A Mother's Heart

 

From the beginning of the year, our church has prayed and anxiously waited for the birth of five children to five women in our church. When my phone showed the call was from Dan, I answered, "Is there a baby?!" Dan's next word's took my breath away as the young father told me his daughter, only days away from her due date, had inexplicably died in womb.

As you can imagine, the funeral was a somber setting. We were Christians weeping with those who weeped. The small, white casket held the infant body of Melody. Her mother asked me to read a letter to the daughter she will meet again in heaven. I share it with you with her permission.

My dearest Melody Lucinda,

This is a letter I never thought I would have to write. Of all the babies in the world, I never thought this would happen to mine and I still don't understand why God chose to take you to heaven and why he chose me to have to endure this heartache. When we found out we were expecting you, your daddy and I were thrilled. We were so excited for Joseph to have a little sibling and I began hoping for a girl because I knew how much he would love a little sister. I remember taking granny with me to my 10-week midwife appointment, where we thought we would be able to hear your heartbeat for the first time. The midwife explained that since it was so early in the pregnancy, sometimes they can't find a heartbeat at that point, but she was able to hear yours almost immediately. "Must be showing off for grandma," she remarked. It was a relief to know you were thriving and growing.

Then a few weeks later, daddy, Joseph, Grandma Kallestad and I went in for your 20-week ultrasound. Everything looked perfect and toward the end, it was time to find out if you were a boy or girl. Even in the womb, you were as stubborn as could be. I had to flip back and forth to try to get you in a position where we could see what we needed to see. Then finally the technician announced that you were a girl. I was overjoyed to be having a daughter. I had the name Melody Lucinda picked out for at least ten years and I would finally get to use it.

Over the next few months, I had fun picking out all sorts of girl clothes, decorating your nursery and dreaming about what it would be like to have a daughter. I thought about getting to wear matching outfits, teaching you to play the piano and watching you and your brother interact and play together.

Joseph was so excited to meet you. Whenever we asked him where baby sister was, he would point at my belly and say, "Baby." When he felt you kick, he would get a huge grin on his face and say, "Baby kicking." One night I told him to give sister a hug and he did and said, "Love you baby." We tried teaching him to say your name, but the closest he ever got was "Mo-nee-nee."

As your due date approached, everyone was anxious and wondered when you would be coming. I went in for my 38 week checkup and everything was normal. Your heart was beating wonderfully, just like it had been for every other appointment. I hoped that would be my last appointment, but at 39 weeks you still hadn't come. I went in for my normal checkup, not knowing that this would be the furthest appointment from normal that I could ever have. After trying to find your heartbeat on two different machines, I began to sense that something was very wrong. I sent daddy a message at work and said he needed to come quickly. When he arrived we had an ultrasound, but unlike most ultrasounds, this was not one we were looking forward to. After confirming your little heart had stopped beating, we were left to absorb the weight of our new reality. We wouldn't be bringing you home from the hospital. There would be no getting up at night to nurse you, no bringing Joseph to the hospital to meet you, no hearing you cry for the first time, no dressing you up in your many outfits, no getting to sing "In my heart there rings a melody" to you and no getting to watch you grow up.

But, in between all the "nevers," I tried to focus on the things you get to do that most babies don't. You saw the face of Jesus before you saw your parents. You went from knowing the love of your family to the love of God. You will never know what it's like to feel pain or sadness.

Whenever I have a moment of missing you, I think about you getting to play with your great aunt Lucinda. She was very special to me and after she passed away, I knew I wanted my first daughter to have Lucinda as her middle name. The thing I remember most about her is how joyful she was. Her laugh was contagious. I can't ever remember her getting upset, even as she was dying of cancer. I was sad that she wouldn't be alive to meet you or hear your name, but now she gets to meet you before I do.

Melody, I want you to know that even though you only lived inside me for 39 weeks and 2 days, just like your great aunt Lucinda you brought so much joy to so many people. We were all looking forward to seeing you and holding you. As I held you in my arms after delivering you, I was amazed at how beautiful you were. You had ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. You looked so much like your big brother, yet you were your own person. I wanted to be able to do something to help you. I felt like I had failed you as your mommy. I kept wishing more than anything that you would wake up, but I knew that wasn't going to happen.

Had you been born alive, my prayer for your life would have been that God would use you to point all those around you to Him. Even though your life was much shorter than anyone would have thought or hoped, my prayer is the same. I look forward to seeing how God is going to use your life for His glory. Sweet Melody, I will never forget you or the joy you brought me. I praise God for allowing me to carry you for 39 weeks and 2 days. It is an honor to be your mommy and I look forward to meeting you someday. I love you more than words could ever express. You will forever be my baby girl.

Love, Mommy  

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Happy Birthday, Mom

If my mom were still alive, today we would celebrate her 71st birthday. Solomon has something to say about that.

