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Sunday, December 8, 2013

toddlers at sunset

i guard them with my hands
as they totter along
these ancient toddlers of mine…
every obstacle a potential fall-
every bump a potential hemorrhage

old bodies are bent
broken
scarred
stumbling along as organs fail

these two
my loved ones
require more care than my babes did
care that someday i will need
diapers
feeding
monitoring
watching

nothing taken for granted

but the decline is intense and anticipated
i see it in their eyes
the despair at their flesh failing them
the humiliation of every bodily function
a public event

and the shame and gratitude in their eyes
for the gift of our love
our gentle hands on their old backs and swollen feet
our bustling joy at serving them food
fit for their tender tummies

babes, they are, now
in the twilight of their lives
swiftly and slowly dying
in front of us
paving the way for us too-

so we give them what we can-
the gift of ourselves
and we smell the roses
rather than the rest

Sunday, December 1, 2013

7

curled on my side
in the dark
i wish for rest
and quiet...
longing for escape
for weary heart
and
tired bones.
and in a flash
i'm 7,
laying on my stomach
in the sun
half- buried in the gentle
loam
of the woods
shrouded by pine and spruce
sharp resin scent deep
in the still air
the dying life of the trees
fills me with joy
i'm just 7, a worried, tired 7,
but
here in this place
my heart is at peace.
sunlight feeds me
the forest floor is soft
and fragrant
i rest my head
on a gracious log
that lies strong beneath me and
gaze
up through the brave green
boughs
above
at the blue, the blue,
the heartbreaking blue
of sky
this is me,
me safe
in my hallowed place
my secret lovely place
where
i know
the world is beautiful
i'm warm
i'm safe
i'm loved
by my friends the trees

and my mother the sun
and the dying forest floor.
this is my long home.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

sometimes there are no words to explain...

in the wake of the devastation caused by typhoon haiyan, i'm low.

my heart is overwhelmed.

i can't explain the physical sickness i feel from my heart all over my body. the way grief for my beloved adopted homeland makes me dizzy, breathless, awash in tears and anger.

i pray. i weep. i act. i work, hard- at coordinating in my own small way a bit of a relief effort for children who've lost everything.

i Facebook. i email. i tweet.

but at the bottom of it, the sense of hopelessness weighs me down. this is just so big.

winds of more than 200 km per hour?

a wave 5 meters high?

how is a human being equipped to stand up against the wrath of nature?

we are so little.

so very very small.

only the spark of human spirit is left, and i think it will be awhile before we bounce back from this one.

only prayer is left. to lay silent and weeping before SOMEONE who is bigger than nature.

and trust that HE knows, hears, understands, and weeps too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

an everywhere of emma

this is the child of a thousand smiles

and dancing feet

rhythm in her bones

doesn't walk- she glides, she skips, she prances-

knowing in the heart of her

that she is lovely

sweet

and precious

a unique little person

growing and changing before our eyes

getting strong-minded at times

but always

like her name

"mercy"

straight from the hands of God she came

to ours

and we hold her

gently, tenderly, taking nothing for granted

because everywhere

is

emma

Thursday, October 31, 2013

a slow rain

dear child...

God does not say, today,

BE STRONG

he knows your strength is spent

he knows how long

the road has been

how weary you have grown

for he who walked the earthly roads

alone-

each bogging lowland, and each rugged hill-

can understand,

and so he says

BE STILL

AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD

the hour is late

and you must rest while

and you must wait

until life's empty reservoirs

FILL UP

as slow rain fills an empty upturned cup

hold up your cup

dear child

for God to fill

he only asks

today

that you be still

                                                          -Grace Noll Crowell


Saturday, October 12, 2013

lessons from the garden/jungle

this is me.

i'm sawing away with my new sharktooth saw...

on bamboo shoots that are 

OUT.OF.CONTROL.

i love gardening.

love love love it.

and i've planted a jungle, over the past two and a half years,

that has finally got the better of me.

now it's a case of no more planting.

rather-

walking around thoughtfully

with sharp little saw in hand-

wondering what gets chopped today!

