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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A Heritage Worth Leaving

We hated to do it, but the time had come.  Our last two remaining pine trees had, or were, succumbing to Pine Wilt disease. 

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The destructive nematode had done its dirty job and now it was time for the tree service to come in and do theirs.  It’s always sad to see once beautiful trees that have stood for years come crashing down in a matter of minutes, then chopped up and hauled away like so much trash.

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In our front yard lay the biggest heartbreak, though.  Our one remaining evergreen…we called it our Gumdrop Tree…that we had decorated every Christmas for many years was dying as well, so down it came and off it went. 

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Just like that.

Gone.

No evidence remains of our once gorgeous trees.  Every piece was cut down, cut up, and driven away in huge trucks. 

Even the stumps were ground down.  Gary finished the clean-up in the following days, planted grass, and that was the end.

I thought of these scenes the following week when I was reading in my One Year Bible.  This phrase jumped out at me in Jeremiah 16:19:  “…our ancestors left us a foolish heritage, for they worshiped worthless idols.”  (NLT)

I instantly thought of my role as a parent, and have pondered since then the sad prospect of a foolish heritage.  My role as mom and Gary’s role as dad has drastically changed over the years. 

We have gone from this:

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To this:

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And it all seems to have happened so very quickly!

Plus…we are planning a wedding this year!!  Yes, Andrea and Kyle are to marry in October!! 

So I see with my own eyes the passage of time…how true is the scripture that says all flesh is grass that withers away.  Like a flower that fades, God tells us.

That’s quite a reminder that life passes quickly.  The picture of our fallen trees was a stark example to me of that truth.  Once stately and strong, they are now gone. 

But I am not that tree.  Though my life may fly by quickly, I have the opportunity to leave a heritage behind, especially to my children. 

To young moms and dads beginning on this journey of parenting, I would encourage you to be intentional as you set out to raise your children.  Live with the end result always in mind, as my friend Jill loves to remind young mommas. 

What will matter most when your children say that dreadful goodbye and leave your nest?  I can tell you that it isn’t whether they have mastered a sport or a musical instrument.  It isn’t whether they have excelled at school and have college scholarships awaiting.  It isn’t that they have tons of friends and a super active social life. 

What matters most is their personal relationship to Jesus Christ.  What matters most is their mastery of God’s Word.  What matters most is that they have owned their faith. 

We leave our children a worthless heritage when we focus our time…our energy…our money…our every effort…on things that will not matter one whit to their eternal souls.  Sports, music, grades, friends, a social life…these have their place, but they are not to take THE first place in our child’s life.  And it’s up to us as parents to guide their focus to what holds true value in their lives, even when they don’t see it that way. 

What useless idols do we worship as we raise our children? 

Fame?  Money?  Popularity?  Technology? 

It’s so easy to get sucked into the mold of this world, thinking that these issues are all important while we ignore the eternal and the spiritual. 

Foolish heritage.  What a tragedy! 

Don’t let that be said of you, dear young parents.  Start now to look ahead to the end result…to think of where each activity and each focus of your child’s life will lead them. 

Remember that God also said:  “The grass withers, the flower fades, BUT the Word of our God stands forever.”  (Isaiah 40:8)

Now that’s a heritage worth leaving!

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The First Snow

 

The first thing I did when I got up this morning was to look out the window to see if we had gotten any of the possible snow that has been talked about over the past few days.  If you look hard, like between the cracks of our brick walkway out back, or on our roof, you can see a little faint dusting of snow.  It’s just a tiny bit, but it would have been enough at one time to keep up our old family tradition.

 

My mind goes back on this cold morning to other cold mornings of my childhood.  I remember how Mom would always be up very early, faithfully fixing breakfast for Dad before he left for his job at the railroad station nearby.  Then she would do the same for us, getting five breakfasts ready for us kids before we left for school……and somehow getting herself ready to head out the door for her own job.

