Random Thoughts in the Middle of the Night

I wake up in the middle of the night, usually between 2:30 and 3:00. “Breathe in, breathe out,” I tell myself to still the thoughts scampering around my mind. I get up, go to the bathroom, and return to bed in hopes that deep breathing and exhaling will relax me enough to get back to sleep.

The light from my clock radio is keeping me awake. I see the light from a streetlamp filtering through our bedroom window. What’s that blinking light in the bathroom? It’s John’s razor, signaling that it’s recharged. It used to blink from my vanity until it bugged me so much we moved it to the bathroom. I don my sleep mask in hopes of returning to dreamland. No such luck.

Finally, around 4:00 a.m., I give up and climb the steps from our bedroom to the kitchen. “This place is lit up like a motel,” I mutter to myself as I go from room to room, switching off lights. No matter how many times I remind our daughter to turn off the lights, it seems she often forgets and leaves the light on in every room. Memories from my teenage years come to mind. My dad was the one who went through the house before bedtime, grumbling that every light was on. He and I kept late-night hours. My mother went to bed around 9:00, and I wondered why she got sleepy so early, just when I was just getting cranked up to finish my homework, after helping run dinner over to my grandparents and aunt’s home next door,  practicing piano for the requisite 1 hour, and maybe watching a little TV.

Now, 40 years later,  I have turned into my mom. Julie, 22, looks at me incredulously when we’re watching TV together and I nod off. I finally get up and say, “Well, it’s time for me to go to bed.” She cannot comprehend the fatigue that has overwhelmed me when her youthful energy is rising.

I light a candle and gaze at the flame as I sip a cup of coffee, knowing this night I will not return to sleep. I name some of the matters on my mind (sometimes I write them in a journal; other times I write a letter to a trusted friend who understands my early-morning ramblings).

I pull out a book of poetry and look for something that resonates with me at this hour. Ah, there it is.

You Can’t Have It All

by Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands

gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger

on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.

You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look of the black dog,

the look that says, If I could I would bite every sorrow until it fled,

and when it is August, you can have it August and abundantly so.

You can have love, though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam

that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys …

You can have the life of the mind,

glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,

never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you

all roads narrow at the border.

You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,

and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave

where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,

but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands

as if they were meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful

for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia,

grateful

for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy ,,,

You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd

but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,

how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,

until you learn about love, about sweet surrender, …

And when adulthood fails you,

you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond

of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas

your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.

There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,

it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,

but there is this.

Barbara Ras, “You Can’t Have It All” from One Hidden Stuff. Copyright 2006 by Barbara Ras. Published by Penguin; appears in Caroline Kennedy’s She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems (pp. 237-238), copyright 2011 Caroline Kennedy; published by Hyperion. I did not request permission to reprint, as this blog is read by only a few people.

Already my breathing has slowed, the thoughts in my troubled mind have hushed, and now it’s 5:00 a.m. Time for a second cup of coffee and a little more reading to really start my day.

When I Can Read My Title Clear

“When I Can Read My Title Clear” … that means I’ll have updated my bifocals prescription. LOL

On a more serious note, this Memorial Day weekend I have been hearing my grandfather sing (in my mind) the words of a hymn by Isaac Watts, published in 1707:

“When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes,
And wipe my weeping eyes
I bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.”

I can hear Papaw Robinette singing that hymn just as clear as day in his strong bass voice. He was a little crazy (more than a little, diminished by dementia) by the time I knew him, but I remember many things about him.

I did a little research on this hymn because I was curious about it. Here’s what I found in a book titled The Strawberry Story: When I Can Read My Title Clear by Willie H. Mallory (GoogleBook, Xlibris Corporation, 2008):

“Uncle Milledge was known for his ability to pitch a hymn. ‘When I Can Read My Title Clear’ and ‘Free at Last’ were two of his favorite hymns. He delighted in singing hymns reminiscent of the days of slavery. ‘When I Can Read My Title Clear’ took the memories of some back to the days of slavery–their titles were first read clear when they were set free from slavery–something they never failed to feel thankful for. It temporarily relieved others from their daily plight and made them mindful that all things early comes [sic] to an end. They put their hope in heaven because earth had seemingly let them down.”

