Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clean Hearts

We are learning about the Beatitudes in our children's midweek program at church, and I am privileged to be one of the leaders. An advantage of being a leader is the discipline of attentiveness. Because of the time spent in preparation, my heart is attentive to how other parts of life fit into the truth I am hoping to engage with the children.

We are nearly through the Beatitudes. Our verse was Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are those whose hearts are clean, they will see God."  Other versions interpret the blessing to be for those whose hearts are pure. Either way, a complicated concept for children, or so I thought.

The timing of this beatitude lesson was serendipitous. We had not planned for it to work out this way, but our lesson happened to fall on Ash Wednesday, which this year was four days after Valentine's Day. It was good timing for focusing on clean hearts. We chose to participate with the other age groups of the church in the Ash Wednesday service during the last 20 minutes of our time together.

The children begin with music,  and our leaders, not knowing of our choice to talke about clean hearts, never-the-less chose songs about clean hearts. 

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, O Lord, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." 

"Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for you."

I have no idea how much the children thought about the words they were singing, but the words met a need in me to see that God  was present and active, and that the lesson was more in God's hands than it was in mine.

I had worked long days babysitting in the three days leading up to this lesson and had only been able to give the lesson cursory attention. It was not planned in the way I liked to plan. I did not have the details in my head well enough to be sure that I could convey to the children the questions I had, the explanations that would help them to explore their own faith journey. I came to church with the materials only partly prepared and my heart anxious and frantic. Not a good way to teach. 

During our drive to church, with three little grands in the back who  were tired and hungry, I wondered how the lesson would go. Maybe it was God, or maybe just the wisdom that comes from experience, but my thoughts were turned to the truth that  for the kids, no one lesson ever stands out as pivotal in their faith. Rather it is people who love them, who respect them and nurture is relationship that is pivotal. No matter how my lesson went, I could definitely offer relationship, because I do truly love each of the children who come.

We sat in a circle after music and read through the verse together, talking about our ideas of what it meant to have a clean heart. 

We talked about Ash Wednesday, about Lent, about remembering Jesus fasting and being tempted in the desert, about the tradition of giving up something or taking on something new as a practice to strengthen ourselves spiritually as we look forward to Easter. 
Jesus gave up food and took on prayer. 
They could choose. 
Did they want to try a Lenten practice? 
Did they want to give up sweets, or tv, or video games, or any habit they wished they could be free of for a while? 
Did they want to take on prayer, or gratitude, or acts of kindness, or good habits they had been wanting to try?

There was  active discussion with earnestness mixed with silliness. They took home a Lenten calendar and a small paper on which they could choose to write down a Lenten practice to which they would commit themselves. Some began writing right away.  Others  gave it more thought or laid it aside. Some came to me to share their decision. Some came again more than once to share how they were thinking it through and tweaking their practice to make it something  to which they could give themselves.

We had a snack and then quietly went upstairs to the Ash Wednesday service, where we sat together in the front rows. This is not a quiet group of children, but on this night, as on Ash Wednesday last year, they quickly grasped the solemnity of the occasion and sat in silence, singing or reading along with the hymns, listening to the scriptures, and choosing whether or not to go forward to be given the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads.

One of the scriptures read was Psalm 51, which includes the words of the song we had sung earlier in the evening. Here are some excerpts that were meaningful for me as I listened to the words with children  seated around me.

"Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness;
according to the greatness of your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin....
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which you have broken rejoice...
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit."

As  we left, individuals still came to me with more ideas about their Lenten practices. It was an evening of grace, of reminders that this is God's  work and not mine. My part is small and God had used others to orchestrate a full and blessed evening  focused on Jesus, and on purifying our hearts as Jesus did.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Worship and Grief

A few Sundays ago the topic for worship was... worship. Our text was Psalm 100, one of the twelve texts our church has chosen as foundational. Our sermon included the truth that worship is active.
  • Make a joyful noise
  • Come before him with joyful songs
  • Know that the Lord is God
  • Enter his gates
  • Give thanks
  • Praise his name
It also included the truth that we worship because of who God is and because of who we are. God is good. God is creator. God loves forever and is faithful forever. We are created, the sheep of his pasture.