 

But in the fall or early winter, there was often one magical morning that we would wake up to the sound of Christmas music.   Christmas music didn’t start playing at our house full time until after Thanksgiving.  One holiday at a time, please, in the King household.  However, there was one moment that Christmas music was played before the allowed time…….one day that it was perfectly fine to hear the early strains of We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

 

That time was on the occasion of the very first snowfall.  It didn’t matter if the first snowflakes fell in October.  If there was a bit of snow falling from the sky, Mom would put on a Christmas record……and if it was in the morning, we would wake up to the sounds of Christmas in the house.  And we knew…..we knew without even getting out of bed……that there was snow on the ground.  Of course, we would rush to the windows to see if there was enough to allow us to stay home from school, but there rarely was.

 

Mom and Dad loved snow.  Even when we all moved away from home, there was that one special day that our phone would ring and when we answered we would only hear a Christmas song being played.  None of us would have to guess or wonder what that was about.  We knew!  It was Mom and Dad announcing with delight that they had gotten the first snowfall of the season.  We all had a little contest going, hoping that we would beat them to the punch and be the one to call first with that Christmas music playing loudly, holding the phone up to the speakers so that they could clearly hear it.   Then we would put the phone to our ear and hear them say, “You got snow?!”  Yes, we got snow and it’s so beautiful, and on and on we would go…..laughing as if this was the greatest day ever.  And it was, in a sense, for Mom and Dad passed their love of snow on to all five of us children……and it was simple and sweet and so much fun to share that first snowfall of the season tradition over the years.

 

But it makes me a little sad this morning to know that I can’t call Mom to share my first little snowfall with her.  Well, I could call her…..but she would wonder who I am…..and why am I playing that music to her……and just what is that song, anyway?  Mom has Alzheimer’s and she doesn’t remember our old family tradition.  She doesn’t even remember our family.  So a phone call like that would only frustrate and confuse her, and would be upsetting to me as well.

 

I’m thankful for the sweet memories, though.  For the special traditions that our family had, as all families do.  I’m thankful that during the time Dad was dying of cancer, God allowed him to enjoy lots of snow during that November.  I remember him sitting in his wheel chair at their sliding glass doors, watching the snow and enjoying the hungry birds crowding their bird feeders on the deck.  Thankful that he got to see the beautiful Christmas tree all decorated the way he loved and listen to the pretty Christmas music.

 

It makes me realize how much we need to cherish our families and our times together, for it all goes by so quickly.  We live together for such a very short time before everyone scatters.  Brothers, sisters, children…..living here and there in this busy world.  So build the bonds of family strong while the children are young……develop the traditions…..and stay in touch over the years.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!  It’s a little early, but there IS some snow on the ground.  If you look real hard, you can see it.  But it’s enough.

What Dad Taught Me in Death

 

I’ve heard it said that our parents are the most important teachers that we will ever have.  I would agree with that statement, for as we grow we are constantly watching our parents……..listening and absorbing and learning through their words and deeds.  Hopefully the lessons learned are good ones.  My parents were very beneficial in my life in more ways than I can count.  Yet some of the lessons that I treasure the most are the lessons I learned as I watched my dad live the last month of his life on earth.  What were some of those lessons?
 
1.  Know When to Ask For Help
 
Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000, and with liver cancer in 2004.   In September of 2008, dad was put into Hospice care.  We knew that no more could be done for him medically, so as he declined I told him and Mom to let me know when they wanted me to come and help them.  I got that call on November 2, and in a few days I was on a plane headed home.  I was fearful of what I would find and how I would handle all the emotion of what was ahead, but I was very thankful that I had the opportunity to go and help my dear parents.
 
2.  Don’t Stop Thinking of Others
 
Dad had always been very kind and sweet to others, and loved reaching out to help people.  This continued even as he deteriorated.  I quickly learned that the real reason he had wanted me to come was that he was  worried about Mom.  He knew that she was physically more frail than she had ever been………..emotionally drained………and that she was showing signs of progressing dementia.  He was more concerned about me helping her than of me assisting him.  In fact, when I first arrived he resisted my help in several ways.  I understood this about him……his independence and his desire to maintain his privacy.   She was his first concern, even though he knew he was losing his fight to live.
 
