Tag Archives: Heaven

Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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Dream A Little Dream

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A little music, a big memory and a whole lot of Mama…

This past weekend a bunch of my kinfolks got together for a reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, an event I had looked forward to for quite a while.  It was a branch of the family tree on Mama’s side, the Williamses, namely Mama’s big brother, my Uncle Otto and his wife, my Aunt Katherine’s, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  These are some of my favorite people on the planet, folks I don’t see nearly often enough.  I also saw some younger cousins, all grown up now, whom I had not seen since they were little, and some I’d never met yet.

Before I had even made it into the pavilion I found myself wrapped in a warm, loving hug from my cousin Stacy.

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She and I have been in touch on social media (one of the blessings of technology!) but have not seen each other face-to-face since the late 1980’s.  What a joy to see that sweet face again and enjoy a brief moment to catch up a little.  Second hug of the day was from her daughter, my cousin Danielle.  I’ve also been in touch with her online, but we had never actually met until that moment.  The musical genes in the Williams side of the family have passed on to Dani in a big way, and I was able to share a little bit of family musical history and heritage with her as we talked.

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Soft breezes blew through the shaded pavilion as my cousin Hazen asked the blessing over our meal and time together, adding special prayers for Aunt Helen as she deals with ongoing health issues.  I breathed a prayer as well for Dean, her husband, that he will remember to take care of himself as he tries to take care of her.  Seeing and hugging her was a special joy, as it always is.  She and Mama were so close, and when I hug her, I can almost feel Mama hugging me back as Aunt Helen does.

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I felt Mama with us all through the day, as we shared food and pictures and stories.  Aunt Helen’s kids, Lisa and Mike, were the kids out of the bunch I spent the most time with growing up.  And they were there, with Lisa’s husband Tim, who is a recent addition to the family and fits right in.  Mike’s wife Jane never changes, still glowing wth a headful of red hair and a huge smile.  All Mike and Jane’s kids were there, Aunt Helen’s grandchildren, and a huge light in her life.

As we shared food and stories and pictures, I felt Mama all around me, and I saw glimpses of her…in my cousin Robin “volunteering” to get up and sing, something Mama used to do…in the adult recreations of childhood photographs and the howls of laughter that resulted…

…in talking with Hazen about how active “my dead people” are in my dreams…

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…in the photo of me and my closest-in-age cousins performing a “family breast exam” (Mama and Uncle Otto are in Heaven laughing their heads off at that, while Aunt Katherine is telling us to “Be refined!”)…

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Family is not always dignified.  But that’s usually when it’s the most fun.

Unbeknownst to most of the family, Dani and I had cooked up a surprise to share, and after the meal was done, we offered them a little song, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”.  Making music with a cousin I’d just met for the first time was both a joy and an honor, and I hope it’s only the first of many more times we can do it.  My beloved Sweet Pea captured the moment with his phone, and I am so grateful that he did!

All through the day I felt Mama there with us, along with all the others on the Williams side who have gone to Heaven and wait for us there.  The last verse of the song we shared says:

“Sweet dream till sunbeams find you,

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you,

But in your dreams whatever they be,

Dream a little dream of me.”

I dream little dreams of them all the time, waiting for the day we are all together once more, with God and one another, all the generations of our family making music together. All worries behind us.  What wonderful dreams!

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A Short Season

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Savoring now and anticipating Heaven…

The rhythm of the seasons amazes and comforts me from year to year as colors, temperatures and scents change according to their predetermined timetables.  Springtime in my yard brings the tiny (and sorely neglected!) crocuses next to my driveway, followed by a stray daffodil or two.  As this process starts, my dogwood tree is sprouting tiny little crowns which eventually become the centers of the trademark cross-shaped blossoms the dogwood is known for.

The month of May brings the opening of the peonies, one of my favorite flowers in the world.  When we moved into our house, we inherited a long row of white double peonies that a previous owner had planted and cared for.  I haven’t done much to them in the years we have lived in our home—I need to divide them so they will thrive and not die out.