***

makes me think of yet another

"lesson from the garden".

in the fertile soil of my yard, 

stuff grows.

in the fertile soil of my mind,

stuff grows.

sometimes too much stuff.

and i look at the wild jungle inside my head

and decide

that something has got to go.

sin is like that too...

it grows crazy wild in our hearts.

"sow a seed, reap a harvest."

and not only that...

 seeds sometimes just fall accidentally off the flowers

of innocent-looking plants-

(oh yes, how sweet they are! 

how pink! how yellow!

how delightfully, fragrantly green and abundant!)

and root themselves...

and before you know it, a harvest

of things you don't want or need!!

not to mention the enthusiastic tubers

of things like banana trees

and chinese ginger

and even- gasp-

the mulberry shoots- 

that burst through the soil in random places

and simply cannot be eradicated

unless one has, perhaps, 

a BULLDOZER???...

***

time to break out the new japanese sharktooth saw...

or in the case of my heart,

a few chapters of Proverbs.

uh-huh.



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

true north





i'm looking at these astonishing photos taken by my nephew JMP from the air, of the northern wilderness of Canada...the true north...

the place where polar bears live (and get in trouble for attacking people, like this sorry-looking specimen here)...


the place where one road and one rail track is the only way to get there unless you fly...

the place where the ocean is steely gray and the land is rocky and wild and the trees flame gold after being green for only a short few months...

where the air is crisp and smells of ice...

where the ancient forts were for defense again the first nation fighting to keep the land...

and history was made on tundra and stone and steel...

a land where gold and diamonds and copper and nickel lie just below the surface.

where lakes are chilled, full of strong fish...forest are untouched...thousands of miles of wilderness
lies at the top of the planet and no foot has walked these places, ever...

the canadian north.

true north. missing it today.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

where i'm from


thoughts as i'm now in my 67th year...having turned a full 66 today...

i'm from an unpainted wood-fragrant little house on vast plains of farmland edged with blue hills misty in the manitoba mornings.

i'm from old houses filled with antiques and sloped ceilings and patched walls and dusty cupboards and wood stoves.

i'm from secrets, whispers, hidden things, sorrows screaming in silence, close-lipped people, bee-hives and honey spinners and barns and the smell of wheat.

i'm from moonlit nights of brilliant snowshine, hayrack wandering down rough trails, shouting children bouncing on and off and hot cocoa after. i'm from swimming in the river before may 1, beautiful summers with bible camp and weeding in the garden, and glorious autumns in the bush. i'm from winter and woodstoves and fire escapes.

i'm from prairie sun and winds, thunderstorms, blizzards, forces of nature that terrorize and enthrall. i'm from gentle summers and long bitter winters. i'm from manitoba.

i'm from school, precociousness pushing me forward on an ever-increasing tilt. i'm from classrooms and loving the smell of crayons and paper and books and the delicious thrill of learning and reading and grasping facts and translating 'les miserables' from french to english and always being the youngest in the class.

i'm from church. 3 times a week church. long church. i'm from pentecostalism, glossalalia, ecstasy, miracles, dancing in the aisles and running-the-pew preachers. i'm from church.

i'm from children- big families, hand-me-downs, tired mamas, working-away dads, simple basic poverty that didn't starve but didn't feed.

i'm from alberta, transplanted giddily to the foothills of the rockies and the exhilarating throb of an infant city on the cusp of explosion. i'm from deerfoot trail when it was just a side road. i'm from the heart of downtown calgary when there were no skyscrapers, and the tower was just a blueprint.

i'm from yet another transplant- to a small tropical island just after a revolution, where bombs still fell and the government rocked insanely from one coup attempt to another. i'm from starting a life with husband and children in a wild, hot ancient city where nothing was easy. i'm from learning that tears and laughter and fish and rice go together and that taxi-rides make your prayer life better.

i'm from mothers and babies- learning to be 'with woman'- a midwife. i'm from delivery rooms with gloves and the lingering smell of alcohol and the sweet scent of fresh babies tucked in with weary mommies. i'm from sleepless nights and years of exhaustion.

