Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

There is a Time for Everything August 18, 2009


I have been struggling with this blog for awhile because I’m not posting with the same focus I had when I first started to write here.  When I first started this blog I was in a period of immediate, deep grief over the illness and then loss of my mom to cancer.  Along with that came the wonderful gift of gardening — something she had loved and I had just found — to carry me through some very, very hard days.  All of this poured into and fed the growth of my faith and a period of discovery about both myself and, more importantly, my God.

Solomon (not the Beetles) had his heart set in solid truth when he wrote Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I think that this is part of why I’ve felt very unfocused in my writing here recently.  I have entered a new season of life.

This is not to say that grief is gone — I can’t think of a day that goes by without some thought or longing to be with my mom in heaven, worshipping our Creator.  Time has a way, though, of softening sharp edges and the Spirit has a way of using Christ’s redeeming power to take every sorrow and draw from it joy.  As this process has happened I have slowly shifted my focus to other needful things:  my marriage, my son, my home…

As a result, the gardening posts will likely be fewer (though I do have a new plot to sink my hands into at this late part of the growing season), my posts about my mother likely farther in between (though my life with her informs every part of life after her going home).  You’ll hear me talking dollars more than any girl who hates even thinking about money ought, and struggling through the fast-paced adventures of raising my little boy.  You’ll likely hear about a lot of apologies made to my husbad, though I hope those become fewer, too (out of peace, clearly, rather than a hardening of heart).  Cooking?  Well, I’ll never stop talking about that.  And my Savior?  As the old hymn tells us, “Lord I need thee every hour.”  And I do.

But yes, my focus has changed.  And having said just that, I feel more free to post the things I’m dealing with now.  I hope it’s interesting and helpful to you — because it’s interesting and helpful to me.  Indeed, there is a time for everything.

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Seeing and Being Seen July 25, 2009


When she was a senior in high school, my mom was nominated for and then won the Miss Elsinore contest in the little town she grew up in.  She went on to get a runner-up slot in the Miss Riverside contest that same year.  I remember being agog at the fact that my very own, every day, utterly normal (only in a kid’s eyes!) mom was a beauty queen!  I would press her for all sorts of details and was constantly left a little disappointed because she seemed so completely uninterested in it all.  She would say things like, “Well, it wasn’t ME on that stage.  I had on 10 pounds of make-up!” and “Oh I hated that picture…but you know, I DID get to leave class one day for that photo shoot and that was pretty fun.”

The first time what she was saying to me really started to make sense was when I was a teen.  I’d brought the story up again and begged her to drag out the photos and she told me a few details of that week to make me happy.  “Mom, were you SO popular then?”  She laughed.  “Well, I had a date every day that next week!”  The thought of it made my toes positively curl with glee.  “And did any of them end up being your boyfriend?”  “Oh, love, NO.  No.  They didn’t want to go on a date with ME.  They wanted to go out on a date with Miss Elsinore.  To say they’d gone out to dinner with the local beauty queen.”

And there, plainly, was the crux of the matter.  Mom did not feel like, when she won that contest, it was based on real things.  She did not feel that she had been really seen.  She didn’t feel that it really had anything to do with who she really was at all.  Any real piece of her that had been there for judging had been slathered under pounds of stage makeup.

When I fell in love with my husband, I barely remembered how to put makeup on.  It was in 2001 at the tail end of my mother’s first bout with cancer.  It had been a grueling year and I felt stripped of artifice of any kind.  When we met I wasn’t looking for a relationship at all — I was utterly unprepared to be charming or beautiful or socially acceptable.  I was in a stage of my life where I grossed people out inadvertently by just explaining the day-to-day basics of our lives.  What we found funny at home other people in non-cancer world did not find funny.  When people asked, “How are you?” I couldn’t gracefully tell anymore whether they really wanted to know or if they were just asking because that was how conversation was supposed to go and the next line was supposed to be “Oh, fine thank you!  And you?”

I remember walking toward Ryan one night at a little dive we used to go to after coming out of the ladies room and realizing that for the first time of any that I could think of when he looked over and saw me and lit up with a smile, he was smiling at me.  All my cracks and dings and rawness were right there in front of him and he was delighted to have me coming over to slide back into the seat across from him.  As much as I loved him for so many wonderful things, I loved him for that.

There is something, I think, about being laid bare, recognized for who you are, and loved in the face of it all.

This is, in the end, what makes the love of my Savior so intoxicating and breathtaking when I stop in day-to-day business and ponder him.

Think about it:  There are stars in the sky so far away that our very strongest telescopes can only pick them out as specks of light in the vast distance.  Yet our physical beings are determined by 25,000 human genes that were not fully mapped until less than a decade ago and are contained in such microscopic detail that no human eye could ever decipher them without powerful aid.  Romans 1 declares that what can be known of God has been made plain to men and that His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the things that have been made.  What creation tells us is that our God is unfathomable.  He is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.

With the greatest of care and imagination He knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs.  He named us before we had names.  He knew us before we could be known by any other being and knew us more fully than we even know ourselves.  Every hidden dark place, every decision made wrong, every hatred, every cheat, every selfishness, every slight given was before his eyes when he then chose to love us with a deep, never-ending, fierce, perfect love.  He holds back nothing in that love.  Nothing at all was too great a sacrifice — not even the cross.

