The Biltmore Estate and Downton Abbey Exhibit

My husband and I have visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, a handful of times. I believe the last time we went was for our 25th anniversary fifteen years ago. I had pretty much decided there was probably no need to return—once you’ve seen it in different seasons, there’s nothing new to see, I thought.

And then I heard they were going to have an exhibition of the Downton Abbey television show at the Biltmore!

Then the question was—how should I go about seeing it? My daughter-in-law and I loved the show, but my husband and youngest son had never seen it. I think Jason, Mittu’s husband had seen at least some episodes, but I don’t know if he was as into it as I was. So should I go by myself? Should I see if Mittu wanted to take a day trip with me? Should I ask a friend? Should I ask my husband even though he wasn’t familiar with the show?

The dilemma was solved when Mittu asked if we could go to the exhibition in lieu of presents for her birthday this year. We went last Saturday.

We got into Asheville around 11 and ate lunch at Farm Burger, as its online menu showed it had gluten free options for Mittu and Timothy. I didn’t want anything heavy or greasy, so I tried the build-your-own chicken burger. It was pretty good. I also snagged a few of Jason’s garlic parmesan fries, and they were great.

Unfortunately, the DA exhibits were in two different buildings and not in the Biltmore house itself. You have to choose a time when you buy tickets, so we needed to go in to see the house when we first arrived.

If you’re not familiar with the Biltmore, it’s the largest home in America, built by George Washington Vanderbilt. He had visited the Asheville area in 1887 and liked it so well, he began buying up land to build a home. Construction began in 1889. He was a bachelor at the time and planned to being his mother to live at the house and to host family and friends. He didn’t marry until 1898, when he was 35. The estate wasn’t even entirely finished then, but it was livable.

I’m reading The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan about the Biltmore House. I had hoped to finish it before visiting, but was only halfway done. Still, what I read enhanced the visit, and and I am sure that the visit will enhance the remaining reading.

One of the things that impressed me the most was that the land had been fairly depleted before building began. Frederick Olmsted, a landscape architect whose long list of credits includes Central Park, was asked to do the landscaping at Biltmore. He had to take into account not only what the land would like like at the time, but how things would grow over time.

The second impressive thing about the estate, besides the sheer size, is the detail in every single aspect. This is the right half of the house as we’re coming from from where the shuttle dropped us off:

Biltmore estateI have many more pictures that one post will hold, but this is what is called the Winter Garden, just inside the front doors and to the right:

Biltmore Winter GardenOne of my favorite rooms is the library. Vanderbilt was known for being well-read, even buying unbound manuscripts so he could have them bound the way he liked them.

Biltmore Library

You can see a bit of the painted ceiling. One of my favorite moments occurred when we were all exclaiming. “Look at the painting! Look at all the books! Look at the spiral staircase in the corner!” And Timothy (almost age 6) said, “Look at the security camera!” 🙂

My second favorite room was Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. I didn’t like the black bedcoverings so much, but I loved the ceiling. We didn’t get a picture, but you can see a glimpse here.

We got to go up an elevator that was original to the building. Unfortunately it only went between the first and second floors. The design was all wrought iron, but at some point they put plexiglass behind it for safety purposes. We didn’t get pictures of it, but someone else’s video is here.

One room I didn’t remember seeing before was called the Halloween room, painted by George’s daughter Cornelia. There they offered a photo opportunity with George and Edith. 🙂

The tour includes the downstairs area, where the bowling lanes, kitchen, laundry, and servant’s rooms are. Another funny moment here: we tried to explain to Timothy what the chamber pots were for. When he heard someone else commenting on them, he called them “Thunder pots.”

Just outside the house is a group of little shops and eateries. We enjoyed a snack before heading down to the DA exhibit. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the little shops if we wanted to catch the DA exhibits before they closed.

The first part of the exhibit was in a new building called Amherst at Deerpark. While waiting to get in, we asked what the building was normally used for. The attendant said that once the exhibit was over, the building could be rented for special events, wedding receptions, etc.

This part of the exhibit was called interactive, but that’s probably because there are life-sized videos of Carson speaking to the guests as if he can see them. There are also some artifacts behind glass or in drawers covered with glass. When you first walk in the hallway, there is a massive picture of the DA cast in costume. Then there is a stop to watch a video. Then we stepped into a room where we saw larger than life-sized pictures of half the faces of the cast (not half the cast—half the face of each cast member).

Just to show you a couple of representative displays, pictures and text like this were on walls and tables discussing all the characters and different aspects of the times.

Downton Abbey exhibitOther displays held letters, props, jewelry, etc.

This is where I have a wee bit of complaint. This area was extremely crowded, and there was not a direct flow of traffic. It was very hard to get around to look at anything, much less take time to read the displays. I got around the whole room and glanced at almost everything, but was so claustrophobic, I just wanted to get out as soon as possible. This would have been better in a larger area, or even scattered around in some of Biltmore’s more open areas.

The next section was a lot more fun. It included sets from the show. I didn’t see any information which specified, but I am assuming these were the actual sets (if not, they were very good recreations).

Mr. Carson’s office:

Downton Abbey butler officeThe kitchen:

The bells:

They also had the formal dining room and Lady Mary’s bedroom.

Then we had to take another shuttle to Antler Hill Village to see the costumes. I enjoyed this quite a lot. Even without remembering who wore which clothes, we found ourselves guessing which dress went with which character just by its style. I have multitudes of pictures but will just share a couple.

Downton Abbey costumes

I had mentioned at the beginning feeling like there was no need to go back to Biltmore and see the same things again. What i didn’t know was that the Antler Hill Village area was all fairly recent, plus a few new rooms had been opened up. Plus, in all the times we’ve been there, we’ve never seen the greenhouse or Biltmore Village. The latter was built by Vanderbilt for workmen and employees. I’ve been reading in the book I mentioned about All Souls Cathedral, also built by Vanderbilt, and its stained glass windows dedicated to George’s mother and close friends and other family who passed away. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of it, but by the time we were done, we were tired and needed to get back on the road. So some day I’d be up for another visit to see some of these areas.

Jason and Mittu did stay overnight and went back the next day to see the greenhouse and some other areas. Timothy was a little trooper and seemed to enjoy himself. We were glad there were some grassy areas in-between buildings where they allowed people to walk and kids to run. He was looking forward to the pool at the hotel. 🙂

All in all, it was a fun visit. I enjoyed seeing the Biltmore again and loved seeing the Downton Abbey sets and costumes. If you’re a fan of the show, I hope you get a chance to see the exhibit. It’s at the Biltmore until April 7. I’m assuming the house and exhibit would be a lot less crowded on weekdays: I’d recommend going then if you can.

Have you visited the Biltmore or see the Downton Abbey exhibit?

Working Toward Harmonious Relationships

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I’ve remembered what this speaker said for decades.

I don’t remember his main topic or even where I heard him. But at some point in his talk, he mentioned a husband forgetting his wedding anniversary. And then he said something like this: “Wives, don’t stand back with arms folded, tapping your foot, waiting to see if he remembers, and then lowering the boom when he doesn’t. Help him remember.”