Worship is a return to the foundational truth of our lives.

It is good to ponder this when some foundations seem to be shaken by the deaths of our fathers. No matter what happens, these things are still true.

I know that grief is different for everyone. Some find that heaven seems very near when someone close to them has died. That has not been true for me. The most real thing to me is the finality of loss. It doesn't matter how many times I walk into a living room and glance toward a recliner, there will not be a dad in that chair.

I've always been slow to be able to adjust to loss. It seems to be almost organic in the way it happens for me. I know that my mind will fight with reality for a time, and that I can't control how long that fight will last. I know that there will be several days in a row when it seems like that fight is over, and then it will come back fresh. I know that if several days go by without any sadness, that tears will come unbidden even when I'm absorbed in something unrelated to my losses. And I know that when I struggle with sadness or any other difficult emotion, for me it will be a spiritual struggle as well as an emotional one.

This time around, I have been so aware of how wrong death seems. Not wrong as in too soon, for both our dad's lived full lives, but wrong because it is so hard to comprehend it being over, at least in this world.

I know that with our physiology, living forever is not possible and that wishing for it would be wishing for an everlasting helplessness after our vigorous years are over.

At the same time, the change from here to gone is so huge. It is abhorrent.

There is something that fights against it even as I push to accept it.

It is a mystery. Maybe that is all that can be said.

During that Sunday morning worship service about worship, several from the congregation shared about what worship means to them. One thing especially was memorable to me.  “Worship is a place where the distance between heaven and earth becomes small.”

Those words came back to me this week when I had a dream about Dad.

In the dream, I was going to the local private college to hear a concert of sacred music sung by a men's choir. I knew that Dad would be there. As I entered the auditorium I was surprised to see Dad seated in the front row of the choir, with other older men I did not recognize filling the row on either side of him. The rest of the choir was made up of younger men, including my son, who was in the row behind Dad. As the singing began, Dad sang with a smile on his face, enjoying the music. A bird had somehow gotten into the building and as it flew among the rafters, the choir smiled and watched it as they sang. All of their faces brightened, and they seemed to be singing to or with the bird as it flew above us. But mostly I remember Dad's face. It wasn't some ethereal smile or anything like that. It was just him, enjoying singing together while something delightful was happening in the room. I did not have a sense that he was aware of me.

I don't know anything about the interpretation of dreams, but I'm grateful for this one. The bird seems important, as does the smile on Dad's face as he sang sacred music and watched the bird soaring above him. I'm grateful for the dream, and for the ability to remember it daily. I'm grateful for the words of my friend. 

Worship is a place where the distance between heaven and earth becomes small.

thanks to Jerry Jost for sharing his photograph

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Another goodbye

Middle of the night phone calls always catch at the heart. And so it was on January 10, when the phone rang in the night, signalling the end of Chuck's dad's life. Chuck left quickly for the hospital where he met his siblings and his mom, where they sang "Thank the Lord With Bounteous Measure" one last time in the presence of that beloved body, now empty of the soul.

I remained at home, breathing in and out, waiting for the phone to ring again with the news that we were again being plunged into that other reality that is the time between death and the new normal. This is a time of gathering, of being held gently by our community, of remembering, of making plans and choosing how to honor a life, of telling stories, eating food we did not cook, writing thank you notes, gathering photos, and especially in this family, of making music together.

In both the deaths of our fathers, gratitude has been the strongest emotion in those days between the time of death until after the memorial celebration is over. Grief is strong as well, but it takes a bigger role afterwards. 