If, tonight, you are needing to feel love — ponder on this for awhile.  As unlovable as you may feel you are loved beyond what you can possibly imagine.  If you are God’s and springing to the front of your mind is “Yes but you don’t know what I…” — I can tell you that no matter how you finish that sentence, no matter how dark the ending, God knows and he loves you anyway.  If you acknowledge him, if you love him, if the darkness of the things you keep tight in your heart make you understand your need for the cross and, therefore, thankful for it then I can assure you that He knows and loves you still with a love that makes all things good and new.  He sees you and He has allowed himself to be seen.

I’m just a little bit agog about all of this tonight and so I thought I’d share.  Maybe now my brain will quiet down enough for me to sleep.

 

A Monument to Joy in Loss July 7, 2009


When we knew my mom was dying — really dying and soon — family began to pour in to see her at the hospital as we waited for hospice to be set up so she could come home.  We still thought that perhaps we had a few weeks with her but there was a certain urgency in my heart to say something to her.  To say…what?  I thought a lot about the things that people say in deathbed scenes in books and movies and on TV.  So many people feel the need to plead for forgiveness for that last wrong they thought of, that last hurt that had gone buried all those years, to confess, to clear the air, to leave no potential stone of regret unturned at the end.  I felt no need for any of that with my mom at her deathbed.

Throughout the Old Testament you read about the people of Israel raising monuments as reminders to themselves and all who observed them of the glorious things God had done for them and through them.  In the beginning of the book of Joshua, after 40 years in the wilderness, the people of Israel finally were able to cross the Jordan and enter into their promised land.  The first thing they did after crossing over the Jordan was take 12 stones, one for each tribe of the people, and build a monument with them.  Joshua instructed them to do this so that when their children asked what the stones meant, the people would be reminded to tell the children of God’s mighty work of stopping up the waters of the over-filled Jordan so that his people might pass safely on dry ground.

On the one hand, it’s sort of funny to think that a people would need a monument to remember a story like that.  You know?  HOW could you forget seeing the water piled up on itself as Scripture said it was, waiting for you to cross into the new home you’d been waiting your whole life to reach?  It’s preposterous!  Well, it’s funny and preposterous until you stop and take a good look at the frailty of your own memories and how they can be changed so easily and quickly sometimes.

We’re told later on that the people fell into sin and disarray almost immediately and that it was because they did not teach their children to remember the mighty ways of what God had done to deliver them.  They did not remember themselves.

And can’t you hear it?  Imagine, say, even fifteen years later, how the story might have been twisted at first.  “Daddy, really did God stop up the water?  Did it really pile up so high while you crossed over that it was taller than your head??” “Oh son, I was so young then and so small!  Why, I was shorter than you are now.  So perhaps the water seemed very high but…”  “Oh son, it was so long ago.  But the water was very shallow.  Perhaps it had been a dry season that year and we were so releaved to cross over that it seemed as if the very hand of God stopped the water and dried out the sand…”

But no.  No that was not how the story went at all.  And the people all together that first day lay those stones and all acknowedged the supernatural greatness of what had been done by their mighty God.  They acknowledged it together so that later together they could help each other remember how it really happened and so that they could continue to praise their mighty God and teach their children to praise him as well.

And so this is the monument I want to raise — a monument to the joy I was allowed while losing my mother, because of the God she loved and served and who I love and serve as well.  I nearly lost this memory, it very nearly got changed in the telling, and so I want to preserve it here now.

This was the last real conversation I had with my mom:

Sitting and holding her hand while my dear husband looked on, I was able to tell her thank you for her love and for the fact that I did not feel the need to beg forgiveness for anything.  It was not my own perfection that allowed me to feel this.  Rather, I felt no need to beg because I knew that forgiveness had been freely and openly given already and I rested in the peace of that — thankful, so very thankful that because of that forgiveness I could simply bask in her love and my own love for her.

I hurt my mother deeply through the 29 years of my life with her.  Sometimes I hurt her unintentionally and sometimes I did it very intentionally.  Sometimes I did not mean to be ugly and sometimes I was ugly just to feel the power of the effect it had on her.  I was, indeed, sometimes that kind of daughter.  And we did have wonderful, sweet times together — they far outnumbered the bad times.  But they did not make up for the bad times at all.  There was real and deep hurt there.  But Christ went deeper still.

And so sitting there wanting badly to say the right last things, the most important last things, I found that all there was in my heart was love and thanks and more love and more thanks and a whole lot of expectation for the time when, after I spend the whole rest of my earthly life missing her, I would get to see her again as we worshipped at Jesus’ throne.  And so that’s what I told her and she understood me perfectly.