How wise. “Getting after him” in some way—pouting, anger, silent treatment—will only make him feel guilty, maybe even defensive. And the day that’s supposed celebrate love turns into a negative experience. You might think, “Well, he ruined it first.” However, we can either redeem the situation or make it worse by our reaction.

My husband doesn’t usually forget special occasions. But this speaker’s advice  filtered into my thinking to apply generally to how we deal with each other’s foibles. “Punishing” or getting back at each other or stewing in resentment compounds the negative and widens the breach. How can we work towards harmony and away from dissension?

Look for ways to help.

Perhaps a week or two before an anniversary (or birthday or whatever), we could casually say, “Do you want to do anything special on our anniversary?” We could even invite him to something we’ve planned.

This principle goes so much farther than marriage and anniversaries. It applies to any relationship. If a child constantly forgets a chore, instead of incessantly nagging, we can find another way to help them remember: a chore chart, a privilege after his work is done, etc. If a wife is constantly late, perhaps a husband can help the kids get their shoes on so that’s one less thing she has to do.

Confront kindly when necessary.

Does that mean we can never confront each other about a problem or tell another when he has hurt our feelings or offended us in some way? No, of course not. Working out these issues helps the relationship progress and get even closer—if the issue is handled in a kind, thoughtful, edifying way rather than an angry or punishing manner.

“Do unto others . . “

Jesus said, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). Would we want someone to scowl or withdraw if we failed them in some way? Or would we prefer a frank discussion? Would a preliminary reminder help, or would that seem like nagging?

Take into account different personalities and “love languages.

Perhaps a husband shows love by working hard, keeping up with repairs at home, keeping the lawn mowed. Tell him how much you appreciate all of that—and then suggest that, just every now and then, flowers or candy or a nice dinner out or watching a romantic movie together would really make you feel special. Perhaps she showers you with gifts, but you’d really appreciate a compliment once in a while. There might not be a way for her to know that unless you gently and kindly tell her.

Choose what’s most important.

Perhaps he leaves things out of place. We might resent that he’s created even more work for us. We could tell him how debris around the house makes us feel. Or we could just pick it up.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8).

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses (Proverbs 10:12).

Forbear and forgive.

None of us has to be doormats. We should never put up with abuse or outright sin. But we do have to accept that no one is perfect. (This article helps differentiate between things we shouldn’t let go).

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:12-14).

Build up instead of tearing down.

However we handle these issues, we need to keep in mind our goal. The aim isn’t “Everyone do everything my way”—or shouldn’t be. The goal is harmony, feeding and increasing our love for each other, and building one another up.

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. (Proverbs 14:1)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:19).

Sometimes a choir or musical group will sing in unison, but more often they sing in harmony. Different voices bring different tones and notes into play, yet the outcome is all the more beautiful for the differences that come together into a beautiful whole. It takes a lot to get to that place. The composer has to arrange the piece. The leader has to interpret it. The instrumentalists and singers all have to learn their parts. They have have to practice together several times. Some might be too loud or soft, too fast or slow at first. But finally, each individual part works together with the rest, and the effect can bring tears to our eyes.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).

What are ways you work towards harmony in relationships?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday [Anita wrote about relationships this week, too, and brought out factors I hadn’t thought about], Global Blogging, Senior Salon,
Hearth and Soul, Literary Musing Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

A quick 40th anniversary get-away

Our anniversary is just a few days before Christmas. With everything else going on that month, we don’t usually exchange anniversary gifts. We exchange cards and go for a nice dinner out, a quiet spot for just the two of us during a busy season.

But since we celebrated 40 years of marriage this past December, we thought we’d do a little something special. Our kids had gone together earlier to give us a gift card to use for our celebration. We did go out for our dinner at a favorite local restaurant the night before our anniversary. Our oldest son flew in the day of our anniversary, and that day was the last opportunity to go to Christmas in the Cavern. We decided to wait until the week after Christmas to celebrate. My husband was off New Year’s week, but everyone else went back to work.

Previously I never would have thought of staying in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area because they’re so close to home. But a friend posted pictures on Facebook about staying in a bed and breakfast there. The area was so pretty, I began to think about the possibility of going there for our anniversary.

We didn’t stay in that bed and breakfast, but Jim found the very nice Bearskin Lodge. The lobby looked like this:

Our room balcony opened over a stream running over rocks.

We really enjoyed the fireplace.

The rest of the room:

Very cozy!

We drove up Thursday afternoon and just chilled out in the room for a bit. We went out to dinner at The Peddler Steakhouse, right next to the hotel. The food was delicious. But the restaurant was very crowded and noisy. We felt really rushed. Jim asked the waitress about getting an appetizer, and she said she’d be back to see what he wanted, but she never did come back til after we got our meal. The lady refilling the salad bar elbowed me and others to get where she needed to go. Our silverware had bits of food stuck on. Altogether it was not the best experience, sad not only because it was for our anniversary, but also because this is a pricey place.

By the time they asked if we wanted dessert, we just wanted to go. Plus they didn’t have any dessert we wanted. There didn’t seem to be any coffee shops or dessert places nearby, so we stopped across the street at Old Dad’s General Store. Jim got a Nutty Buddy ice cream cone and I got a peanut butter cookie. Then we went back to the room and watched the Vols win the Gator Bowl (Yay!).

But before that, when we drove back to the lodge, Jim pulled out a couple of boxes from the car that I hadn’t noticed before. He said he had an activity in mind. I was intrigued!

When we got settled back in our room, he let me open the boxes. He had filled them with notes we had written each other when we were dating. Our college, in the days before cell phones or even phones in the rooms, had a note system whereby guys and girls could send notes to each others’ dorm rooms. Every dorm lobby had a box with slots for the other dorms, and we’d deposit our notes there. Then several of the guys would run the boxes around to each of the dorms and deliver the mail to the lobby. That was the primary way guys asked girls out for dates then. For dating couples, it was a nice way to say good-night and make arrangements for the next day (when to meet for lunch, etc.). We dated for two years, so nine months of nightly notes times two years … would be a lot! Jim said he didn’t gather all the notes. just as many as would fit in the boxes. Some time we need to sort through them. That night we took turns reading several of them out loud to each other. Such memories! It was funny how many of them started out saying we didn’t have time to write much because we had tests or projects due, but then we’d go on for two pages. I have to say, I was very impressed that he thought of doing this!

We got a surprise when we went to take showers the next morning. The water was cold even after running it for a long time. I was up first, and thought perhaps the hot and cold were reversed (that’s happened in some places). So I turned the dial to the right, but that took it from cold to icy cold. I turned it back to the left and tried to decide what to do. I didn’t want to mess with going to another room at that point, and didn’t know if perhaps the whole hotel was having a problem. I decided to step in, away from the shower head, and just try to do a quick sponge bath. By the time I was done, the water was lukewarm enough that I could stand under it and rinse. Jim had the same experience a half-hour or so later. When he went down to the desk to mention it, he was told they have a boiler that starts up on the fifth floor (we were on the third). They said it just takes a while to work its way down, so we just have to run the water in the sink and shower until it warmed up. Well, that would have been nice to know! And I can’t fathom wasting all that water. I imagine later on, when more people are up and showering, the water is circulating better and warmer. At least I hope so. That was our only complaint about the lodge.