In our case there was gratitude for so many things:

a life lived fully with so much love offered not only to family but to many many friends and acquaintances

small personal jokes between Edwin and so many of the children, in-laws, and grand-children

Edwin's ability to draw others in and include them

the music that Edwin shared with his children, grandchildren, and friends

the faith that was important to him and that he passed on

the ability for such a large group of family members to plan together a burial and a service that honored so well the man they loved

evening time with family spent making the music that Edwin had led us in so many times before

overwhelming sense of how very many people loved Edwin and love us

I did not call him Edwin. I chose to learn to call him Dad. He did not take the place of my own dad but he became a beloved second dad to me. His joke with me, and with other non-coffee drinkers, was to offer coffee whenever we were together. He was generous and affectionate, and those who knew him also knew they were loved. I'm grateful to have married into this family and had the opportunity to call him Dad.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


We have a new dog. That has been more of a mixed bag than I anticipated.

The house was so quiet and I really wanted the comfort of a dog to ease the sad feelings I was having as I grieve the losses. I started looking for labradoodles and it was a complicated process with lots of phone calls, many web sites with puppies, research, more phone calls, discussion, phone calls. It was probably obsessive.

We kind of moved our sites from labradoodles to goldendoodles. At first I wanted to have a dog that had a similar temperament to Harvey without looking too much like him and I got excited about some chocolate colored puppies that cost more than we could afford.

We kept looking. We wanted a dog from Kansas. We wanted to buy from a breeder who spent time socializing the puppies. We finally found a puppy raised indoors by a woman who raises therapy dogs. Both his parents are therapy dogs. They are also smaller examples of their breeds, so this pup will likely grow to be around 50 pounds, instead of the 75 pounds that Harvey had reached. The breeder had begun house training the pups and they knew they had to sit to be petted.

Because of the holidays coming up, that head start on training really appealed to me, although I  was ambivalent about having a smaller dog than Harvey. Chuck appealed to my sense of self preservation by reminding me how hard it was to hold on to Harvey when he got excited about another dog.

We wanted the one male left in the litter but we did not have a name. We had 20-30 names, none of which really grabbed either of us. It was the night before we had arranged to go get the puppy, and I was still stewing about names. Chuck said that he wanted to sleep on it, so we went to bed.

In the morning I was thinking about Dad, and about Harvey, and about names. I remembered the Katzenjammer twins and got up to google them and find out their names. One was Hans and the other was Fritz. I remembered Dad calling us 'schnicklefritz' when we were ornery or silly. Fritz seemed good to me, so I told Chuck about it. He thought about it for a while and suggested calling the pup Laurence Schicklefritz Katzenjammer, Fritz for short. We threw out the list because this was a name we could easily agree on.

Tim came along to help with the driving and Mom came to spend the day with us. We were gone about 8 hours total.

When we picked up Fritz, I had a lot of mixed feelings. He was so small. The woman who raised him was not really a 'people person' and was it was hard to connect with her. What if I wasn't getting what I thought I was getting?

But he clearly loved being held, which indicated that he had been handled a lot. He did sit to be petted. He was soft and fluffy and cute.

Fritz is a different dog than Harvey, more energetic, and also more hesitant about new experiences. He is easily over-stimulated and needs help calming himself. He is cute in a different way, more fluffy and small instead of oversized and clumsy.

So learning to be Fritz's owner has come with its challenges. It is a reminder that there are new things to learn with every new dog. Just as with each child all the things you thought you knew are challenged, so with each new puppy.

I read the training books and watch the videos from Sophia Yin, a wonderful dog trainier who passed away last year. I remember being surprised to hear her say that she still learns more about dogs with each new one she meets. She even has a video of herself working with a problem dog and trying different interventions until she finds one that this dog responds to.

So it is with Fritz. I'm trying the things that worked well with Harvey and finding that Fritz is a different dog with his own personality. It is a good personality. But it also brings me up short sometimes. I'd made assumptions based on fantasy, that I could just repeat Harvey's training with a few fixes of the things I did wrong and everything would be smooth.