And in Lyric Studies: A Hymnal Guide, Containing Biographical Sketches of the Authors by Isaac Doricott and Thomas Collins:

[John 14:2 is listed as the scripture reference.] ‘Headed “The hope of heaven our support under trials on earth.” It was composed by Dr. Watts, and published in his Hymns, 1709 [ok, so there are discrepancies in the dates this hymn was published].” [Other rather dull information ensues.]

I was interested to learn that this hymn was sung by slaves. My grandfather might not have sung it if he had known that. He was prejudiced, which was not uncommon for his time (born in 1874, died in 1975).

I had been pondering what all this “and wipe my weeping eyes” was about, since it followed the line “I bid farewell to every fear.” Now it makes sense to me that slaves would’ve sung this song as they toiled during the day, singing as they worked.  Compared to the dreariness of their life, the thought of heaven [ultimate freedom] kept them going … as well as the hope of being freed from slavery.

I don’t have any really deep thoughts here…just gratitude for music which, as the old saying goes, “washes from the soul the dust of daily life.” And deep gratitude for being raised in a family that cherished hymns.  I would venture that more of my faith and theology have been shaped by hymns than any sermon I’ve heard, though I’ve been fortunate to hear some excellent preachers in my lifetime.

Thanks be to God for a wonderful heritage, both my family and my religious heritage.

Silly Things I May or May Not Have Done

I was inspired to write this post by one of my college roommates, who got tickled at a story I posted on Facebook yesterday. I was reminiscing about elementary school.

One of my classmates, a distant cousin, was named Harry Barry. Harry and I made a few memories together in grade school. In second grade, I made the mistake of not going to the bathroom when the teacher gave everyone a chance to go just before a spelling test. (I have no idea why I didn’t go…probably was daydreaming.)

Anyway, I panicked during the test because I had a sudden urge to pee, and I raised my hand to ask if I could go to the restroom. The teacher denied me that “privilege” and proceeded with giving the test. (I can understand now why she said no, but at the time it was really frustrating for me.)

Unfortunately, I really had to go, so there I sat at my desk, with a little yellow puddle on the floor beside me. Harry was in the next row. He looked over at me, pointed at the pool of urine, and said, “What’s that?” I’m sure I blushed, but I replied ever so casually, “Oh, it’s just lemonade.” He rolled his eyes as if to say, “Yeah, right!” (Lesson learned: I never again missed a trip to the bathroom when the teacher allowed us to go.)

In third grade Harry Barry challenged me to a contest. Being a competitive sort, I immediately was hooked. The contest? Seeing who could get to 100 pounds first. The contest was just between Harry and me. I don’t recall how long it lasted, but I weighed 85 pounds when we started, and I WON!

Downside: I wore “chubby” size clothes (yes, they actually labeled them chubby) for the rest of elementary school. I remained fat until I hit my pubescent growth spurt the summer after 7th grade. And ever since, at least until the past few years, I have felt fat, even though most of the time I was at about the right weight for my height.

Second grade was a memorable year. It was also the year I slapped a boy (David Crawford) on the playground. I think he cried; I do know he complained to the teacher. Fortunately, our teacher took time to inquire why I had done such a thing. Still steamed about what had just happened, I replied, “He looked up my dress!” She looked at David and said, “Well, then, you deserved that.” Yay. Justice prevailed that day.

Okay, enough for now. My husband just walked into the kitchen, looked over my shoulder, and  said, “Keep it short; don’t tell your life story in one blog.” I am wisely taking his advice. (It’s only taken me 30 years to learn to do this. :D)

 

When a Child Doesn’t Believe

I’ve hesitated to share this deeply personal struggle. One of my children has told me that he/she does not believe in God. My first reaction was to blame myself for my child’s lack of belief. I thought, “If only I’d been a better example… if only we’d gone to another church sooner…if only…” Well, let me tell you, those “If onlys” can drive a person nuts.

I have struggled, argued with my child, seen that did no good, and finally came to the realization that I need to get over myself. I  admit that there is a big part of my ego involved here. I have worked in Christian publishing for my entire career. I worried, “What will other people think of me when they discover my child doesn’t believe in God?”

