Sunday, January 14, 2018

We Got Her

Emma and Darton, 2012
In June of 2012, we met our son in Buffalo to pick up the family Honda he'd been driving but was now passing along to his sister. Since he had to bring two cars to Buffalo, he enlisted the help of a friend, a girl from Roberts Wesleyan named Emma. She was pretty, friendly, and polite. She was wearing white pants and very cute sandals. And there was an ease between the two of them that I liked. Although our meeting was brief on that sunny day in June, a couple of months later when we found out they were dating, we were delighted but not surprised! And the more we got to know Emma, the more we liked her.

Fast forward five-and-a-half years. Darton and Emma are still together. Emma is still pretty, friendly, and polite. There's still a lovely, just-right ease between the two of them. And Emma's shoe game remains consistently strong! I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that with every single visit, we love her more. In fact a couple of years ago, our other son said, "If they ever break up, we're just going to have to adopt Emma."

A week before Christmas we got the phone call we'd been waiting for. Darton had just proposed to his sweet Emma. None of us could stop smiling.

In the days after that happy phone call, I kept thinking of a chapter title in the book Sahara Special, by Esme Raji Codell, called "We Got Her." At the beginning of the chapter, the students in an ordinary fifth-grade classroom are waiting to meet their brand-new teacher, Madame Poitier (Miss Pointy). As the story unfolds, the students realize that as far as teachers go, they have hit the jackpot. Miss Pointy is a teacher like no other. She's the teacher they've been waiting for, the teacher who will forever change their lives. We feel the way those fictional fifth graders felt. As far as (future) daughters-in-law/sisters-in-law go, we have hit the jackpot. Emma is a girl like no other. She's the girl we've been praying for, the girl who will forever change our family. We Got Her. We Got Her. We Got Emma!

Emma and Darton, 2017


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Our Daily Bread

I was thinking recently about the ways moms provide for their kids throughout their lives. One of the first and most crucial needs they fill is hunger. In fact, for the first few years of life, most of the food we eat comes from Mom. As you grow older, you start to have more choices about the food you eat and more opinions about when, where, and how you eat meals. You might chafe against the "clean plate club" rule or wish you could go out for pizza with friends instead of being home for family dinners. Then one day you're out of the house and on your own for meals, and you remember how good your mom's Swiss steak and mashed potatoes tasted on Sunday afternoons or how exciting it was to see the fogged-up windows when you came home from play practice because you knew that meant it was spaghetti night. You look forward to coming home for visits to eat Mom's home-cooking again. It's something kids never really outgrow. But twice now, with Steve's mom and my own, I've seen that moms start to outgrow their ability to provide those meals. As with so many parts of the parent-child relationship (the last time you held your parent's hand, the last time your family all went somewhere together in the family car), you don't usually realize while you're eating it, that it's the last meal your mom is going to make for you. My mom's home-cooked meals are a thing of the past. The last time I visited her in her new little personal care apartment, she offered me a cup of coffee, but she couldn't even quite remember how to operate her Keurig.

If you were raised in a family like mine, it wasn't just physical food your mom provided, she also nourished you spiritually. You probably took for granted the daily bread she provided: everything from her little wooden music box full of Bible verses on small colored cards that played "Standing on the Promises," to the familiar sight of her well-worn black leather Bible with its onion-skin pages and the flat red pencil she kept tucked in its spine for neatly underlining favorite verses, to her helping you memorize Luke 2 and the first chapter of John. As you grew older, your spiritual diet started being supplemented at Bible Club and youth group meetings, and those new tastes started to seem a little more appealing than the same old spiritual food you got at home. You may have started to get a little impatient with mealtime and bedtime prayers, and you chafed at missing Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night because of evening church. Then one day, you are out on your own, deciding for yourself when and where to go to church and pray and read your Bible.

