Monday, September 22, 2014

Loving Our Sweet Mindy

Today we will bury my beloved niece Mindy, the daughter of my brother Rick and his wife Diane, the little sister of my nephew Mitchell and the heart sister of Mitchell's wife Michelle. She passed away unexpectedly this past Thursday from a medical condition no one knew she had, only two months after her 25th birthday.

There is so much on my heart to share about Mindy; it's hard to know where to begin....

Mindy was such a sweetheart. I don't mean that in the trite way. She really had a sweet, sweet heart. She was gentle and kind, and she loved her whole family, from her grandparents to her cousins and their children.

Mindy was quiet and laid back, but she wasn't shy. I've heard over and over the last few days that Mindy could light up a room, and that is true. It was her dazzling smile, which I always felt was especially for me. Each time I came to Rick's for a family gathering, I rounded the corner to the kitchen to find Mindy at the stove, trying out a new recipe that I knew would be delicious. Her whole face would light up because she was delighted to see me. I felt like the guest of honor no matter how many people were there. And I suspect we all felt that way.

She had a dry, irreverent sense of humor like her father, and she could always make me laugh. I loved to listen to their banter.

Oh how she loved dogs. I've never seen someone who loved them more. I'm not a dog person, but the love she lavished on her two Dachshunds made me wish that I were. Howie and Chloe were her joy.
Mindy and Howie

From a very young age, Mindy loved travel. She's a big part of so many of my best family vacation memories. She camped with us, went to San Antonio with us, and flew to Canada with us twice. Having her along added so much joy for us because that girl just really knew how to have fun. She loved any kind of outdoor activity, and I had the privilege of watching her learn to water ski, wake board, rock climb, and snowboard. She wasn't exactly fearless; she was certainly nervous. But she didn't let fear stop her from having fun, and whatever it was, she was confident that she could do it.

Probably my favorite picture of Mindy -
Sledding with Uncle Bill in Vancouver

On the Vancouver trip when she learned to snowboard, she spent a lot of time on her behind, as all people do when they are learning. Yet she still managed to talk me down one steep hill when I kept having those wipe-outs where your skis go flying. "You can do it, Aunt Sarah! Don't give up," she called, as she drug herself back to her feet. When we finally made it to the bottom, we laughed over the irony of a niece coaching her aunt.

I wish I had time to tell you all the stories stored up in my heart. I'd like to share one silly one that maybe no one else knows. Mindy posted this comment on a blog entry I'd written about running a country convenience store back when she was a very small girl (about 9):

Oh man do I remember those burgers, they were to die for! My memories of Mitchell and I staying out there with y'all are vague but one really sticks out in my mind. When he would bully me or give me a hard time, I would write it all down so that I could tell my parents when we got back and they could punish him for all of the horrible things: "Mitchell hit my arm", "Mitchell called me stupid 2 times", "Mitchell told me to to shut up!". Lol I think by the time I got home I was so excited to see my parents that I forgot all about it.

I'm happy to say that she and Mitchell worked through their differences and have been dear friends for years now.

My favorite recent memory of Mindy is the pasta cooking lesson we attended with Rick in December 2012.

Rick, Me, Mindy

Family Pasta Night at Rick's
Family Friend David in the Back

It had been less than a month since Bill and I separated, and I was hurting terribly. Mindy was a normal, busy college student, and it was the Christmas season, yet she made time to spend a whole Tuesday evening with her aunt. Laughing with her and Rick was medicine for my torn heart.

Mindy and I developed a closer bond over the next couple of years. She was compassionate and kind, always concerned for me. She didn't necessarily say a lot, but she had a way of drawing me out. She was a great listener, and a cheerleader for me as my heart began to mend and I started enjoying life again.

We loved to talk about cooking and about eating. She shared my love for vegetarian meals, and we liked to swap recipes.

Mindy was a strong, determined young lady. She had some struggles with college, and it took her some time to find the right direction. But she stuck with it for seven years and finally achieved her goal this past spring. I was more proud of her than I could have been if she had breezed through it in four years.