i'm from a place where inner strength comes from years and years of the slow gentle work of Holy Spirit, where like water dripping constantly on a granite rock, infinitesimal changes take place in the hardness of my heart and i begin to see with His eyes.  i'm from stubbornness turning to obedience. i'm from the big yes and all the little yeses that come with each day.

i'm from young love, early marriage, ups and downs, tough years, sweet years, and walking into the sunset hand in hand with the one i gave my heart to. i'm from living with my choices rather than making changes. i'm from deciding that this is how it's going to be, and learning to be content and grateful and -yes- joyful. i'm from choosing to fall in love over and over again with him and with life.

i'm from songs my mother used to sing- 'i found the answer'...'great is thy faithfulness'...'leaning on the everlasting arms'...i'm from pianos and guitars and scratchy records and choirs and out-of-tune singing in a country church. i'm from boy bands and keyboards and back-up singers and drums and strobe lights and -gasp- hillsong music.

i'm from children, and astonishing grandchildren...my only legacy to the world. i'm from 'you can do it if you try' and 'because i said so' and 'do you see my lips moving' and 'there will be no more of that, thank you' and 'i love you so much i could just squish you to pieces' and 'sugarbabybuggybear' and 'goodnight, sweetheart, thank you for the whole day'...

i'm from drinking water, natural foods, brown sugar and homemade bread, my own recipes, and supplements. i'm from healthy living.

i'm from teaching- over-studying, TMI, from loving the thrill of seeing a student's eyes light up and catch the truth. i'm from drilling and quizzes and lectures and no-nonsense glares.

i'm from being the oldest, the responsible one, the poetess, the singer, the piano player, the choir director, the shoulder to cry on, the giver of advice and reproof, the protector, the planner, the valedictorian, the over-achiever, the advocate. i'm from my birth order programming my life.

i'm from a white house on a green yard, sunflowers and banana trees, a little black-eyed girl and cats and dogs and butterflies and the scent of flowers in the morning breeze.

i'm from a mountain in the jungle, pythons in the yard and owls in the trees and hedgehogs running free and dogs everywhere. i'm from building, renovating, designing, painting, refinishing floors, building a jungle again...i'm from moving and hard work and starting over. 

i'm from the gentle prairies and the blue blue skies. i'm from the cowboy west, the foothills of the Rockies. i'm from the steaming tropics, an island in the Pacific ocean. i'm from road trips and plane trips and boat trips and motorcycle trips and  traffic and empty highways and traveling all the time. i'm from the true north strong and free. i'm from a little blue planet in the galaxy.

 but mostly i'm from grace- from His never-ending gifts, all for me. i'm from Him. i'm from Him. 

i'm from life. i'm from me.

Monday, September 9, 2013

of tambourines, sandals, and Jesus freaks...


i'm remembering a beautiful song that we used to sing back in the early 70's...it was the end of the Jesus Movement and we were all still pretty much hippies, even though some of us were young marrieds with kids...

we'd get in our home groups, close our eyes, and sing and sway as acoustic guitars strummed the hypnotic tune from Godspell...

"day by day...day by day...O dear Lord, three things I pray...to see Thee more clearly...love Thee more dearly...follow Thee more nearly...day by day..."

those words have followed me through all these decades. they are still the prayer of my heart.

forever i'll be a child of the 60's...the decade when everything was changing and anything was possible. over-arching it all, from my perspective, was the Person of Jesus Christ, the King of the Flower Children and the Man for whom tens of thousands of us chose willingly to be called freaks. we were truly Jesus freaks. the spirit world was rocking, the tambourines were jingling, and we danced in the footprints of the Jesus boots of the Lamb of God- in our bare feet and our sandals -

and we loved him.

tomorrow i will hum this song to myself again...in my mind i'll rock back and forth and fling my long hair and my bracelets will clink and the earth will shake and Godspell will ring out a call again to the millions of kids in a generation who needed and found something to live for...

and it will be my birthday, and i will love him far more now that i did then. and day by day i am still following in His footsteps...

because in my heart it will always be the 60's, and i am still a Jesus freak, and He is still the King of the Flower Children.