 Later, when he finally allowed Jan and I to assist with his toileting needs, I found him crying one day as he sat in his wheelchair.  I knelt down and asked him what was wrong.  Through his tears, he told me that he was sorry to have to make us help him in that way.  I was so amazed at him…….at his selflessness and his kindness.  I assumed he was crying from embarrassment, but his tears were not for him…….they were for us.  He told me that he was sorry that he had to make us do this……..sorry for any embarrassment that we might be feeling, but not feeling sorry for himself.  I have never seen such love and concern as I saw in him at that precious moment. 
 
3.  Keep Your Routine
 
For as long as he could, Dad continued to get up early in the morning and to stay up as long as he could.  He needed help but he did not want to lay in bed all day.  He wanted to eat at the kitchen table, sitting there in his wheelchair and eating oh so slowly, often with his head bowed and his eyes closing.  Mom and I would speak to him, and he would perk up, slowly raising his head.  He would manage another few bites and some soft, slow conversation before slowly nodding off again.  Yet he was determined to keep going and to keep his schedule for as long as he could.
 
He also wanted to read the mail and the newspaper every day even though his eyesight was failing.  It was hard to see him struggling to read but he was not to be deterred.  He finally had Mom make an appointment with his eye doctor, even as we knew that this doctor visit would be impossible.  We didn’t tell him that, though…….we wouldn’t take away that hope that he had.
 
We would watch Little House on the Prairie videos at night.  Dad wanted to still be in charge of the remote – just like a man!  He would slowly push the volume button but he had a hard time controlling his movements, so the volume would shoot up sky high.  As he tried to correct it, the volume would go to mute.  He was frustrated but finally relinquished the remote to me and Mom. 
4.  Pay Attention to Details
 
When I first got to their home, Dad was managing to walk with his walker.   He was very, very slow…….walking with me by his side, ready to steady him when he faltered or wobbled.  Dad was always very meticulous about things and this trait continued.  He wanted his sweater on and liked it when the sweater matched his pajamas.  As he would slowly walk from room to room, he would sometimes stop and just stare down at the floor or the carpet.  Then he would ask what that spot was on the carpet, and as I looked down, sure enough I would see a bit of a leaf or a string.  I would laugh as I bent over and picked it up, and Dad would smile as I teased him about being so picky.  Yet those small details were still very important to him.  
 
5.  Mind Your Manners
 
Dad was always polite and proper, never crude or inappropriate.  I guess that’s one reason why the five of us children enjoyed teasing him.  He was great fun but he did have boundaries.  One morning as we ate breakfast, Mom……….well………..she had some gas.  She laughed and said,  “I farted!”   Dad very slowly raised his head, looked at her, and softly said,  “Passed……..gas.”   Mom and I cracked up, and Dad gently smiled – satisfied at his correction and realizing the humor of it.
 
He was always careful to say thank you when any of us helped him in any way.  Close to the end, after I had gone back to Kansas, Jan was rubbing his back and very quietly he said to her, “Do…..not…..do…..that.   Please.”   He didn’t let his situation rob him of his manners.
 
6.  Keep a Sense of Humor
 
Dad loved to laugh and smile.  He was a delight as he loved to tease in a kind way, and also was often the willing recipient of much good-natured ribbing from all of us.  Shortly after my arrival, we had to get him a hospital bed.  He was not happy about this and was especially unhappy about having the bed rail put up at night.  We had to insist, though, and he finally resigned himself to this fact.  One night as I raised the rail, he told me, “Don’t put that rail up.  I’ll remember you in the hereafter!”  And then when I walked in his room to help him out of bed in the mornings, he would greet me by calling me his prison guard or the great emancipator or other funny names having to do with my control over his freedom. 
 
One day he jokingly said, “I’m sorry for every mean thing I’ve ever said about you.  I have to stay on your good side!”  And when we bought him silly pajama pants he went along with the fun.  One day when Jan and I teasingly asked him which of us was his favorite, he immediately looked straight at his hospice nurse, Amy.  Every day there was humor from this wonderful man, even as he was suffering.
 
7.  Show Love
 
Mom and Dad were very close, especially after they both retired.  They were hardly ever apart.  When Dad had to start using the hospital bed, it was the first time in nearly 60 years of marriage that they had slept in separate beds.  We pushed his bed very close to their bed, and at night Mom would lay there with her hand between the rails of Dad’s bed.  They held hands or she would rest her hand on his arm…….still together and still close despite this circumstance. 
 