As I prayed about this situation, God helped me to come to a new place in my parenting journey. “It’s time to let go … and trust me,” I felt God saying. So I began to pray differently. “Lord, I give my child to you. I know you love this child even more than I do. Please, God, please…let my child meet some Christians who will treat him/her with kindness, unconditional love, and respect. Let my child encounter Jesus followers who are comfortable with questions, doubts, and who will accept him/her as he/she is.”

That led me to write the following prayer, which appears in Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding and published by Upper Room Books in 2012. I share this prayer with those readers who know someone who’s an atheist, and for those of you who are dubious about the existence of God, and especially for Christian parents whose children have arrived at beliefs they never expected.

Father God, thank you for your unconditional love
for each of your children.
I pray today especially for my child
who says he doesn’t believe in you.

Lord, help my child who’s struggling with cynicism and despair.
I believe that doubt is part of the faith journey.
Please send a sensitive soul to encourage my child–
someone who will say words to gently point
this one I love so much toward you.

Loving God, I lift up __________ to you.
Though it is difficult, I release my child to you,
trusting you to continue to work in his life.
Help me to let go and trust
that the seeds of faith I helped to plant will take root
and that my child will grow in the sunlight of your love.

Thank you, dear God, for hearing and acting.
I am grateful that you love this child
much more than I ever could,
and that though I must let go, you never will. Amen.

From page 17 of Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding. Copyright © 2012 by Upper Room Books. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Lord, in Your Mercy, Hear Our Prayers

My heart goes out to the people of Moore, Oklahoma, after yesterday’s tornado wreaked havoc on that city. I wrote this prayer for such a time as this:

In the Face of Disaster

Lord God, we don’t know how to pray.
This immense disaster feels overwhelming.
We can only imagine how the victims feel,
And we are so many miles away that we feel helpless.
Surround those directly involved with your loving presence.
Comfort the families of the dead and injured,
Sustain those waiting for word of those they love.
Protect, strengthen, and uphold the rescuers and emergency personnel.
Help all of us to remember that your love
Is bigger and stronger than despair and destruction.
Guide and strengthen us to reach out to those affected in ways that will bring healing.
Give them and us a sense of your peace and hope.
In the name of Jesus, our friend and healer, Amen.

 


From page 60, Prayers for Life’s Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments, compiled and edited by Mary Lou Redding. Copyright © 2012 by Upper Room Books. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Tribute to Mary Frances

“Life isn’t always what you planned. Get over it.” This saying came to mind as I was berating myself for leaving photos of my mother-in-law at work. It seems that whenever I intend to blog and scan pictures, I leave my pictures one place, and I write in another. So big deal. I’m getting over it and just writing.

Last week (May 7) was the anniversary of two women who were very special to me: my grandmother and my mother-in-law. This post is about Mary Frances Bell Trudel (1907-2000), whom I had the privilege to know from 1981 until her death.

When I first met Mary Frances (I think it was after John and I were engaged), I was a little taken aback by her candidness. Some would call her blunt, but I soon grew to appreciate her tell-it-like-it-is qualities. She accepted me as a daughter right away, even though I was “taking away” her son. (I think she was really smart and knew that if she made me feel at home, she would always be in touch with John.) We didn’t exchange any cross words for 5 years. Some of my friends, like Joe Nave, who taught at Tennessee Preparatory School where Mary Frances was on staff as a nurse, might find that hard to believe. She had a reputation at TPS for hanging up on people abruptly when she was grouchy or when she decided that the conversation was over (without the niceties of “good-bye”). She was a registered nurse who dared to speak up for her patients’ best interest, even to the point of disagreeing with doctors. That didn’t exactly win her any popularity contests with the doctors, in a time when people didn’t question what the doctor said. But I think it showed the kind of person she was: a dedicated nurse who had a strong sense of right and wrong and cared about her patients.

