Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Boot Camp

Back when summer started, I had a grand plan for the girls. (Do you remember?) We were going to do chores, clean, cook, and do projects. It went great for the first week. Then June happened. In the midst of everything, the girls had loads of attention from all sorts of relatives, were fed by their dad [a note: Long ago, I decreed the only fast food they are allowed to eat is Subway. In some mysterious way though, whenever we're out driving Elaine can easily identify McDonalds, Burger King, Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wings, Beef-a-Roo, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, and Arby's or as she calls it "Barbies," even though she can't read yet. THAT's being fed by their dad.] Wait, where was I? Oh and staying up late, watching TV all the time, running around with no schedule, and generally living in mayhem.

This week, it was time to reel them back in. I knew the end had come when Lucy told me, "Mom, you have to stop saying that Chuck E. Cheese is gross. They're a proud supporter of PBS Kids!"

I told them on Sunday night, "It's back to Mom's Boot Camp this week." "Ohhhhhhhhh," they answered, with long faces. "Boot Camp." This means that first thing in the morning they have to: get dressed, make their beds, brush their teeth, and brush their hair. Then they're supposed to sit on their beds with a book until I'm ready to give them breakfast. After breakfast, they put their dishes in the dishwasher and start their chores. The first day we did this, Elaine laid down on the floor and wailed, "I don't like all this woooooooorrrrrkkkk!" She revived when I said she could wash the windows. She lives to spray copious amounts of liquid on any surfaces. Lucy learned to clean bathrooms and do laundry, and they both learned to sweep and Swiffer the floors.

I have this what I thought was a positive, sort of Jillian Michaels-motivational type approach with tough love thrown in. "You call that a decently made bed? It looks like junk! Try it again!" which when I listen to myself I sound much more like Miss Hannigan from Annie. I'm one step away from screeching drunkenly, "And make this floor shine like the top of the Chrysler Building!" I promise I'm not exaggerating because I actually heard the girls singing "It's a Hard Knock Life For Us" while they worked. (They also sing a lovely version of "My Favorite Things," which goes "When the dog bites, when the bees stings, when Daddy spanks us, when we're feeling sad..." I guess they have very mean parents.)

I reward them for a job well done with a trip to the bike path, which they love, and then a special outing on Fridays--usually to the pool, but this Friday we're meeting Katie and her boys at a splash park. And unbeknownst to them, I'm sure we'll have a pajama ride to the drive-in sometime soon.

I know something big happened in my girls' world too, and I want them to have a fun summer. The best way to do that, at least for us, is to instill a little structure and routine. Once they get going on their tasks, they're so proud of the job they're doing. They even took wipes and cleaned on the inner window sill by the screens, which I don't think I've done since we've moved here.

Another plus is that after all the working and bike riding and their swimming, they're usually ready to fall into bed between 7:30 and 8:00, leaving me free to watch Season 3 of thirtysomething, the greatest TV show ever made, which they just started to release on DVD less than a year ago.

Also, I'm reading the classics. So far since June 1 I've (re)read: The Great Gatsby, part of This Side of Paradise, Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Across Five Aprils, An Old-Fashioned Girl, An Episode of Sparrows, and two contraband mysteries. In July, I'm scheduled to read House of Mirth and the companion novels Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. And hopefully Les Mis, (I promise, Mary!)

Oh, and I must tell you that a brand new TV movie version of Murder on the Orient Express is on this Sunday that you must see. When my cousin Joseph was here, he said, "I thought you'd sworn off mysteries this summer," but I think it's more of a withdrawal than a cold turkey process.

It's a hard-knock life for me.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I'm sitting at my dining room table, postponing a bit on starting life over again with our new normal. The last of the company has gone home. I've got dirty dishes to wash, sheets to change, little girls to get back into routine. But first I have to get down the events of Friday because even now, it's seeming far away and I need to capture it forever in words.