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These flowers have a short blooming season, a time I anticipate with joy each year.  As lovely as the fluffy blossoms are to see, their fragrance is the most intoxicating thing about them.  I fell in love with that aroma from the first time it entered my nostrils and lodged itself in my memory.  It’s difficult to describe a scent, but the peony smells both sweet and earthy when it is in full bloom.  Once I saw someone on television offering a perfume with the word “Peony” in its name, and I thought, “How wonderful that this essence has been bottled!”  And I bought a bottle, only to find myself sorely disappointed.  It smelled nothing like peonies at all.  Some things just can’t be captured.

Now I realize that I just need to enjoy the beauty of the peonies and their heavenly fragrance during the brief time when they are in bloom.  I can photograph their visual beauty to enjoy during the remainder of the year when they are dormant.  As for that fragrance, I imagine that Heaven is filled with scents as lovely as the essence of the peonies…and in Heaven, that aroma is not limited by a Short Season.

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Promise

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Reminders of the circle of life…

For the first time in several years, we had a bird to build a nest on our front porch.  In the past the nests have actually been in a shrub just in front of the porch.  However this little bird built her nest inside a watering pitcher I had left outside on some shelves next to the front door.  The eggs were beautiful, pale pink with burgundy speckles.  After doing some research online I discovered that they were the eggs of a Carolina Wren.

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Watching this miracle unfold never gets old for me!  I check the nest, making sure it is secure and safe, seeing if Mama Bird is there or has left to find food for herself.  This little Wren has been a great Mama to her eggs, building them a quite impressive nest for a bird so little.  Since I didn’t notice the nest until it was already full of eggs, and promise, I missed the earliest parts of the miracle, but I hoped and prayed I would not miss the last stage.

This time last week, my church family was saying goodbye to our friend Ray, about whom I wrote in my last post.  I was unable to attend his funeral because of scheduling, and usually missing that chance to pay respects and find closure would upset me greatly.  But somehow, this time, I think it was meant to be that I just remember him as he was the way I saw him last, ringing handbells, singing with the choir and reading Scripture, multi-tasking at church in his customary way.

When I arrived home from work, I checked the nest to see if Mama was there and how the eggs were.  The final miracle had begun to happen!

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I missed Ray’s funeral…but God gave me comfort and joy on my porch as the baby birds hatched and their new little lives began.  He reminded me of the promise of new life we have in Christ, the new life Ray was just beginning in Heaven.  He reminded me of the care He has for us, as a bird cares for her eggs, then her hatchlings, providing them with warmth, love and security.  Gracious Lord, help me remember that You always keep Your promises, and that You ALWAYS care.

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Farther Along

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We’ll understand it all by and by…

This past Sunday, July 26, was the first anniversary of my friend Lola’s death.  I have written about her several times here in Patchwork And Potpourri, sharing bits of my grief journey as I have tried to process her passing and make some sense of it.  While I have not been able to accomplish the sense-making part, I have found amazing pieces of comfort and blessing along the way.

Some months back, my church music director, Joan, planned an old-fashioned gospel singing (or as we in the South sometimes say, a “SANGIN'”!) for this date.  I cut my teeth on many kinds of music, but old-timey hymns and gospel songs are like mother’s milk to me, so I naturally jumped on the bandwagon…and then I realized what day it was, becoming uncertain and unsettled as to whether I’d be up for this gathering on such a poignant anniversary.  Oh, me of little faith!

At this point I need to back up and recall last year.  Lola had died on a Saturday, and I had committed some weeks before to sing a duet with my friend Marc the next day at our friend Greg’s church.  Part of me feared a complete breakdown in the middle of the song…but my inner musician kicked in and soldiered on.  Moments like these are when God works in ways that are beyond understanding, providing His strength in my weakness.  We sang, our voices blending in that unique way that Marc and I always seem to achieve, God singing through us to speak to those gathered there, and ministering to my soul in the midst of such overwhelming sadness.  Afterward we sat together behind the piano, and I began to cry silent, uncontrollable tears.  Marc reached for my hand and mouthed, “What…?” and I mouthed back, “Lola died yesterday.”  He had known all about her illness, prayed for her along with others I had asked to pray, and when I shared that she had died, he just held my hand and petted my arm.  No more words were needed.