Mary Frances was both a puzzle and a delight. We shared many laughs together, and she was always up for a party or meal at our house. She faced the realities of aging and physical decline with a mixture of courage and “I spit in the face of danger.” It was hard for her to give up her beloved car, a little white Toyota Tercel,  when she was 83, but we took away her keys after she pulled out in front of someone at Harding Mall (now a Walmart at the corner of Harding Place and Nolensville Road).

Mary Frances married the love of her life, Rudolph Emil Trudel, whom she met when both were working at Tennessee School for the Blind. R.E. was quite a card. I remember him holding up his arm toward Mary Frances the first time I had dinner at their house and saying, “Mary Frances, would you button my sleeve?” The trick here was that the button was missing from his sleeve. Mary Frances started to button the sleeve and realized that the joke was on her. She gave one of those “Harrumph” expressions, but I could tell she enjoyed his joshing.

Sadly, R.E. died on July 14, 1982, a little over a month before John’s and my wedding. He had a stroke or heart attack. Mary Frances never got over his death (you don’t exactly “get over” the death of someone you love), but she managed to get on with her life. She kept in touch with some friends she’d gone to nursing school with; I remember at least one who called her every day. A few years later, she accepted that she needed to move to a retirement community, and she sold her beloved home on Old Hickory Boulevard in Brentwood. I give her credit for listening to her children, Elizabeth, Rudy, and John, when they told her it was time to make a move and be in a place with other people her age.

The first years at McKendree (she was in independent living) were fairly happy ones for her. She enjoyed playing “canatsta,” as she called canasta, every Friday night with her friend Brownie Spain and others. She also delighted in the fact that she didn’t have to cook all her meals.

Mary Frances was a loving grandmother. When our son, Daniel, was born in 1987, she was right there at the hospital. Even though she was 80, she still got around well and helped take care of Daniel when he was sick. She continued to attend Crievewood United Methodist Church on Sundays when she’d spent the night at our house (it was right down the street from our church, Crievewood Baptist). When they took church directory photos, Mary Frances wanted to get hers made with Daniel. I treasure that photo; it was one of the best photos of Daniel’s early childhood (he was 3).

Oh, I almost forgot to give Mary Frances credit for introducing me to The Upper Room, the daily devotional magazine that is the flagship magazine of my employer (also called The Upper Room). She read her “devotional” faithfully every day and often quoted from it. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the global influence of this ecumenical magazine, thinking it was just one of those “Methodist publications.” I was snug in my Baptist world and hadn’t ventured outside of Baptist publications other than to subscribe to Guideposts magazine. Too bad Mary Frances didn’t live to see the day I started working at The Upper Room. She would have been thrilled.

When she was 82, Mary Frances was diagnosed with lymphoma. At first the doctor was just planning to give her palliative treatment because of her age. But the Trudel brothers, who were just as determined as their mom and often thought outside the box, differed with the doctor’s plan. They did some research and discovered the recent development of laparoscopic surgery. They asked Dr. Eddie Reddick, the pioneer (at least in this area) of the procedure, to do exploratory surgery on Mary Frances to determine the extent of her cancer. He did, and they were able to convince the doctors that Mary Frances still had a few “good years” left in her. She underwent 5 months of chemotherapy. Part of the time, she said, “I just want to die,” but underneath was a fierce will to live. I reminded her that surely she wanted to live to see the birth of our second child. Around Thanksgiving of the year she was diagnosed (I think the diagnosis happened in early October), the doctors told us that we needed to contact Elizabeth, who lived in Oregon, and encourage her to come home for Christmas, because it might be Mary Frances’s last one. Elizabeth did come home, but Mary Frances outsmarted those doctors…she lived for 10 more years.

I attribute her long life to what I call the “ornery factor.” She blew every theory I had about positive attitudes contributing to a longer life. It drove me nuts that she was often negative, but under every “Why am I still here? I just want to die!” I heard an underlying message: “I really want to live.” And live she did…on her own terms (mostly; she would’ve loved to have had her car) and outspoken until the day she died.

Mary Frances: a lovable, frank, fiercely protective and loyal mother and grandmother, accepting of people from all walks of life, realistic, courageous, faithful, loving, dedicated wife, exemplary nurse, and funny person. I still miss her.

