Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Satisfied Life

Image result for pagano funeral homeThe entry hall was filled with people, the line bending around into a side hall and spilling back out towards the door. As usual when people meet, there were hugs and handshakes and exclamations of "So good to see you!" and "Sad that we have to meet at times like this." And it was, for all of us, a loss. We had come to say good-bye to a woman who had been a friend, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a faithful servant of God.

Image result for funeral flowers for momMy husband, as is his nature, did not stand long in line but wandered off to talk to groups of people scattered throughout the funeral home, sitting and resting as often as his physical condition needed. I stood my ground, holding our places in line and speaking to those around me, or those who wandered over from their own small groups. Certainly, there were those among these mourners who held hand kerchiefs to nose and eyes, but more who smiled and nodded, even laughing as memories were shared of this woman we had come to honor.

A satisfied life. The words  kept running through my brain as I looked around the room. Standing next to his wife's coffin was her husband of 54 years, greeting the assembly with a hand-shake or a hug. Next to him were all six of his children and respective spouses, with grandchildren darting in and out of the line or finding hugs within the arms of cousins and friends. It was, for Joyce, the end of her earthly road. But it was hard to feel sadness amid so much life. A satisfied life, I thought again, recalling the words from Genesis 25: 8 I had read in my morning devotions: "Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life."

Image result for rocking chairAt 69, Joyce had not been exceptionally old in years. In the normal span of human life, she might well have enjoyed another 20 years on earth, if God had not suddenly called her home less than a week ago. Even now, I could well imagine her in Heaven with her dear friend Pat, looking down at all of us and smiling her gentle smile.

I did not know Joyce well. I knew her in the sense that one knows another church member who occasionally serves on the same committee or sits in a nearby pew. Her two youngest and my two oldest children were of similar ages, so we would see one another at school functions or community events. She had been a homemaker, while my husband's illnesses had forced me back into the job market. My school years were spent teaching children to read, and my summers pursuing graduate studies. I would smile at Joyce while I dropped my youngest son off at the nursery and into her capable hands. Even with a roomful of crying babies or active toddlers, her smile was always the same: calm and collected. Must come of having six children, I would think to myself. 

Now, though, standing here waiting to pay my respects to her husband Ray and her children, I saw evidence of a life well lived. No, she and Ray were not rich. They had lived most of their lives in a small row house in Linwood.. Ray had, for a while, been sexton at the church. They had, both of them, scrubbed floors and painted walls and done whatever else was needed to take care of our church home.

Image result for marcus hook baptist church in linwood pennsylvaniaI thought back again to the words for Genesis. Abraham died satisfied. Not perfect. We know from Biblical accounts that Abraham had sinned, that he had doubted God, that he had made poor decisions in life. And I was certain, that as a human being living in a sin-filled world, Joyce had moments that were less than perfect. But none of that mattered. What had mattered was her faith in God, her assurance of Heaven, and her love of her family. I had no doubt that, from her place in Heaven, she was satisfied.

It is always difficult to know what to say to the bereaved at such a time, so I prayed for words as my husband returned to join me and we came closer and closer to Ray. I noted the wedding portrait of the young couple they had been, 54 years ago, and the more recent photo of them with all six of their children flanking them. God gave me the words as Ray stretched out his hand to me. "You are a blessed man," I told him, "to have had such a wife."

Image result for pagano funeral homeHe smiled and nodded. "I still am," he said. "I am still blessed." We spoke for a few short moments, conscious of others wanting to pay their respects as well. Then my husband and I moved onto the line of offspring, shaking hands and offering a remembrance of their mother. We greeted several more people on our way out the door; people who had known and loved Joyce were still coming in.

I walked across the dark parking lot to get the car and pick up Ron at the door, thinking of something else Ray had said. "My greatest gift in life," he had said, "was that this beautiful girl let me marry her." He was, indeed, a blessed man.

As had been all of us who knew her.

Image result for Joyce Tyson

Joyce Stafford Tyson

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Voices of Women

My days are so full of students and chores, of grading papers and phone calls, of laundry baskets and what’s for dinner, that it is hard to believe I could ever be lonely. But I am. I can trace my loneliness, which never really goes away, back to a day in March of 2000, when a red pick-up truck slammed into my husband’s Taurus and altered our lives forever. Although Ron survived, he was and is so damaged in mind and body that I became more widow than wife, more care-giver than spouse. I could not lean on him in the ways I once had.

I adjusted. I had kids to raise and doctor’s appointments to keep and a post-
graduate degree to finish. I worked and cleaned and took care of Ron to the best of my ability. I spent more time in hospitals than in church, more time caring for than being cared for. And in the hustle and bustle and downright difficulty of it all, I lost—or thought I lost—valuable friendships. I no longer had the voices of my women friends to help me through each day, not because they no longer cared for me, but because my life had become too busy to give them any room.

About two years ago, an episode with my autistic adult son made me realize just how lonely I was. On that day when Allen turned off his cell phone and contended he was “walking home from Philadelphia”, I honestly felt that I had no one—except my daughter—to call.  She, faithful child, always comes and I am grateful, but she is still my child and should not bear my own burdens. Once Allen was home and safe, I turned to my “friends” on FaceBook, asking who would have been willing to take a 10 pm phone call from me.

To my astonishment, at least twenty women responded with “Call me.” It was at that moment that I realized
that, while my burdens were many, God had provided for me so many sisters to help me through, and each one was just waiting to be of comfort to me. All I needed to do was reach out.

My life is still hectic and busy. I still care for my disabled husband and my autistic son, I still teach and reach and write and do laundry and spend way too much time in hospitals. But I also make time for my women friends, time to talk or go to dinner or exchange silly photos on FaceBook. The voices of my women friends carry me through difficult times. The voices echo in my heart.