Monday, September 2, 2013

in my former life

i was a midwife, running a birthing center. here's a memory of one day in my former life...
                  ********************


Well, today at Gentle Hands Clinic here in Metro Manila was a litte bit interesting.

I was working away diligently in my office when a breathless voice
called me on the intercom. "Ate (older sister) Dini, can you come and help?"

So I trundle downstairs to the first floor. There are about 50 women
sitting there waiting for their check-ups...one lonely little midwife is methodically working her way thru the stack of charts. I peek into the delivery room. Two midwives in scrubs, gloves on, one baby just delivered, and two more moms about to "pop". We are shortstaffed today for some reason- one midwife is on vacation and one has gone out.

"How much time do I have?" I ask.

"They're both 10 cm!"

So, ok, I don't have too much time...but something has to be done about these check-ups.

I rush thru half-a-dozen checkups, apologizing profusely to the poor
women who i'm assembly-lining through the bed, then suddenly Melody
(midwife from the delivery room) peeks in the door-

"Ate Dini, come now!"

I run into the delivery room.

Both moms are sitting on the birthstools, husbands behind them. Both
vertexes are visible. I say, "Which one is the multip?"- assuming
she'll go first and I should be there.

"This one!" says Ate Elizabeth, my Scottish midwife.

So I glove up and get down on the floor in front of "Leni" to assist in the birth of her 4th baby. I hate to come in at the last minute like that...no bonding time, but Leni is gracious, she has given birth at Gentle Hands before and smiles as she recognizes me even while pushing with all her might.

I soon realize I am in the wrong delivery room. I should have stood in the doorway. Leni's baby's head slides out, lovely, so quiet and peaceful.

But in the other room, in the meantime, Melody has put gloves on the other mom's sister who is pale as a ghost but bravely willing to assist.

I call to Melody, "Head's out!" Melody shouts- "this head's out too!"

I throw off my gloves, put some more on, and run in to help her. (lucky the rooms are adjoining)...

This baby is not coming easily now. Tight cord wrap. Melody does a
masterful job of sliding the cord down over the shoulders of the baby as we manouver, twisting and turning, and the body slides out.

I hear the other baby cry- which makes me happy as i jumped ship when just his little head was out...

But this baby is blue and limp...she's been stuck a little too long.
However, i lift her up on mom's tummy- the cord is too thick to clamp and still pulsing so we leave it to give oxygen to the poor little thing- and mom and dad admire her as she slowly begins to expand her little lungs and adjust to outside-womb life.

Finally, as this baby begins to breathe and the placenta oozes out, and all is well, I change gloves again, and go back to Ate Elizabeth, who really doesn't need help since she delivered babies by herself for 40 years in Scotland, but it makes me feel needed.

20 minutes later, I'm back doing checkups. Don't even have a drop of
blood on my uniform- didn't have time to change into scrubs!

I crank thru about 20 more women. They are more understanding now that they know 2 babies were born at the same time! I tell them, "If it was you in labor, you wouldn't want to be left alone just for some check-ups, would you." They nod in agreement.

oh my.

At 1:30, the afternoon batch of women is sitting there waiting for their check-ups. There is one more in labor, but it turns out to be either early or false, so we just let her rest in one of the beds. The new babies are all fine. Visitors come and go. The workmen outside are welding and hammering on the gate. The construction workers on the 3rd floor are hammering and dropping cement chips down below.

I go upstairs and have my lunch and a catnap. Back in my office at
2:30...the intercom rings...Marijo calls, "Ate Dini, can you come and help?"

And it begins again.

*********

and...i'm glad i'm retired...