The whole rest of last summer, God added feathers to my growing collection, signs of His eye upon the sparrow.  I had started collecting them years before, but in the wake of Lola’s death, I started finding them eveywhere!  Tons of feathers, showing up to remind me that she and my many loved ones in Heaven are all OK…and that I eventually would be OK, too.

This past Sunday, on Lola’s anniversary, once more I sang and made harmony with my longtime friend Marc, recalling last year’s moments of comfort in sadness, strength in weakness, music in tears.  We hugged and talked and laughed…and sang, the old gospel songs about Heaven and hope.  And as Marc and I left the church together, I found another feather, my first one in months.  “Feather!” I exclaimed as I  reached down to pick it up.  Marc said, “Oh yeah…”  I said it must be a Happy-First-Anniversary-In-Heaven-for-Lola feather, and he agreed.

A favorite old song of mine is “Farther Along”.  Granny used to sing it and Mama taught it to me.  It has been recorded by artists ranging from Southern Gospel quartets to The Byrds, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  The chorus states:

“Farther along we’ll know all about it,

Farther along we’ll understand why.

Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand it all by and by.”

As I sang it this past Sunday I thought of Lola, her death and her life, and how much I still don’t understand why she had to leave us so soon.  I thought about Joan and the lovely blue hydrangeas from her garden that she had brought in to decorate the tables, reminding me of the ones from Mom Cutshaw’s backyard.  I thought of the almost mystical harmony that happens whenever Marc and I sing together.  I thanked God for these gifts and mysteries.

And once more I looked forward to that day when things I wonder about now will somehow make sense…farther along, by and by.

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Cinco De Martha

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Because I had many mothers…

Last week’s calendar contained both Cinco De Mayo and Mother’s Day, which got me thinking about the many women in my life who mothered me in addition to my own Mama.  Because Cinco De Mayo/May 5 was also Aunt Martha’s birthday, I naturally had her on my mind.  She would have been 87 years old.

In describing Mama I have always said that if she were a color, it would be red because of her fiery and passionate nature.  I also noted that all of Mama’s sisters, in my mind, have a color of their own.  Aunt Martha, to me, is purple…regal, unconventional, stand-out-in-a-crowd purple.  Like Mama and the rest of The Big Five, Aunt Martha was a true original, and in many ways unlike her sisters.  But she and Mama were very much alike in their big-hearted, laugh-till-they-peed-their-pants humor and personalities.

Aunt Martha never had human children, choosing instead to be a dog mom.  I have followed in this path, and I think that being around her and her little canine companions so much as a child shaped the love of dogs I developed over the years.  The first of Aunt Martha’s dogs (or anyone else’s dogs for that matter) in my memory is Susie, a Chihuahua, the breed that Aunt Martha and Uncle John always favored.  She was a tiny little thing, even though she was overfed, and because her bones were fragile, Aunt Martha was forever reminding Reed and me, “Don’t run the dog,” meaning not to chase her.

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When Sweet Pea and I were finally able to adopt a dog, we chose a Beagle/Basset mix from the shelter.  Ernie The Wonder Beagle was not a huge dog, but he was larger than Aunt Martha was accustomed to.  She asked me once, “Ain’t his teeth awful big?”, to which I responded, “Well, they fit in his mouth so they must be the right size.”  She and Ernie would see each other at Dad’s occasionally and she was always sweet to him, and he loved her as well.  Big teeth and all.

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Some of my musical genes came from Aunt Martha as well.  She had a lovely soprano voice that I loved listening to when we would gather around the piano after Christmas Eve supper, harmonizing out of the ancient hymnbooks that lived in Mama’s piano bench.  Her voice singing songs like “Ivory Palaces” and “Sunrise Tomorrow” echoes through my memory.  She wanted to take voice lessons but Granddad would not allow her to, so to spite him, she quit high school before graduating.  When I graduated from college with a degree in voice, she wrote in the card she sent me that she was proud of me and doubly proud of my majoring in music.  Maybe she lived out a piece of her dream through me.  I hope so.

