When You Are in the Front Row

Our family is in the midst of a season of loss.  In the last 5 months, we’ve lost my father, his sister, and his brother’s wife.  That’s a lot of funerals.  The last one was particularly hard.  My aunt had not been ill, and was the youngest of my father’s generation.  She died suddenly, the day after Christmas, just after she and my uncle had arrived at their winter home in Texas.

After the funeral, my cousin, her son, commented to me that my siblings and I could understand how he felt.  “After all,” he said, “you’ve had to sit on the front row, too.”

At funerals, the front row is reserved for family.  You’re glad to be together, but you have a hard time getting your mind around the loss.  You are heartbroken, but suddenly you’re in front of a lot of people. You may know the reality of Christ and the resurrection, but you still have to deal with the awful absence of the person that you love.

So, what is my advice to people on the front row? Obviously, this is not a complete list, nor will every item be useful for every situation of loss, but this is what I would tell my siblings and my cousins.

  1. Remember that it’s OK to feel several things at once. You are sad, but you may also feel relief if your loved one had suffered with illness.
  2. Focus on the good memories. The end of life is generally filled with illness and hardship, but  the end of life did not define your loved one.  Think about what they taught you, and times when you felt especially close to them.
  3. Treat your family gently. All of you will grieve in a different way. Some people will be overcome with grief; others won’t cry at all.  Hug each other and tell each other you love them.  After the funeral, call each other and work hard to stay close, particularly after the death of a parent.
  4. If help is accepted, take it. You won’t be emotionally able to complete every task that should be done.  Let others help with household chores, babysitting, and planning the funeral dinner.  They love you and your family. Helping you is their way of supporting you.
  5. Know that the grave is not the end of the story. Your loved one has left the body; now they are with the Lord. You miss them, but their soul didn’t die; it merely changed residence. You will see them again.

Praying that you grieve with hope,

Alice

The cousins, or at least all but one of us.  Photo credit, Todd Tuthill

cousins with me

The Last Hallmark Post

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Since Thanksgiving, I’ve watched lots of Hallmark Christmas movies.  They are, indeed, a pleasant, predictable diversion.  I can do a load of laundry or work on my knitting without fear that I’ll miss something.  There is always an hour and a half where the couple falls accidentally in love; there will be a crisis of trust about 8:30, and a resolution of the conflict about 8:55, followed by a kiss and a declaration of love. Everyone, it would appear, lives happily ever after, all by 9:00 p.m.

However, there’s a glaring omission in all these Christmas stories:  Jesus.  If Hallmark is the purveyor of all things Christmas, one could get the idea that tree lightings and gingerbread house-building contests are all that people need to get into the “Spirit of the Season”—which really means finding warm, happy feelings toward the people around you, while you scour the local retail establishments in search of the perfect gift. Considering that at least one person on every show is grieving, finding solace in tradition is a tall order.  Sorry, Hallmark.  That’s not how Christmas works.

Without Jesus, there is no season.  Who in their right mind celebrates snowmen?  Snow is a hazard.  Sure, it’s pretty, but anyone who has to drive to work in it has anything but warm, happy feelings. Cold weather festivals?  Move them inside, please.  I shop better when I’m warm. Gingerbread and hot chocolate? Tasty, but that’s about it.  Tree-lighting ceremonies? Nice for community-building, but it only takes seconds to flip a switch.

Did anyone notice that in all the Hallmark celebrating, no one went to church? Christmas Eve was reserved for work or family parties. Caroling was as close as it came to mentioning the savior, and “Round yon virgin, mother and child” was the only mention of the real reason for the party.  Jesus was surprisingly absent from the holiday meant to celebrate His birthday.  In fact, no one mentioned his name.

Jesus has no substitutes, not even the love of your life. The reason we have warm, happy feelings is that Jesus had them first.  Hot chocolate, lights, cookies, even life-long love are all temporary.  We celebrate the season because there is truly something worth celebrating: eternal life!

All Saints Day

It’s All Saints Day, so let’s remember people who make us just stop and praise our God.  The Bible uses the term to denote Christians, so please, nominate only living saints today.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Saint John, who always arrives at church before I do, to make sure that the congregation has coffee.  He’s in his 70’s and takes it upon himself to get to church early, make the coffee, sing in the choir for 2 services, and then clean up the coffee pots before he goes home.  I don’t think he understands how important he is to the life of our little body of Christ.
  • Saint Debbie, who makes sure that the worship music is organized and loaded into the Airprompter system each week.  She also handles communication among the worship people at church and keeps me running on schedule.  I have a musician’s temperament and the lack of time management that goes with it, so the music department might collapse without her.
  • Saint Mary, who is always busy doing what needs to be done.  You might find her in the kitchen, in the choir, or in the fellowship hall, but she makes sure we are fed and not over-stressed. She also keeps helps keep the church building looking good by making sure the decorations are updated and classy. She and her husband, Saint Grant, are always there to lend a hand.
  • Saint Marlene, who is always prepared to teach children in Sunday School.  She has a quiet temperament, but she loves the children, and they love her.  Her family is a testimony to faith.

I could go on and mention many, many more, but these are people who don’t ask for glory and do jobs which might get overlooked.  I praise God for them!

Who are the saints in your life?

Time for Socks

It’s Tour-de-Sock time again, so I’m taking a break from music to knit socks.  Every 10 days or so, I get a new sock pattern to knit as quickly as possible.  I compete against knitters from all over the world, and my goal is to finish in the top 25.  The first stage I placed 33, but that was including babysitting my adorable toddler granddaughter.