Monday, August 26, 2013

the bad guys

my dear sweet brave little girl, 7 years old, has been battling fear for months now. it started with an incident in a shopping mall a year ago, where i was robbed. my wallet was stolen out of my purse. i had my girlie and several grandkids with me, and it was all a bit chaotic and crazy and disturbing, as we sorted out the video footage of the robbery, were taken to the security office, and eventually got my wallet back intact except for a bit of cash missing. YAY!!!

but emma had been frightened deep down in her little heart, and the innocence was gone. bad guys had come calling, and she hadn't known they existed.

oh, eden, with your sweet life of freedom and goodness...gone...

so, one day, an apparently innocuous movie triggered this buried trauma that we didn't even know was there. and suddenly, the dark was scary, being in another room was scary, sleeping in her own bed was scary...in fact- as evening approached, she began to tremble and get weepy and not let us out of her sight, because "the bad guys" might get her.

this struggle has been going on for some time now.

we've prayed.

we've talked it all through.

we've asked Jesus to come and take away the lies that were planted in her little heart and bring His truth, and He has.

we've been strong. we've prayed in tongues, and so has emma... her sweet prayer language flowing so easily and building her up on the inside...but then...darkness falls, and she trembles again.

some nights are not so bad...but some are heart wrenching. "mommy, please, i promise this will be the last night i ever ask to sleep in your bed...please please don't make me sleep alone, i promise..." weeping.

oh, it's hard. it's hard to know just how tough to be...we agonize, daddy and i, if we're being unreasonable and causing more damage as we encourage her, and in fact- force her, to sleep in her own bed (after weeks of sleeping with us).

nightlights everywhere.

scriptures quoted.

fervent prayers prayed specifically for power and love and "self-discipline".

the bible playing on her iPod.

prayers and hugs and daddy staying with her till she's asleep.

the torment that fear brings to a mind is so clear to me after this struggle. i too remember that torment, and i rejoice in my hard-won freedom. but it's coming slowly for our girlie.

we won't quit.

the bad guys are not gonna win.

there will come a night when she is not teary-eyed as darkness falls, whispering, "mommy, do you mind if i tell you that i'm having bad-guy thoughts again?"

oh yes. we will win. emma will be free from fear.

and the bad guys will never, ever, win.



Sunday, August 11, 2013

jungle rain

the rain falls gentle on my jungle green
tall trees rise high where once was only clay
and flowers fragrant toss their lovely scents
upon the breezes wandering at play

the rain falls soft, the grasses drink it up
the grayness of the sky seems kind and keen
as thunder in the distance rolls again
my jungle listens quiet, still, and clean


Monday, August 5, 2013

view


I looked through a window once
It seemed too clear, the air
That shimmered way out there
Above the sea
The window pulled me back
To where I breathed again
Atop that hill of green
Above the sea



photo courtesy of Tracey Lee Heppner 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

R.E.S.T.

i went with the flow, and came up with a 'word' for this year. it was REST.

i chuckled to myself when it popped into my mind- my life has been so unrestful for so many decades that i'm a stranger to inactivity of body and mind. i have a very hard time doing nothing. often i've done 3 things at the same time...although that ability is slowly lessening with age, and that's probably a good thing. multitasking is highly overrated.

so, to review.

rest.

surprisingly, so far this year has had a lot of pockets of rest in it. some months were hard with lots of driving, working, gardening (i'm making soil, you know!) and so on.

but there have been spaces in between, where i've sat down and looked around and actually not done anything, not moved, just sat and listened to the quiet.

and enjoyed it!

and today, halfway through the year, i came across this in my devotions...

"Where the soul lives, lives God; His day, His world,
No phantom mists need mar;
His starry nights are tents of peace unfurled:
Rest where you are."