Patience is a virtue. Fritz is working his way into my heart. On days when I am most frustrated there will be a new step of improvement, and new understanding on my part or on his. He is a sweet and smart individual and I am learning to love him as the individual he Fritz, while I still grieve the loss of Harvey.

He had been to church with us and has blessed me with the friendship of the children again.
Fritz sleeping on the lap of my friend
I have a new friend. We don't stop making new friends while we grieve the loss of old friends. Hopefully we do not force our new friends to be clones of our old friends. I hope that someday Fritz will become a great therapy dog. I think it is possible. He will be a different kind of therapy dog than Harvey would have been. And even if bing a therapy dog proves not to work out, Fritz will be my good friend.
Tuckeered out from play and asleep on his "spot", adorable and loveable.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


On November 15, 2013 we met Harvey.

I had been wanting to get a puppy while we still had Mattie, because I believed she would have a calming influence on a young dog, and would make training easier. We tried one dog from the local shelter, whom I loved, but who was afraid of Chuck. When we took her back I started looking for labradoodles and goldendoodles. We found a litter of puppies in Hutchinson and made the decision to go for it.

As I was leaving to pick up the puppy I called out to Chuck, "I have no ideas for a name. Do you have any?"

Chuck loves learning Spanish and one of his techniques is to watch movies dubbed in Spanish. His favorite at the time was a Jimmy Stewart movie about a 6 ft. invisible rabbit named Harvey.

He called out, "What about Harvey?"

It was perfect.

Two days after we brought home this big bundle of fun, Mattie woke up obviously in her final hours. We skipped church that morning and sat with her as her life slipped away.
Harvey's first big outing was to Camp Mennoscah for a weekend celebration of my parents' 60th anniversary on Thanksgiving weekend of 2013.
His second trip was a weekend away with us at Red Hills Retreat, owned by Jeremy and Jyl Ewy in February.

We took him on vacation to O'Haver Lake campground, west of Salida, Colorado where he had a great time in the van, in motels, in the campground and on hikes.
H didn't quite fit on a seat in the van but he would try valiantly until it became to uncomfortable and then he would sleep on the floor.

admiring Chuck's catch

Throughout his life, Harvey was a regular attender at our home church, First Mennonite Church in Newton, KS. He was a big hit with the kids, even winning over some who had previously been quite afraid of dogs.

 He was huge, as you can see from the pictures. In the mornings Chuck would often get up first and let Harvey out of his crate and greet him. Then Harvey would make his way to me, still in bed. He would lay his huge head next to me on the bed and wait for his morning neck massage.

I was planning to work with him as a therapy dog and have been actively training him since we got him. He still had some work to do. It took a long time to learn to walk with a loose leash but we finally got that figured out. He still did not know how to calmly meet another dog. He just got too excited and I was still reading everything I could get my hands on to find the training method that would work for him. (I think I found the right book for that particular problem after he died, so I'll have that info for future use.)

We also had not figured out the best way to keep him from getting on the road. He mostly went there when he was following our other dog, who was a car chaser, so we usually tied up the other dog when we let Harvey out. That worked well. 

But when our lives turned toward saying our goodbyes to Dad, our vigilance relaxed. Chuck was on the phone with me, checking up on things when Harvey needed to go out. In the few minutes it took to finish that call, the dogs had taken off after a car. George made it across. Harvey ran into the car. He had lived with us 364 days.

We have a new pup, whom I will introduce sometime in the future. He is great. 

He does not take Harvey's place. We miss him every day. Chuck has been building fences in his sleep every night and has figured out his plan and priced the materials. But his morning run without Harvey is a pretty lonely time of day.

We are grateful for Harvey, and for the way he touched so many lives beyond our own.
Taken a few days before Harvey died.