A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

I wrote the Musing that follows shortly after her death. I share it again today in honor of her and in thanks to her Lord.

Tomorrow I will bury my mom. Those are painful, somewhat surreal words to write.

For most of the last decade, I’ve known this day would come. When my dad died nearly nine months ago, I was not surprised. At 74, his life was longer than virtually everyone else in his family. His health during the last 10 years of his life was, at best, poor. Surgery for prostate cancer exposed him to the killer bacteria MRSA. The infection weakened his body making otherwise minor issues major problems.

As I watched him decline, I prepared myself for his eventual death. Each time I said goodbye to him, I did so knowing this might be my last time with him. He was ready to meet the Lord, and to the extent possible, I was ready for him to be with the Lord. Still, I miss him every day.

My mom was never old to me. As a teenage mother, she raised my sister and me with the vibrancy of a kid. Though small of frame, her energy level was that of a race horse. Little kept her down and few stopped her. When she set her mind to do something, chances were she’d get it done. Whether earning a bachelor’s degree by attending school in the evening or continuing to teach after two LVAD surgeries, she resolved to continue to do what she determined was the right and best thing to do. Her aggressive nature and my dad’s mellow disposition were a beautiful match.

My mom developed congestive heart failure more than ten years ago following a minor heart attack triggered by a virus. She suffered the heart attack the first week of July, and, as expected, was back in the classroom in late August. I asked her to retire, but that was a futile suggestion. The leopard can’t change its spots.

Despite her heart problems, I was not ready for her death. At 69 she lived twenty years less than her mother and much less than all the other women in her family tree. My always young mom was not old enough to die. During the last weeks and days of her life, she remained quick-minded, articulate and witty, like you might expect from her in the classroom or in conversations with her grandchildren.

Her heart diagnosis and her various open-heart surgeries should have prompted me to adopt a similar approach to her that I did with my dad. Her lifestyle, however, wouldn’t let me. Over the last 18 months, she put more than 47,000 miles on her car. Though retired from teaching, she wasn’t retired from life. In two years she built a small but profitable business that supplemented her meager income. In her home church she ministered to disadvantaged women, played her clarinet in the orchestra, sang in the choir, and attempted whatever ministries were suggested or apparent to her.

In the northern Wisconsin church where she gathered for worship during the summer months, she met a young family with a son diagnosed with childhood leukemia. She loved the young mother and father, cared for their other child during chemo treatments, provided meals to the family, and opened her heart and home to them. All this after having met them when she was a newbie to the church family.

My timeline for life did not include my mom’s death in January of 2016. When Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you (Philippians 1:21-24),” I want to apply this to my mom. From my low-level perch, my mom’s remaining with us is more needful than her going to be with Christ at this point in time. Like Paul, I am hard-pressed, albeit for myself.

Where to go from here? This is the question. I miss my mom beyond my capacity to express. I contemplate the future without her, and I become sad. I’ve picked up my phone to call her, and then suddenly remembered. I should just remove her name from my phone, but I don’t want to remove her name from my phone.

Still, my life is not over. Like me, my mom buried her father first and then her mother. She felt many of the emotions I feel, and she fought on. She continued to serve the Lord. She continued to love people. She continued to give her best. She fought a good fight. She finished her course. She kept the faith. The best way for me to honor my mom is to do the same.

By God’s grace.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Oh, Say Can You See...

You probably have the day off from work, maybe are ready to throw some meat on the grill, are just drying off from a dip in the lake, or are waiting for the fireworks show to begin. Because you’re celebrating the greatest of summer days, I won’t keep you long.

I hope the celebration of our nation prompts a thankfulness to God for the riches we enjoy as those who live in the land of the free. When you pray today before devouring the ribs and washing them down with freshly squeezed lemonade, would you remember God’s providence to you and yours for where you live on his planet and the time in human history when you live here? Two lines from Katharine Lee Bates American, the Beautiful (1913) play in my head today and ascend to heaven in my prayers. Both are necessary.

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

and

America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating God’s gift of the United States of America.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Have You Heard the One About the Cowboy and the Pastor?

 

Our church property sits prominently on top of a hill and adjacent to an exit ramp for the only southern loop around St. Paul and Minneapolis. Every summer brings travelers out of gas, overheated engines belching out steam, and backpacking loners toting sleeping bags looking for their next ride in the cab of an eighteen wheeler.

We’ve helped single women needing a place to sleep for the night and hungry kids whose parents left New York in the minivan for a fresh start in Minnesota. Before last Saturday, I thought I’d seen it all. That’s when I heard the knock at the rear entrance glass door and saw the cowboy – I mean it, a real live cowboy – standing outside hat in hand and wearing boot cut jeans over the well-worn leather on his feet. I wrongly assumed he was looking for gas money. I could not have been farther from the truth.

“Howdy,” he said. That’s not Minnesotan, don’tcha’ know. A clue – he’s not from around here. “Could we water the horses?”