"Rest is not a sedative for the sick, but a tonic for the strong. it spells emancipation, illumination, transformation. it saves us from becoming slaves even of good works."

i am learning to be emancipated- from the endless sweeping tide of crises and emergencies and things that must be done. (must they?)

thank you, lord, for rest.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

times of refreshing

for the first time in quite possibly a decade, a vacation that was really a vacation happened...this past june/july.

we covered a lot of ground. half-way around the planet- to the family and friends we need to see at least once a year.

mostly grandchildren.

oh, and the elderly parents.

in past trips, we've gotten sick, had terrible jet lag, been so exhausted we couldn't even enjoy it.

this time was different.

may have had something to do with a very sweet generous son who booked us into a fancy hotel for the first 3 days so we could rest. what a blessing.

thank you to all who generously entertained us, though...children, sisters, brothers, friends.

we love you all.

and we are refreshed.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

knees to the earth

knees to the earth.

praying the past few days for so many different things and people.

wanderers.

searchers.

strugglers and stragglers.

situations that seems hopeless...circumstances that surprise...

on my knees. my heart is on its knees.

pray without ceasing.

never never give up. 

God is listening- more than that, He is at work even when i do not see.

his word has all the promises i need to hold on to, and when i grow weary, i just relax and rest in His bottomless reservoir of truth. 

he said it, i believe it, that settles it.

knees to the earth...in worship, in work. 

prayer is the work of the church, someone said.

he sees my attitude of prayer, whether i'm driving, cooking, bathing a little brown girl, exercising, writing, shopping...

he sees my heart- on its knees.

Friday, June 7, 2013

just spit out the seeds...




this is a lovely tropical fruit called "atis" here in the Philippines.

i don't know what it is in English.

when you open it, delicious soft white grainy flesh surrounds big black seeds. you have to be careful when eating it that the seeds don't slip down your throat.

but...it's delicious.

you just have to spit out the seeds.

sometimes life is like that.

beautiful and nutritious, but with tricky bits.

i actually took this photo, believe it or not.

it reminds me to chew life slowly and carefully, savor the sweetness of its fruit, and spit the seeds out. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

country lane at dawn


i was born in a little french town
in the rolling plains of northern manitoba,
near a range of low hills called, grandiosely,
“the riding mountains”.

my earliest memories are of green forests,
golden fields, blue lakes,
and four seasons that changed
 the landscape of my world
from white to green, faded into red and brown,
and then white again.

the scents of the prairie seasons
lie buried deep in my brain…
the crisp clean nose-pinching smell of snow,
the long wet watery smell of spring rain,
the robust green scent of hay- wheat and flax and barley-
in high summer…
the thin icy threatening odor of the coming storms
behind the plummy ripened fruit of autumn…
deep, deep smells…
memories connected to them…
the explanation that the olfactory gland is near
the memory center of the brain
is not sufficient to say why smells make us remember,
make me remember.

this morning, all in a rush,
i was a little girl again,
standing in the newly-cut grass
and surrounded, infused
with the living, growing, waking-up smells
of a country lane at dawn.

i stood there, dogs nosing along in the grass beside me,
and let the memories come
along with the dewey hushed moonset…
long i stood.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

brown

my little girl is brown.

from the day she was born, we have told her how beautiful she is.

how lovely her warm  caramel-colored skin is, how adorable her almond-shaped black eyes are, how gorgeous her long wavy black hair is.

she has absorbed repeatedly just how delightful she is to us, and how we as white/pink-skinned parents appreciate and treasure the colors of her.

so the other day, it drove like a knife... an aching pain in my heart...when i overheard my little asian princess say to her "pink" best friend...

"we can still be best friends, even if i'm brown, right?"

oh baby girl.

where did you ever learn to doubt that?

in a school and church that are mostly brown-skinned people, your parents are the minority. most of your classmates are brown. we live in a brown country.

where, oh where, did you ever learn to think that skin color, especially yours, might mean you couldn't be best friends with someone?

i have no answers.

it's an ongoing, probably forever issue in our family.

she is brown, and we are "white/pink".

we are family.

but still, in her little heart, there are questions.

and i -oh, if only-

i

have no answers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

my mother was a lady.



My mother was a lady. Her name is Donna- which, fittingly, means ‘lady’.

She’s been in heaven 20 long years, and I’ve missed her every single day. In honor of her memory, I’d like to share a little of what I remember, and what I know, about this mighty little woman.