The previous Saturday (the 19th), we buried Mom privately. We went to southern Wisconsin, to a quiet little cemetery out in the country, which is filled with all sorts of Nichols relatives. Under a shady tree, we laid Mom to rest, just our family and Mom's brother and his wife, who did the short committal service for us. We sang two hymns, said the Lord's Prayer, and recited the 23rd Psalm. At the end, the girls, my sister-in-law, and I scattered rose petals over Mom's casket and around the grave. We had so many rose petals that we scattered them over the other relatives, too. It was quiet and peaceful, and I think it was exactly how she would have wanted it.

This Friday (the 25th) was the memorial service. Mom adamantly did not want a funeral. She didn't want stiff funeral flowers or an organ playing "Abide With Me," or a eulogy or hushed voices or anything else traditionally associated with death. She wanted Easter Sunday all over again. So, we set out to do that for her.

My dad ordered two baskets of flowers from their florist friend whose shop is next door to my parents' house. They were filled with beautiful, bright flowers and butterflies, and the florist, who loved my mom, made extra arrangements as a gift: birdbaths with gorgeous spring-like arrangements inside them. It looked like a garden.

I dressed the girls in white eyelet dresses that my mom had made them a couple summers ago that fortunately still fit. As our family came in to the service, they walked beside my dad, holding his hands.

The program for the memorial had Lucy's drawing that she did for Mom last winter: the one the pictures Heaven with God and Jesus on their thrones and Mom and Lucy in their white robes, up in the clouds and with the streets of gold by them, with the words "Together Forever" and "by Lucy" written below. Sometimes when she didn't know I saw her over the last few months, I watched Mom pick up that picture and whisper "together forever." She also told everyone she knew about it and would read them I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

The pastor, Bruce, started the service by welcoming everyone and explaining that we were here for a different kind of service...a resurrection service. We said the Apostles' Creed, but the special Easter version that we've always said at College Church: with special emphasis on the resurrection of the body and extra "He is risen indeed!"s and "Alleluia!"s in there.

Then we sang "Come Christians, Join to Sing" and a hymn that my mom used to sing while she worked around the house, "Praise the Savior." After that, one of my mom's dearest friends, Ruthie, came to the front and read Mom's testimony that she had written out a few months ago titled "How I Met Jesus." Then we watched a video tribute with family photos to the song "Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone" by Chris Tomlin, created by my sister-in-law, Rome.

Chuck got up and read I Thess. 4:13-18, and Bruce preached a message called "Anticipation." I wish I could encapsulate everything he said here because it was so beautiful, but I can't. But he gave the good news of Jesus and he said that because of what He's done for us, we don't need to rely on what we've done to get to heaven. We can throw ourselves on His grace and mercy, and when we get there, Christ will say, "They're with ME!" He also talked about Mom's high school yearbook picture--how for her career goal it said "Missionary." She started a mission school in the West Indies and her whole married life in the U.S. she did mission work here. On one of her last nights, while she was in the hospice home, a night nurse went in her room to care for her. Out of nowhere, Mom reached up, put her arms around the nurse, and prayed for her. Bruce said that even the service today was one more day of Mom's missionary work because all she wanted in life was for everyone to know and love Jesus.

After the sermon, we sang "Up from the Grave He Arose." Then a group of us went to the front to sing the final song as the congregation stood and sang with us. We sang the song that Mom kept in her Bible and would listen to in her final months, whispering "Glory!" when she heard it. In fact, it was the last song she and I listened to together at her home--Travis Cottrell's version of "In Christ Alone/The Solid Rock."

As I stood on the platform, singing (with my pal Katie and I holding each other up, crying and smiling through the whole thing!), it was so loud in there that I think the walls shook, the roof might have raised up a bit, and I'm pretty sure I could hear my mom's sweet voice singing it along with us. And though I know I'm prone to a little creative license, I overheard so many comments afterward, such as "Was that not the best music sung to the Heavens you have ever heard?!" and "I was singing at the top of my voice, and I think the walls were shaking!" and "I think Heaven opened up a bit because I heard the angels singing, too!"