However, unlike all the physical meals your mom made while you were growing up, the spiritual food she provided continues to nourish you throughout your life. Over the years, you find yourself humming the hymns you heard your mom singing around the house and repeating the same mealtime and bedtime prayers with your own kids that she said with you. And your mom's ability to provide spiritual guidance extends much longer too. For as long as I can remember, every three months, I'd find a fat envelope in my mailbox containing a copy of "Our Daily Bread," a little booklet that contains short daily devotionals I've read steadily over the years. In April, my mom's emergency surgery and the aftermath that changed her life and ours ended that long-standing tradition. The picture above is of the last copy she sent me. For four months now, I've been on my own: I've had to forage around and find my own copies of "Our Daily Bread"; it's been fine, but the ones I've found are one-month versions, rather than the three-month copies she sent, and I miss finding those fat envelopes in my mailbox. Although she can no longer mail me those booklets or make me a meal or a cup of coffee, her ability to feed me spiritually has not ended. Last time I was down, she told me about how she's catching up on her daily Bible reading and thinks she'll make it through Revelation by the end of the year; she played hymns for me on her CD player. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she prays for me and for my kids and for the rest of the family every single day. Some days I think those prayers are the only things keeping me standing, and I hope and pray that for as long as I live, I will follow in her footsteps and "stand on the promises" as firmly and strongly as she has. Thanks for all the food, Mom.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mr. Wendell

In 1985 Steve and I were living in New Hampshire. We had jobs but not careers. Steve's parents had come for a visit, and we were talking about the future. It was a stressful, stomach-churning conversation because we were talking about change, about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. I had more or less decided I wanted to teach high school English, but Steve just wasn't sure what he wanted to do, and that was causing a lot of turmoil all the way around. However, a few months later, we had taken a leap of faith and moved to Fredonia where we were both enrolled education classes. When Ben surprised us a year later, my plans changed gears a bit, but Steve soldiered on. He worked at the college library and did some substitute teaching to make ends meet as he finished his student teaching, got his master's degree, and landed a job at Silver Creek Elementary School. Every school day since the fall of 1988, he's been packing a lunch, grabbing his school bag, and making the drive to Silver Creek. Over the past twenty-nine years, he's had triumphant days, I-can't-do-this-job-for-one-more-minute days, and lots of regular old teaching days. But even on the worst days, he stuck with it, never giving in, never giving up. He made not just a living as a teacher, he made a life for himself and our family, and he's touched the lives of hundreds of students, including this year's valedictorian at Silver Creek. Well, two hours ago Steve left for his last day of teaching; today is his final day with his final class. At morning's end, he'll wave the students off to the busses for the last time. Teachers stay the rest of today and have to report tomorrow as well, but then he'll be done. Forever. Once he catches his breath, I'm counting on him to start staking our claim in the new territory of retirement. But for now, I want to say this: Well done, Mr. Wendell!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saving the Union

Nearly thirty-five years ago, someone (I wish I could remember who) gave Steve and me a set of twenty-four glasses for our wedding. There were eight tall glasses, eight medium-size tumblers, and eight small juice glasses. Over the years, one by one, we've broken all but two: one tall, one small, and it's been a running joke between Steve and me that when those last two glasses break, the marriage will be over. Instead of wrapping them in bubble wrap to preserve our union, we keep them in the cupboard with all the other glasses. I never touch them, but interestingly, Steve uses the small glass every single day, actually twice a day: in the morning for orange juice and in the afternoon for the milk he drinks with his sourdough hard pretzels (don't ask--it's a food quirk I've never understood). So either he thinks it's cheating never to use the glasses, or he's ready for a change! When the kids were home at Christmas, somehow the story of the glasses came up (probably because Steve was tossing the small glass in the air and catching it behind his back--haha). So last night, Darton and Emma arrived for Mother's Day weekend with their dogs, a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, and a bag from a thrift store in Rochester containing, you guessed it: four matching glasses: two tall and two small--thereby saving the union for years to come!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Never Ready