We ate breakfast and then rested in the room for a bit. Then we went to see the Titanic Museum.

We had passed this several times on our way to other attractions in previous years, and I always wanted to stop in some day.

You might be able to tell in the picture that the lady letting us in was dressed as a crew member would have been back in the day. All the employees were.

When you first enter, they give you a boarding pass that has the name and information of one of the passengers or crew that were actually aboard the Titanic.

Unfortunately, they don’t allow photos inside the museum. They give you an audio device when you come in, and at certain sections you can push a button to listen to more information. But we never did. They had a different button for children to hear something they might be interested in.

They had several rooms, one dedicated to the man who drew up the plans, another to the man who took most of the pre-sail photographs, etc. There were artifacts like life jackets, a piece of railing, letters. One of the most interesting parts to me was a big cross-section. A panel in front told about the different areas, and you could push a button to see that area light up.

I read that the entire museum was built to half-scale. They built the grand staircase exactly to scale as well as a really small (by our standards) room.

I found it interesting that they gave a good amount of space to the “spiritual heroes” of the Titanic. The man on Jim’s boarding pass was one. Another was John Harper, subject of The Titanic’s Last Hero. He was known for asking everyone his bit of flotsam floated to whether they were ready for eternity and quoting Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” I read the book years ago but need to do so again some time. We wondered if we were related to him. I’d like to think so.

At the end they had some photos and information about the effort to explore and recover as much of the Titanic as they could.

They also had a Lego replica of the Titanic built by a a 14 year-old autistic boy over eleven months. It’s 26 by 5 feet and used 56,000 Legos, quite a fete.

There was a very small area for children. We thought it a little weird that the had a child-sized ship’s steering wheel with a screen in front of it so kids could see if they could miss the iceberg.

I never saw the Titanic movie, but I think lots of things in the gift shop might have been inspired by the movie.

I’m glad we went. We had often discussed whether we should do so as a family or just the two of us. I don’t think Timothy would have gotten much out of it—maybe when he’s older and learning about it, he might be interested then.

When we got done there, we looked for a place to eat. One funny instance of my brain not working right: every time I looked up restaurants or attractions on Google maps, it showed them being 4. something miles away. I thought that was so odd. As we searched for a place to eat on our phones, I found the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. That place is a favorite for me. We’ve eaten there several times before, and it has special memories because once when my mom, step-dad, and siblings were visiting, we met my aunt and uncle there. I mentioned it to Jim but noted that it was 4.5 miles away. He said his phone only showed it at only .04 miles away. I looked again—and realized that all this time, I had been looking at the star ratings, thinking that was mileage. Duh!

But we were delighted it was so close. We had a great meal there, and they have some little shops and a bakery as well. It had been too wet and cold to walk around the shops at Gatlinburg, so this finished off our visit just right.

One nice thing about going on a trip like this is that’s one of the few times I feel officially “off.” No cooking, no dishes to wash, someone else picks up the wet towels and makes the bed. So it was a nice little vacation for me, especially after the fun busyness of Christmas.

But mostly it was special just to go out and spend some time alone together doing something different and fun.

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Hearth and Soul, Senior Salon, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Worth Beyond Rubies)

On our 40th anniversary

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This evening marks 40 years my husband and I have been married!

I had not planned to post about it until next week’s Friday’s Fave Five. But then I accidentally came across a post from ten years ago on 30 things I love about my husband on our 30th anniversary. So I thought I’d repeat and expand it.

40 Things I Love About My Husband:

1. He loves God.

2. He fulfills well the admonition in Deuteronomy 6:7 to teach children God’s Word in the course of daily life: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Jeremy has said he gets more out of a conversation with his dad than almost any sermon.

3. He is a wonderful father.

4. He leads gently, not tyrannically or despotically.

5. He has kind eyes.

6. He kills bugs for me.

Barbara's Cell phone pics 0507. If he drives my car and notices the gas is low, he fills the car up for me.

8. He knows how to fix a multitude of things.

9. He is smart.

10. He can usually handle problems and issues with people firmly but not angrily.

11. He is calm in a crisis and knows what to do or can figure it out in short order.

12. He has a great sense of humor.

13. He is very patient with my foibles.

14. He is a great griller!

image015. After Thanksgiving dinner he gets the rest of the meat off the turkey and then cleans out the roasting pan.

16. Sometimes he will clean the bathrooms unasked and unexpectedly.

17. He has a strong work ethic. He not only works hard and long to support us, he likes to do his best at any task.

CIMG513818. He took excellent care of his mother.

19. He is generous.

20. He has a lot of financial savvy.

21. He has a lot of sanctified common sense.

22. He is discerning.

23. He is generally more relaxed than I am. I appreciate the counter balance to my tenseness.

24. He can handle most of the technological stuff.

25. He is thoughtful.

26. He is more outgoing than I am.

27. Though he probably would say he doesn’t feel at ease in social situations, he handles them with apparent ease.

28. He is generally more upbeat and cheerful than I am. If he does get into a bad mood of some kind, it doesn’t usually last long.

29. He is still a gentleman.

30. He’s a man of strong principles.

31. He builds things for me.

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32. When there’s one piece left of a special treat he knows I like, he leaves it for me.

33. He’s a wonderful father-in-law.

34. He’s a wonderful granddad.

35. He listens when I need to talk something out.

36. He likes to find good deals.

37. He likes to problem-solve and is good at it.

38. He is compassionate.

39. He shows his love to me in countless ways every day.

40. He made this video for me eleven years ago to one of my favorite songs: “The Voyage,” sung by John McDermott of the Irish Tenors. I love to watch it every year. Some day we need to make an updated version.

Happy, happy anniversary! I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the last 40 years with anyone but you!

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Grace and Truth)

Remembering the loved one who has forgotten you

As a person ages, friends and loved ones often stop communicating as much.

Part of the problem is a busy schedule. When I worked in a nursing home ministry in college and then visited my mother-in-law in various facilities, I figured busyness was the primary reason so many residents seemed never to have a visitor.

But now I think perhaps people don’t visit elderly loved ones because they feel it’s futile since the person doesn’t even know them any more.

Dementia is one of the saddest afflictions. It’s heartbreaking when a loved one can’t remember who you are or how you are related.

But I can’t encourage you strongly enough to keep visiting. Why?

Because you remember.

Their biggest need is to know that they are loved and not forgotten. For the few minutes you spend with them, they are receiving personal attention.

We don’t know what they actually remember.

When a loved one can’t process thoughts well, we don’t really know what’s going through their minds. It could be there is a flicker of familiarity, but they can’t express it. Or they might remember, if just for a few moments, that you were there.