It was a great finish to the Easter service, and afterward our family went to the fellowship hall to greet everybody. Oh, and when my friend Jeanette came down, she told me that the postlude was "Victory in Jesus," which people just started singing along. (Mom would have been so on board with that.)

I was floored and so touched at how many people were there. Of course friends and family but also people I was shocked to see--like my friend who was my manager at work seven years ago. My brother's business partners. Cousins I don't think I've ever even met. People who had traveled from all over the country.

There was a spread of food from the church like you wouldn't believe unless you go to a church like that. I told Jennie--who said "Everyone's gone through the line, and the ladies just replenished it all!"--"Welcome to evangelicalism!" And my cousin Joseph said, "I haven't had cheese potato casserole since I was here last summer. If I lived here, my life expectancy would be much shorter."

Every person I talked to said they'd never been to a service like that before. It's not that I didn't see tears, but they were tears of joy. It was one of the happiest days ever: my mom is completely healed and we're going to see her again! The worst part of the day was that I kept waiting for Mom to walk in so I could tell her how wonderful everything is, but the best part of the day is that I'm pretty sure she knows already.

Quite a few of my blog readers were at the service, so they got to read the note I wrote that was in the program from our whole family. But for any of you who weren't there, the note is to you as well, so I'll include it below to close this. Thank you to all of you. He is risen!

To our family and friends,

Thank you for being with us today. This service was mostly planned by Mom (she never could resist planning a party), to be an encouragement to everyone and remind them of our hope in the Resurrection. Every person who is here today is here because they love Mom and us. To each one who has prayed, called, cried, hugged, sung in the dark, brought meals, visited, written notes, sent flowers, made incredibly generous offers to help in any way we have needed—you have held up our arms during this time. Any service offered or rendered was given to Him, and He saw each one. You are the Church, and you do it so well. We are humbled and can never thank you enough, but we’ll spend the rest of our lives trying!

And to Mom,

Remember when we were growing up and would play our stereo in the basement too loud? Dad would yell at us to turn it down, but if anyone happened to walk by the kitchen, they might have seen you dancing along to the music. We can only imagine what your reception Home was like, but we’re guessing the citizens of heaven are witnessing some never-before-seen dance moves now that you have arrived. Dance away, Mom—No more pain! You are exactly where you were always meant to be. For the rest of our time here, there will be an empty spot at the table and in our hearts where you have been, but we’re looking forward to when Jesus gathers us all together at His table—never to be separated again. Together forever! We love you.

Charles and Rome Nichols
Darren, Alice, Lucy, & Elaine Daniels

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Cardinals

My dad loves birds. He always has, for as long as I can remember, and consequently, a number of our family memories are marked by statements such as, "Remember the time Mom looked out the kitchen window and saw the apple tree completely filled with cedar waxwings?" or "Remember when we saw the wood-duck sitting on top of the Knippen's house next door?" or "...the time we spent a good portion of Christmas morning not opening our presents but watching hundreds of birds come to the feeders for their Christmas breakfast?"

As kids, Dad passed all sorts of bird trivia on to us so that I thought that kind of knowledge was normal and am shocked when confronted with adults who can't tell a sparrow from a starling or a wren from a pine siskin. When I went with Elaine's class on the trolley trip along the river, it took all my social skills to remain silent when I heard statements such as, "Those are geese. Or maybe they're ducks. I don't know, I just call everything ducks." (Hello?)

Since cardinals are our state bird, we have a lot of them around and I know from Dad that their singing (which sounds like either "Cheer, cheer, cheer" or "Pretty, pretty, pretty,") is the absolute first sign that spring might be coming--even before my beloved robins show up. Cardinals, despite their bright color, are actually shy and secretive birds--you'll never see their nest, even if you know its location, because they usually tuck them deep into cedar bushes and don't even make them look like nests.