Perhaps you, like me, need the voices of other women. If so, I invite you to become part of the Women’s Bible Expo in Thursday, August 20. There, you will hear the voices of many women who suffer the trials of life, but manage to keep their joy. You will find that you are not alone with your burdens. You will be inspired, I am
sure, to continue your own walk with renewed energy and grace.

And you can add your own unique voice to that of other women.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grin with Grace

She was an over-worked and underpaid government employee. The moment she called us back to her desk and banged up the wooden shade that separated the clients from the social workers, I had her pegged: this woman was going to be difficult. I’d come as prepared as I could for my son Allen’s supplemental social security income hearing, bringing the psychological testing completed in June that listed his various diagnoses: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Disgraphia. It had been the psychologist’s suggestion that we apply for SSI for Allen while Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation found a placement for him. The whole process made him very nervous.

 “So,” said the woman on the other side of the desk, “what are you here for?” She had a file in front of her clearly marked with Allen’s name; surely she knew. Still, I’d not only come armed with my son’s records, but also with a growing understanding of grace, gleaned from my summer work with Kathy Carlton Willis’ Grin With Grace Bible study. I smiled. “We’re here to apply for Allen’s SSI,” I said. I grinned.

She snarled. “Your son is obviously old enough to speak for himself,” she said and fixed me with a cold stare. “Yes, M’am,” I replied. Allen had begun to drum his fingers on his thighs. I put a hand over his and nodded encouragement. How much, I wondered, did this woman understand about those on the spectrum?

She fired question after question at Allen, who answered the best he could, while repeating things under his breath in his verbal tick. About half an hour into the interview, he began to stim with his right hand, waving it out in front of him in an effort to calm himself. The case-worker stared. I put my hand in Allen’s and lowered it to the table.

Here was, I realized, an opportunity to put grace into practice. I’d had a pretty stressful summer myself, dealing with a job loss, my husband’s ongoing illnesses, and Allen’s diagnosis. But I’d been refreshed each morning by Grin with Grace, sitting on the back deck with a cup of tea and God. Just that morning, Kathy’s words had spoken to me about celebrating God’s rescue. I recalled the words of Psalm 13:5-6: “I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms. I’m celebrating Your rescue. I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers.”

I was not doing that, I had realized. Instead of celebrating what I knew God was going to do and just letting myself fall backward off the cliff, confident of God’s rescue, I plot and plan and count my pennies. I control and manage and when I’m sure I have the right wings and they’ve been tested out at low levels and passed a rigorous inspection by the Federal Bureau of Wings, I strap them on and venture to the cliff, making sure that there is a group of EMT’s standing below with a safety net.

And this woman across from me with the stern face and the worry lines on her forehead, was she trusting in God’s rescue? Or was she so worn down by hearing so many problems, day in and day out, that she had lost faith and grace? I scribbled a note on the back of a Walmart receipt in my pocket and passed it along to my son. The note said, Let’s pray a smile from the woman. He nodded.

Allen, bless him, did his very best with the questions and now and then asked the case-worker, very politely, if he could confer with me. I pointedly prayed for her, asking God to allow light into her heart. I grinned with all my might, even when she was rude or short.

God, I prayed, I need a smile from this woman. Let me show her so much of Your grace that it lights up her face!

An hour and a half later, the grumpy woman went to make some copies and my wrung-out son went to take a break. She came back before Allen did and sat heavily down at the desk. I grinned. “Thank you for all your help,” I said brightly.

She harrumped and flipped through some papers. I kept grinning and praying. I was paraphrasing Proverbs 3:5, trusting God and not trying to figure it all out on my own. After a moment, she looked up at me. Her look was softer than before.

“I see here,” she said, “that your husband was disabled fifteen years ago. You take care of him?”

I nodded, still grinning and praying.

“And you take care of your son?” Another nod and grin. God’s grace was clearly satisfying my needs. I was not even tempted to be upset with this woman.

Slowly, she reached a hand across the desk and patted my own. “God bless you, honey,” she said. “You’ve been given a burden to carry.”

Now was my chance, I knew, the moment God had cleared for me to speak! “God gives me what I need,” I replied. “Are you a woman of faith?”

“Oh, yes, indeed, honey,” she said. “I took care of my folks for seven years with no help from no one. I understand burdens.” The edges of her mouth began to twitch. “God alone got me through.”

We were almost there, I knew, almost to that moment I had been praying for, that smile I’d asked of God as I grinned with grace. “Our sufficiency is from God,” I responded, lifting 2 Corinthians 3:4 from Kathy’s pages. The woman nodded and then—glorious to behold—a smile transformed her face, dispelling the worry lines and the frowns and dropping years from her. She was another woman, another traveler, another one who knew the burdens of being a care-giver.

“I’d like to share something with you,” I said and dug one of Kathy’s book cards out of my purse. “I’ve been reading this,” I told her. “Perhaps you’d like to read it, too.”

She looked it over and nodded. “I will indeed,” she said. Then she offered me her hand to shake just as my son returned to his seat. “Mr Allen,” she said to him, “I just do the paperwork on this. But I’m gonna pray this works out for you and your momma.” Then she turned back to me. “And I feel so blessed to have met a sister in the Lord,” she said. Then, because when God gives He gives in abundance, the smile that had worked its way up to her lips could not be held back any longer, she laughed.

Allen and I exited into the summer day. “Well,” said my son, “she sure was happier at the end than at the beginning.”

And isn’t that true whenever we allow God’s grace to work?

Would you like to join the journey of Grinning with Grace? Find Kathy's book here!