There were times that I would be holding Dad up as he stood, and there would be a pause.  I would turn to look and find that he had put his frail, skinny arm around Mom’s shoulders and was pulling her close to him.  I felt like an intruder to this moment of intimacy, and the tears would spill down my cheeks as they embraced.
 
In the midst of these days, there were times of stress.  One day Mom and Dad were facing one of those frustrating moments.  I waited in the living room until it was time for me to help him to the couch.  I sat there and laid my head on his shoulder, telling him I was sorry for how hard it was at that moment.  He smiled his sweet smile, very slowly raised his head, and said, “Smooth………it………over.”   I’ll never forget those wise words. 
 
8.  Always Pray
 
Dad continued to pray for as long as he could.  His walk with the Lord all of his life was of primary importance to him, and that never diminished even as he was weak and full of pain.  One of my dearest memories of my time there was of his quiet, halting prayers before meals.  He continued to lead us in prayer for as long as he was able.  He rarely asked anything for himself, but thanked the Lord and then made requests for others.  When my niece, Ruth, had a tumor removed from her spine, Dad was heart broken for her.  He would always pray for Ruth, sometimes with tears.  Always thinking of others………..that was my Dad.
 
9.  Be Ready to Go

 

Dad was afraid to die.  This fact puzzled me at times, although I do understand.  It’s just that Dad had such a close walk with the Lord and I was surprised at his fear.  However, as we talked I realized that he was afraid of leaving Mom…….both for her sake and for his………both of them without the other for the first time ever.  He was looking forward to seeing Jesus, but wondering what he would say to his Savior.  Dad liked having everything thought out and orderly, and this dying process was anything but orderly and known. 
 
Finally one night, John spent some time talking alone with Dad…….assuring him of things about heaven and answering his questions.  This comforted Dad greatly, and later that night Dad shared these things with Mom and me.   Our hospice nurse had told us that often a person needs to be released to die, so that night through our tears we told Dad that it was all right for him to go on to heaven……….that we would be fine and most important, Mom would be well taken care of.
 
 
A few days after that conversation, on Dec. 4, I tucked Dad into his bed at night.  I adjusted his oxygen and did  all the other things I had done so many times over that past month as I got him settled.  But this time was different.  I was leaving early the next morning to fly back to Kansas and to my family.  Dad knew it was time for me to go, but I think he was afraid.  Jan and John would be there, but I had been with him full-time for a month and he had come to depend on that.
 
As I leaned down to tell him good night, the tears fell.  I kissed him, and then he asked me if I would come back after Christmas.  I assured him that I would, even as I knew that it was unlikely he would be there at Christmas.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to kiss him that last time and walk out of his room.  I went home to Kansas the next day, and Dad went home to heaven five days later.  Oh, we miss him! 
 
But I am ever so thankful for that month with him and with Mom, and for so many special memories shared and lessons learned.  What a hope we all have, too, as we know that we’ll all be together in heaven one day.  I didn’t get to see Dad again as I assured him I would, but I do have the assurance that I WILL see him again………..for eternity.
 
And I want to thank him for all that he taught me in life, but especially for what he taught me in death.
            

Quilted With Love

Some of my earliest memories of my mother revolve around her amazing skills as a seamstress.   I remember being very young and seeing Mom sitting at her sewing machine, turning out something beautiful and seemingly perfect from all sorts of fabrics.  She kept us girls busy in those early years while she sewed by giving us pieces of felt in various colors.  From this soft felt we fashioned  clothes for our little troll dolls, cutting and fitting each ugly troll as if it was a priceless and beautiful doll.  Mom provided glitter and sequins and odd buttons for us to glue onto our awkward handiwork.  We stayed busy for hours laboring over our important creations.  I don’t remember all the mess we must have made, but I do remember laboring over our little troll dolls while Mom labored over her more important sewing jobs.   Mom made small, meticulous Barbie doll ensembles which she sold in a local craft store, and also made some for us to keep.  Yet her most loving works of art were the countless pieces of clothing she made for her girls to wear.
 
