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

Blood Moon Manna

About a week or so ago, as my daughter-in-love and I were leaving with the kids for a trip to the beach, I accidentally backed into her car. Not just any car, their new (to them) car. A beautiful car with nary a scratch nor dent. A car that my son and daughter-in-love were so happy to have purchased. A car that fit and served their family’s needs perfectly.

To say that I reacted poorly would certainly be an understatement. I was mad at myself for being so careless. I felt sad that I had damaged their car. Oh, that sickening CRUNCH! When the reality of what you’ve done is solidified.

My struggles with sin and failure over the previous few days welled up and spilled out, a mixture of anger, frustration, helplessness, and tears.

Of course, my son and daughter-in-love responded graciously. My husband (as always) reacted calmly. But I was not about to let myself get off so easily. I beat myself up pretty good over it.

About 5:30 the following morning, I received a short text from my son: “Blood Moon now if you’re up.” In this case, it was a super blue blood moon, a total lunar eclipse. Yes, I was up and soon positioned myself outside on the balcony to watch.

The morning air was not uncomfortably cold. It was still dark, but I could hear the world around me beginning to stir. I thought about the people starting their work day. How many of them would completely miss the astronomical wonder unfolding above them?

I thought about the kindness of my son’s reminder. I thanked the Lord for him and my daughter-in-love, for my husband, my other two children, all my grandchildren, and for the undeserved Grace and privilege of being a wife, mother, and grandmother.

I remembered what I had been reading earlier that morning about how the children of Israel complained to Moses, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” I thought about God’s gracious and miraculous provision for them, Manna. I thought of my own grumbling heart and how the LORD had always  provided for me in spite of it.

I tried to imagine our solar system, the planets, sun, moon and stars all following their appointed course. My imagination wondered at the immensity of the universe and marveled at the power and wisdom of the One who created it.

I thought about the grandiosity of the Great Artist’s rendering unfurled above me, His canvas the dark morning sky, His subject the moon, His brush dipped into the richest of purples and reds to paint a celestial masterpiece no mortal could ever hope to duplicate.

…all things were created through Him and by Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
(Col 1:16,17)

I felt small sitting on my little balcony, my life a tiny speck in the grand order of things. I realized I had come outside hungry of heart, but how long can a soul go unfed in the glorious presence of such a God as this?

When I look at Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:3,4)

And so it came to be that my soul was put at ease. I rested then, my hunger satisfied and my heart warmed by peace that passes understanding.

This, my bread from Heaven. Blood Moon Manna.

Ordinary Thoughts on Ordinary Life

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I looked forward to this last Christmas. Mainly because of shopping for and giving presents to our grandkids. But there is a conundrum attached to gift giving. A puzzle I am never able to completely solve.

No matter the money spent or the thought that goes into choosing presents for loved ones, I always feel as if it’s not enough. It’s impossible to translate love into material goods. We try, but it can never work. It’s just that gift giving, humanly speaking, can only ever come up short at least from the giver’s point of view. I’m always a bit let down at not being able to adequately express love that way. And perhaps there isn’t enough money in the world to do so.

Which brings me to the greatest Gift of all, Christ taking on flesh and dwelling among us. That is God’s incomparable Gift to the world. With the Incarnation in mind, that God can view my pitiable efforts to please Him (my giving gifts to Him if you will) through the lens of Grace for His Son’s Sake; that is the greater mystery. For what can a beggar offer the King of Kings?

In Christina Rossetti’s words:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him:
Give my heart.

And now comes the new year.

Even if you aren’t the kind to make resolutions, it hard not to see the new year as a new beginning, a starting over of sorts. And who doesn’t need a “do over” now and then?

Resolved, to take each day in 2018 as a new opportunity to love God and others in word and deed. To remember that people are more important than projects. To seek out and take the greatest pleasure in the simplest of moments. To cultivate a grateful heart. To continue learning and growing. To remember that God is always working in a multitude of ways and to trust more fully in His Sovereign Goodness.

Now these are some grand and sweeping resolutions, aren’t they? I am sure to fail. Still, His Grace is sufficient. May the LORD remind me of that in the thick of the battle when struggles, disappointments and frustrations present themselves, as they surely will, in the year ahead.

I was thinking the other day how there comes a time in everyone’s life when certain dreams and aspirations must be let go. And if the time is right to release them, the letting go offers more relief than grief. Lofty goals weigh more heavily as time passes and become burdensome. Not that we should or even can live without purpose, but rather wholeheartedly and without reservation appreciate the marvelous and miraculous gifts that come our way in ordinary life.

… there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his labor–this is God’s gift to man.      Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13

 

 

 

 

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 

A Bit of This and That


A young new mom mentioned that she loves her baby “so much it hurts.” I know precisely what she means. I’ve described my love for my own children in those exact words, and now they hold true for my grandchildren. It’s not pain in the normal sense of the word. More like a big ball of love, compassion, pity, fervor, tenderness, delight and all-consuming devotion that threatens to explode and blow your heart into a million little pieces. Sounds like an idea worthy of its own blog post at some point in the future.

This past Sunday, our pastor asked us to consider how much time we spend on our phones. Certainly worth thinking about and definitely something I grapple with on a daily basis. For years now, my habit has been to get up early and before reading my Bible, eat toast and drink my two cups of coffee while reading the news. I used to do this with the newspaper in front of me. Now, of course, I read the news on my phone. I’ve come to realize what a time sucker this is. Reading the news in a newspaper format takes a limited amount of time. The news available for consumption on my phone is unlimited. It’s easy to for me to get carried away with it, news junkie that I am.

Better to eat a bit of breakfast and go directly to Bible reading. There’s always time for scanning the news later. And I don’t think it would make my life any the poorer to skip reading the news completely now and then. Making this change may even give me a little time in the morning for writing. Old habits are hard to break. I think this one will be worth the endeavor.

I used to think that as you age, life would become simpler and quieter. Well so far, that hasn’t been the case. Life is as busy as ever. I can’t complain, really. My life is full and my blessings, boundless. But, I’m looking forward to the weekend and hope to spend some quality time with my husband.

God is good. That is all.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

What Is There To Write About?

What is there to write about?

Things I want to remember and things I want to forget. Feelings and impressions, snapshots of time, every day pleasures and midnight silence.

Today I helped pick out a pair of soccer cleats and a soccer ball for my four-year-old-first-born grandson. His Mama, Opa and I witnessed a milestone in his little life and afterwards celebrated the occasion with a practice session in the backyard. Isn’t that worthy of a few words?

Things that are meaningful to me and my family. Birthday parties and shark shaped pinatas. And the way this infernal contraption upon which I am typing keeps changing the word “pinatas” into “pirates” and refuses to allow me to spell the word correctly in Spanish. (What? No “enyay” key?)

Several nights ago my husband and I spent an evening lying outside in our double hammock and staring at the summer night sky. Stars trembled in the darkness. A delicate breeze quickened shadows and moonlight making life, at least for those few hours, so infused with the unexpected buoyancy of divine grace, I almost cried.

Everything about life. That’s what there is to write about.