Invitation to play

Friday, November 21, 2014

Saying Hard Good-byes

We call this the 'Norman Rockwell' photo, Dad holding me with Grandma Bartel and Aunt Lola helping and looking on
During the thumb-sucking days
I haven't written in a long time, and part of that has been because my siblings and I have been walking with my parents through multiple health issues for my Dad. 

We celebrated his memorial yesterday with things that were part of the man we knew him to be: rousing hymns and a capella men's quartet music and storytelling and scripture. Pastor Anita had a meditation that so well wove the chosen scripture, Psalm 103, in and through the man she and we knew him to be. So many people came, ate with us, and joined us for a lovely hymn sing, accompanied by the incomparable Donna Stucky. It was a wonderful day.

And now...I just miss him. I'm so terribly grateful for a father with whom I have no negative stuff to work through. If I have to do grief, it is this kind of grief I'll do with gratitude.

I'm adding the story that I wrote with the help of my brothers and sister to be read during the service.
The last hot dog roast at our rural home, roasting hot dogs over the fire made of our broken up pool table.
Last family photo at the country place.
Laurence Edwin Bartel
July 19, 1931 – November 15, 2014

This morning we will attempt to share who Dad was. Words can't really do that. Every time someone has written something about our family it has seemed that somehow our lives are smaller on paper than they are in the actual living. With that in view, we'll try to do our best to give you a glimpse into Dad.

As a side note, our comments are printed and will be available as you leave the sanctuary this morning, but for now, let's just remember Dad together, all in the same breath.

Dad could cut corn from the cob faster than anyone else in the family. People find it hard to believe that our family used single edge razor blades to remove the corn from the cob. Dad held his with a vice grip.

He cut corn the way he did everything, with energy and stamina. After he retired, Dad decided to stop the creek east of our house from creeping towards the shed by lining the banks of the creek with something permanent. He found a source for old concrete removed from roads and bought a concrete saw. He cut the concrete into rectangular blocks, lifted them to the back of his truck, and brought them home where he laid them into a beautiful retaining wall that stretches 150-200 feet and ranges from 3 feet tall in some spots to over 8 feet high in others. Then he carefully back filled topsoil right up to the wall so that he could mow with a wheel of the mower on the wall, preventing the need to string trim that area.
Building the retaining wall

Enjoying the finished results
Dad had an ornery streak from the beginning. We've been told that in Drake,Saskatchewan, the hometown of Dad's youth, he and his brother Wilmer were known as the Katzenjammer boys. After looking up Katzenjammer the other night to find out what that meant, we learned that the name comes from a comic strip about two brothers who pulled pranks on authority figures which inevitably ended in a spanking for the brothers. We don't know how often Dad and Wilmer's pranks ended in trouble because all the people who refer to them that way are smiling with fond memories.

Dad committed his life to God sometime in his youth and was baptized in the North Star Mennonite Church, where his father was one of the lay pastors. Dad had an older sister who had a reputation for sometimes being bossy and opinionated. My siblings and I can remember hearing relatives lovingly joke about her eccentricities, and when that would happen, Dad would agree that yes, she was bossy sometimes. Then he would add that when he realized he wanted to become a committed Christian, he looked for someone who knew what that meant. It was easy for him to see that Aunt Leona was a person who could help him and she was the one who prayed with him.
Dad's family at our parents' wedding. Back row; Leila, Wilmer, Grandpa Bartel, Leona, Etta holding Jan, and Peter (Etta's husband) with Ken
Front row: Verna (Wilmer's wife), Grandma Bartel, Dad and Mom, Myrial