Cardinals also mate for life. In each house I've lived in, I've had a cardinal couple living here, too (in a cedar bush). The cardinal couples are so loving toward each other; they'll even feed one another, and I promise you that one day I saw my cardinal neighbors perch on the fence, lean over, and kiss with their little red beaks.

In these past two weeks that I've lived at my parents' house and the hospice home, I've gotten to hear the story retold several times of how my parents met--because everyone wants to know. My dad was the principal of a Christian school in Chicago, and he desperately needed a fifth grade teacher.

My mom's was one of the resumes he had, so he called her on what was the night before her going to Pennsylvania to accept another job. But she said she had a several-hour layover in Chicago, so she would come to interview anyway. She decided (after praying, of course) to take the Chicago job instead, with my dad as her boss.

His first impression of her was that she was a wonderful teacher, but it didn't take long for him to get interested in her as a person, too. He had suffered a broken engagement several years before, and though people had tried to set him up in the meantime, he just wasn't interested until this little missionary teacher crossed his path.

On the night of their first date, Dad says it was almost their last because he had been up all the previous night, dealing with a tree that had fallen on his garage and then had gone to work all day. Mom had carefully prepared a list of topics for them to discuss, which she kept surreptitiously pulling out of her purse, but Dad met every attempt with a yawn.

They did survive the first date though, and went on to many more, which had to be kept top secret since there were strict rules about couples not working together. After that year, my dad resigned and took a job in Wheaton while my mom stayed at the Chicago school. Then they could openly be engaged, and Dad wasted no time telling people that he was planning to marry his fifth grade teacher.

However, Mom got the last word. The school gave an end-of-the-year banquet for the faculty and invited Dad back as a guest. Each of the teachers was asked to get up and give his or her testimony about what God had done in their lives the past year. When it was Mom's turn, she talked for a bit in her sweet, serious way and shared the verse that had been special to her that year: Psalm 84:11 "No good thing will the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly." Then she paused, turned, dramatically pointed at Dad, and said, "THIS is the no-good thing that the Lord did not withhold from me."

As Dad says, she brought the house down.

They were married a month later, on June 17, 1966. They lived in Wheaton and had their family and were active in their church. They did not have a perfect marriage, because they were human. But they did have a great marriage.

When they retired, they moved out to the country and lived much the same way, quietly, but active with their family and with their church. Every afternoon at three o'clock, they would stop and have tea together.

Over the past sixteen months, I've watched my dad take care of my mom--he was very protective of her--and I've watched him grieve what he knew was coming. One day that I saw her at home (during her confusion time) she said to me privately, "Your dad and I have this little game we play together. You know how we love plum preserves? Well, I have to hide some of the jars, otherwise he'll eat it all and there won't be any left!" Then she drew me a little diagram of the shelves in the basement to tell me where she had hidden some jars. I said to her, "Actually Mom, that sounds like just a little game YOU play!"

When Mom was in the hospice home, I watched my dad kiss her each time he came in or left. Sometimes he would ask, "Do you know me?" and she would whisper, "You are Charlie." She didn't want anything to eat, so he went home and got their homemade bread and some of the secret plum preserves she loved, and then he sat on the side of her bed and fed it to her.

One afternoon I left the hospice and went to their house to do some things. I saw on the counter a tray with his afternoon tea things--the teapot, the sugar bowl, a solitary cup. It was then that I told him thank you. Thank you for what a good job he's done, taking care of Mom all these months and years. He hugged me and said, "Well, at the beginning of 2009, the Lord gave me an assignment: to escort one of His very special jewels all the way to the gates of Glory."

