Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moments forever lost...

In everything, give thanks. Not for everything, but, in everything. I am challenged by that scripture today. It's hard to give thanks when you don't understand, and, frankly, I don't. I struggle with the knowledge that someone you love so much can create so much heartache by their willful absence, shutting out those who love them. I struggle with the knowledge that outsiders unknowingly add to the sorrow by buying into one side of it without assuming the best intentions from the other. I refuse to speak poorly of one who speaks poorly of me. I will not. Instead, I choose to entrust myself to the One who judges all things rightly, knowing that He will work it all for my good, in His time. I still believe that. But, today there were tears for moments forever lost. Tomorrow I will stand in hope again. But today, for a few minutes, a wave of sorrow engulfed me.

His mercies are new every morning. I am grateful.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's not about me: the daily struggle continues...

The gifts of community are great. They are also sometimes burdensome. Relationships bring joy and laughter, tenderness and anticipation. They also bring frustration and sorrow and sometimes a heavy heart. We want to share the joy, but sometimes we're called to grieve with the grieving, weep with the tearful and comfort the hurting. Sympathy and compassion are crucial to relationship and, I admit I often fail to extend enough of either.

Walking alongside another is easy when life is smooth and when our companions are healthy and whole, their attitudes positive and their bodies, strong. It is less easy, and frankly, less appealing, when their attitudes are in the toilet and they are growing physically weak, unable to participate in life's activities due to failing capabilities or lack of enthusiasm due to depression or weariness or down right inertia. Relationships are hard work. Whether in marriage, friendship or with a relative or a co-worker; they happen in different contexts but they all have seasons of comfort and seasons of struggle.

Most Americans have lives of relative ease compared to the average world citizen. We have homes to live in, beds to sleep in, food to eat and incomes to satisfy both our needs and many "wants". We are bombarded in our culture with those who have"more"- more money, more beauty, more vigor, more health, more education, etc., and hence, we are often guilty of believing that we are deprived and that we "deserve" to have what we lack.

The result is that we frequently become even more self involved than we naturally are. We exercise excessively, we spend more time online that we do face to face, spend hours in front of the television but whine if church lasts 5 minutes longer than we expected. Why is it that I can spend hours reading a book I'm engrossed in but struggle to study the Word of God for consistent amounts of time? Why can I mindlessly chatter to a friend for hours and yet struggle to spend significant time in prayer? I can find ample time in my busy schedule to go to classes at the gym several times a week, but, can't seem to find time to keep my spiritual life strong and consistent?

The truth is we all give up too easily. In relationships and in our own lives. We look inward too much and outward too little. I have heard from several different sources lately that marriage may well be intended to refine us. There is no relationship as close or as long lasting as marriage can be. In marriage, if we are constantly concerned about my needs, my rights, my desires and what I deserve, we will often be unhappy. No matter who you are joined to, that person was never intended to meet all of your needs. Further, marriage was never intended to make life easy. When we begin to release the notion of "Prince Charming" and living "happily ever after" and instead look for opportunities to grow and learn and serve within the relationship, that is where the refining process begins to bear fruit.

Life is not easy. Not for anyone. It wasn't meant to be. It's a journey. Like most journeys, there are right and wrong turns. There are great roads with beautful views and conversely there are winding unpaved roads with ruts you may temporarily get stuck in. We all have unique journeys, but we are all fellow travellers. Some people join us in our journey for the long run, others for brief periods of time. Some we think will always share the road and then one day they're gone. Sometimes we understand why and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we are on a bumpy, uncomfortable road longer than we think we can bear and sometimes we believe we are going to avoid those pot holes all together.

In relationship, as in life, we have to learn perseverance. As a follower of Jesus, there is an even greater responsibility. We who call Him "Lord" have an obligation, a sacred duty to bring Him glory. In a nutshell, for me, that means overcoming my self focus so that it's no longer about comfort and peace. It's a daily battle. But, having lived a little while, I realize that an unhealthy focus on myself, my needs, my just desserts, my desires, "what's fair" and even what I don't deserve, are at the heart of most of the struggles of my life. Difficult circumstances are common to all of us. Whether visible to the human eye or not, every human being has heartache, struggles, and battles to fight. If my identity is tied to the battles I fight, I will most assuredly loose that battle, becoming a victim. If I accept my circumstances, lay them at the cross and trust the Saviour to either (a) get me through them, (b) carry me over them or (c) give me the grace to live with them, then, I can be victorious and the glory will be His. Whatever the outcome.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


You have to take the bitter with the sweet. I get that. But sometimes, the bitter IS the sweet. A loss so great that results in a reunion so sweet...this is the story of Edith Marta Donatelli Mandish, and her passing from this life into the next.

I married into a family so vibrant, so intense and so LOUD. The Mandish clan was, from the beginning, part of the attraction. My Slav Father-in-law, Mike...a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for saying things so bluntly that it sometimes took my breath away and othertimes so funny that he made me laugh for days. My Italian Mother-in-law, Edith, whose existence was centered around her family, and who in later years, referred to me as her "Angel" (My husband doesn't always concur) was my biggest supporter. Their family included my husband Mike, his brothers Dan and Gene and their sister Christine.