She was born in the depression, 1923, to a large, troubled English-Irish family who lived in a tiny house beside the railroad tracks. They were poor in every way. My mother was the 7th of 8 children…I don’t imagine she got much attention, especially since one of the older children was severely handicapped with cerebral palsy.

My grandmother Henrietta, whom we always called Grandma Chase, married John William Chase at 16 to escape an abusive stepmother. Her first little son, born when she was 17, died at just a few months old as a result of a horrific scalding accident. My teenaged grandmother was canning something and the boiler tipped over on the baby in the carriage beside the stove. My mind doesn’t want to go here, but I’m told the baby simply gasped and gasped for 3 days and then died. Right when it happened, my grandfather screamed, ‘You’ve killed my son!’ and fled. He never came back till it was all over and the baby was buried. I have never been told the child’s name.

My grandma was pregnant at the time with her second child- and gave birth to a severely brain-damaged little girl, Hazel.

Then came Fred, Lloyd, May, and Evelyn. And then my mother, ‘Donna Pearl’. I think fondly that giving their 7th baby such a beautiful name may have meant some reconciliation on the part of her parents. Later came a little boy, Ralph. He froze to death in a city gutter at the age of 45, an alcoholic and homeless, and my mother grieved unspeakably.

So treasured was my mother among her siblings that her older brother Fred named his little girl ‘Donna Pearl’ too. When he later brought home his motherless child to be raised and eventually adopted by Grandma Chase, it was quite confusing to have two ‘Donna Pearl’s in the house, so mom became just ‘Donna’ and the little one was always ‘Donna Pearl’, spoken as one word- ‘Donnapurl’. 

Mom almost died at the age of 7 from pneumonia in both lungs. No antibiotics then…in the hospital they put tubes directly into her lungs to drain the fluid that was strangling her. I was always horrified at the vast holes in her little back, evidence of what must have been a ghastly surgery. My grandmother used to tell me in hushed tones of the day she saw the death angel in my mom’s hospital room, and how she rebuked the gray shrouded figure and commanded her dying daughter to live.

And live she did.

She graduated from high school and became a ‘stenographer’- an old-fashioned term for ‘secretary with typing skills’. Along the way she became an excellent piano player and singer. Her sweet voice gave her a chance to sing in a rather famous gospel trio, ‘The Grace Trio’, at her home church in the city. She sang on the church’s radio program for years.

Donna developed an evangelistic fervor that caused her to begin to travel with an evangelist, ‘Sister Margaret’, on crusades. This is how she met my dad…during a crusade in a little country church she found him standing alone on the edge of the crowd under a tree, like Nathaniel- and stepped forward to save his soul.

And so, and so…they fell in love.

This tiny, elegant, frail city girl walked bravely out of her world when she married my father. She moved with him to a farm and did her very best to learn how to live without luxury and conveniences. She tried so hard. Baking bread, milking cows, planting home gardens, and having a baby every year…her little frame began to bend with weariness and the telling scars of the harshness of the winters took a toll. She went snow-blind sometimes. Her teeth fell out. Her dainty hands became crooked and wrinkled from handwashing clothes for years on the washboard.


But she still sang.

Her voice was a lilting soprano, with a brilliant timbre in the gentle vibrato. She’d sing through the trials, sing through the dark hours, hum when things were really, really bad. Her crooked fingers taught each of us to play piano, accompanied by the delicate but firm whomp of a hairbrush on the head when we made mistakes. She played the pump organ for services at the little country church, until I got old enough to be commandeered for that job.

She baked and cooked and kept a sparsely beautiful house filled with cast-off antiques. We learned to eat properly and have good table manners. We were poor, but we were proud. There were flowers in the house in summertime, fresh bread when we’d get home from school on cold winter afternoons. We were fed oatmeal, and sardines, and apples, and roast beef on Sundays with sometimes a pie…and always the tea- strong, sweet, creamy…proper English tea.

We were loved, prodded, pushed to achieve, admonished sternly and disciplined without mercy. There was a line we dared not cross. The glint in her green eyes and the tightening of her lips was enough to signify that it was time to stop.