Mom's family from left to right; LaWanda and Emerson, Marge and Marvin, Dad and Mom, Grandpa and Grandma Schmidt, Bob, Dorothy, Lola
Dad and Mom celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this November. They met at a wedding in Canada. Mom was a high school student from Hillsboro, Kansas, and Dad a twenty year old from Drake. When they showed interest in each other, both of them were warned. Dad's sister wondered why Dad would date a 'painted doll', because Mom chose to wear makeup. Mom was told that Dad dated all the new girls. Maybe he was just looking for Mom. At any rate, after writing letters and a few trips to Kansas, they chose each other. They got engaged at about the time she graduated from high school and while she still wears makeup, he did not date any other new girls.
November 7, 1953
Their initial dream was to farm in Canada and Dad had arranged with a farmer near Drake to work together and to gradually take over the farm. Dad was to receive a percentage of livestock sales as his living allowance. Mom and Dad moved to a small, cold, drafty house in the country after their November wedding in 1953. It had a small wood stove and when the fire was hot it glowed red. But the fire didn't last through the night and in the mornings the pot of water on the stove would be frozen solid. The steps to the basement served as the refrigerator. Sometimes rats would help themselves to the leftovers. There was electricity, but no bathroom. There was a path to an outhouse.

Mom was desperately homesick, but also a brave trooper. However, when the first livestock was sold and no money was forthcoming, the intentions of the older farmer had to be clarified. The living wage would come from the sales of cattle that were born after Dad moved to the farm, meaning that for two years Dad and Mom would have no income.
They moved off the farm and Dad worked several months at the local Co-op run by his older brother. Since nothing was keeping them in Drake, they decided to move to Kansas. Initially Dad helped Mom's parents in doing some work on their home, and they attended Brudertal Mennonite Church, where they had been married. Dad taught a Sunday School class of young adults there. He says that on one occasion he made remarks questioning the idea of driving past the churches that are close in order to attend one that is farther away.

When the work on our grandparents' home was complete, Dad decided to do 1-W service. Although he was not a U.S. citizen, he was concerned that military service might be required of him, and he believed in pacifism. Another concern was the rule that 1-W service had to be completed at a site at least 100 miles away from home. The authorities allowed Dad to list Canada as his home, enabling him to complete his service in Newton. He and Mom moved to town and lived across the street from Bethel Deaconess Hospital where he fulfilled his term. The young adults in his Brudertal Sunday School class reminded him of his remarks about driving past churches to attend other churches and Dad listened. They became members of First Mennonite Church, which was only blocks away from their little upstairs apartment, and their membership remains there today.

Dad did the 1-W service as part of avoiding military service, but volunteering his labor was a constant value to him. He participated in many Mennonite Disaster Service projects both nearby and far away. When Bev was in college, Annette in high school, Larry was eight and Randy was five, Dad was given a three month sabbatical because of his years of employment at Prairie View. He chose to spend half of it doing voluntary service, so our whole family moved to Wichita for six weeks to work with housing repair. Three of Bev's children had the privilege of being co-participants with Dad on multi-generational work trips. He also served as he could here at home, showing up for church work days and serving on numerous committees and boards in the community and at church. His last job at church was as a part of the Caring Fund Committee. He reluctantly resigned from that job when his memory losses affected his ability to manage the checkbook.

Dad's employment experiences include working at the Co-op in North Newton, more than 25 years working at Prairie View as business manager, and then selling VALIC investments until his retirement. Dad loved working with numbers and kept records of everything so his jobs suited him well. Dad never had much patience with sales people who were pushy, so sometimes we wondered how he repeatedly won awards for his high rate of sales at VALIC. One day a satisfied customer explained the technique that was working so well. "He is just such a great guy! He was so honest that people felt bad not buying from him." Another client said, "He was always so kind and caring and understood our values, helping us to make financial decisions accordingly. I don't generally like working with finances but I always felt very comfortable when he was advising us."