Sixteen years ago, Steve's dad died suddenly. A year later, my dad died, also fairly quickly and unexpectedly. I remember thinking, at the time, I sure hope our moms don't die anytime soon--we can't take any more loss. I felt so lonely, so lost without my dad. I felt as though everyone should be able to see the huge hole I felt right in the center of my body and my life. I told the story of his death to anyone who would listen. And I told the stories of his life to my children and my students. With time, his absence became easier to bear--I stopped seeing his likeness in people I passed on the street. Even though I've never stopped missing him, I learned to live without my dad. One of the main things that made that easier was, of course, that I still had my mom, who at age seventy, was still healthy and active. She visited often and even started calling more to make up for the calls and emails I was no longer getting from Dad. Over the past few years, Mom's been slowing down a bit; she no longer makes the drive to our house by herself, and as a result, we see her less than we used to, but we've adjusted. We go there or we meet my sister halfway and bring Mom back here for a few days. In between visits, we talk fairly often, and Mom writes letters to me to and each of the kids.

But last Saturday, Mom ended up in the emergency room. She had extensive surgery that night, and now, a week later, she is still in ICU. They are beginning to talk about releasing her, but to be honest, we aren't seeing signs that she's ready. She definitely won't be returning to her house now (or ever), and we are not at all sure she's going to make it through this. As my siblings and I have been texting and talking today, I've been trying to fight the fear that's taking hold of me. At supper I finally said out loud to Steve what I've been thinking all day: I'm not ready to be in this world without my mom. And the truth is, I'll never be ready. I can't even imagine life without her. I've always been the kind of person who prepares for the future, who tries to envision and imagine what each new stage will be like and attempts (often futilely) to get ready for it. But this one is beyond me. My only consolation (beyond the biggest consolation--that this life is not all there is) is that there is so much of Mom in me and in my sister and brothers. For the past 57 years, Mom's been pouring herself into us. And when she leaves us, whether it's sooner or later--please let it be later--we will cling to those precious pieces of her that are planted deep in our hearts and minds and memories.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Times They Are a Changin'

I've written about our muddled Easter traditions before, but for the most part, some or all of the family has usually managed to be together for some or all of Easter weekend. This year, however, our family is scattered: Em and Tuck are spring-breaking in Florida, and Darton and Emma are celebrated Easter in Rochester with Emma's family. They were all home less than a month ago, and I wasn't expecting anyone for Easter, but I'm still missing my kids. Like so many other things, our Easter traditions, such as they were, are changing too. It's been a couple of years since I filled Easter baskets and much longer since I hid black jelly beans on the black piano keys. But this year, I didn't even hang my pastel Easter lights or dig out my carrot-shaped candles, and there's no lemon truffle pie waiting in the fridge for Easter dinner. Instead, Steve and I spent a good bit of Easter Saturday filling out his retirement forms and worrying about our moms and the future, and things were feeling a bit bleak. But then, as it always does, Easter morning arrived filled with hope and promise. And we've just come home from a lovely Easter service where we were reminded that "the best is yet to come." So we are hanging on to that hope today. To top it all off, good ol' Ben, who lives in town, will be here for dinner tonight (and although there is no lemon truffle pie, we do have Easter M&M cookies)!

Happy Easter, one and all!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Loaves and Fishes (A Story)

The following is a departure from my usual blog entries, both in style and length. It's a story I've been working on, based on the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and I thought, with Easter approaching, now might be a good time to post it.