On Mom's last day, the hospice called us early in the morning and told us we needed to come as soon as we could. We got there and sat down on either side of Mom's bed. We turned off her oxygen since it wasn't making any difference. We turned on her hymn CD. We opened the french doors to her room and let the sun shine in, the breeze blow, and the birds sing. We held her hands. When we knew it was the very end, Dad leaned over, kissed her, told her he loved her, and said, "Say hello to Jesus for me, sweetie." Then she was gone.

They were married 43 years and 364 days.

If you've read this blog long enough, you'll know that we like to name all the bird couples we meet. There are our mourning doves, Henry and Margaret; our robins, Frank and Eleanor. But we've never named the cardinals--just Mr. and Mrs. I realize now that that is because I've known their names all along.

They are Charlie and Lois.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


"Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she loved best in the world had been calling her name." --Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis

Lois E. Nichols:
Born on August 5, 1933
Stepped from faith into glorious sight at 12:25 p.m., June 16, 2010

"Then her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn't know it), she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture, and she ran forward with a little cry of delight and with her arms stretched out. For what stood in the doorway was Aslan himself, the Lion, the highest of all High Kings."--The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Journals

Last Saturday (was it really only a week ago? It seems like a thousand years), we had Lucy's and my brother's birthday celebrations with Mom and Dad. Mom was able to sit with us for a little while in her wheelchair, and we heard her sweet voice sing "Happy Birthday." Later in the evening, we could tell that she was feeling very unwell, and at around 2:30 the next morning, my dad woke me up to say we would need to take Mom to the hospice home immediately.

As Dad ran around gathering up things, I held Mom's hand and told her that everything would be better soon; that her nurse was on the way. A look of fear crossed over her face, and she said, "That's not good. That means everything is changing. We can fix this, if we just have a cup of tea!" I smoothed her hair and told her not to worry; the nurse would soon come and help her.

We got her into the car and drove in the darkness the few miles to Serenity Home. In the silence, Mom said, "If this were my brother, I would take care of him, too." My dad answered her, "I know you would. You've always taken care of everybody your whole life."

The first few days in the hospice Mom alternated between waking and sleeping, mostly sleeping. It is the most beautiful place, quiet and serene, like its name. She recognized Dad and me and would sometimes ask, "Where am I? This is a beautiful place." Her body was agitated though, and many times she would try to get up, though she (nor any of us) knew what for.

A few weeks before this, Mom had told me, "When I go, I want you to get my journal. It'll either be on my bookcase or my bedside table. Be sure you get it." So, I got the journal and in between, Dad and I have found any number of other little journals Mom wrote in over the years. I recently read something Beth Moore wrote about after her father died: she read his journal, cried, and wondered, "Dad, why didn't I know you?"

Reading my mom's journal, I smile and cry, but not because I didn't know her--because these journals are vintage Lois. They have almost no sort of linear thought; they are interwoven threads of the following: lists of chores (both for herself and for my brother and me), written out prayers, how much she loves the Lord and what He's teaching her, her family and friends, and everything she cooked and/or ate.

These are private journals for the eyes of her family only so I will not share them here, only one small entry that if there were room on her tombstone for it, I would want this engraved there. In February 2009, the time she found out she had cancer again, she started a fresh page and wrote "A New Chapter" at the top. She details the initial doctor reports, her fears, how she and my dad had to tell their children and friends. But on one day, here is an entry: "Dr. Carter called today and told me I have a tumor the size of a lemon in my lungs. Oh, I am so glad I know and love Jesus! Made chili for supper."

On Thursday of this week, Dad and I were at the hospice early in the morning. We sat with Mom, and she was awake. All of a sudden, she began to cry. Cry and sob and wail. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy..." she cried. My dad put his arms around her and said, "Which daddy do you mean? Do you mean me? Do you mean your daddy?" and Mom whispered, "Heavenly Father, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." Then she cried again, "I want my mother!" Her mother died when Mom was only six years old.

The nurses came in to calm and help and give her some medicine. I went down to the chapel to cry and pray and also to call my brother since Mom had been asking for him earlier. I could hear Mom wailing all the way down the hall, and in my weakness I asked God if this could please be the worst thing that ever happens to me in my lifetime.