Every Easter we had new Easter dresses.  I especially remember the Easter that she made all of us girls pink gingham dresses – and then made one for herself, as well.  I thought it was wonderful to not only match my sisters, but to also be dressed like my mother!   I remember the trips to Penny’s in Bluefield, the bigger town that was near our hometown of Princeton.  I loved the escalator ride down to the bottom floor, where we would choose patterns and fabrics and buttons for our new clothes.  Never did we go to the ready-made clothes upstairs or enter a dressing room.  Our clothing was there amongst the bolts of fabric, waiting to be matched to patterns and later sewn into pretty dresses and jackets and blouses.  I do believe that I took the longest to select the fabric to match the patterns as I had such a difficult time seeing the finished product in my head.  I would stand there, rubbing the fabric between my fingers, trying to visualize a finished product that somehow wasn’t materializing in my mind.  I can imagine Mom’s frustration as I lingered there trying to make this important decision………..as well as the rolling eyes of my sisters who had finished this process long before I did.
 
Mom worked full-time after we were all in school, yet still managed to sew all of our clothes.  She was a natural at this art, yes, but it still took lots of time.  She would sew late into the night, her dedication undeterred by her tiredness.  I never gave enough thought to how tiring this effort must have been to her until I had children of my own.  How did she do it all?  I have no idea, really, but she did.  Her work was not only beautiful with matching plaids and perfect zippers and flawless fit, but each stitch was filled with a love that wasn’t recognized by us until years later. 
 
One of my most special memories was of the year when we were teenagers, and Mom made us skirts for Christmas.  I don’t know how many skirts she made, but there were quite a few.  Then she not only began looking for matching sweaters to wear with each skirt, but matching knee socks as well.  She did not give up this quest for the correct colors of sweaters and socks until each skirt had what it needed to make it a perfect ensemble.  We learned about this later, from Dad, who accompanied her on many of these trips.
 
Dad, who was color blind and absolutely no help when it came to matching colors of anything, would patiently take Mom on many of these shopping trips.  I can still see him standing silently on the sidelines in the fabric stores, hands behind his back and a sweet smile on his face.  He never rushed Mom or any of us, but stood there until we had come to the point of methodically selecting every button and every spool of thread.  I can still hear him say, “Did you know that there are 53 light bulbs in this ceiling?”  Or, “Did you know that there are 271 zippers in that display?”  Dear, sweet Dad!
 
John and Jeanie’s Quilt

When Mom and Dad both retired, Mom only continued her sewing.  She had sewn for her children, for grandchildren, for friends, for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and who knows what else.  Upon retirement, she decided to take up quilting.  Of course, she was a natural at this skill.  She practiced by making her and Dad a lovely quilt, and then took up the goal of making each of us five children and spouses a quilt.  These gorgeous works of art were each sewn entirely by hand with no sewing machine used.  She had us each pick our pattern and our colors – there I went again, having to make this difficult visual choice!  Mom never wasted a minute in any day, and before long she was completing our individual, personal, 
gorgeous quilts.  Dad took her to countless stores and quilt shops, patiently waiting over and over again as she selected just the right fabrics.  Each stitch was a labor of love……….each completed quilt a perfect picture of her devotion to her children.  I keep my quilt hanging in our kitchen area so that we can see it every day and enjoy its beauty, and bask in the warm memories that it evokes. 

 
Mom made many, many quilts during the next few years.  She made quilts for missionaries; she made a special quilt for a dear friend who had no mother of her own to make her one; she made a quilt for the Prophet’s Chamber at church where missionaries 
stayed when visiting; and she made a memory quilt that has special fabrics and mementos from each of us children and our children.
 
 
Bob and Jan’s Quilt
Jimmy and Kathryn’s Quilt

Mom has Alzheimer’s now and lives in an assisted living center.  Tomorrow she will celebrate her 86th birthday.  Dad knew that Mom was showing distressing signs of forgetfulness before he passed away nearly four years ago, and he worried so about her.  He would be happy with her living arrangement now and with how well cared for she is.  She doesn’t sew at all now.  She’s even forgotten how to put her jigsaw puzzles together that she loved so much.  Sometimes she doesn’t remember all of our names, and definitely not the names of all the grandchildren and great-grands.   But she is sweet and she is happy and she still seeks to serve others.