Photo by Tim Nichols

Eli kicked off his covers, yawned and stretched, then peered out his window at the new morning. The sun had just barely cleared the hills on the far side of the lake, but it was already beaming a narrow, golden path across the dark water. Eli often dreamed he could walk across the water on that bright ribbon of light to the dark, mysterious hills beyond the sea. This was Eli’s favorite time of day. He sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the sky grow lighter as the sun rose higher. The ripples on the surface of the lake began to sparkle in the sunlight. Eli straightened the blankets on his bed and shoved his feet into his still-damp sandals.
            Eli’s mother had been up long before the sun and was putting the last of the day’s flat barley loaves on the hearth to bake. She smiled when she saw her son’s face appear in the doorway. Even though he was fast becoming a young man, she could often see glimpses of the little boy he used to be in his face.  She could also see a new restlessness in his eyes. She placed her hand against his cheek for a moment when he stooped to kiss her good morning, leaving behind a trace of barley flour on the smooth brown skin.
“Don’t be long,” she said.  “Breakfast will be ready soon, and I may need you to stay with Hannah for a while this morning.”
            Eli ducked out the door and jogged down to the water’s edge, as he had done every morning for as long as he could remember. He gazed across the water at the hills on the other side again and wondered for a moment what life was like outside his small village. Then he picked up a flat stone and skipped it out across the water before he began searching the water’s edge for any treasures that had washed up during the night. His search was interrupted by the hum of voices in the distance. He glanced up and saw a crowd of people gathering near the one of the fishermen’s boats.
“Mother,” he called, “I’ll be right back.”
            He hurried toward the growing crowd, fearing the worst – that one of the village fishermen had been lost. But when he got closer, he realized the voices didn’t sound sober and worried, as they had when his father’s boat had washed up on the shore in pieces. No, this time they sounded bubbly and excited, and there were many people he didn’t recognize, people from other villages. He melted into the edge of the crowd to listen. 
            “He’s in a boat, headed toward Bethsaida. If we hurry we can meet him there,” said a tall man Eli didn’t know. 
            “Who are they talking about?” Eli asked a boy his age who seemed to know the man who had spoken.
            “Jesus! And his disciples. My papa says he’s a miracle worker. He thinks maybe he can heal my bad leg." 
            For the first time, Eli noticed the boy was leaning on a wooden walking stick. He glanced down to see a crooked, withered leg. He quickly glanced away, not wanting to make him feel uncomfortable. When he looked back at the boy’s face, he saw a friendly grin. 
           "Don’t worry about it. I’m used to people taking a second glance. You should come along with us!” the boy said, as they noticed the crowd beginning to edge down the shoreline.
“I have to ask permission,” Eli said. “I’ll be right back – I hope!” 
“Hurry,” said the boy, “I can move pretty fast, even with my bad leg, and I know my father won’t want to waste any time getting there.”
Eli raced up the shore to his house. “Mother, Mother!” he yelled as he burst into the house.
            “Eli, what’s the matter?” his mother asked, looking up in alarm. “Where have you been?”
 “There’s a big crowd of people who are going to listen to Jesus. They say
he can do miracles. There’s a boy with a lame leg, and even his father thinks Jesus can heal it. Mother, please can I go with them? Please?”
            Eli’s mother looked down at her son; again she saw the restlessness and the pleading in his eyes. “I wish your father was here to go with you. I’d go myself, but Hannah woke up with a fever this morning. Oh, Eli, couldn’t you wait and go another time?” 
            “Mama, there might not be another time. Please, please let me go.”
            As soon as she heard it, she realized he hadn’t called her ‘Mama’ for a long time, maybe not ever since his father died. He was trying so hard to grow up, and she knew she must try equally hard to let him.
“All right, Eli,” she said slowly, “you can go, but stay with the people from the village.”
            “Thanks, Mama!” he said as he kissed her cheek for the second time that morning.  He turned toward the door. 
            “Wait,” she said; “you haven’t had any breakfast.
            “Mama, I don’t have time. I have to catch up.”
            “Let me pack you a lunch to take with you then. Here, there are only two fish left, but there’s a lot of bread.” She placed the fish and several of her smooth flat loaves of freshly baked bread into a bag for him.
With a grin and a wave, he was out the door. Eli’s feet flew along the dusty path as he raced to catch up with the crowd.  Though it was still early, the sun was already bright and hot. As the road wound up the hillside, Eli was almost dizzy with his independence and the beauty of the day; he felt as though he’d never seen a bluer sky. 