Assisted living and nursing home facilities can be lonely places.

Some residents are able-bodied and/or social butterflies, but many sit by themselves. Most of the activities involve bringing the group to the common area rather than doing anything with individuals  Most of these places are overworked and understaffed. We found a few gems in each facility my mother-in-law was in, but too many of the staff were burned out, uncaring, just punching a time card. We observed as they talked to each other over her without ever looking her in the eye or talking directly to her. One aide had eyes glued to the TV as she fed Jim’s mom rather than interacting with her. Can you imagine an existence where most people just handle you or do what’s necessary without a smile or a kind word?

Personal, focused, loving attention is the greatest gift you can give them.

You can’t assume they are well taken-care of.

When you visit a facility and arrange to place your loved one there, you assume the best. The administration sounds competent, the brochures look inviting. But we could tell you dozens of stories from our own experience, not to mention that of others. The residents often can’t speak for themselves. They need advocates to visit them frequently and bring any issues to the management’s attention.

When you do visit, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t ask, “Do you remember . . .” people or situations. John Zeisel calls this “testing” in his book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. He says such questions just set them up for a test they are sure to fail and can increase anxiety, agitation, and feelings of incompetence.. Sometimes they can remember the distant past more than the recent occurrences, but don’t assume. Just start talking about the person or situation you have in mind. If your loved one remembers, they’ll chime in. Instead of asking, “Do you remember me?” just say who you are. “Hi, Mom! It’s me, Jim, and your grandson son, Jason, and great-grandson, Timothy.” Mention the names but don’t make a big deal about them.
  • “Don’t alter their reality” was the cardinal rule at the nursing home my mother-in-law was in. In our college nursing home ministry, one blind lady spoke as if she lived on a plantation, even encouraging us to pick some flowers. We didn’t know whether to go along or try to bring her back to reality. Now I would know: either go with the flow or try to bring up a different topic of conversation. If they think they are in another state, or their husband is waiting for them at home, or whatever, it only agitates them to say otherwise. When my mother-in-law was in a memory-care unit, we often saw residents get quite upset if they stopped to ask us to take them somewhere, and we said we couldn’t. We learned to say, “I’m just here visiting my mom, but maybe this lady could help you,” and point them to an aide. That was better than saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t take you,” and having them get upset, and an aide having to come over and calm them down.
  • Divert or distract rather than arguing. If your loved one starts asking about someone who died, or asks to be taken somewhere they can’t go, or says something that doesn’t make sense, don’t try to “talk sense into them.” Jim’s mom sometimes asked to be taken to her daughter’s house 2,000 miles away. I used to remind her that she had moved to TN. But later on, I’d just say, “We can talk about it when Jim gets home.” She was mostly silent her last two years, but she would still sometimes ask about her sister, who had died long ago. Our caregiver would say something like, “I think she’s still asleep” and then start talking about something else. We tried never to lie to her, but we did redirect the conversation.
  • Have some topics of conversation in mind before you go. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about. Family news is always good. But conversation can sputter after that. This is something I wish I had done better with my mother-in-law. I saw her almost every day, so when she would ask what’s new, sometimes all I could come up with was, “Well . . . I got the laundry done.” She loved news or little interesting tidbits or real-life stories. I wished I had looked for things like that to share with her when I visited. I also wished I had asked her more about her past.
  • Some might be able to play games, put together puzzles, do small crafts. If you have old family photos of people you can’t identity, this is a great time to bring them and ask about them.
  • Be cautious about gifts. Most times, they don’t really need or have room for anything. But if it’s a special occasion and you want to bring something, be aware of their situation. Don’t bring food unless you know they aren’t on any kind of dietary restrictions. And then bring food in a form they can eat (someone sent my mother-in-law a fruit basket, but she had no way to slice or peel any of it. She couldn’t have a knife in her room.) Cut flowers in a vase might be better than a plant no one has time to care for. Some other ideas:

All-occasion greeting cards (if they still send them)
Stationery and stamps (if they can still write)
Pens and pencils
Lotions (some might have skin sensitivities)
Bath items: nice-smelling shampoo, body wash, powder. Avoid bath oils – too slippery
Large-print books, magazines, crossword or word search puzzle books (if   they can still read)
Small individually wrapped chewable candies (if they can have them)
Small packages of cookies (ditto)
Pudding cups
Small throw blankets
Socks (slip-proof, if they are still mobile) and slippers
Magnifying glass
Tissues
Nice nightgowns or pajamas. (or hospital gowns if they are bedridden. We used this place often.)
Small photo albums with pictures of your family. (Big ones are too heavy.)
Pictures colored by a child

If you have a project-based ministry to the elderly in your congregation, please take the items to the person rather than sending them home with a loved one or dropping them off on the porch. The visit means more than the things.

What if you don’t live near your loved one?

Don’t stop communicating because you don’t think it will do any good. One lady who used to write to my mother-in-law would check with me occasionally to ask if I thought it was still worthwhile. I told her I honestly didn’t know if Jim’s mom would know who she was or would remember the note I read five minutes later, but for those few moments, she knew someone cared enough to communicate with her. We’re more inclined to send texts or Facebook greetings, but it’s worth the time to send a personal note to an elderly person who doesn’t have access to those other venues. Sometimes a FaceTime or Skype call can be set up. One of Jim’s brothers used to do this even after Jim’s mom no longer spoke. She could at least see him and his family and would sometimes wave a finger.

What if your loved one is being cared for by a family member?

It still helps to visit or at least communicate for a number of reasons. Your loved one needs to know you still remember and care for them. And it greatly encourages the one caring for them to have the rest of the family still participating. Caregiving can be weighty and lonely, and the interest and care of the rest of the family can be greatly encouraging. By contrast, it’s immensely saddening to have birthdays and Mother’s Days go by without hearing from anyone, even if the loved one doesn’t know what day it is.

It can be hard to visit an elderly loved one.

It takes time and slowing down. It’s hard to acknowledge the effect of years and to know they’re only going to keep declining. Their might be messy or smelly. My mother-in-law was easy to get along with, but some dementia patients are angry or combative. It might be easier to remember them as they were than see them as they are. Most people’s main regret when a loved one dies is that they didn’t spend more time with them. Do all you can while you can to avoid that regret. Even if they don’t remember you, you remember them. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you; I’m trying to lessen it.

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

They don’t have to remember you in order for you to minister to them. Our blessing them comes from:

1) The example of our Lord, who blesses us every day of our lives even though we can never repay Him.

2) Gratefulness because of all our loved ones did for us.

3) Doing unto others as we would want them to do to us. (Matthew 7:12)

It can be especially hard when the relationship has not been good, when issues have never been resolved and there’s no hope of dealing with them now. Some of my friends have exemplified 2 Corinthians 12:15 with their parents: “ And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.Loving like Jesus means loving people even when they don’t “deserve” it. Love costs a great deal sometimes. As we pray to love more, we can ask that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and ask God to “make [us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. What have you found helpful when visiting elderly family members?