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She and I always seemed to be kindred spirits and we spent a lot of time together throughout my life.  I spent many nights at her house as a child and teenager.  There were the Friday night TV shows we both loved watching and the trips to the Pixie Drive-In for onion rings and milkshakes.  There was the favorite housecoat I wore when I was there and the stash of “feminine supplies” she kept on hand for when I visited.  (She was always very compassionate about cramps.)

She was a meticulous quilter, her stitches so tiny, close together and uniformly spaced that even a machine couldn’t have done better work.  It seemed like there was always a quilt up on frames in her basement.  Countless nights I would go with Mama, Aunt Ruby and Mrs. Allred to Aunt Martha’s house.  They would work on whatever quilt was in the frames until they couldn’t see straight anymore, drinking tea and Cokes, telling stories and laughing.  ALWAYS laughing.  And even though I wasn’t helping them, they included me.  I didn’t sew then and I don’t really sew now.  But when I concentrate, I can do decent hand work.  I wish now that I had pulled up a chair with them around the frames.  I suspect that I would have learned much more than how to stitch.

Christmas Eve 1994, I presented her with a special little gift.  I had found a picture of her and me together with Susie, the one from earlier in this post.  I set about shopping for the right frame for it and ended up choosing a beautiful silver frame with a heart-shaped opening that fit the photo perfectly. It was like it had been made to hold that very photograph.  I placed the picture inside and gave it to her that Christmas.  The picture below is of her opening that gift as I looked on.  Her expression is priceless.

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I think my penchant for collecting things comes from her as well.  She collected all sorts of things.  Cartoon character glasses and figurines from fast-food places, Beanie Babies, state quarters and California Raisins.  Little things like that gave her huge pleasure.  She also really enjoyed jewelry and sparkly things, another trait I inherited.  She was gone before I bought the Original Kissy Shirt, but I know she would have loved it, because it is funny and splashy…much like she was.  She would approve of the new smaller Kissy Shirt as well, although the weight loss surgery I had and the shrinking process that made the smaller shirt necessary would have worried her to death.

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I miss her all the time, just like I miss the rest of them.  I imagine that her house in Heaven has quilting frames and that she and Mama, Aunt Ruby and Mrs. Allred are reunited there from time to time, working on a quilt for the next family member who arrives there, a warm covering for the bed in their mansion.  When I go to meet them, I will have sense enough to pull up a chair and join them around the frames.

Happy 89th, Aunt Ruby

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Your first birthday in Heaven…

And we all miss you every day.  I haven’t been as diligent about keeping in touch with your kids as I’d like.  It’s hard with all our schedules being crazy like they are.  I know that’s no excuse.

Thank you for showing up in my dreams when you have, even when it’s been bittersweet.  The first dream was so hard.  I dreamed that we were in a huge gymnasium somewhere, with me up high in the bleachers and you down on the gym floor.  I couldn’t get to where you were no matter how hard I tried, and all I wanted was to reach you.  I guess that just speaks to how I feel about you since you died.  Sometimes all I want is to reach you, but I can’t be where you are.

The few dreams since then have been sweeter because I’ve been able to hug you. In each dream I’ve just held you for the longest time, pressing you into my chest until I could feel both our hearts beating at the same time.  Like if I pressed hard enough, you would leave your imprint on me.

The truth is, you DID leave your imprint on me, in ways I’ll probably spend the rest of my life thanking you for.  Lord, how I miss you.  How we all miss you.

Part of me still can’t quite reconcile myself to the fact that you died, even though I was there when it happened.  I felt your last breath, your last heartbeat.  I guess I just know that, while you are gone from this Earthly life, you aren’t really gone.  I’ll be able to reach you again someday, to hold you close and to share an eternity with you and Mama and all the others who are with you in Heaven.  For now I have to be content to know that you are healthy and whole there, surrounded by God’s love and reunited with so many of our loved ones.  Heaven must be so beautiful, and even more so with you there.

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So, Happy Birthday in Heaven.  I hope you and Mama and the rest of The Big Five can sit down to a big meal together, laughing and remembering the many happy times we enjoyed together.   I miss you every day, but I know you are with me in the ways that really matter, and I know that I will see you again someday.  I love you.

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