Five Years

 

“Some say of temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.”
–CS Lewis

Yesterday marked five years since Mom passed away. I do miss her terribly some days, longing to hear her voice or touch her hand, but time has done its work smoothing over the sharp edges of her absence that cut so deeply at first.

But on the anniversary of her passing, I labor to turn my thoughts to happier days with her and to recall her as she was before she got sick. I’ve come to realize that although it’s good to remember Mom, the better way to mark the 18th of March is to fix my thoughts on the present and the future. Mom is present with the Lord now and her future is secure. I will see her again, unencumbered by sickness or the limitations set on us by time and mortality.

I wrote the following piece several months after Mom died in 2013. I post it again now as a way of looking back, but also as a way of looking forward to a better day.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Corinthians 15:19

I love looking at pictures of my mother before she got sick. In those photographs she is how I remember her, happy and surrounded by family. If I had known how much I would miss that part of her life, perhaps I would have paid more attention, taken less for granted. Somehow, these images on paper console me. Bittersweet, yes, but a comfort nonetheless, and some days I need the comfort.

My siblings and I were privileged to be with Mom the last few hours of her life. In waiting, we experienced the most unlikely pairing of impatience and dread. It was hard to watch her suffer, hence the impatience. It was tough knowing she would soon leave this world, hence the dread. This would be the moment we most feared and the moment we’d been waiting for, the moment we would always remember and the moment we would long to forget. A perplexing contradiction of emotions where reality bit hard and we bled pure helplessness.

In a romanticized version of death, the dying patient appears at rest. In her final moments she is able to utter her last words and squeeze her loved one’s hand. In that account, people weep softly and say that dying is just a natural part of life, that one must accept it as such. But I found death to be painful and heart-rending and devastatingly unnatural. Death has claws and fangs and knows no finesse. The scars will not soon heal. Watching your mother die hurts.

I have questions. Mom could not articulate, but she was able to cry out. What was she trying to say? Was she thirsty? In pain? Did she know we were there? (I do think she did know, by the way.) Some questions, I don’t dare ask others because I know they don’t have the answers either. Why burden them with that? Some mysteries are best left for God to unravel, or not, as He sees fit.

There are also certain memories of those last hours that will remain unspoken. It’s as if to do so would somehow cheapen the recollection, devalue the treasure. I will keep them to myself, take them out now and then and examine the facets, scrutinize the details, and relive the most distressing and beautiful hours of my life.

To an outsider, there was nothing about Mom that would have been attractive that night. But we were not outsiders. We had years of history with her. We were her babies. She had labored with us and loved us and kept us safe. She was our mother, our teacher, our confidant and friend. She had agonized with us in our struggles and celebrated with us in our joys. Our being there was inextricably tethered to a specific context and saturated through and through with what our time on this earth together had allowed, a lifetime of memories bound up in the unbreakable bands of maternal love. No, we were not repulsed.

We leaned in.

We drew close to her because we loved her. We tried the best we could to give comfort. (Oh, how she had so often comforted us!) But, One leaned in closer than all the rest. One leaned in because He loved her more and better than all the rest. Jesus was with us that night, as real and as sure as the room we were standing in. Jesus leaned in with a blood-secured love for one of His own and first-hand experience in what it meant for Mom to suffer. His wounds spoke to her wounds, and He leaned in with the power and urgency of a Savior able to save. In dying, Mom let loose of my hand and was plucked away from death to life by sacred Hands that will never let her go.

Death is ugly and raw, but faith implores me to plant my feet and stand. I know that my Redeemer lives. Someday, all sickness and death will be banished forever. The misery and suffering we face on this side of Heaven are temporary, momentary and light compared to what awaits us in Glory. Part of that lightening is that Mom will be there waiting for us.

“And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan…
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout,
And come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand!” *

I miss you terribly, Mom. But, someday I will lean in to where you are and join you in singing praises to our King.

…He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:4

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

* Far Side Banks of Jordan, by Terry Smith

Memories of Grandma and Grandpa Jarvis

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My fondest memories of Grandma center inextricably around her kitchen. I cannot imagine her, even now, without her apron on. Grandma enjoyed cooking and baking for her loved ones and she was good at it. Now that I’ve raised children of my own and often have my grandchildren underfoot in the kitchen, I marvel at Grandma’s patience toward us. I remember standing on a chair and “helping” her to measure out a teaspoon of this or a dash of that. I always felt welcome in Grandma’s kitchen.

My earliest memories of Grandma and Grandpa are from when they lived in a small trailer on one of Grandpa’s construction job sites. I seem to remember it was quite out-of-the-way, a good long journey for a four or five year old girl to travel. I remember bumping along in our big tank of a station wagon, the sound of the tires crunching on the gravel road, and finally arriving at a padlocked gate that Dad would have to get out of the car to unlock.