Because Dad enjoyed hard work, he also wanted his children to understand a good work ethic. In Dad's mind, Saturday was a great day to get lots of work done, and projects were planned that required our help. We all remember plugging bermuda grass to form the lawn for the rural home Mom and Dad built. We also remember pulling weeds from between those plugs until the runners had filled in the spaces. Hundreds of tiny trees were planted and had to be kept weed free and watered. Larry learned to drive manual transmission so that he could take over moving the pickup with a water tank to the trees across the creek. Dad did not like untamed grasses or low branches so mowing and trimming were regular tasks. And then, of course, there was the garden. Whole days of processing wheelbarrow loads of corn or multiple dishpans overflowing with green beans. And growing season was not the only time of year for work. Dad filled many winter Saturdays teaching his boys the meaning of sore muscles with cutting, splitting and stacking wood for the fireplace. We remember Mom telling us that cartoons are only for little tiny kids. We believed her, and were surprised that some of our high school friends spent their Saturday mornings in their PJs watching cartoons. The yard work paid off with a beautifully landscaped property that provided the backdrop for the weddings of Bev and Chuck, Larry and Alyce, and Laura and Greg. After we grew up and left home Dad helped with home repair and yard work at all our homes, and always humbled us by working faster and harder than we could.

weighing the largest potato from that immense harvest

the wood pile
Dad enjoyed people. There were rarely gaps in conversation when Dad was around, but he did not hog the floor. He seemed to know how to help people relax and enjoy each other. Even when we were just at home without guests, we enjoyed conversation at the supper table, and waited to clear until the conversation was complete. With Men's Quartet, Dad was able to combine his enjoyment of social events with his love of music and singing. The quartet met weekly with their families in tow to practice and have refreshments and conversation.

Dad also enjoyed play. In their early married years Mom and Dad enjoyed playing tennis and having picnics in the park with their young children. Every summer included a trip, nearly always to Canada, but often with side trips to national parks and monuments. Sometimes we camped, pulling a pop up camper and fixing our own meals. Twice we managed to get nearly all children and grandchildren to Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp together for family camp and Dad enjoyed hiking the hardest trails each day. Dad took up skiing with Larry and Randy and made as many as ten to twelve trips to Colorado. Dad attended our games and musical performances, and more recently, the sports and music of his grand- and great grandchildren.

Faith continued to be primary for Dad from the time he asked Leona to pray with him until his death. It was the inspiration for his service, and for his loyalty to the church through all the sweet times as well as the difficult times. Dad served many terms on the Board of Deacons including years when difficult schisms developed around issues we were facing. I don't remember Dad speaking often at those tense congregational meetings, but when he spoke, it was gently, sometimes with tears, as he tried to lead us to more unity in our faith.

One thing we all learned from Dad was a refusal to submit to bitterness and rancor. Even in difficult times or times of conflict, Dad refused to speak ill of anyone and tried to keep good relationships with those with whom he disagreed. He was an example to us of how to live with integrity in difficult times.

In recent years there were two trips that have deep meaning to all of us. The first was a trip to Canada to be present for the memorial service for Dad's older brother, Erwin. We knew that Dad was beginning to show signs of memory loss and three of the children and four grandchildren accompanied Dad and Mom for the trip. Dad had become more quiet in recent years and we wanted to visit the places of his youth with him before the memories were forgotten. As we drove, Dad enjoyed the ride but said little while we chattered and joked across the miles. Upon arrival at the church for the memorial, Dad got out of our van and led us into the church, hand extended, greeting the friends from his past by name and engaging them in conversation. We spent time with family and with friends, visited past homes, job sites, and the home church. Dad's gift for telling stories was back in full force as he regaled us with one after another from his childhood and youth. Seeing the sites at the same time as hearing the stories gave us glimpses into the life and times that molded and shaped him. We continued to ask questions and receive answers on the long drive home on this trip of cherished memories.
visiting at the church
near the barn on the farm where Dad grew up

a car the same model as one Dad drove

with the son of Dad's favorite boss in Drake at the farm where he worked before meeting Mom

