Mother’s Beautiful Hands

This past May our mother passed on to heaven.  We said our final earthly goodbyes to her on May 8, and thus began our year of those firsts.  Many of you know them…those first special days that you spend without that special person.  Our first “first” came quickly.  Mother’s Day occurred just two days after Mom’s funeral.  Isn’t that just like life?  Life doesn’t wait on us to get ready for the things that are hard.  They happen whether we’re ready or not.

Our next first is tomorrow.  Tomorrow is Mom’s birthday.  She would be 89 if she had lived to see this day.  I know, though, that none of us wish her back.  We had been saying goodbye to her for a long time as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s overtook her brain and body.  What a sad disease it is!  Alzheimer’s takes a person slowly, robbing them of their essence and their personality and their memories.  I’ll never forget going to see Mom last year, in June of 2014.  When Gary and I entered her assisted living apartment with Jan, Mom not only didn’t know us at all, but she didn’t even show any joy that we were there.  She would usually at least act happy to have visitors, but on this visit she was completely devoid of even that.  For the first time, I did indeed feel like a visitor…..and an ignored one, at that.

Our visit that June was also the one where we gathered around Mom in the kitchen at Jan’s house as we sang hymns. Mom sang with us, surprising us all.  That time was deeply precious to each of us, including Mom.  Her eyes lit up as she sang.  She smiled and she tried to express what she was thinking about each song.  She remembered words very well, and we knew that each song resonated with her deep in her heart and mind.

 

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Before we left that evening to go on our separate ways once again, Mary Beth wanted us to all put our hands on the table together and take a picture.  I’m so glad we did that.  Something about that picture is so personal…so tender.  There is our mother’s hand, nestled among her children’s.  Her hand shows the effects of age…of hard work…of arthritis.  But her hand is beautiful.  And us…our hands also show the signs of age that are creeping upon us.  You can see some spots…some lumps on our joints…and several of us have that funny little finger that Mom had.

 

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I look at that picture and I think of how Mom’s hand was always in our lives.  From an early age her hands were ever busy with caring for us five children, and for Dad.  I remember her hands cooking and baking, sewing and cleaning, caring for sick children and looking after busy children.  She used her hands to show us how to make little troll doll clothes out of felt while she sewed real clothes for us to wear.  She used her hands to let us turn the handle on the food chopper as she made Cranberry Salad for Thanksgiving.  She used her hands to fill our table with huge baking sheets of homemade rolls while she pinched off little pieces of dough for us to happily eat.  She used her hands to teach us how to set a table and how to wash dirty dishes after loading the sink just right.

Her hands wiped our tears…and sometimes caused our tears as she spanked us for disobedience.  Her hands worked to grow beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables, which she froze and canned and cooked and shared with others.  Her hands taught us how to do the laundry and to fold the clothes correctly.  Her hands taught us to iron whatever she had placed in our four baskets, each basket bearing the name of one of us girls.  Where was John’s?  J  Her hands taught us how to clean a house, how to hem a dress, how to play some of her favorite card games, how to make a bed the RIGHT way, how to take care of our varied pets, and how to plan the many practical jokes for which she was famous.

Perhaps the most important use of her hands was when she would open her Bible in the early mornings as we all sat around the breakfast table.  Dad would have already gone to work, so before we left for school, Mom would be sure that we all opened our Bibles as she did.  She would read from the Our Daily Bread devotional book, reading the selected Bible passage first and then reading the devotion before we prayed.  Her commitment to God and to us was never more evident than during that precious time together every morning.

Her hands made each of our wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses.  Her hands cared for us after each of our children was born.  Her hands loved and doted on her grandchildren and great-grands.  Her hands knit literally countless numbers of Christmas stockings for family, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, pets……you get the idea.  Her hands quilted each of us a totally handmade quilt after she retired.  Then those always busy hands made, again, an untold number of quilts for others to enjoy.  Her hands took meals to shut-ins.  Her hands stuffed envelopes for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, for missionaries, and for church.