The trailer was small, by no means a mobile home by today’s standards. There was a low, wooden porch in front and creaky wooden steps that let you inside. It had a small, enclosed room added on to the side for extra storage. That’s also where Grandma kept her sewing machine. Quilts, pajamas, play clothes, dresses, sixteen grandchildren and many others benefitted from her talent for sewing. On one of our visits there, my sister and I wore the brown taffeta Easter dresses Grandma had made for us. They were beautiful dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts. They made the most wonderful swooshing sound and were perfect for twirling around in. Years later, I remember seeing scraps of that same brown taffeta sewn into the design of one of Grandma’s homemade quilts.

One time, I remember staying overnight there with Grandma and Grandpa. I was by myself, my little sister being too young to stay away from home. The weather was hot. I remember the sound of the swamp cooler in the background working to cool us off. To stave off the heat, Grandma made me a big glass of iced tea with lots of sugar. I can see myself sitting at her little kitchen table, stirring and stirring to watch the sugar swirl around in the bottom of the glass. It’s odd, but I vividly recall the smell inside of their trailer. Because it was parked in the middle of a construction area, the trailer smelled of dust, which I’m sure permeated every crack and crevice available. At night, when I lay in bed, even the blankets and pillows smelled of dust.

Another time, I went to spend the night and go fishing with Grandpa the following morning. My recollection of the fishing excursion has faded, but I do remember going out the night before to gather crickets for bait. Grandpa carried a fly swatter and I carried a jar. There was a small shed next to the trailer with a light to illumine the way. Grandpa would slap a cricket with the swatter, and my job was to hold the jar while he scooped the stunned creature inside. I felt extremely important and trustworthy. After all, my small hand held the key to the next day’s successful fishing expedition.

I remember Grandpa’s big, rough hand around my own, leading me securely through the night. I was safe. If I were an artist trying to recapture this scene, I think I should paint it on an immense black canvas, as if from the vantage point of the summer’s nighttime sky. Radiating up through the darkness would shine a very bright light, the silhouette of an old man, a little girl, and the very warm glow of a memory.

The Tradition

Well, Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books.

For over fifty years, my family has traveled up to the Paso Robles area of California to celebrate Thanksgiving. As a girl, we stayed with my grandparents for the holiday. Later, my parents built a house next door to them and the tradition continued even after my grandparents passed away. As my siblings and I got older and had families of our own, our group grew bigger. And bigger. And bigger! Eventually, some of our kids married and started their families.

About eight years ago we realized that something had to give. My parents’ home was just too small to hold all of us. So, we ended up renting a huge house surrounded by rolling hills and ancient oaks not too far from Paso with plenty of room for everyone.

Not everyone can come every year. On lean years, our crowd numbers about twenty-five for Thanksgiving dinner. When everyone comes to celebrate, we cook for close to forty people!

This is a big production and we pretty much have it down to a science. We all have our food assignments. We spend Wednesday through Saturday together. We cook and eat tostadas for dinner on Wednesday night. Thursday breakfast is casual, usually cinnamon rolls, bagels, cereal, and everyone fends for themselves. And then it’s all day Thursday preparing and then enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Here’s a sample menu:

Thanksgiving Day Appetizers (Pre-Feast Stomach Stretcher)
Spinach Dip
5 Layer Dip
Artichoke Dip
Jalapeño Cheese Poppers
Chips and Salsa

Thanksgiving Day Feast
2 Turkeys (one roasted, one deep-fried)
Two types of dressing (one traditional, one gourmet)
2 hams
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Fried Okra
Macaroni and Cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Creamed Corn
Deviled Eggs
Cranberry Sauce
Yeast Rolls
Homemade Chocolate Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, and Pumpkin Cheesecake

But wait, there’s more!

Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day, we prepare a huge breakfast. Bacon, ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy (including white and chocolate gravy… yes, you read that right, chocolate gravy), and fried potatoes. Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and dinner on Friday. Saturday breakfast this year we enjoyed chorizo and eggs. On Saturday after breakfast, we say our goodbyes and everyone heads home.

That is a lot of food and a lot of people. A lot of cooking and cleaning up. Kids everywhere. It gets noisy. It gets messy. Some turn in early, some stay up late. A few of us are up at dawn to watch the sunrise and drink our first cup of coffee. Others sleep in. We talk and reminisce. Sometimes, we cry. We laugh, play games, take walks, and have time to do our own thing. Everyone helps and everyone contributes. I’m convinced that our commitment to Thanksgiving together is the main reason our family has remained close over the years. And for that, we can be extremely thankful.

In March of 2013, my mom passed away. Although her absence is profoundly felt by all of us, we honor her at Thanksgiving by making the pilgrimage to Paso Robles each November.

I hope The Tradition never ends.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. -Psalm 107:8-9 

Thank You, Aunt Anita


Several months ago, my dad gave me a journal kept by my Aunt Anita. Aunt Anita wrote a little bit each day, what she did, where she went, what she had for dinner, things like that.

Aunt Anita lived in Oklahoma. She was married to my Uncle Ned who died in 1995. She passed away in 2011. Aunt Anita and Uncle Ned never had children of their own, but they would’ve made great parents. As young girls, my sister and I spent an entire month with them one summer. With Aunt Anita’s patient instruction, I learned to sew, mastered the delicate art of milking a cow, and experienced the excitement of making our own butter. Aunt Anita spoiled us with pancakes for breakfast and by taking us out to eat 25 cent hamburgers at a local food stand.