As I walked back to her room, a young nurse's aide was sitting by her bed, holding Mom's hands. I heard her saying quietly to her, "Jesus is here, Lois, Jesus is here. Just lay everything at the foot of the cross..." so I tiptoed away again, because I didn't want to interrupt when an angel was in the room.

After Mom was peaceful again, I went and sat with her. Her Fernando Ortega hymn CD was playing quietly, and she gave me a beautiful smile. "This is my culminating day," she told me. "This is the last day." Then, "I want you to put your head down on my lap." So, just like when I was a little girl, I put my head down on her lap until she quietly drifted off.

As she slept, her breathing slowed down to about three breaths per minute. The death rattle began in her throat. After several hours, the nurse came to take her vitals--her blood pressure had dropped and her knees and legs were mottled, a sign that circulation was leaving her extremities.

All our family gathered, including Chuck and Rome, Darren and the girls, Mom's closest friends, her pastor and his wife. We cried and said goodbye to her; the nurses cried too, whispering, "It's not going to be long now."

We waited all day. We waited all night. You may think this can't be true, but I even jerked awake when I heard the clock strike midnight. We waited all Friday, with Mom still lying still--she had awakened briefly Friday morning and went back into unconsciousness. Her face is pale but peaceful, her breathing shallow and slow, but still coming in and out.

I came home last night because my family has barely seen me all week. I need to be with Darren and my girls a little bit and to take care of certain things that only I can do here. Get a haircut since it's so hard to book an appointment.

Chuck and Rome have come to stay with Dad for the weekend so he will not be there on his own. I'll return Sunday night if Mom's departure doesn't happen sooner.

I slept with the phone next to me last night, but it did not ring. I woke up with the words to this hymn in my mind:

Be still my soul, my God is on your side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain...
Be still my soul, thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

This morning I got out my Bible study of Paul I've been doing for the last 10 or so weeks. I didn't do the study yesterday, so today was the very last day. Here is the Scripture for today:

"You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me... Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them...But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus...For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."


Through this week, Mom's friends have told me wonderful things about and stories of Mom. But one thing every one of them has said: "I learned from her." The things they learned are many and varied, but each one has ended with: "I learned how to pray from her." One dear lady told me yesterday, "If you wanted something prayed about, you went to Lois. And she didn't just tell you, 'I'll pray for you.' She took you by the hand, knelt down right there, and prayed with you."

So, today, Saturday, as my mom lies quiet, still, and unconscious, yet continuing to draw breath, I will learn from her yet again.

June 12, 2010: Spent the week in the hospice home, watching my mother die. Oh, I am so glad I know and love Jesus. Folded the laundry.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Inheritance

Wednesday I went to see Mom with the girls. She sat up in bed and let them drape her with all sorts of her jewelry (plus trying it on themselves, of course), and Elaine got out a pad of paper and took all our orders at her pretend restaurant, except she was out of most of the things we wanted, she told us.

Today I went back, by myself, and one of Mom's nurses, Jackie, met me at the door. She sat down with me in the family room and told me that things have changed, they are changing. As of yesterday, Mom was not eating and couldn't swallow her pills. Consequently, within hours, her body--which is now addicted to all sorts of drugs--went through withdrawal. She moaned and cried out in pain all day, begging Jesus to help her. The nurses stayed with her all day, and finally a hospital bed was sent, so they put her into it. They were finally able to get her pills into her, too.

Jackie told me, "I know you have things planned for this weekend, but..." I said that we were planning to bring some treats on Sunday to celebrate Lucy's birthday together with Mom. Jackie started to cry and said, "You should do that tomorrow. Your mom is transitioning to death now. She may rally and stay a week or two, but she may not."

On Monday, they will be moving her to the serenity/hospice house, so after our birthday celebration tomorrow, I'll be staying at my parents' and the hospice alternately.