Her hands cared for Dad for eight years as he fought cancer.  And it was her hands that he wanted to scramble his eggs that he loved during the final few weeks of his life.  Only her hands would do, and I understood that totally as I stepped aside and let her do this thing that she loved so much.  It was in their little kitchen that I noticed her hands doing things differently than she had ever done…and I knew that the Alzheimer’s was lurking, waiting to overcome her in the following years.

Her hands worked hard to care for Dad during that final month that he lived.  He preferred her hands above all others, but he knew that she was struggling, and so he allowed Jan and I to help as well.  But it was Mom’s hand that he reached for as they sat on the couch.  It was Mom’s touch that comforted him when he was so sick.  It was Mom’s hand that he held as he lay in his hospital bed…..her hand reaching through the bed rails as she lay alone in their bed beside his hospital bed.

 

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Jan took one last picture of Mom’s hands as she lay dying this past May.  There they were, crossed on her lap, still and un-moving.  She was nearing the end of her time on earth.  Her hands, though, spoke volumes to all of us.  I’m again so thankful for the picture that Jan took.  Her hands showed the evidence of years of love and work.  Now her hand’s work was done.  It was time for her to rest.

 

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But the work of her hands will never be done.  Her work in our lives does indeed live on.  So much of who we are and what we are is because of her beautiful hands in our lives.  None of us King children would be who we are today without the influence of her godly, kind hands.  Then our children, and their children, show the impact of Mom’s hands.  What a treasure is to be seen in those soft, wrinkled hands!

I’m pretty sure that her hand is now holding Dad’s hand in heaven.  I doubt that they’ve let each other go since she’s joined him there.  Unless there’s work for her to do, and then I can totally see her using those hands to make something or to keep things straight.  I wonder how many quilts she’s made by now?

The Proverbs 31 woman was described as one who works with willing hands.  Our mother did just that, and for the rest of our lives we will benefit from her wonderful, willing hands in our lives.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  Thank you for your beautiful hands in our lives.  You will always be loved.

 

Going Home

 

 

 

Gary and I just returned this past week from a most wonderful trip back home…home being the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, and the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia.  We are both mountain born and bred.  Now we live in a different kind of beauty surrounded by southern Kansas farm fields and beautiful skies.  But when we go home to where we were “reared,” as we say back there, our hearts are stirred by our mountains…and more so, by the family we love even more than those hills and valleys of home.

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The reason for this trip began because of my one and only brother, John.  We four sisters love blaming our only brother for lots of things, so we’ll lay this one on him as well.  John has retired from 45 years of pastoring, the last 28 years being at our former home church in Princeton, West Virginia.  Johnston Chapel Baptist Church is where all five of us King kids grew up, both physically and more important, spiritually.  So there were many, many reasons why going home on this trip was so special to all of us.  And as I said before my sisters and I sang on Sunday morning, “Any time there’s a celebration about getting rid of John, we’ll be there!!”

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But as we all planned this special weekend, the trip morphed into much more than only John and Jeanie’s celebration day.  We added on a Hollandsworth cousin’s reunion on Saturday before the Heritage Sunday service.  Then Gary and I tagged on a couple extra days so that we could spend time with his sister and family in western North Carolina.  Aaron stayed home in Kansas with our friend, Casady, watching over him.

Gary and I flew into Atlanta, and then drove up to Bryson City in steady rain.  Even with the rain and the low-lying clouds, the mountains were so pretty.  I love the drive, and I love the stories Gary tells as we pass by little old mountain roads that wind up to sights unseen from the highway.  Stories of his youth, with certain details untold, I’m quite sure.

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How good to see his sister, Sandra, and his Aunt Mary Leah!  We had two nights there, the second evening being joined by Gary’s cousin Nita, and her husband Charles.  Such delicious country cooking, Sandra’s specialty!  And such fun conversation and sweet fellowship!

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On Friday we made our way to Weaverville, NC, where we visited the dear woman who was married to Gary’s dad – twice! – and about whom I wrote a blog earlier this year.  (The Last Puzzle Piece )   Leo is so dear to our hearts, being responsible for getting Gary and his dad to finally meet after decades of never knowing each other…and allowing our children to know their other Grandpa.  Ray died two months before my dad passed away.