 

Bob and Mary Beth’s Quilt
Gary and Patty’s Quilt

And just as our keepsake quilts will always be an heirloom to pass down to our children, even more so are the pieces of our lives that she shaped and fashioned together with her tireless love and effort.  She took care of us, providing the atmosphere of a happy and warm home to treasure as she sewed and cooked and played and laughed.  She made sure that we had family devotions every morning before school because Dad was at work and so it was up to her.  She took us to church when Dad was working late, and didn’t just drop us off – she was there, too, worshipping and serving.  She  showed us how to love and how to work and how to pray and how to laugh and how to persevere through hard times.  She exemplified great care in 

how she took care of her mother for 14 years, as well as her mother-in-law for part of that time.  And she loved Dad, totally.  She never left his side, especially for the eight years that he fought cancer.  Even when they no longer could share their bed they had slept in together for 59 years, she slept right beside his hospital bed, her arm and hand resting on him between the bed rails. 

These traits of our mother are the stitches that are sewn into our very being.  The pieces of our lives were begun by her, thought-out and cut, measured and pieced, day by day.  As the years marched on, the shapes of our lives began to unfold.  The beauty of the various patterns began to be seen.  These are the treasures that are eternal.  These are the heirlooms that have more value than any quilt will ever possess.  And while our mother may not remember much anymore about the details of the past or the present, we have the evidence in our lives of her love and her faith…………a beautiful quilt of a life well lived.

The Legacy

We just went on a very special trip to visit my mother. Actually, it was a surprise for her 85th birthday. And was she ever shocked when she walked into that banquet room at the steak house and saw all of her five children there, as well as many grandchildren and great-grands! The look on her face was priceless; the tears, hers and ours, were genuine; and the love shared was a treasure. I’m so thankful that all of her children were there for her and that we got to rally around her at this very important time. You see, it wasn’t only her birthday. She has also just moved into an assisted living center and so we were able to visit her beautiful new home, help her with a little of the settling-in process, and get a close-up look at her lovely surroundings and amazing staff.

One other thing we kids did while we were there was to meet at the home she just vacated. This home isn’t the place where she and Dad raised us five children. They sold our family home in 1996 in order to downsize and make their lives simpler as they aged. Through Dad’s two cancers, and two more moves, they continued to downsize a little more with each change. Now as I walked into the garage where many of her smaller items were sitting in boxes or on shelves, perched on chairs, or leaning against the walls, I was determined to approach this as objectively as possible. Even in the kitchen and the living room I was able to remain composed. However, when I walked into the bedroom and began to help take clothes out of her closet, I was overcome with emotion. This was the last home that she and Dad had shared together. This was where I had spent the last month of his life as I helped Mom care for him. Memories of that month, especially, washed over me. Mom is now living in a place that Dad never got to share with her. The change in her life is striking, and the end of one chapter is really the beginning of the last chapter of her life.

It would be easy to look at the “stuff” in the garage and scattered throughout the house and think, “Is this all there is now?” As we children divide the casserole dishes and Tupperware that she’ll never use again, or discuss what will become of the larger items later on, is there something of more value to my parent’s lives than just “stuff?” Eventually, Mom will perhaps have to downsize even further if she moves into the nursing care section. Bit by bit, her life is being sifted of all earthly belongings. Eventually, she’ll be left with absolutely nothing. On the day that her body ceases to live and her soul is in heaven, she will not take even one little spoon or one little memento with her. And what will matter on that day?

What will matter the most is that my mother knows Jesus Christ as her Savior. She has the confidence, as do her family, that she will join Jesus and my Dad in heaven. And we, her children, have the legacy of a godly heritage left to us by parents who dearly loved the Lord and dearly loved their family. While earthly items are divided, our godly heritage is safe in each of our hearts and homes. Now this heritage, this legacy, is being multiplied as we have tried to raise our children to know and love the Lord. There is no earthly value that could ever be placed on such a spiritual treasure! No executor of an estate ever oversaw a will that held anything more important than this God-honoring example that our parents have left to us. This legacy isn’t an item that will be put on a shelf in our homes to later be divided among our children, but is carried in our hearts and hopefully lived by our example and passed to our children each day of our lives. Thank you, Mom and Dad. You have left us rich indeed.