My Mamaw Robinette

The last week has been full of memories, as May 7 was the anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s birth (and my mother-in-law’s birth) … and my daughter graduated from college on Saturday (great Mother’s Day gift!). 

My mamaw, Rosa Alice Steele Robinette, was born on May 7, 1887. I don’t know much about her early life except that she was born to Susan Lyons Steele and (maybe?) Reuben Steele. She graduated from “normal” school (maybe a couple of years beyond high school?) and was a teacher when she met my grandfather, Henry Tyler Robinette. They married in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank. My grandfather already had 5 children from a previous marriage. His first wife, Allie Kyle, died from “consumption” (tuberculosis), if my memory serves me correctly. Their children were Elvin, Curry Alton (I thought for a long time his name was Uncle Outen), Omer Kyle (known as O.K.), Elizabeth (my Aunt Liz), and Rita (a high school English teacher…yay).

So my grandmother had to be a strong woman to (1) marry my grandfather, whom I recall as a crusty old cuss (though he didn’t curse) and (2) take on the responsibility of raising at least 3 of the children. I’ve been told that they were teenagers when she married Papaw. Having been through those tumultuous years with my own children, I have come to have immense respect for my grandmother after reflecting on how she helped raise children who were not her own, not to mention teenagers.

My grandmother and grandfather had 6 girls, Eunice Mae (“Euch”), Reba Susan (“Reb”), Della Bertha (“Det”), Myrtle Virginia (“Myrt”), Edna Frances (“Ed”), and my mom, Hattie Bernice (“Niece”). They were dirt-poor and lived in Fairview, Virginia in houses that look like the peeling painted “white” clapboard of John Grisham’s A Painted House. They knew about hard times, raising their children and sending some of them to college during the Depression. My grandfather was a farmer and went off to peddle his crops and other wares. He lost not only his own farm but also his brother’s farm during the Depression. I imagine that made for some tense family relationships.

Mamaw was in her 70s when I was born. I have vague memories of visiting their house and seeing her sling a chicken round and round to break its neck before cooking it. (There weren’t many vegetarians back in my day, so this memory did not affect my appetite for fried chicken.) I also remember going to her and Papaw’s house on Thanksgiving Day and spending most of the day making sausage. (It always grossed me out to walk by the gutted hogs on their back porch on the way into the house.)

When I was in third grade, my aunt Reb bought the house next door to ours and moved there with Mamaw and Papaw. I was thrilled to have them next door. I spent many hours watching TV with them (much more than my mom knew) and enjoyed running between our houses, especially when I was a teenager and the walls of my own house felt like they were closing in on me.

When I was in seventh grade, Mamaw was hospitalized for a heart condition. The doctor gave her some medicine to which she had a bad reaction. She was never the same (mentally) after that. I think she actually had what was then called a nervous breakdown and perhaps a psychotic reaction to the medicine.

When she came home, my mom and aunts decided to move Mamaw into a separate bedroom from her and Papaw’s bedroom. They felt like she needed someone with her at night, so I was chosen to be the “night guard,” so to speak. I can’t remember how my mom presented that job to me, but I felt lucky to get to be in the same room with Mamaw.

She was such a sweet and gentle woman. As a teenager, I recall pouring out my heart to her at night when we went to bed. She would murmur sweet things to me, and soon I would hear this little puffing of her cheeks, signaling that she had fallen asleep. I saw her as my confidante, even though I wasn’t sure exactly how much she understood of what I told her. During the day, she often replied with jokey remarks whenever anyone talked to her.

Mamaw was always encouraging, and she passed that trait on to my mother and probably all of my aunts. I remember her singing “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 bye and bye.” Rosa Alice Steele Robinette, thank you for many happy childhood memories. Thank you for being a stubborn, proud, and yet kind woman…I am proud that you remained a Methodist and a Democrat while married to an overbearing man who happened to be Baptist and Republican. You cherished your right to vote, and I can only imagine how exciting it must have been when the 19th Amendment finally passed in your early 30s. You set a fine example of faith, grace under fire, and fierce independence–qualities which you passed on to all your girls. I am honored to have known you and been graced with your love.

P.S. To readers of this blog, my middle name is Rose, the name I got from my grandmother.