IMG957830Gary and I were very happy to spend a little time with Leo and her daughter Jonni, along with Sandra and Mary Leah.  Leo is on Hospice, so our time with her was extra precious.

 

 

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Then up to Winston-Salem, NC, to visit with Gary’s Uncle Jay and Aunt Teetle.  We love them so much!  Jay and Teetle added Gary to their family of four boys during Gary’s junior and senior years of high school.  Oh, the stories they could tell!  They hold a very dear place in Gary’s heart, and mine as well.

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We then drove a few miles to spend some time with our wonderful friends from way back – Bucky and Janet.  Janet and I were college roommates but knew each other before then as we went to summer youth camp together.  How fun it was to get together, to catch up with life and kids, to laugh a lot, to see their son Whitson on his dinner break from the Sheriff’s department, and to thank the Lord for healing Janet’s cancer.

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Next we headed for West Virginia, taking a detour on old curvy mountain roads in the dark so that we could avoid long waits on the interstate due to construction.  Those roads brought back many memories to me of multiple trips to college, the many turns and the small towns and the rock cliffs all a part of me from decades gone by.  But before we left the interstate, Pilot Mountain loomed before us as always – this time its top covered with clouds, making this old mountain sentinel look eerily beautiful.

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I began the day on Saturday with my dear high school friend, Karen.  We caught up over breakfast, somewhat.  Time always goes too fast but how much it meant to both of us to see each other again!

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Saturday was a wonderful day – our Cousin’s Reunion!  Bob and Jan, my sister and her husband, did a fantastic job of orchestrating this day.  First we drove in a large rented van to Welch, West Virginia, through small mountain towns…towns ravaged by the downturn in the coal industry over the years.

Trains are the lifeblood of this state.  My dad spent his life working for the railroad, and my niece’s husband is carrying on that tradition.  Coal is coming back, so maybe hope will return as well to these little struggling mountain towns.

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We cousins have reconnected due to Facebook.  It’s been so much fun to get to know one another again and was especially sweet to actually hug one another on this day…and talk and talk and talk.  Our grandparents, Guy and Lillian Hollandsworth, raised their children…our parents…in the town of Welch.

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Their house no longer stands, destroyed by one of Welch’s many floods.  But the school where Grandpa was the principal is still there.  We talked about how amazing it was that so many of his grandchildren were now standing in view of his school…the school our parents attended.

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That evening, more cousins came into town.  We enjoyed dinner together, and desserts at Bob and Jan’s house.  So much laughter, catching up, shared memories, and new ones being made!

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Sunday was Heritage Sunday for the church, as well as celebration day for John and Jeanie, and their family.

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What a very touching service, listening to so many testimonies about how John and Jeanie have cared for and shepherded this dear church.

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Jan’s girls, two sets of twins, sang beautifully.

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And we King Sisters tried to, as well, after many years of NOT singing.  We so missed our youngest sister, Kathryn, unable to come because of health issues.

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There was dinner on the grounds after the service.  No one puts on a spread like church members, especially in the south!

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It was just awesome to see so many old friends from my growing up years at Johnston Chapel!  So many hugs and smiles and memories!  Won’t heaven be wonderful?!

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It was over all too soon.  Everyone had to go back to their homes and jobs.  Gary and I drove back to Bryson City, relishing our sunny mountains on this drive…and relishing time with Sandra before flying back to Kansas…our other home.

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There is a bond with family that is unlike any other.  No amount of time apart or number of miles between can take away the shared connection of family.  And old friends have a connection nearly as strong as family.

It’s largely a matter of roots.  Our roots are imbedded in the ground of our youth…our growing-up years…our family and friends.  It’s where we are from, and it’s also who we are.  It’s the part of us that only our family and old friends truly know.  Going back to the place of my roots…to the people whose roots are entwined with mine…was, and always is, a nurturing time for me.  A time of thankfulness, refreshment, and peace.  A time never lasting long enough.

I love the song about home that Celtic Thunder sings.

“Home, I’m going home.  Home to the people I left behind. 

            Home to the love I know I’ll find.  Oh, take me home.”

 

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