The crowd slowed to a stop at an open grassy place, and Eli heard a rich warm voice begin to speak. He slipped through the crowd almost unnoticed as he made his way closer and closer to Jesus. He guessed most of the people he wriggled past thought he was going to join his family. It seemed as though the crowd was made up of men and their families. On one hand, he wished his mother and Hannah were here with him, and of course, he really wished his father were here, but he’d been wishing that every day for the past year.  On the other hand, though, it was an adventure being here on his own in this big crowd.  He found a little spot not far from Jesus where he settled down and began to listen intently to Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God.
As the day wore on, Eli felt himself relaxing more than he had in a long, long time. The months following his father’s death hadn’t been easy, and it was a relief to just be here by himself being a kid again instead of trying to be the man of the household. A couple of times, it seemed to him that Jesus’ kind eyes looked right at him, and he found himself sitting up straighter and wishing the day would never end. Just being near Jesus made him feel less sad and more hopeful. 
When Jesus began healing people, Eli watched in wonder. Suddenly, he caught sight of the boy he’d met this morning in the crowd in front of Jesus. He caught his breath and stood to watch him make his way to the front. Jesus looked into the boy’s eyes and said something that made the boy nod and smile as if they were old friends. Then Jesus touched his crooked leg and said some more words as he looked up toward the heavens. There were tears streaming down the boy’s cheeks as Jesus took the homemade crutch from under the boy’s arm, and the boy stood up straight, flexed his legs, then grinned and turned to find his papa. But then he whipped back around and threw his arms around Jesus before running, yes—running through the crowd and into his father’s arms.  Eli swallowed hard and blinked back his own tears at what he’d just witnessed.  Strangely, as happy as he was for the boy, he was also feeling a little bit jealous, even though he’d had two good legs his whole life. He longed to feel Jesus’ gentle touch and then be able to run to his own father’s arms. 
When he looked back at Jesus, he saw several of his followers clustered around him. They were talking in low, tense voices, but he couldn’t make out their words. The men seemed distressed as they gestured towards the crowds of people. Jesus didn’t look worried though, and as his followers moved out into the crowds, Eli thought he might have seen a little smile flicker across Jesus’ face. 
Eli watched the men move from group to group. They seemed to be looking for something or someone. Soon, one of the men came over to the grassy patch where Eli and some other families were sitting.
“Do any of you have any food? Any bread?” the man asked. 
No one, it seemed, had even thought about food—until now, and suddenly everyone was hungry. Eli was surprised to see how low the sun had slipped in the sky. He’d been so wrapped up in watching Jesus, he hadn’t even thought about eating the lunch he’d brought. He grabbed his bag of bread and fish and held it up.
“I do,” he said quietly. 
As the man made his way toward him, Eli looked in the bag and saw that his mother had put in five loaves of her good barley bread along with the two fish.  The smell of the bread made Eli’s stomach growl, and he thought for a minute about keeping one of the little loaves for himself and giving the rest to the man.  But he felt the eyes of the crowd on him, so when the man reached him, he handed over his whole lunch. The man peered in the bag and shook his head, muttering, “What good is one lunch among so many?” But he thanked Eli and continued moving through the crowds, searching for more food. 
Eli settled back into his spot, waiting to see what would happen next.  When he glanced up at Jesus, he gulped—Jesus was looking at him—for sure this time. And he was smiling. The proud look in Jesus’ eyes reminded Eli of the look his father used to give him when he’d done something especially good or kind. Eli smiled back and gave a little wave. Jesus’ eyes crinkled at the corners and he looked as though he was about to laugh. Instead he gave a little wave back and mouthed, Thank you. Suddenly Eli knew this was a man he would never want to disappoint. He was so very glad he hadn’t kept one of the loaves for himself. In fact, he wished he had another lunch or something else to give. 
He watched as Jesus turned his attention to the disciples who were gathering around him. They were all empty-handed except the man holding Eli’s lunch. They seemed to be arguing among themselves or maybe with Jesus. 