I don't know how we can bear losing our sweet Mindy, but of course we must. Rick shared his concern last night that because Mindy was the glue that brought the family together, that we might drift apart. Mindy was the one who thought up activities and arranged them. She was the one who organized the cancer walks.
Me, Rick, Diane, Mindy - Undy 5000

We agreed that this was Mindy's legacy. She loved family. I think it was because of the ordeal of Rick's colon cancer in her mid teens. She visited him every day after school, and she sat with him during every infusion. She never forgot what it was like to almost lose her daddy, and she never took any of her family for granted.

Last night we vowed to honor Mindy's memory by making our family time a priority from this point on. Right now we need each other desperately, but truly we always need each other.

These last few days have been a good start. The love binding us together has been palpable. We've hugged each other tighter, and much longer--way beyond the usual quick squeeze. We've added kisses to the hugs. We've rubbed backs and squeezed shoulders. We've said, "I love you so much."

In the middle of her own loss, Diane has comforted her nieces and nephews, speaking words of affirmation and hope.

Diane with Susie, Allyson, and Halle

I see the same strength in her that held her family together during Rick's illness. Here is what Mindy said about that in a comment on one of my blog entries titled Circle of Strength:
I love that you wrote this. I vividly remember that day.
I never really stopped to think about just how much of a Mama Bear that my mom was during that time but you described it perfectly. She was (and still is) definitely the rock in our family. When my dad was suffering, I was falling apart and Mitchell was shutting down, she kept herself and us together.

Diane is still a Mama Bear, but I pray she will realize now that she doesn't have to be strong. She is surrounded by people who love her, and we are still a Circle of Strength. I've never been more thankful for the love of my family. This is surely a treasure in the darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5)

Mindy, we are so thankful that we had 25 beautiful years with you. You touched our lives deeply and we will never forget you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Sacred Echo for Allyson

Last Sunday, I brought Allyson to a monthly worship service at a local church. It was my second time to attend this service, called Habitation, and I knew that Allyson would love the music. Still, it was hard to convince her to come along because the only other time she'd been to a branch of this church, she had not enjoyed the Sunday School.

"This time, you'll be in the service with me," I explained.

"I just really hate that church," she said. But she grudgingly agreed to come along.

When we arrived, I was thrilled to see that my friend Wendy had brought her daughter Hayden, who is about the same age as Allyson. All through the service, when the two of them weren't standing with hands raised to heaven, they were huddled together in their seats, heads together.

The worship was just as thrilling as I'd remembered, but this time it was even sweeter with my mom on one side and my daughter on the other.

This was a special presbytery service, which included words of encouragement and prayer over individuals in the congregation. Even though no one in our group was singled out, I still enjoyed hearing the words given to others, having received permission to "steal" any message that resonated with my own spirit. But as time wore on, I feared that Allyson would become bored with all that talking.

After the service, Allyson begged to visit the gift shop because she said she had some money she was just itching to spend. It was getting late, and we still needed to drive Mom home, but Allyson managed to wear me down.

After five or ten minutes of shopping, she selected a scripture journal for the low, low price of $9.99. She jubilantly explained that she'd initially passed this journal by, thinking it would be too expensive, but it turned out to be cheaper than the one she'd planned to settle on. "What a blessing!" she said.

We hadn't even left the parking lot before she discovered another blessing. "It has my favorite verse on page one!" she announced. "See? 'I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.' It's Psalm 139."

"That's wonderful, baby!" I answered, grinning over the joy of sharing my favorite Bible chapter with my 8-year-old daughter. It's no wonder, since I've been quoting it to her since she was a toddler. As soon as she could speak, she began quoting it with me.

Allyson exulted over that verse most of the way to her Aunt Emily's house, where Mom had left her car. When we arrived, she talked me into going inside for a drink of water even though it was after 9 by now.