I went back to Mom's room--she was heavily sedated and sleeping peacefully, but she opened her eyes when I touched her shoulder and put her arms out to me. "Come here to me, my precious daughter, my baby," she whispered. I asked her how she was feeling, and she said, "I'm happy now. Alice has come to have a cup of tea with me."

I gave her some water and told her that I'd brought her some new pajamas to wear. My dad went to run some errands, and the head of the hospice nurses came in because she wanted to pray with Mom. She prayed with her and cried--I can see how much these nurses love her; one of them told me that they fight over who gets to come take care of her.

While she prayed, my mom assented throughout--she can't articulate her own prayers anymore, but that is the hallmark of her life. My mom is a pray-er like nobody else. I can remember as a child, hearing her, behind her closed door, calling out to God in prayer. Last year my dad said he found her on the floor--she was on her knees in prayer, but the pain was so much that she couldn't get up.

When that nurse left, I held Mom's hand and she murmured some incoherent things to me. She said something about the Internet (she's been stressed about the Internet ever since her mind started to fail) and I told her, "Mom, you don't have to learn the Internet. In fact, you never have to think about it again. You're just going to fly up to heaven, and that will be totally off your shoulders. Don't worry about it anymore."

She smiled at me and said, "Thank you. That's so wonderful!"

Then I told her, "In fact, you don't have to learn anything down here anymore. You've learned it all, and you've taught it to me. Don't worry, Mom, I remember everything you've taught me. I promise I won't go out in public in cut-offs. I just did it the one time when Elaine kept me up all night and I had a migraine and had to go to Wal-greens. I'll make sure I look decent and have my lipstick on. I promise I'll stop cooking with Cool-Whip so much, too. I know you want me to use all good ingredients. I'll be sure to use the china and silver and not paper goods. And don't worry--I'll take care of everyone. I'll take care of Dad and Chuck and Rome and Darren and Lucy and Elaine."

"Good, good," she answered. "They need it. They need you to take care of them."

She drifted back to sleep then, and soon a new nurse came to give her a bed bath and put on her new pajamas. Before I left to go home and pack and do all the other things I need to do before being away from my family for a bit, I told her I loved her and that I'd be back soon. I put my grandpa's picture close to her--she loves to look at it and think about how he's waiting in heaven for her to get there. I got her lipstick and carefully applied it for her.

"There, you're all fixed up now, and you look so pretty," I told her. "And your lips won't be dry either."

"Lipstick feels better," Mom whispered. "No reason to go without."

Afterwards, I began to pray. With one of the strongest prayer warriors preparing to leave this Earth, I set forth a stream of intercession like I never have before. I prayed for the world, for those hurting and starving and caught in human trafficking. For refugees and orphans and widows. I prayed for the missionaries.

I see your glory, covering the earth, Lord
Just as the waters, covering the sea
I see the millions, coming to salvation
I see revival, fire in the land
I see the lost, nameless ones remembered
I see the widows, shouting out your praise
I see the friendless, loved and celebrated
Orphans fullfilling, Lord, your calling on their lives

I prayed for all the people I could think of that Mom would be praying for--her friends, those with cancer and other illness, those who are unhappy, those with troubled families. Then I prayed for my friends and all the things I could think of that they're going through. I prayed for our family members who are broken and wounded and trapped in alcoholism or whatever else.

I see the brokenness of families brought to wholeness
I see the prodigals, running home to You
Fathers' hearts, now turning toward their children
And the children's hearts, turning toward the fathers

I prayed for my own family--for my husband and sister-in-law, whom my mom has loved like her own children; for my girls; for my brother; and especially for my dad...for grace and peace.