            Meanwhile, the crowd of people, reminded of their empty stomachs, had grown restless. They were on their feet; Eli felt them pressing forward, almost like a wave in the sea. He scrambled to the top of the big rock he’d been leaning against, so he could still see Jesus. If Jesus ate one of his mother’s good loaves of barley bread, he wanted to watch, so he could tell his mother about it when he got home. 
            Sure enough, the man who had taken Eli’s lunch handed it over to Jesus.  Jesus said something, and the man turned and pointed at Eli. Eli smiled shyly from the top of the big rock. Jesus smiled back and gave Eli a look he never forgot. It was a look of promise—it was almost as if Jesus was saying, You are safe with me. I am going to take care of you. 
Jesus turned his attention back to the restless crowd and soon the disciples were asking everyone to sit down in groups of fifty people. Once everyone was seated, a hush fell over the hillside.
Jesus took Eli’s five smooth loaves of bread, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks. Eli’s brow furrowed as he watched, and his heart began to beat faster. What would the hungry crowd do if Jesus ate in front of them? Jesus broke the first loaf of bread into pieces and put them into a basket one of the disciples handed to him. He did the same with the second loaf and the third. As Eli watched, wide-eyed, basket after basket started filling up with bread. Somehow, his little loaves were multiplying. The disciples started moving among the groups of people passing out bread. The more pieces Jesus gave away, the more there were. Then he did the same with the two little salted fish. Before long, everyone was talking and laughing as they munched on the bread and fish from Eli’s lunch. The women around Eli complimented his mother’s fine baking. Eli murmured his thanks as he nibbled at his bread and fish. He couldn’t take his eyes off Jesus, who continued to pass out baskets of bread and fish to the disciples until everyone was fed. 
Eli watched Jesus serve bread and fish to each of the hungry disciples.  He went around the circle, putting a hand on one man’s shoulder, leaning in close to whisper something in another’s ear, tousling the hair of the youngest disciple. Eli wished he were older and could be in that close circle. He’d give anything to feel Jesus’ hand on his shoulder or to hear his voice whispering something just for him in his ear. What was it about him that made Eli feel this way? All of a sudden, Eli realized something: although Jesus had made sure everyone else had plenty to eat, including his own disciples, unless Eli had missed it, he had not taken even one bite himself. 
Soon the disciples were on their feet again moving around the crowd of people. After awhile, each of the men came back to Jesus with a basket full of leftover bread and fish. People near Eli were talking in low, hushed tones about Jesus. Who was this man, they wondered, who could take two fish and five loaves of bread and feed thousands of people and still have food leftover. When Eli turned back toward Jesus, he saw him calmly helping himself to some of the leftovers, seemingly unaware of the buzz in the crowd over what had just happened. Eli watched as Jesus put a little piece of fish between two small pieces of bread, closed his eyes and bowed his head for a moment, then popped the little sandwich into his mouth. Almost immediately, he reached for more bread. Then, as if he felt Eli’s eyes on him, he turned and beckoned to him.
Eli jumped to his feet and hurried over to Jesus, dodging in and out of the groups of people who were gathering up children, fastening sandals, and preparing to head back to their homes.
One of Jesus’ followers saw Eli coming and blocked his path, saying kindly but firmly, “It’s time to go, son. Jesus is tired.”
But almost instantly, Jesus was there, gently moving the man aside. “I’m never too tired to talk to children, especially this young man whose mother bakes such delicious bread. Please tell her how much we all enjoyed it,” he said to Eli. “It reminds me of the bread my own mother makes.” Then he put a hand on each of Eli’s shoulders pulled him close for a minute. Jesus’ rough tunic smelled of sun and sea and freshly-baked bread. Eli threw his arms around Jesus’s waist just as he’d seen his friend do earlier. Jesus bent his head and whispered quietly in Eli’s ear. Eli looked up at Jesus, his eyes brimming with tears. Then he nodded and smiled and gave Jesus one more quick hug before he turned and headed for home.


Eli grew from boyhood to manhood. Eventually he left his small village behind and explored the mysterious hills beyond the sea. Like most lives, Eli’s was filled with great joy as well as great sorrow. Throughout the good times and the hard times, Eli carried with him the memory of the afternoon on the hillside when he gave Jesus all that he had, and Jesus took what he offered and made a miracle. He held Jesus’ words close to his heart and shared them often with his children, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren and with anyone else who would listen: “Anything is possible to those who believe.

Story based on the Bible, particularly the following passages:
Matthew 14:13 – 21
Mark 6:30 – 44 and 9:23
Luke 9:10 – 17

John 6:1 – 15