Family gatherings were always intense...conversation was fast and furious, people talking over each other about politics, religion, news, books and our varied lives. Laughter abounded and voices escalated. One time when our daughter was about 12, she invited her friend Heather to come along for a gathering. We had our traditional dinner with everyone gathered around the table, talking long after the meal was over. When we went home, her friend asked, "Are they always mad at each other?" To which Amanda replied, "They weren't mad, they always talk at the same time in loud voices!"

Through the years, Edith was always an encourager. She often told me that she prayed for us...for Mike and I to be reconciled (we did), for Mike to quit smoking after decades, (he did) for our girls to get good educations (check) and for them all to find good husbands. (two down, one still pending, but we believe!) She had a rich and faithful prayer life. She never gave up. She spend many hours praying for anyone who needed prayer and many of us were the recipients of her faithful endurance on our behalf.

She grew up without a mother, due to the untimely death of her own when she was very young. As a result, she never knew the tender warmth of a mother's embrace, the encouraging words a mother can speak and she faced unusual harshness as a young child. Her father was a good man, but gruff and unsentimental toward his young children. His expectations were high and there was no time for foolishness. Her days were long and hard. She and her sister Norma were expected to cook and clean and iron from a very young age while also going to school. Before she was ten, she had to prepare her grandmother's body for viewing following her death. This was not a fairy tale childhood.

Even so, she raised four children, was the loyal wife of one man and lived a life of extraordinary faith in Jesus Christ. She attended a Baptist church when she was small, but, ultimately was baptised a Catholic and raised her children in that faith.

In her later years, she experienced a healing, which she kept secret for years, uncertain that anyone would believe her. She had cancer and the physicians she saw didn't hold out great hope for her recovery. But, they didn' t know about her prayer life. They also apparently weren't familiar with the Great Physician she had entrusted herself to. Years later she told me that she was up one night praying ...all night she prayed and suddenly she felt a heat come into her body from the top of her head down through her toes. At the same time, she heard the words, "Your body is healed", a healing that was confirmed when she returned to her earthly doctors. That was decades ago. She was given "bonus time".

In June 2007, her beloved Mike died. She missed him terribly. At one point she considered stopping her medications so that she could be with him again. Thankfully, a friend talked her out of that. Her last couple of years, though, every future event was couched with, "If I'm still here." When her most recent great grand-child, Ruby was on the way, she said she hoped to live to see her. She did and in fact enjoyed many visits with the blue eyed beauty she loved so much.
In January of last year, nearly all of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered for a surprise 90th birthday party at our home. Letters and cards came from loved ones near and far, and she reveled in the love that we poured out on her.

January this year, the party was smaller...the local family members gathered again around her table and she blew out candles on the cake I had made her. She was a blessed woman and contentment was hers. She appreciated every opportunity to be with see the fruit of a life well lived and the results of the prayers she had long prayed.

Ironically, she died much the same as her beloved Mike did. A hip fracture, followed by a surgery and then a recovery that didn't come to fruition. But, the difference, the very sweet difference, was that we were given the precious gift of time. To the end, she was cognizant of what was happening...fully aware of those around her bedside and ultimately ready to let go and meet her Maker.

Blessed time. Time to read to her from the Word of God. Time to sing songs around her bedside. Time to talk about her wishes. She spoke to each one gathered around her bed, expressing her thoughts. Time to say good bye...time to talk about the reunion ahead of her, with her Mike, with her own Mother, with her brothers and sisters and with my own dear Dad. The day before she passed, all four of her children were with her all day...five of her grandchildren and one great grandchild was there. She told us she wanted "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "Amazing Grace" sung at her service by her granddaughter Lynne, and she was able to hear Lynne rehearse them for her at her bedside. She was ready and it was on her terms. It was the hardest and sweetest of times.

That night, her youngest son, Gene, chose to stay the night in her room. We all went home and slept, only to awaken to the news that she had crossed over from this life to the gates of Heaven, early that morning. The journey through the valley of the shadow of death, had come to a conclusion. Destination reached.

We planned services. We walked through them. We carried out her wishes. We sang songs, prayed prayers and spoke of what she meant to each of us. We spent countless hours as a family, recounting the gifts she had given us. Gifts of faith and love and acceptance and selflessness. In her apartment we found boxes of cards and letters she'd saved for more than half a century, from all of us. She had no possessions of great worldly value. She often said that her children were her diamonds. In the end, it was imminently clear that her family was her treasure. That's where her heart was.

And so, her legacy is a life well lived. A life of faith. A life of endurance. A life of service. We have much to live up to, but, a deep well of example to draw from. It is very hard to imagine that she is no longer with us...that we can no longer enjoy her stories and her company. It is hard to say good-bye. But, she lived for the reward that now is hers and her reward is great. How could we begrudge her that? Still...