I see your Church, all rising up in power
Laying down their lives in unity and love
I hear the sound of every tribe and nation
Giving glory to Jesus Christ the Son

And lastly, I thanked God for this awesome, unwavering saint of His who came in disguise as my 5-foot-tall, humble, sweet, dearest mother ("Five-foot-ONE" I can hear her saying). I promised that I would do everything I can my whole life to pray like she did. It's the most important thing I can do.

This is my prayer, oh God
This is my desperate cry
In these days that we're living now
Let Your kingdom come
Let Your will be done
...that Your glory may be seen...

As I left, I felt the mantle my mom has worn all her life drift gently off her and on to my shoulders.

It's on me now.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Summer Project

Wow, I guess it's been awhile since I've posted. We were gone over the holiday weekend, and my computer was out having something done to it--I'm not sure what--but now it's back. I've got stuff to post about the girls' last day of school and our beginning of summer, but first I've got to tell you about my summer project.

It kind of started before Christmas, when I wrote out a list of my favorite things my mom makes and asked her to write them out on recipe cards for me. There's just something about having stuff written by hand, at least in my opinion. Fortunately, I've got piles of notes from her to me, birthday cards, Valentine's, letters she wrote to me at summer camp and when I was in college. So now I wanted the recipes, because, while I love the Food Network and Barefoot Contessa and Pioneer Woman, and, etc., there is nothing like the food your mom or grandma or aunt or friend makes.

Mom went out and bought some cards and got started on the project but then was unable to finish. She did as much as she could, so I'll try to fill in the rest.

First, I got her recipe box that sat on her kitchen counter her whole married life. It was my grandma's.

It has a lot of my grandma's recipes in it, including this one, which is a dessert we would eat every Christmas Day. Now, my grandma did not write her recipes by hand--she was a secretary extraordinaire, and all her recipes are typed, before the days of computers of course. Can't you just picture her at an old-fashioned Royale or Underwood typewriter, typing out her recipes?

I also grabbed this book that many of my mom's famous recipes come from, including her legendary apple pie, the birthday cake she made for my dad every year (German chocolate maraschino cherry. Are you hungry yet?), and the cutout Christmas cookies she always makes. They're called Santa Claus cookies, and they are the only recipe my mom guards and doesn't really like to give out. Therefore, I did not take a picture of the recipe and post it on the Internet. She got this cookbook right after she got married, in 1966, from the company where she and my dad bought their gas stove. It has these fantastical instructions, such as, "Set dial on 'burner with a brain' to heat to 250 degrees." As you can see, it's been used. A lot.

I also went through my own recipe files. At one of my wedding showers, my mom wrote down any number of my favorite recipes with little notes written at the top.

Here are a few treasures from inside the recipe box. Popovers, which I can practically taste as I'm typing this. Mom would serve these with butter and homemade plum jam.

I love this one...Bread (for those who can't make bread). It's as if she wrote that knowing me before I was even born.

I also found some handwritten notes in my files that she's given me over the years.

Here's one that she wrote out most recently: Friendship Cookies--Manga's Cookies for Her Girls. Every time I make these, I will picture her in the kitchen with Lucy and Elaine. They made these together almost every time we went over to her house.

Besides these recipes from my mom and grandma, I have some from my Aunt Nancy, my Aunt Alice, and my Aunt Sandy. I've got ones from my mom's friends, Barbara, Nita, Muriel, June, Annette, Alice, and more--all women who love me and have watched me grow up.

I'll be putting all of these into a book, along with some of my own and some for a new generation, including Lucy's Applesauce Bread and Elaine's Eclair Cake.

I want some help from my friends, too--so, send me your recipes. And by that I mean, get a card, write it out by hand, and drop it in the mail to me (if you have to type it, it better be on an upright, portable typewriter). When I open up the book to make something good for my family, I want to be reminded of you. Better yet, you could come over with it in hand and have tea with me--I'll make popovers!

I'll also be taking ideas for what to call this book--The Holy Grail of Food doesn't quite sound right, so I welcome your thoughts.

Happy eating...and writing!