(I wrote a series of posts from our experience caring for my mother-in-law called Adventures in Elder Care. If you are in a caregiving season of life, you might find something helpful there. A couple of the posts there most related to this one are Am I Doing Any Good? and It’s Not for Nothing.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Home, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragment, Recharge Wednesday,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

A Visit to Cades Cove

Friday evening, my husband asked if I would be interested in going out to Cades Cove on Saturday. He texted my son and daughter-in-law to see if they’d like to go, and they said yes.

Cades Cove is a valley in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. A one-way road forms an eleven-mile loop around the valley, and several historic buildings are placed at intervals around the loop.

The drive up was gorgeous as we got closer to Cades Cove, with the beauitful fall foliage and a stream rippling over rocks alongside the road.

Jim and I drove up separately from Jason and Mittu, and there was some misunderstanding about where we were to meet. There’s no cell phone service in the area, so we had no way to contact each other. We knew they were behind us a bit, so we weren’t worried when they didn’t show up right away. As more time passed, however, we became concerned that either something happened, or we were in two different places. Jim took off on foot to check a couple of places he thought they might be (walking because he didn’t think he’d be able to get out of one area without following the 11-mile loop). I stayed put in case they came to where we had parked and prayed much that we’d all find each other. Finally Jason and Mittu spotted Jim walking as they were driving around trying to find us.

So we were delayed setting off by about an hour. We drove to the picnic area to eat the lunch we had packed. The picnic area was very nice, with flat walkways between tables and easy access to restrooms. There was a little stream on both sides of the picnic area.

Watching Timothy brought back memories of camping when the kids were younger. There’s something about a stick, rocks, and running water that can keep a little boy fascinated for hours.

At one point Timothy asked, “Are we camping?” He was excited at the prospect, because Granddad has often talked about things we’ll do when we go camping. We told him it was kind of like camping, except the sleeping in a tent part.

Jim has been collecting lot of camping equipment over several birthdays, Christmases, etc. He brought stuff to make coffee on the grills at the park. As it was a very chilly day, that cup of coffee was one of the best I’d had! It really helped take the chill off.

Then we all piled in our van and set off on the loop, following a string of other cars.

Fall is one of the most popular times to go. And we soon saw why: the scenery was gorgeous. We took scores of photos. Here are just a few:

One of the first buildings we stopped at was a Primitive Baptist Church, which had a cemetery in the back.

Some of the headstones in the cemetery are so old and worn you can hardly read them, but there are a few recent ones. This one was distinctive . . .

We didn’t stop at the next church, but we saw a random family there taking wedding photos. We wondered if they got married there, or came up afterwards, or if they just wanted a bridal shoot there.

About halfway through the loop is a collection of buildings, including a still-working 150-year old grist mill, a blacksmith shop (closed when we were there),a smokehouse, corn crib, barn, and house (and restrooms!)

Timothy thought the water wheel on the mill was “cool” and “awesome.”

In this area, there’s also a little store where Tim tried out ranger gear.

There are eighteen places one can stop. Some of them are trails that lead to waterfalls and such. Other building were log cabins, with a couple of other churches. We ended up only stopping at those two I mentioned, because it was getting late.

It’s possible to see wildlife in the area, from chipmunks, foxes, raccoons, deer, and bears. We only saw one crow, besides the horses that are available to ride. Probably the time of day we were there (afternoon), the cold, and the busyness all contributed to wildlife keeping their distance. There were strict warnings everywhere to stay at least 50 feet away from wildlife and not to feed them and to clean up any scraps of food so they wouldn’t be attracted.

Over and over through the afternoon, Timothy kept saying it “was such a good day” and “the best day ever.” And I’d have to agree.

I don’t travel well, for a number of reasons, so even short road trips can be problematic. When Jim asked me about going, and I found out it was about an hour away, and it could take 2-4 hours to go around the loop—I was sort of dreading it. But I knew if I asked him to go somewhere I wanted to go, he likely would, even if he wasn’t all that interested. So I wanted to be able to go because he wanted to and for the family outing. I was a bit panicky the night before, but that day God gave me a great calm and helped everything to go well. We’re already talking about trying going back some time. On the drive up and back we also saw other places we’d like to come back and visit some time.

I looked through the booklet about the area while we were there, and I’ve enjoyed reading more about the history of it since.

I’m only sorry it took us so long to go out there! A friend had told me about it a few years ago, but I don’t think I quite understood what it was. I’d highly recommend it if you are in the area and have a few hours. You could spend all day there if you wanted to stop at several of the buildings. But you could probably drive through in a couple of hours if you made no stops. There are also a couple of exits if you don’t want to go through the whole loop. And it’s free!

Have you ever been to Cade’s Cove?

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now)

Book Review on Grandparenting

As I mother, I felt compelled to read every Christian book on parenting I could find. I was the chief babysitter for my five younger siblings (my youngest sister was born when I was 17), so I wasn’t inexperienced with children. But the responsibility of having my own weighed on me heavily. I didn’t feel I knew what I was doing, and I didn’t want to ruin them for life.

I haven’t felt quite as compelled as a grandparent. Perhaps having a supporting rather than a major role relieves some of the pressure. Maybe I’ve grown in the Lord and in following His guidance enough now that, even though I haven’t arrived and am not perfect in any category, I don’t feel I need to find a book for every issue (though I do still read a lot). And much of grandparenting seems common sense on top of the same love and courtesy shown to one’s own children.

The first two books I did read by grandparents to grandparents were major disappointments—not the grandparenting advice, but the theological basis of the authors.

But Michele‘s review of There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe encouraged me to get this book.

Howe’s premise is that there’s a difference between everyday grandparents and grandparents:

Becoming a grandparent is living with eternity in mind—all the time. It means going the extra mile (or more, many more) for the sake of your grandchildren. It will entail sacrifice of every sort. Time. Money. Energy. Sleep. But every sort of giving up and giving away the best of what we have and are is all good . . . in the light of eternity.

Grandparenting is all about bending the knee before our Lord Jesus Christ and asking him for our marching orders. Then we get up from our knees and get busy loving our grandchildren in ways they will remember, value, and appreciate (p. 2).

Grace upon grace. Unconditional love. Total acceptance. Open arms. These are only a few of the attitudes and actions that make grandparents so different from folks who assume a casual role as a grandparent. Which would you rather be: a seemingly insignificant bystander who shows up now and then with a gift but with two closed fists that demand affection from the grandchildren before letting go of the goods; or someone who views every opportunity to interact with grandchildren as having potential eternal impact and takes their love as it comes, without offense? (p. 45).

Howe reminds us that our empty nest years are not about finally having “me time.” We never retire from being a godly influence, especially to our own family.

She highlights the primary roles of prayer, seeking guidance from God, and following the parents’ lead and preferences.