Inside, Allyson's eyes fell on a picture on the kitchen counter, a Sunday School paper belonging to her little cousin Charlie. She read the verse at the top of the page aloud: "God made me wonderful."

"Hey! Isn't that...?" She snatched the paper off the counter. "Yes! That's Psalm 139. I thought it sounded like the same verse."

I smiled, touching her shoulder. "Allyson, do you know what this is? It's a sacred echo!"

"Yes, it is a sacred echo," she agreed. "It's my very first one!"

On our way out the door, Allyson told Aunt Emily and Uncle Paul some of the stories we'd heard about prophecies fulfilled. She was still calling out last words over her shoulder as I led her to the car.

"Wow, you were really paying attention," I said.

"I wasn't just sitting there, Mama," she answered.

I laughed. "I figured you might have been bored."

"No, it was awesome. I loved all of it," she said. "I want to go again next month."

Allyson exulted over that sacred echo all the way home. "I know God must have led me to that book," she said. "I didn't even think I could afford it."

"I'm glad you found it," I said.

"God must really want me to think about that verse," she continued. "What does He want me to know?"

"Yes," I agreed. "He must be telling you something,"

She was silent for a mile or so.

"Maybe He wants me to know... Well, you know how sometimes I wonder if I am pretty enough?"

I bit my tongue, afraid to interrupt. No, I did not know my daughter was already wondering that in third grade. "Mmm hmm?" I murmured.

"Well, I think he wants me to know that I am beautiful because He made me just the way He wants me. I am beautiful on the inside."

It was all I could do to keep from pounding the steering wheel and hollering, "YES!!!" Instead, I said, "Yes, Allyson. You are so beautiful. It's not because of how you look, even though you are very pretty. It's your heart. God made your heart so beautiful."

"Yes," she said. "God made us all beautiful."

After another block or two of silence, she said, "I'm so glad that I went tonight. If I hadn't gone, I would have missed the scripture journal and the sacred echo. I was so set against going to that church, but I was wrong. God knew I needed to be there."

At home, she wrote her very first journal entry. She wrote out a prayer, asking God to help her be willing to try things more than once, even when she thinks she doesn't like something.

It's so exciting to see my little girl learning such vital truths about herself and about her maker. I pray she continues to have a heart to hear God's voice.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

First Day of School and a Few Other Stories

After two weeks of school, I'm finally posting first-day-of-school photos. Enjoy....

Allyson with Mrs. D, already dearly loved

Wearing her thrift-store sequined blouse and the vest from her birthday

First-Day-of-School ice cream, which Ethan likes almost as much
as Last-Day-of-School ice cream (but not quite)

Ethan, Bill, Allyson, Meggie

I was proud that Allyson chose her thrift-store blouse, a souvenir from our recent Hill Country vacation, for the first day of third grade. She's most excited about the after-school clubs this year, including art and drama, as well as theater class once a week. I'm sure her acting career will really take off this year. 

Can you believe little Ethan is now a senior? Neither can I. He's growing up so fast. Last week he announced he wanted to apply for a job. He'd heard that a favorite hamburger joint was hiring, and I drove him over one evening to apply. "What should I say?" he asked.

"Just say, 'Hello. Are you accepting applications?'" I advised.

So that's what he did, while Allyson and I watched from the car. Every day, Allyson asks if he has turned in his application, and I tell her, "No, he hasn't filled it out yet." One step at a time.

A Little Arwen News

And now for an update on our sweet kitty, Arwen. She has become much more social, wonderful company for me. She no longer hides from all visitors, and occasionally she even lets them pet her for a moment. 

She is also an accomplished hunter. It's not uncommon to find dismembered bug parts in random spots. I always cringe but then wonder why it's not that gross to see a bug leg on the ground. Any other kind of leg would be revolting or even horrifying, but when I see a bug leg, I think, "Oh good. It's dead." And, "Where's the rest of it? Ugh." 