The socks have to be knit to competition minimums, which generally are too large for my feet. They become really good gifts, if the husband doesn’t abscond with them first.

My yarn is all (er–almost all) wound into usable cakes, and my carbon-fiber needles are polished.  I’ll make a cup of tea and make sure that snacks are handy. I won’t be cooking dinner this afternoon, so I’d best get that slow cooker ready.  Alexa is ready to play music or audiobooks.  Stage 1 looked like this:fullsizeoutput_1a56

See y’all in a couple of days!

Tangled–and Not the Disney Kind

It is summer, and that means my competitive streak comes out—in knitting.  Every year I participate in the Tour-de-Sock.  Think Tour de France, but we knit socks instead of ride bicycles.  Every 10 days or so, we can download a new sock pattern and knit furiously, trying to be the fastest to complete a pair of socks.  The patterns are not for beginners, so what initially looks like an easy pattern generally has a twist in it that forces you to look IMG_0507up a new technique on the internet.  The competition is worldwide, and I’ve learned that no matter how much I practice, I won’t beat the knitters in Finland.  I will, however, place in the top 5 (usually the top 1 or 2) in the United States, if I can clear my schedule.

The Tour means that I need to visit the yarn store to buy more yarn.  IMG_0511Sock yarn usually is sold in skeins wound like small, heavy ropes. Before you can use the yarn, you need to wind the skein into a ball-like structure, which we call a cake.  If you do this by hand, you can use the back of a chair or a helpful friend to help with the process.  The best way to wind a cake, however, is to have a swift and a ball winder.  The skein fits neatly around the swift, and the ball winder makes short work of winding. A 440-yard skein takes 5 minutes or so to wind, and you’re good to go.

Occasionally, though, the skein tangles on the swift.  Sometimes it’s operator error, but g07JEu%6RZOOpiHPN7i6fAI’ve done this long enough to realize that some companies just don’t tie the skeins properly; their yarn has built-in tangles. The yarn won’t come off the swift smoothly, and the only way to get the yarn into a usable form is to hand-wind it. Sock yarn is expensive.  No matter how tempting it might be to just cut out the tangled part (or toss the whole skein), it’s worth the trouble to take the time to wind it properly, turning a mess into a nice ball that soon become a beautiful pair of socks for some lucky person.

The untangling process goes a little quicker if you leave the tangled skein on the support of the swift. Winding won’t be quick, but skeins taken off the swift and laid on a table quickly become hopelessly tangled, and winding is a frustrating process indeed.  If the yarn is on the swift, winding won’t be quick, but it’s not likely to induce cursing either.

Lots of things in life get tangled.  Maybe it’s a personal problem, a clogged sink, a piece of music you can’t play correctly—doesn’t matter.  Tangles happen.  But no matter what the tangle, a little support can go a long way toward putting things right.  In music, you have the support of technique or perhaps a teacher.  Sinks get unclogged with the support of YouTube or a plumber.  Personal problems?  Sometimes you need the support of a friend.

My friend to call on is Jesus. His Word generally has the correct advice to untangle the knot. Jesus is the one support I can count on to always point to the right way. I might be able to solve the problem on my own, but chances are the situation will get worse before it gets better. Relying on Jesus may still require patience and humility, but the tangle will be smoothed out before you know it.

Here’s to untangled yarn—and lives!

Summer Break

It’s an old joke that educators teach because of June, July, and August. Like any good joke, there’s a grain of truth contained in the punch line. The months from September through May are emotionally, intellectually, and yes, physically grueling. The body wears out, and the mind yearns for pleasure reading. Even daytime TV becomes, at least for an hour, irresistible.

This year, though, summer has been busy.  After some vacation time in southern Missouri, I spent a week at church camp—not far from our vacation spot.  However, church camp with teenagers is most definitely not a vacation. It is, however, a welcome change from the normal school year. Somehow, the transition from the normal school attire to shorts and T-shirts makes grandmotherly professors a little more approachable. I made friends with younger teenagers, met faculty from other colleges, and practiced my dining room sweeping skills.  Maybe the teenagers will attend my college; maybe they won’t, but I hope they came away with the realization that they are loved and valued by Christian grandmothers.

Memories:

  • Hours in a school van, including lunch at a gas station
  • Looking up at campfire and realizing that you really can see stars—lots of them
  • Listening as teenagers open up about their faith
  • Helping my family group memorize scripture
  • Watching younger people play Bonkers (you really have to see it)
  • Morning shows with stupid songs and videos
  • Watching 60 teenagers vow to follow Jesus and embrace the cross

Have I done pleasure reading? Absolutely, but I haven’t been able to keep up with my normal book-a-day pace. Have I watched daytime TV? Not unless you count the morning news show (I do have some standards). Have I made progress on my next recording? Not much, other than selecting the music.

Was camp worth the time spent (and the chiropractor bills from bad bunks)? You betcha.  Today’s teenagers need the influence of Christian adults who are not their parents. Today’s grandparents need the influence of teenagers.

Next summer, volunteer for church camp or VBS duty. You’ll be glad you did.

Today’s Scenic Beauty

It’s been a long time between vacations. This year, I booked 5 days at Echo Bluff State Park in southern Missouri to get some peace and quiet to read, knit, and to see some of a God’s handiwork. So far, we are very pleased. The accommodations are comfy, and the scenery is outstanding. There’s not much choice in restaurants, it the one in the lodge is very good and overlooks the bluff.

We went to Alley Spring this morning, where my family spent lots of happy times. Stuff changes in 50 years, so most of the landmarks have changed. It still smells the same, though–like summer vacation.

Miss you all, but for the moment, glad you’re not here. See you next week.