She shares numerous tips and truths. Just a few:

  • Hospitality is not just something we exercise towards those outside our families. We make time and place for our adult children and their families as well.
  • Grandparenting is not about spoiling or over-indulging.
  • We can provide a safe haven when parents fail, as in cases of drug addiction and abuse. Grandparents provide tough love and step in to call authorities in these cases if need be.
  • We need to remember each child is unique.
  • We can make special memories and teaching opportunities out of everyday occasions and tasks.
  • Though sometimes we need to exercise authority, “I never need to yell, demean, or demand. Rather, I can use gentle but firm words to steer them toward making good choices” (p. 29).

Each chapter is only about four pages long and ends with a “take-away action thought,” a prayer, and a few “grand ideas” for how to implement the concepts from that chapter. The thirty chapters could be read one a day over a month, but they’re short enough to read more if desired. I generally read two in one sitting.

To be totally honest, the grandparenting vs. grandparenting repetition became a little wearing after a while. On the other hand, that was probably the most succinct way to make the distinction between casual, aloof, or insensitive grandparents and involved, attentive, spiritually-minded grandparents.

Though I don’t think I learned anything earth-shatteringly new from this book, the gentle nudges, thoughtful reminders, and spiritual focus were all helpful. I’d recommend this book for any stage of grandparenting, perhaps even as a gift to new or upcoming grandparents.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Faith ‘n Friends, Literary Musing Monday,
Carole’s Books You Loved)

End-of-February musings

I’ve finally taken the plunge. Some of you know that I am in the process of writing a book. I have the rough draft finished and now have to go back through and work on editing and shaping up. Publishers these days want authors to have a public platform in place before considering their book. So I created an author Facebook page to keep separate from my personal Facebook account. I want to invite you to like and follow my author page here. I probably won’t link every blog post there – just the more devotional ones for now. And I’ll share updates about the book progress as well as general encouragement. I do have a Facebook page that my blog automatically shares posts to, as some prefer to read them there. If I end up posting the same content both places, I’ll probably close down the blog page and just keep the author one. But we’ll keep them as is for now and see how it goes.

February has always been pleasant to me, even though it’s still wintry and cold. It’s a short month, and it brings us one month closer to spring! Two highlights in February for me are Valentine’s Day and my daughter-in-law’s birthday. For scheduling reasons we celebrated each after the official day.

Valentine’s Day vies with Christmas as my favorite holiday. I made my usual “meat hearts” (mini meat loaves shaped like hearts) and chocolate heart-shaped cupcakes. My grandson’s parents suspect red dyes of giving him problems, so we’re trying to avoid anything with red dye. Since most sprinkles and colored sugars for Valentine’s Day have red in them, I looked for non-food decorations and found these cute little cupcake toppers at Target.

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My special gift to my family is making a card for each of them. I try to make them according to their color preferences, likes, etc. This was for my husband:

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The Cricut machine did all the heavy lifting of cutting that out. I just had to choose the design and glue it together.

This was for Jeremy, who likes foxes:

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The fox and paw prints are stickers.

This was for Jason, a coffee-lover who likes blue:

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This is for Mittu, my daughter-in-law:

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She likes lavender and purple, so I used a heart-shaped punch and several lavender pieces of scrapbooking paper. On the checkered one, I used a corner punch at the bottom.

This was for my grandson, Timothy.

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The top cookie shape was done on the Cricut, and I got it a little too big, but it worked out ok. The shape of the bottom one was also done on the Cricut, but the paper on top looked like sprinkles already.

And, finally the last one was for Jesse, who likes red and prefers non-mushy cards. 🙂

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Though you could say jam is mushy . . . 🙂 The jam jar and letters were done on the Cricut. The Cricut also had the “You are my jam” letters shaped in an arch, but for whatever reason, they would not come out right. So I found a clipart banner and typed the words on it. There must be a way to type letters in an arch on the computer, but I couldn’t figure it out. Normally I would ask Jesse, but the card was for him. 🙂

Then, it’s always a joy to celebrate our sweet daughter-in-law’s birthday.

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I found that cute little birthday cake banner at the grocery store.

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This is the card I made for Mittu’s birthday:

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The letters were stickers; the square and rectangle shapes were cut with my paper cutter; the hearts were made with punches. I actually did the cupcake freehand, which doesn’t usually work out well! But it came out ok this time. Oh, the texture designs on the background and icing were done with the Cuttlebug embosser.

Those celebrations are not only enjoyable in themselves, but they are bright spots in the long winter and wait for spring. We are starting to see some bulbs pushing through the soil, but we still have some cold temperatures predicted for the next several days.

We experienced a lot of major flooding in our area last weekend after several days of heavy rain. Our house was fine, as it’s on raised ground. But a lot of roads around us were flooded over, including an on-ramp to the interstate.

We’re still adjusting to the loss of my mother-in-law. I wrote a tribute to her here. Since my parents and my husband’s father passed a long time ago, we’re not new to or surprised by grief. But they lived 1,000 and 2,000 miles away, respectively. Adjusting to their being gone took different forms – like missing calling my mom. Since Jim’s mom lived in our home for the last five years, there were triggers everywhere, and changes affected everything from what I buy at the store to how I use my time even to how I load the dishwasher. But she was doing so poorly her last few months, it’s a relief to know that she is no longer in a non-working, silent, crumpled body, and she’s with her Lord, her husband, and her sister. And we know from previous experience that those triggers lessen over time. In fact, in some ways I have felt guilty over enjoying some of the changes, like being free to go anywhere any time without arranging for a caregiver, not having to set up the ramp on bath days, not having hospice people (nice as they were) coming in and out, my husband being able to transfer his work station back into the room she had occupied, etc.  But I tell myself that if she could talk to me, she’d probably say something like, “Thank you for your care, but please, go on and enjoy your life.” (Forgive me if I have said this before – I thought I had but couldn’t find it here.)

Something that just occurred to me recently was that my mother-in-law cared for her own parents in various ways for years. They did not live with her, but they lived near-by, and my in-laws were the go-to people when her parents needed help of any kind. Of course they visited other times than when they needed help, and probably needed more help the older they grew. In some way I can’t quite explain, it helped me to realize that she understood what was involved in care-giving, and that I was able to give back to her in that way.

Of course, one thing I am into every month is reading. I read and reviewed these books (titles link back to my reviews):

  • Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy, a nice imagining of what Anne’s Marilla might have been like as a girl.
  • Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott, kind of a cozy mystery involving a jet-setting American and a homebody Englishwoman who are friends with opposite personalities and who stumble across buried secrets in a sleepy little post-WWII English village.
  • Katie’s Dream by Leisha Kelly, the continuing saga of the Worthham family in the post-Depression era. This time Sam’s brother, recently released from prison, brings a little girl he insists is Sam’s, even though Sam never even met the girl’s mother. The story involves untangling the confusion and deciding what’s best to do with  a little girl who only wants a home.
  • Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George H. Guthrie. Excellent resource for just what the subtitle says. Especially helpful in discussing the different genres we find in the Bible and how to get the most out of them.
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, classic riches-to-rags-to-riches story that I had never read before. I am so glad I have now.
  • Journaling for the Soul: A Handbook of Journaling Methods by Deborah Haddix. Good resource: covers just about any journaling method you could imagine. (Congratulations to Kathie for winning the giveaway!)
  • I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel. Pleasant musings on the reading life.
  • On the Way Home and The Road Back by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The first is Laura’s record of moving with her husband and daughter by covered wagon from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri; the second is her journal of traveling back to South Dakota to visit her two remaining sisters 40 years later in an un-air-conditioned Buick.

