, he has been in heaven for forty-five years as of this past July.  He died suddenly at home, with his wife and children present, in the wee hours of July 16, 1971.    He left behind three children, ages 19, 16, and 9.  Our lives have never been the same.

I was the baby, spoiled, two weeks shy of her tenth birthday, (exactly two weeks- that's always been an important, defining point for me.   I don't know why.)  Daddy died, in my parents' bed, at 3:16 am, at least that is when his watch stopped.  My oldest sibling tried to perform CPR; the doctor told my mother later that even if Daddy had been in the hospital, they could not have saved him.  His faulty heart valve, severely damaged by childhood rheumatic fever, had been expected to take his life in his twenties.  He had told Mama that he knew those extra years were a gift from God.  He lived a full life, being kind, teaching others about God, and leaving a legacy of love and provision for his family in those forty-five years.

My memories of that night are weird and disjointed to me; I woke to the sound of my mother crying, screaming I thought.   Both siblings, in recent years, said she did not scream.  I remember seeing the oldest sib doing CPR but I do not remember seeing Daddy's turning every color in the rainbow as my mother described later.   The next thing I remember is the county ambulance crew taking Daddy's body out of our home, completely covered by a white sheet on their gurney.   I also remember my mother sobbing in her best friend's arms while that gurney was passing by them in our living room.  I don't remember the next few hours.  Those were the days before there was an ambulance or firemen on every corner waiting to respond to emergencies; therefore, the best girlfriend made it to our home before the ambulance.

The next couple of days were busy.  Mama and Daddy each had four siblings spread across the southeast.  Each had a brother who was in Alaska at the time of Daddy's death.   They neither one made it back to Tennessee for the service for my daddy. 

All of the others converged for the visitation that Saturday night and the funeral that Sunday.  I had cousins that I rarely saw to hang out with.   Mind now, I was nine.   Some time, must have been Saturday, my cousins and I went to our basement family room and I put music on the stereo and played it very loudly and we had a pillow (or maybe it was stuffed animals) fight.  We were having great fun.  

Years later, while taking a Thanatology (the study of death and dying) class at the local university, I wrote a paper about children and the death of a parent.   I met with my student advisor, who was also the professor teaching that class; I related to him, "I am/was normal!  I never knew!"  He smiled at me not understanding at first what I meant.  I thanked him for allowing me to do that paper and research.   For the first time in over a decade, I forgave myself for my childhood behavior; I understood that my reaction to Daddy's death was well within "normal" guidelines.  Children do not react to death the same ways as adults.  And they should not be expected to act like little adults.  

I think as adults, we need to realize that children have an inner life just as we do.  I can remember intricate fantasies I conjured in which my parents had secretly divorced and couldn't face the shame so Daddy had left town and his death was faked. (It was the early 1970's and we were church people)  I can also remember lying in bed on several occasions during my teenage years trying to "will" my father's ghost to visit  me.  I missed him so much.  Teenage girls need their daddies (and their mamas.)   So do teenage boys, and babies, and little children.  There is no easy age, time, or way to lose a parent.  

It felt for years that my Daddy had been the glue that held our family of five together; in hindsight, I think there is deep truth in that statement.  But I also think his death happened at such a transitional time of life that it over emphasized what came shortly later.  From my nearly ten year old perspective, Daddy's death changed everything at once.  The reality is that Daddy died in the summer of 1971.   In August, 1972, my brother went away to college on the other side of the state and never came home to live permanently again.   He was home for breaks, but never lived full time at home.  My oldest sibling married in December, 1972 and became a parent during the summer of 1973 and then again in 1974.  Though living in our hometown, my oldest sibling's life was no longer shared full time.   

So in just under a year and one-half, we transitioned from a family of five, father, mother, young adult, teenager, and one spoiled, little girl to a single, widowed mom with one child at home.  My world was crushed in many ways.    But again, it took years to work through all that and even understand how it all affected me.   Seeking counseling was not something my mother would do in the seventies.  Mental illness and depression carried such stigma in those days.    I know both my siblings probably could have used a little help also working through the grief and the family dynamics changes.  We all suffered in ways that have never been discussed.  

Most of my mom's friends and family said that "she was never the same after your Dad's death."  That is true from my perspective also.   She entered a battle with early onset Alzheimer's Disease just  thirteen to fourteen years after Daddy's death.  I have often wondered if Daddy's devastating death was the trigger for changes in her brain.   I have no idea if the science supports that or not.  

My behavior had always bothered me until my research and writing released me from that guilt.  But I found out several years ago that at least one aunt had also not understood my reaction to my Dad's death.   During a visit with her, she began talking negatively about one of my siblings, relating to me about the "wild party" in the basement "when your Daddy was a corpse."   I set her straight on who it was that was having that party.  My "inappropriate" behavior had bothered me for more than a decade until I learned it was not inappropriate, it was childish.  I forgave myself.  And I shared with that aunt that my behavior had been perfectly normal.

I am writing this as therapy for myself but also for others to share.   When we lose our loved ones, it changes us, all of us.  We all cope and react differently; but please understand, that children are not little adults.  They may react in ways that are strange or seem inappropriate to the adults around them.   But most likely, their reactions are spot on normal.   

If you are close to a grieving child, let that little (or bigger) person talk all they want or be as quiet as they want about their loss, their deceased parent, or how life has changed.   Hold that child in prayer often.  Be there whenever possible to support the grieving family and be sensitive to the changed dynamics and the possible need for a "big brother or sister" or an "adopted" parent for the child(ren) left behind.   Your prayers and presence could make all the difference to a hurting child.




Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
         James 1: 27