Horses? What horses?

As he told it, he and the others in his caravan were traveling from South Dakota with two trailers carrying four horses each. The weather was warm last Saturday, and the horses needed some refreshment. Was there any way we could help?

We have ten acres of land at our suburban location, and a large portion of it is open field and tree lined. The wise people who planned our property installed a water pipe to the back field should we ever need it. Last Saturday we needed it to water horses traveling in a hot trailer from South Dakota.

The cowboys unloaded their beasts who roamed the range for nearly two hours before the ‘pokes corralled them into the trailers for the next leg of the journey. I hope word gets out to the rest of the cowboys on the Pony Express that there is a watering hole in Inver Grove Heights run by a Christian church eager to bring relief to weary animals.

More than that, I hope word gets out to the neighborhoods around our building that there is a place for weary people to find relief. The place is a Christian church eager to share the love of Christ, to give a cup of cool water in Jesus’s name, and who offer the water of life freely. I hope people who know of our church think, “That’s a place where everyone can get help,” and “They don’t turn anyone away.”

I dream of us having a reputation of a place where answers to life’s hardest questions are offered freely and without a catch, a place where a knock on the door leads to a friendly greeting and a willingness to share what we have for temporal relief and eternal salvation. If cowboys can find help here, shouldn’t burdened families, troubled marriages, lonely single professionals, defeated addicts, self-absorbed executives, confused high school and college students, and most-of-life-well-spent senior citizens who know much of religion but nothing of the gospel?

As I read back over this Musing, I suppose it’s a little corny, making a devotional thought out of watering some horses, but I’m arrested at Jesus’s words, On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink (John 7:37).”

We’ve been satisfied by Jesus’s water, and He has given it to us to make available to others. All around our building are thirsty people, thousands of them within minutes of our property. Can we give them something to drink?

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Our Grown Man

“I have to buy a minivan!” were the first words out of my mouth, said without delight and in response to Brenda’s heart pounding news that she was going to have a baby.

You can fit three kids in all kinds of vehicles. They can ride in the back seat of a Mustang or the second row of a crew cab pickup. Both vehicles were fine choices for a cool youth pastor with flowing hair back in the day. But when you pass the three-kid-threshold and move to four or beyond, a minivan becomes the only realistic option. We’ve owned vans of a variety of makes and models for nearly 20 years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our youngest graduated from high school last week. When God gave him to us in November, 1998, Jeffery balanced the family as boys became the bookends and girls filled in the middle. Neither Brenda nor I ever thought it would be that way.

God gave us a first born son, and with the exception of zero interest in potty training, Michael was the ideal infant and toddler. Then God gave us a daughter, and with the exception of zero interest in sitting still or refraining from climbing to the top of everything, Jennifer completed our perfect, little family. A few years later, God gave us the child I didn’t want (search past Lunchtime Musings for that transparent post) when Emily made us the Jackson 5, as our pastor’s wife liked to call us.

But Emily was to be the last. No more kids. More kids equal a minivan. I didn’t want a minivan or any more kids. Then God gave us Jeffery, and I can’t imagine life without him or the minivan.

Jeffery’s older siblings will tell you that he is the stereotypical baby of the family. From his big brother you’ll hear, “If I ever did that when I was a kid, dad would have…” and his sisters say over and again, “Mom gives you everything!” There is some truth to his siblings’ observations.

Jeffery has this tough, outer shell that matches his physical prowess. I tell people Jeffery is the buddy you call when you are moving from your apartment to your first house. He seems to have this endless surge of strength met with an equal amount of stamina. I stopped messing with him a long time ago.

Underneath that shell is the tenderness of gentle giant. When Jeffery fishes with me, he is a pure catch and release guy. None of his fish meet the filet knife. Before Lauren became his sister-in-law, she stayed with us in Jeffery’s room for a full month. Unknown to Lauren, the spider who made a daily appearance was a welcome guest in Jeffery’s room. It didn’t make for good family relationships when Jeffery discovered Lauren had prematurely ended the spider’s life.

On the court or the field, you want Jeffery on your team. He doesn’t require the glory, just get the job done. His one personal foul in football came during a critical point in a game his senior year when protecting his quarterback who had taken multiple cheap shots from a psycho in shoulder pads on the other team. If he’s your teammate or friend, he’ll stick with you. Better offers after making a commitment to you will not dissuade him. He’ll throw his lot in with you.

The last two years Jeffery has had us all to himself, and we him. The last time our little house was like this Michael wasn’t quite three-years-old and the conversations didn’t have complete sentences. I can see how the baby of the family sometimes comes to care for mom and dad.

Jeffery will leave home soon as is God’s plan for sons and daughters as they grow into maturity (Gen. 2:24). Jeffery made our family complete. We thank the Lord for what he has done in Jeffery’s life, and we look forward to what God will do in his life in the years to come.

Time to go for a ride in the Mustang.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.