I’m currently reading Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan, Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling by Charles Finney, and Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey.

Around the blog, besides the book reviews, Friday’s Fave Fives, and Laudable Linkage:, I’ve shared

  • It’s Okay to Say It Hurts. “Enduring hardship as a Christian is not just a matter of a stiff upper lip or a smile that glosses over painful circumstances.”
  • Praying to Love More. “In my ongoing quest to understand what Christian love is and to grow in it, I compiled Bible verses which specifically spoke of praying to love.”
  • Smelting the Soul. “Instead of being discouraged that God continually shows me the ways in which I fall short, I can rejoice that He is continuing to refine me.”
  • Why Laura Ingalls Wilder Is Still Worth Reading. No, she and her family were not perfect. But we can still learn from them.

And that about wraps up February! I have an adventure coming up that I look forward to telling you about a little later on.

(Shannan invites us to share our end-of-month round-up posts, what we’re into, what’s keeping us sane. Sharing also with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Porch Stories, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesdays, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Linda’s Book Bag)

A tribute to my mother-in-law

My mother-in-law, Colleen, was born two months premature 90 years ago, before we had all the technology for preemies that we do today. She weighed around two pounds. Her parents made her a bed in a shoebox and kept it by the stove for warmth.

It’s a miracle that she survived. She did end up with a number of physical issues. One was severe scoliosis. I was told that she was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy: although that’s not exactly what she had, it was the closest diagnosis they could make.

She told me once that she could not take P.E. because of physical issues, so she spent that class being the girl who checked people in and out of the gym locker room.

She didn’t let physical problems stop her from living life to the fullest. She went to college for a couple of years, married, bore and raised four healthy children, canned produce from her husband’s garden. The family made regular expeditions to the hills to gather wood for the wood-burning stove that was their primary source of heat. Colleen split wood well in to her seventies, long after her husband no longer could due to his own health issues. Until the day she died, the nurse commented on how strong her heart was.

She also had a good mind and loved to use it. She was the editor of her high school newspaper. Reading was her favorite hobby, and she regularly walked to the library for a new armful of books. Reader’s Digest was her favorite magazine. Once she saw an article that seemed to fit her husband’s symptoms and convinced the doctor to investigate. Sure enough, he found that her husband had an abdominal aneurysm. The one time she didn’t want anyone to talk to her was when the news was on. A few years ago my husband was using Google Earth on his laptop to show her some of the various houses where she used to live. Fascinated, she said, “If I had one of these things, I’d never get anything done!” When she was in assisted living, often when I visited, she would ask, “What’s new?” Not much had happened since I saw her the day before, so I usually did not have a good answer. “Well…I got the laundry done…” She’d say, “Come on, you’re out there in the world. Surely you have some news.” I’m not into watching the news, but it’s one of my regrets that I didn’t look up some interesting fact or news item to share with her in those visits.

Her life was marked by quiet industriousness until her limbs no longer worked for her. She rarely did anything on a small scale. Why make one lasagna when you could make two or more and freeze the excess? One Thanksgiving when almost all of the family was there, she had almost one pie per person.

She was a child of the Depression, and so she was marked by frugality almost to a fault. Many family stories revolved around her thriftiness. Empty margarine and Cool Whip tubs were her Tupperware, causing one sister-in-law to ask, while holding open the refrigerator door, “Which one of these really has butter in it?” I remember her pulling some corn out of the refrigerator, commenting that it didn’t look very good, and, instead of throwing it out, adding more corn to the leftovers. Her husband worked in a grocery store and often brought home cans that had lost their labels, prompting many a mystery meal determined by what was in a given can. He also brought home out-of-date dairy products, prompting someone to remark once on “milk with pulp.” In her book, it was a sin to throw food away. She also tucked money away in odd places, like pockets of unused clothes hanging in the closet.

She could be feisty. One day, for some reason, she asked me if Jim and I had had any fights lately. As she asked, she had her fists doubled up like an 80 year old boxer. I explained that, no, we didn’t usually fight: we’re both more the type to get quiet when we’re angry or upset. She said, “Really? You never fight?” while swirling those fists around. She and her husband did sometimes, but they just took it as a matter of course and made back up after the argument was over.

She loved the outdoors. The family camped frequently. When she came to help with my oldest son, then nine months old, after my gall bladder surgery, she took him and the playpen outside every day for fresh air.

She did not grow up in a stable, loving home environment. Without going into all of the specifics, suffice it to say that after her mother died, Colleen said, “All my life I tried to get my mother to love me, and I never succeeded.” Colleen’s mother did not have the easiest life, either, but she chose to be bitter, and that bitterness spread to everyone her life touched. Colleen experienced her mother’s bitterness and saw how it affected all her life and relationships, and Colleen chose a different way.

I’ve heard different versions of which person in the family first became a Christian and how it all happened. Unfortunately, by the time I thought to ask about the specifics, Colleen was past the point of being able to articulate them. One story was that her parents started attending church and made a profession of faith which led to Colleen’s attending the same church. Another story had Colleen’s children invited to VBS or something at a church, which led to Colleen’s visiting. Perhaps both of those scenarios are true and involved the same church. At any rate, the pastor there remembers leading Colleen to the Lord when she was a young wife and mother.

Colleen was so enthused about her new relationship with God that she wanted her best friend, Margie, to understand and experience it, too. There were no concordances or Bible programs in that day, but Colleen spent much time poring over her Bible, noting and jotting down verses to share with her friend. Eventually Margie and her husband, Ken, became believers as well. Ken later became a Sunday School teacher and had my husband, Jim, in his class and led him to the Lord. Marge and Ken’s son-n-law led the singing at Colleen’s funeral.

Colleen’s husband made a profession around the same time, but he was not as into fully living the Christian life as she was. He lived by Christian morals, but he rarely attended church with her, and he sometimes got angry at her desire to give offerings to the church. She worried that perhaps he was not actually a Christian, that perhaps he had just followed Colleen and their friends without experiencing a real heart change himself. Late in his life, as he began experiencing health issues, she told him she had to know where he was spiritually. He assured her that he was saved, and their last few years together they had the spiritual fellowship that they’d lacked for so long. Neither of them came from good homes, and it’s amazing to me that they were married 54 years.