Aunt Anita loved animals. Her dog, Patty, was like a member of the family. Aunt Anita paper-trained her pet bunny and gave it free reign of the house. That summer we played with turtles, lit real firecrackers on the Fourth of July (quite an experience for California girls accustomed to the “safe and sane” fireworks back home), and played house in her fully stocked and comfortably furnished storm cellar. Aunt Anita was a talented artist. I have one of her sketches framed and hung on my wall. It’s the one you see pictured at the top of this post. (I’ve heard it said that Aunt Anita sketched this picture with my Uncle Richard and Aunt Shirley in mind.)

The journal I have of Aunt Anita’s is from the year 1999. From it I learned that she still loved to draw and paint, made use of the public library, and did not like Bill Clinton at all. She wrote about her friends, Audie and Bonnie, and how she worried about Audie when he became ill. She recorded a prayer asking her Father in Heaven to “let Audie have a few more healthy, happy times on this earth.” She often gave her friends rides when they needed them or picked up items for them at the store.

I read about her two dogs, Jet and Tammy. Jet lived out at “The Ranch,” a piece of property outside town Aunt Anita owned. She traveled to The Ranch every day to check on Jet and feed him. She worried about her dog, Tammy, getting old. She wrote, “Got up about 1:00 a.m. and Tammy was not feeling well. Made some coffee and ate a roll. Wrapped Tammy up in a bed roll and laid her in bed next to me.”

Aunt Anita wrote about the heartbreak and anger she felt when she discovered vandals had trashed her house out at The Ranch. She wrote about killing ticks, repairing her lawnmower, and that she carried a gun in her pickup truck. She noted when she received mail at the Post Office, pulled weeds in the garden, and the date she paid her bills. I read about her fears, her disappointments, and how much she missed my uncle Ned. She wrote of how much my parents’ phone calls meant to her and how excited she was when they would drive out from California for a visit.

Some would look at Aunt Anita and conclude that her life and times weren’t all that important. I beg to differ. First of all, as an image bearer of God, her life had profound intrinsic worth. But on a personal level, Aunt Anita was important to her husband, her family, and her friends. She loved and was loved.

Without Aunt Anita, how else would I have known the warmth of hands helping guide fabric through a sewing machine and the pride of wearing my homemade dress to the ice-cream social at the Methodist Church? Where else would I have experienced the heavy humidity of a Oklahoma summer or the incomparable taste of fresh-churned butter melting over homemade pancakes? Who else would have comforted me when I cried myself to sleep for homesickness?

One short summer in a lifetime of summers, Aunt Anita poured her heart into mine. My history would be all the poorer without her.

Aunt Anita wrote about life as she saw it and thereby played a part in inspiring me to start this blog.

Thank you, Aunt Anita.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Appeal to Eve


(Photo shows Eva (bottom) and her mother, Minnie.)

An Appeal to Eve is a poem written about my grandfather’s sister, Eva. Unmarried and pregnant in 1923, Eva would leave home and go live with her maternal grandparents. As a result, she took her own life at only 16 years old.

Eva was never spoken of while I was growing up. I only learned of her existence well into my adulthood. I cannot imagine the grief this situation would have caused to both Eva and her family.

My aunt discovered one of Eva’s dolls last year and asked if I would like to have it. For me, Eva’s doll is a poignant reminder of Eva as a young girl and of the crisis she faced as a young woman who felt hopeless in her brokenness. I pray that although her story is sad that my poem conveys the possibility of hope even in the most desperate of circumstances.

This is the text of the note Eva left for her mother:

Tulsa Oklahoma
April 26, 1923

 Dear Sweet Little Mother,
You have been the sweetest of all mothers and have done everything in your power for me and don’t think I don’t love you for I do but am so tired of being away from you and mother dear please forgive me for all the things you didn’t want me to do and for all the cross things I have said to you. And please be good to the *little boys and always remember me as your sweet little daughter.
                                                        –Eva
*The “little boys” Eva mentions here are my grandfather and his two brothers.

AN APPEAL TO EVE
     -by Terrie van Baarsel

eve’s doll,
what stories can you tell
of a girl who lost her way
buffeted by guilt
over the life she carried
and fatally bruised by shame?

eve’s doll,
please tell me her stories
of anguish fierce and grief sharp
of spiraling disgrace
snaking upward
crashing earthward
heavy as stones
unrelenting to the crushing of her soul.

eve’s doll,
look at me
do you see her weakness as mine?
can you perceive the human condition
that binds us together?
and like the first Eve
we hide
and every woman hides and waits.

eve’s doll,
your silence bears witness to judgment and pain
but the question still remains
can human hearts once broken
be made whole again?
and how many eves do I meet on my way
and fail to offer up even a morsel of hope?

eve’s doll,
please tell her for me
and in the telling tell all eves
there is respite at the cross
where consequences to sin are limited by Grace
and mercy points boldly to the Gospel store.

(I hope she heard the sound of Him walking
in the garden
in the cool of the day…
I hope she heard His voice calling
“eve, where are you?”)

eve’s doll, you have not been forgotten and neither has she.