Grandma

Grandma imagined a pump of cold, running water in heaven. She told me so as we sat side by side on the couch just before I left for Spain.

“What do you imagine?” she asked.

Heavenly mansions were on our minds, not the frailty of human life.

When I said goodbye, I hugged Grandma and then Grandpa. My voice was still cheerful as I said, “If I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in a much better place!”

They both smiled.

But I couldn’t control that rush of grief. The memories, joys, sorrows, and love just landed in a heavy heap on my heart. I started to cry.

Like I am now.

Today is Grandma’s funeral and I’m an ocean away.

Grandma spent her whole life quietly serving others. She inspired almost subconscious admiration and love; she was the rock that we all leaned on but sometimes forgot was there. She always had time for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (and even our pets too!).

And yet, she loved to be alone, content to be still while the world marched by. She enjoyed life without needing to partake of all its luxuries, and contentment made her life richer. Her faith in God, her love for others, and her hobbies—collecting, organizing, couponing, gardening, reading— strengthened her for the hard things life threw at her.

On Friday, the hard thing was emergency surgery with very little chance of success. The family was stunned. We knew she was ready to meet her Maker, but we weren’t ready for her to meet her Maker.

And then she was gone. Before most of us had the chance to say goodbye.

It’s as if the book of some of my best memories has closed. No more melting plastic game chips on the threadbare carpet. No more sleepovers on crinkly pillow covers. No more poring over stacks of Berenstain Bear books. No more Keebler cookie snacks. No more tiptoeing around in the forbidden basement with cousins. No more strict “with soap!” hand washings. No more maneuvering the golf cart between the fragile fir trees at the risk of Grandma spotting us from the living room window. No more Grandma stories from when Dad was a little boy. No more of her French silk pie or other outstanding desserts and dishes. No more talks on the couch. No more phone calls or quirky, Grandma-style emails.

Her last email came the middle of October:

“Think I swept my time under the rug and now need to reverse that. All kind of things collect there under that cover up. That’s why some people insist on hardwood floors. Do you have hardwood floors or rugs with secrets?”

Her emails always put a smile on my face, no matter what kind of day I was having. Especially when they ended like this one:

“We don’t sweep love under the rug so you’re safe! Grandpa and Grandma”

On Saturday, I sat on the lonely beach, staring at the sea and trying to swallow the suddenness of her death. There’s just no easy way to say goodbye. No easy way to hurt. Friends from here and there and everywhere have decided to hurt with me and my family. Thank you.

Today we are grieving the loss of a beloved grandmother. And we’re also celebrating Grandma’s gain as she welcomes eternity.

I hope there’s a pump of cold, running water.

God doesn’t owe me results

The night was a failure. Even after a day of prayer and fasting.

No one noticed that my heart was beating in time with the Father’s. No one noticed that my soul was alive and refreshed.

People were out breathing in the cool night after the long, scorching day. Last week on my nightly strolls, I had met several women. Under the cover of dusk, we had sat on park benches and talked while children played around us.

But tonight there was nothing invigorating.

A stop at the local store made me wonder where the line between friendly and amorous should be drawn. And why was I always the one to draw the line?

And then there was that woman again. The shriveled Gypsy for whom I had once bought bread and eggs and now every time she saw me she snagged me with a long, anguished tale and a request for a couple of euros. How could I communicate love? Bread, eggs, and euros were not going to alleviate her poverty of soul.  Her granddaughters averted their blushing faces.

And that was all. No one else seemed open to conversation. Alone and discouraged, I finished my route and turned toward home.

That’s when truth started to sink it, settling between the churning waves of injured pride and self-pity.

God doesn’t owe me results. He doesn’t owe me deep, blossoming friendships and engaging conversations. If I cultivate a certain level of spiritual maturity, He doesn’t owe me the world on a silver platter.

My service is not qualified by my carnally-defined successes but by my faithfulness. Am I loving (and consequently serving) God with all of my heart? My soul? My strength? My mind?

Years and years ago, my Sunday school teacher gave me a quote that I have kept tucked inside of my Bible ever since. “There is no more powerful force for rebuking all evil things, whether of conduct or of opinion, than that of the quiet, strong, persistent life of a man or woman who goes on from day to day doing the duties of the day well, cheerfully, and with joy.”

As I walked those final blocks home, my sense of entitlement slipped away. “What if?” I wondered. “What if in my day to day journey, I start counting each blossoming friendship and engaging conversation as a blessing rather than my entitlement? What if I named each interaction as a gift rather than my payment for growing in Christ?”

The neighbor man waved and smiled. “Good evening.”

I waved back. “Good evening.” And it was.