But Mother could laugh! Oh, she could laugh. A deep roaring belly laugh would burst out of her tiny throat and we would gaze in astonishment at the tears of hilarity flowing down.

Mom suffered from headaches, possibly due to her eye problems. In retrospect, I think they were migraines. She would ask me to brush her hair; it seemed to ease the pain. I would scowl selfishly and quickly run the bristle brush through her fine light-brown hair, just wanting to get it done and get on with what I was doing. How I wish I could go back and do it again with gentleness and compassion.

As the oldest, I silently and sadly watched my mother’s strength fade with the years. During her last pregnancy, she wept in frustrated exhaustion as the child within refused to be born on time. After ten months, finally my youngest sister came forth, weighing ten pounds 13 ounces. How my little mama did that, I don’t know. She told me that she said to the despairing doctor, ‘You pull, and I’ll push’ and out came the baby. Mom was about 4 feet ten. Incredible.

But she was strong on the inside. As dad disappeared periodically into his depressive episodes, she held on. She cowered to nothing. She wept in secret but she flamed in public. She flapped her spiritual apron at the demons oppressing us the same way she flapped it at the raging bull in our field. ‘Shoo! Shoo!’ she screamed, at both the bull and the devil.

She washed endless dishes, made thousands of meals, changed diapers for 8 children, nursed illness, swept floors, helped with homework, entertained, and as the house emptied out of the older ones, took in and fostered two native boys. She taught choirs at the local school. She was a cook in a shelter for problematic juveniles. She was discerning in her friendships, but those she chose were precious to her. When my little sisters were playing sports in school, she went to games and cheered them on. She was spunky and brave and resilient, even after a head-on car accident and then a fall that resulted in a broken pelvis challenged her aging body to rebound.

One of my favorite memories is a turbulent meal when my father was being particularly difficult. Mother came to the end of her patience, as she sometimes did. She grabbed a large open gallon pail of Roger’s Corn Syrup and set it upside down on his head, and the golden liquid slowly ran down around his ears and over his eyes. My dad was so astounded that his rage turned to hysteria- I can still see him with his head under the tap, cackling with laughter. We children did not know whether to laugh or cry.

Mom’s green eyes would crackle with fury when she was angry. But quick as a lightning flash, the sweet lines of her mouth would bend in laughter. She could talk…she’d stay up with us late at night while the parties were going on in our house- grand central, we were…she loved kids and company and fun. Dad, of course, had long since hidden away in his room and gone to bed.

Her disapproval brought ice to the bones. A steely quiet would reign in the house, and until she was pacified, the air was thick with gloom. We were accustomed to dad’s moods and they meant nothing, but mom had to be happy or ‘ain’t nobody happy.’ If we lipped off to her, a swift stinging slap to the face would happen before we could even flinch or blink.

Some of my kids and grandkids have her attributes, including the ‘Irish’, as she called it- meaning the ability to instantly switch moods and go from night to day. Some of them have the sweet voice, the huge doe eyes, the dear little pointy off-center nose. And one of them has the special gift of her name- ‘Pearl’ .

I miss her every day. I miss seeing her perfect slanted handwriting on letters. I miss her scolding. I miss her singing. I miss her gift for entertaining and making people of every race and color feel like they belonged. I miss her love of rummage sale bargains, and her joy in sunshine and flowers and the colors of fall. I miss making her tea- strong and sweet.

I wish she had lived longer- cancer captured her as it did with all her sisters except Hazel. I wish she hadn’t died before she’d seen all of my children, and their children. I wish, I wish…

Happy mother’s day, dearest mother…I know you probably are very busy in heaven leading the children's choir and organizing bake sales and giving advice to the Lord on how to deal with the devil, but I hope just for one moment you are allowed to remember that you have 8 very thankful children here on earth, and ever so many grandchildren- 25, I think- and quite a few greatgrandchildren- 14, I think- and all of them are a result of your choices and your love.

And someday soon, we will be together again. And we shall have tea.