I shudder to think what's down my shower drain. Every chance Arwen gets, she nudges the shower door open and knocks the cover off the drain. Then she crouches over the hole, standing guard for up to an hour at a time. 
My shower isn't quite as dirty as it looks.
Let's say it's the bad lighting and the shadows.
And the cheap plastic floor that's impossible to clean. 

Sometimes she pokes a paw down there, and sometimes she puts her nose into the opening.

One morning a few weeks back, I came across a small grass snake in my kitchen and almost fainted before I realized it was dead. I left it there, waiting for Ethan to wake up and dispose of it for me. In the meantime, Arwen carted it off to the garage. 

When Ethan woke up, he said no way was he going to touch a snake. So my cousin Jenny, who was visiting from Indiana, bravely knocked it into a dustpan and threw it away in the kitchen trash. Ugh!

30-Second Hero

Lately, I've gotten into several scrapes, so much so that I'm beginning to think there's no point making plans because my day so often goes nothing like I planned it. For example, a couple weeks ago at 11 PM, my garage door wouldn't close. This was a true disaster because Arwen's litter box is in the garage, and we want to keep her an inside cat. My kind neighbors Neil and Steve came and screwed in a loose bolt, and then Neil fixed the garage door opener the next day. And then this past Sunday, Neil jump started my car... twice. (It turned out to be just a dead battery, thankfully.) 

The biggest emergency happened yesterday. Somehow, my master bathroom door got locked with no one in it. At first I blamed it on Allyson, but then I remembered going in the bathroom after I'd dropped her at school. So the culprit had to have been me. 

I wasn't too concerned at first. In fact, I saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills, remembering my friend Gentle's encouragement about that when I was newly single. First I poked a paperclip into the hole on the knob, and then the tip of a ball point pen, and then a small screw driver (at the suggestion of a coworker that I was having a phone meeting with). 

Nothing I tried worked, and I was getting anxious because I needed to brush my teeth and change clothes before a lunch date with one of my neighborhood friends. (My closet is inside the bathroom.) So I texted Kim and asked her to give me a couple more minutes.

I raced over to Neil's house and rang the bell, Thankfully, he wasn't busy and was happy to rescue me yet again. He'd had plenty of experience with picking inside locks, so this would be a piece of cake. Only it wasn't. He worked on it for 15 minutes with several implements he'd brought over, including an even smaller screw driver. 

Kim was on her way over, so we agreed to try again when I got back from lunch. While we were eating, Neil sent a text about locking himself out of his own bathroom, which had the same type of knob, and then easily opening it with a homemade slim jim. "I want another opportunity to be a 30 second hero," he said. "Call me when you get in."

He worked on the knob another 20 minutes or so while I worked at my computer. He even took apart another doorknob to reverse engineer it and figure out how to pop that lock. All of his efforts were to no avail, though. 

"You know," I mused. "I've always wondered if it's as easy to break a door down as it looks on TV." 

"You don't want to do that," he said. "The door would be expensive to replace." 

"Oh, come on," I urged. "It would be fun." 

"No, I'm not going to break your door." 

His next idea was to call our other neighbor over. Steve had the "key" that had come with his own bathroom lock. Yay! 

...But it was the wrong size. Steve took off to get ready for work, and Neil tried all the tools one more time before admitting defeat. Finally, he asked if I'd mind him knocking the doorknob off if he promised to replace it. 

"Go ahead," I said. "I really need to brush my teeth." (By now it was 2:00 in the afternoon.) 

So I covered my ears and watched him bludgeon that stubborn knob with my pink hammer (compliments of Gentle, who had painted it for me and put it into a cute little toolbox which she'd decorated with an S). 

Neil apologized several times and said he felt like a failure for not being able to open that door, but I assured him that this had been quite an adventure, though I rather wished I'd been the one to smash the doorknob. 

Not only did Neil replace the doorknob a couple of hours later, but he even went to Home Depot to buy it for me. Now that's a good neighbor, and a two-hour hero. 


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