Guest blog- “Let’s be sisters forever”

I met her twenty-six years ago. No, I shouldn’t say it like that. It’d be more accurate to say, “She met me twenty-six years ago.”

When she looked into my squalling red face and squinting eyes (the world is an awfully hard place when bright lights and thundering noises hit you directly and not through the sound-barrier of your mom’s belly), she probably felt something similar to love…and regret that she wasn’t the baby girl anymore.

Still, I wish I could remember that moment when my then four-year-old sister peered into my eyes for the first time.

Even if she didn’t love me right away, I’m sure she must have learned to love me at some point, but it was years before the love went anything beyond obligatory sibling love.

Our relationship was unstable. I simultaneously loved and hated her—I didn’t do things by halves. I envied her cool poise and aloofness. I longed to be tall and lean like her instead of stocky and square like me. Years later, I found out that she envied my blue eyes and blonde hair. Life’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

She was a stubborn neat freak, me her bull-headed little messy sister, both trying to inhabit the same room without killing each other. I’ll let you imagine how that worked.

She introduced me to classic literature and ridiculed the fluffy books I sometimes read. Thus, she bullied me into reading good books. I’m not sure if I have ever thanked her for that.

When she went on grand and glorious adventures to Mexico, Ecuador, Africa, and Spain, I stayed home and got eaten up with jealousy and cheered her on.

Now she writes and works in Spain, where she has dozens of friends and cool adventures every day (and I’m not jealous at all).

She drinks coffee in exorbitant amounts. “The milk here has a funny taste so I use cream in my coffee,” she told us over a phone call.

“Maybe that’s a good way to wean yourself off of coffee,” my mom suggested.

“But—but I don’t want to be weaned off it.”

She has a hunger for yummy ethnic food and actually makes it, unlike me (hello, 5-year old bubble tea balls). Green and red curry, tikka masala, and egg rolls are nothing uncommon. Before she left for Spain, she bought a HUGE bag of rice (I think ten pounds). She was constantly volunteering to bring rice to things.

“Why don’t you make stir-fry?” she’d tell Mom, “and I’ll bring the rice.”

“Do you know what would be good with that?” she asked me as I pan-fried chicken breasts.

I looked at her blankly.

“RICE!”

She likes to make use of what she has, and is a shrewd shopper for what she doesn’t.

While I look at a rack full of clothes as overwhelming and hopeless, she carefully combs through each item and selects things I end up being jealous of.

She has long been a proponent of living with less, although I’ve never heard her refer to it as minimalism. To her, it doesn’t need a label. She spent years with monthly stashes beside her bed. “If I don’t use it this month, then I don’t need it!” She kept her drawers and closet on the bare side, while my side was stuffed full (I have since fallen in love with minimalism and my closet is beginning to look more and more like hers).

When it comes to being an aunt, my sister, like me, is in love with the little people. However, she is an infinitely cooler aunt than I ever hope to be, taking our nephew outside to “explore,” having him “catch” leaves, see the kitty (which he calls the “deeder-deeder”), and play on an old tricycle. She is a calm presence, not jumpy and flighty like me, patiently loving on the boys and, more recently, the girl.

When she asked me to guest blog for her, I suggested that I write about her. It’s not fair that all of her readers should see only a lopsided picture of her and never know what she’s really like.

She was worried. “Okay. But make sure you send it to me early so that if I want you to write something different, you’ll still have time.”

I laughed. “I won’t write anything bad!

Her voice was hesitant. “Just—just send it to me early, though.”

She shouldn’t have worried. I’m not mean. I won’t tell the embarrassing stories (well…maybe just one…hee,hee). I may be the little sister that she tormented, but I’m not a vindictive soul. I’ll let you simply wonder about all the things I could have said, but didn’t.

I sit here now, wondering how to close up an article about someone when they’re ongoing. I’m not a sentimental person. If I were, I’d probably say something trite about loving my sister and how wonderful she is.

But since I’m not sentimental, I’ll just say, “It’s been great. Let’s be sisters for forever.”


Michelle loves books, family, and working with the elderly at her job. She is passionate about making beautiful things, whether through writing, crafting, knitting, etc. She blogs about life at rhapsodyind.wordpress.com.

What leaving feels like

I leave tomorrow. I’m excited and almost ready. But right now, Spain seems far away. Maybe life as it is now will go on forever: me almost leaving, a surgery here, a new job there, a new baby a state or two or three away.

To not be part of this ever-changing cycle at home is unfathomable. And when I do fathom, I burst into tears. My nostalgia remembers the days, weeks, and maybe even months that used to pass dry-eyed.