But if you can picture her as a mother of four children, with maddening nonsense occurring with her own parents all their lives, and being out of tune with her husband spiritually, you’ll understand that her life wasn’t easy even after becoming a Christian. She found stolen moments to pray in the shower and to read her Bible. She insisted that her children go to church as long as they were under her roof, though some of them protested. I don’t know if she knew this song – another regret is that I never asked her what her favorite hymns were – but this stanza from “Jesus Is All the World to Me” by Will Lamartine Thompson seemed to characterize her:

Jesus is all the world to me:
My life, my joy, my all.
He is my strength from day to day;
Without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go;
No other one can cheer me so.
When I am sad, He makes me glad;
He’s my Friend.

She was not an “out in front” kind of person, but she found quiet ways to serve God. She was the church treasurer for years. She served in Awanas, listening to children’s memory verses, until her hearing loss made that unfeasible. Just at her funeral, a friend told us that Colleen and her close friend, Sybil, had visited this woman’s parents in their last years. Who knows what kinds of ministries like that she participated in without any of the rest of us ever knowing.

And she prayed. As her own children grew, left home, and started their own families, prayer was her main ministry for each of them.

She was not one to complain. In fact, there were times there were underlying family issues going on that we didn’t know about until we visited. We’d ask, “Why didn’t you tell us any of this?” “Well, I didn’t want you to worry.” That’s why, when she could no longer live alone, we wanted to move her near family who could watch out for her and check on her. We knew if she stayed 2,000 miles away, we would never know if she wasn’t being treated well, because she’d never say otherwise. The only time I saw her cry after she moved here was when we told her house house in ID had sold. She knew that was coming, but the loss of that last tie with the home she had known so long was understandably sad.

Ten and a half years ago we moved her to an assisted living facility near us in SC. Two years later, my husband’s company wanted to move him to TN. Jim tried to get out of it, both because we didn’t want to uproot Jesse from the school he’d attended all his life, plus we didn’t want to move Jim’s mom again after having just had the major upheaval of moving two years before. But we ended up having to move anyway. After we were all settled in TN and Jim’s mom was in a new assisted living facility, Jim told her that he appreciated her having such a good attitude about it all. She replied, “Well, it doesn’t do any good to have the other kind.”

Our boys enjoyed finally having a Grandma close by, since we had lived away from all of our parents. For a few years we’d pick her up to attend Jesse’s basketball games and take her with us to Wendy’s or somewhere afterwards. We’d pick her up for church on Sundays and bring her home for dinner afterward. We visited almost every day and attended family dinners and special functions at her facility. We’d bring her to the house for holidays and other get-togethers.

But eventually she declined to the point of not being very mobile. She passed the level of care her assisted living facility provided, so she had to be moved to another. Neglect of the part of this facility led to a UTI going septic, which sent her to the hospital for 8 days. She was released to a nursing home, and around this time started having trouble swallowing and had to start eating pureed food. After about six months in the nursing home, she was down to 90 lbs. and not doing well. We brought her home to die among loved ones.

But instead, she thrived with one on one care and gained weight. We had not known that the doctors had her on a narcotic painkiller until we received her medication list when she was discharged. We don’t know why: they never spoke with us about what they did or why. Perhaps they thought her arthritis required painkillers, or perhaps they started them when she had a bedsore and then never stopped them. At any rate, we weaned her off of them, and she became more clear-headed. She was still bedridden, except the couple of hours a day we had her in a wheelchair. But she was aware and could talk with us.

But, of course, no one could stop the long-term decline, and many of you have followed with us as she lost the ability to speak and became less able to move over the last few years, until she passed away January 18.

On her last night, as Jim stood by her bed stroking her head and talking to her, he leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. He saw a tear streaming from her eye, which he took as her good-bye. She took her last breath at 8:18. Jim remarked that it would have been neat if it had occurred at 8:28, since Romans 8:28 speaks of all things working together for good to those who love God. The next day, I looked up Romans 8:18:

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

In the providence of God, our church had been reading through 1 and 2 Corinthians together the last few weeks. 1 Corinthians 15, the great “resurrection chapter,” was our reading the morning of her passing. Other passages in the last two weeks have been:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens...For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor. 5:1,4)

Also the evening reading for Daily Light on the Daily Path for that night focused on what God is preparing for those who love Him, like “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

These truths were not new to us, but they blessed us by considering them again during this time, knowing that God knew beforehand what we’d be going through those days and had this reading planned for us. We witnessed Colleen’s “outer self wasting away.” But we know that, since she had long ago repented of her sins, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and turned from her own way to His, that He has prepared for her that eternal home in heaven, and she is with Him now.

Her funeral in ID and memorial service here in TN both emphasized those facts: that Christ had made a profound difference in her life, and that difference rippled forth to turn the direction of her family and bless whose who knew her. She would not have claimed perfection. She would not have enjoyed the spotlight and would not have wanted anyone to exalt her above measure. But we commend her for her faith, for her following her Savior, for her contentment within His will, for her example of a changed life. I think the words Jesus spoke of another woman in Scripture who demonstrated her love for Him could be spoken of Colleen as well: “She has done what she could.” And just as the perfume in that situation spread, so too Colleen’s life manifested His fragrance:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Great-Grandma Is Home

Jim’s mom passed away very peacefully last night.

Her decline til now had been very slow: she had been in hospice care for over three years (the usual course is six months). So I expected her last phase to go slowly as well, but it went very quickly. I think that was a mercy. The last couple of days were hard as she struggled for breath even with 100% oxygen. Hospice prescribed some medicine to help with congestion and calmness, and that made her last afternoon and evening much more peaceful. The chaplain came by yesterday and sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” to her. Our prayer had always been that God would take her peacefully, with no pain, trauma, or confusion, and that’s just how it happened. We were both in the room and Jim was standing beside her stroking her head, when he saw her last breath. We called Jesse in and had a little private family moment – Jason and his family had said their goodbyes the night before. Her regular caregiver for 4 years now (not with hospice) asked to be called when it happened, so she came over and helped the hospice nurse take care of Jim’s mom’s body, and then we all waited til the guys from the funeral home came.

As I said yesterday, death is called “the last enemy,” but its days are numbered. Some day  “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

But we do have them now, even as we rejoice that she is free from a crumpled, silent body and now breathing easily and reunited with her husband and sister and seeing the face of her Savior, who loved her and gave His life for her, whom she loved and faithfully served all her life. So we’d appreciate your prayers for her family, friends, and caregivers here.

Naturally I’ll be out of pocket for a few days. Thank you, dear friends.

This song came through in my playlist last Sunday, and seemed so appropriate. I wish I could find a clip or video of it online, but the CD it came from, Proclaim His Name by Mac Lynch and Tim Fisher, seems to be out of print.

All is done; the race has ended.
Weary bones are set aside.
You have now a brand new body
In a garment white, with celestial light.

Sin is gone; the pain has lifted.
Left behind are vic’tries won.
Now you see your risen Savior.
This is God’s own Son saying, “Child well done.”

Rest, rest, rest, oh, weary pilgrim.
Come and see that I’ve prepared for you.
Rest, rest, be at home with Me forever,
Free from sin and evermore I will give you rest.

~ Mac Lynch