The second trip was a weekend stay at the Bluestem cabin at Camp Mennoscah for Dad and Mom's 60th Anniversary. Twenty-one of us, including children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were able to join Dad and Mom for all or part of the weekend of games, walks, slide shows, and sharing cooking and cleanup fun together.

some of us around the table at Bluestem
On Tuesday, November 11, we received results from medical tests which explained Dad's decline in health and made it clear that we would not have long with him. Hospice was started and we gathered in their home. Wednesday was a day filled with good memories. Wide awake and still filled with mischief and teasing, Dad was surrounded by those who love him. After Wednesday, although he no longer could respond to us, it was clear that he could hear us. The closeness we experienced as we cared for Dad together is indescribable. Dad passed from this life early in the morning on Saturday, November 15, 2014.

Throughout this last week, Larry has repeated a phrase that sums up how each of us feels. Dad was an amazing man.

What we've read still does not fully capture who he was, and there are parts of him that you know that we are not aware of. We hope that you will be able to share your stories of him with us during the sharing downstairs, and that you will also join us in singing hymns together as he loved to do.

Larry took this photo about a week before Dad left us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Choosing What Is Important

The list of tasks seems to only grow, with more added and fewer completed.

I headed to the garden Friday late morning, after the sun was already hot because too many tasks kept my morning full. As I reached for the warm red tomatoes, filling two and a half buckets of beautiful and flavorful fruit from the loaded vines, I was also within reach of crab grass that had gone to seed. Six feet away were weeds taller than I am. The corn needed water. The rhubarb was eaten down to just the ribs by some unknown insect. I refused to look at the pole beans to see if there were any to pick. The summer savory bloomed before I found time to pick the sprigs needed to season green bean soup this winter. And that was just the garden.

There is no point in picking the tomatoes if I don't take care of them, so the other tasks would have to wait until that was done.

My time is full.

My closets are full.

My house is full.

Full of stuff and people who need my time.

Stuff usually gets placed on the back burner so that people can take precedent, but eventually stuff can demand a response. There has to be room in the kitchen to cook. There have to be clean clothes to wear. And my stress level needs to be managed by some level of order in at least the main rooms of the house.

If I lived in a tiny house, what would I keep?

If I lived in a smaller life, what would I do?

Yesterday in Sunday School one verse we read was from II Corinthians 6:1 “I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.”

I sometimes tire of blog posts that sound like me from other people who also struggle with unreasonable lists and guilt and shame about the things it was not possible to accomplish. There is strength in being understood, in resonating with the life of another. But today, I want to be able to write about finding the thing that was important to do, and doing it.

On Friday I put those tomatoes into the refrigerator because my 7th grade friend came over for the evening. He brought his dog and we compared notes on dog breeds and how good it is to love a pet. We made mistakes in how we introduced our dogs to each other and then we fixed those mistakes. We sat outside. I threw the ball for Harvey (my Labradoodle) several times, and he brought it back and placed it gently right into my hand. Then I threw it one more time and Harvey picked it up and ran past me, laying the ball at the feet of my 7th grade friend. Good choice. My friend has a much better throwing arm than I do.

When Harvey tired of chasing the ball we walked around the house some more, and my friend discovered four praying mantises in my flower bed, a fat green four inch hornworm caterpillar on the grape tomato vine in front of the house and a huge black and yellow garden spider sitting on a web next to my planters. Had he not noticed these things, I also would not have noticed these things.

We talked about 7th grade and new school buildings and new teachers. I wished I could go to his favorite class on Global Awareness to learn what he is learning. We picked a movie together on Netflix, one he had seen and recommended because it had a good message about bullying. We sat on the sofa with his dog sprawled across our laps and enjoyed the warm weight of the dog against us as we watched the movie. We talked about bullying, about how it still happens, and what he sacrifices in order to avoid it when he can. We hung out as friends, him at thirteen and me at fifty-six.

That evening felt like a time of God's favor, a glimpse of salvation.

May I put my life in the kind of order that makes more such encounters possible.