The other evening, I stretched out on the carpet with my head next to Clark’s. I stared into his bright face and could not cherish the moment. Neither could I reject the moment to protect my heart. The moment just was and I watched it pass.

Later as my nephews were leaving, Albert got zipped up in his too-big, puffy coat. Soon he will fill up that coat and I will not be here to see him do it.

I made gingerbread cookies. My sister made coffee. We hung out with Christmas music. And at night when I crawled into my own little bed, all I could do was cling to the ghosts of those memories and cry my tears of regret that I hadn’t experienced them more fully. Or sealed off my heart from loving.

And I cried out, “Oh God, why do I have to follow You?” There was no answer. I knew, and He knew that I knew. There was no warm, fuzzy peace either. Just a calm that felt more like resignation as I braced myself for more goodbyes.

I hope tomorrow things will look different. But this is what leaving looks like today.

Happy birthday, Albert

The way he oohs and aahs over simple pleasures. The way he slobbers out motor sounds while he drives his cars and tractors across the carpet. The way he points at things with an excited gasp, expecting you to look in wonder. The way he giggles with Eskimo hugs. The way he “dances” when he hears bouncy music. And the way he sings in church– “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

We met only a few months ago, but he has already managed to steal my heart.

Happy first birthday, Albert Harris.

Living memories

People
Are living memories of all you’ve
Seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt
With them.
You wake up one morning
And find you married
The reality you love.
And before you go
You must have that
Last walk to school
Last taxi ride
Last cup of tea.
Then you close the door behind you,
Taking only lifeless photos
And stale words in worn journals.

My November guests

In November, three guests traversed the Atlantic to visit me: my mom, my brother, and my friend. Some of our adventures included:

  • Finding each other at the airport… and managing to convince security that I was not a risk
  • Traipsing around the city as each phone place we had been directed to directed us to someone else
  • Arguing with taxi drivers who were even more stubborn than I
  • Tasting the old medina, literally and figuratively
  • Posing for awkward pictures
  • Sampling camel burgers and a salad that tasted “like donkeys”
  • Wiggling cooked snails out of their shells with wooden toothpicks…and sampling them too
  • Long talks
  • Laughing until we cried
  • Visiting my friends for tea, dinner, or just to say “hi”
  • Tasting uncured olives that pickled our mouths
  • Eating most of our meals standing around in the kitchen
  • Souvenir shopping in the rain
  • Souvenir shopping in the rain again
  • A long train ride in the rain
  • Walking along the bay in the rain
  • Two nights of cold showers
  • Spending a night snuggled in the musty hotel blankets
  • Staying in a concrete hotel room which reverberated with the early morning call to prayer and reading of the Qur’an
  • Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry only to find that the rain in Spain does not stay mainly on the plain!
  • A long bus ride around many many roundabouts…in the rain
  • A bus break-down which seemed to temporarily mend itself
  • A few days in Spain with friends, church, a birthday party,  an open air market, olives, churros, pastries, cocido, and tapas
  • Goodbyes

What if you were Soukaina?

Have you ever stepped into someone else’s shoes and tried walking around in them?

Soukaina is sixteen years old. She lives with her parents and two year old brother in a poor neighborhood of a bustling North African city. In that tiny, sixth floor apartment, personal property and space are out of the question. She doesn’t have her own bedroom. In fact, there is only one bedroom for the entire family.

She usually attends school but spends her free time on the streets. She gets in trouble for bullying neighborhood kids. Her parents send her out of their way, but paradoxically rebuke her for spending too much time on the streets.

Her father is diabetic and doesn’t have a job. Her mother works herself to the bone six days a week. Her little brother follows her around and gets into everything.

To get anyone to listen to her, she has to yell. Sometimes, it’s just easier to hide. Once, she said, “I don’t like to live here. There are many bad people.”

Yet, she is loved. Despite the abstract and irregular displays of affection, her parents love her.

So what if you were Soukaina? Well, what if you were? What would your life look like? What choices would you make?

I’m not asking these questions so you can recognize your privileges or count your blessings. I’m asking you because looking at the world from someone else’s perspective makes you better capable of loving them.

30

Turning thirty is means that I have a fair amount of life under my belt. Instead of being sad that I am leaving the 20s behind, I’m pondering the things I would like to do during my 31st year. You might call it a bucket list. You might not.

  • See more parts of this North African country
  • Finish language and culture study (well, the official stage anyway)
  • Learn how to cook North African food
  • Spend lots of time with family
  • Meet my nephew and make him fall as in love with me as I am with him
  • Renew friendships and relationships at home
  • Gather the required paperwork for my Spanish residence visa
  • Daily recognize my reliance upon One who loves me completely