You see, my mom knew herself before a perfectly righteous and just God.  She knew herself to be a sinner.  She didn’t think that, on her own merit, she would someday stand before His throne and hear “You did good, kid.  We’ll call it even.”  In fact she had a sense of her own sin that was so sincere that it seemed sometimes ridiculously out of proportion to the sweetness and the love we all knew from her.  But because she wasn’t comparing herself to the rest of the world but rather to her perfect Savior, she knew keenly that she fell short.  And that made the love and forgiveness she found at the foot of His cross so precious to her.  It was so precious, so powerful, so all-encompassing in its enormity that it changed her utterly and it made her like Him.  And because she was learning to be like Him I found in my mother love and forgiveness and tenderness and self-sacrifice all wrapped in real joy that taught me about Him, too.

And so, at the end of that confession of all that was in my heart to her, do you know what my mom said?  She didn’t deny that there were things that had had to be forgiven.  She acknowledged that all of what I’d said and known of her heart was true.  And then she told me that she was proud of me because she could see the fruit of Jesus’ love for me in my life and that other people had shared with her that they could see His work in me, too.  And she told me that she loved me.  And we cried — a lot.

It was the best deathbed confession I could have possibly come up with, only it wasn’t contrived.  It was what was in our hearts and it was real.

You might wonder why I’m writing about this now, almost a year and a half later.

Over the course of a few months this last year my memory of this time with my mom began to change a bit.  What I remembered were the parts of what I’d said to her about having no regrets to come to her with.  Somehow my memory changed and left out the parts that had to do with our mutual knowledge of God’s forgiveness in our lives.  I didn’t remember at all her response to me.  Rather, what remained in my mind became a picture of me blithely and somewhat insensitively refusing to acknowledge the full picture of our relationship together and insisting that it had been good enough for me to have no regrets.  I started to cringe at myself.  I no longer thought of that time with her at the end with peace in my heart and it started to color all of the other memories of that sweet and painful time of loss over the next few days before she went home.  Suddenly, where there had been none before, I had regret.

God is faithful where our memories are not and one day in my kitchen I paused over a counter I was scrubbing and was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to remember what she’d said to me.  WHAT had she said to me when I’d so calously informed her that I had nothing at all to be sorry for?  I paused and closed my eyes and forced myself to think through the hot shame that this partial memory brought and remember what she’d said in response to me…she said…that in me she could see the work of Jesus.

And the rest of it came flooding back.

Oh what relief to see that whole picture again!  Jesus!  He is mighty to save.  He is faithful to forgive.  He lives and pleads for me!  HE was the reason we had no regret.  HE was the reason losing her was suffused with joy.  HE was the reason, He was the topic, He is our mighty God.

When I read the story of Isreal and their monument at the Jordan I though to myself, “I must raise one of my own.”

Here it is.

God brought me over the trecherous river of my faulty memory safely and reminded me of the joy and peace only He could give.

Truly, He is my Rock and He is my salvation.

 

Why I Don’t Have a Garden to Post About June 26, 2009

Filed under: garden,Gardening,ivey ranch,loss,thanks — Mary @ 9:45 pm

Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t said anything about my garden for awhile.  That’s because I don’t have one right now.  As much as it broke my heart, I had to give C10 and B10 up this year.  The drive was getting overwhelming (it could be a long one in traffic), I was having trouble keeping Eamonn interested, and the rates were raised this year. 

Ivey Ranch is extremely reasonable in its rental rates — so much so that it’s almost embarrassing to say we just couldn’t swing them this year.  But, with our budget and because we used the garden plots to save money on food (and therapy!), it financially just wasn’t feasible anymore.  With tearful farewells, I bid goodbye to my plot mates and donated what garden items I couldn’t use anymore to a swee set of German retired couples who had come out to start plots of their own.

The great blessing in this is that I will be starting a new garden this July.  It’s free, it’s within walking distance if I want, and it is in a contained yard where Eamonn is free to run and play.  A very good friend of our family, Murray, has kindly donated the space in his yard to me and even worked to clear out planting room.  I am contractually obligated to pay him in salsa.

So, that’s why you aren’t hearing about Ivey Ranch these days.  I miss it.  But mostly I just miss the folks and some of them I couldn’t have back even if I was still there.

 

Wes June 21, 2009

Filed under: death,friends,grace,hope,loss — Mary @ 5:41 pm

Yesterday my husband and I had the opportunity to go to a memorial service for a man named Wes.  Wes was a deacon at the church in which I grew up and that I attended until just a few months ago.  He was good friends to my little brother even when my little brother was just a squirt kid in Jr. High school with a fascination for guns.  I remember hearing all the time about this cool guy, Wes.

I never got to know Wes well but he was a part of the comfortable and strong foundation of men and women at New Life who was always there quietly serving with an open heart and a big smile.  He and his wife, who were married for 54 years, are just dear, dear people and it’s hard to think of Pat without him.

As has happened at all of the memorial services that I’ve attended recently (three in as many months), I found myself leaving with a wish to have known Wes better before he was gone.  He was a remarkable and funny and dear man and he will leave a big hole in the heart of New Life and the community.

This is what I remember most clearly about Wes:  He rarely spoke but he always had the warmest smile and this fierce sparkle in his eye that let you know that all sorts of things were happening under that calm surface and it’d be a lot of fun to get a peek inside.  My husband, who knew Wes even less than I did said the same.

At the memorial service several people commented about how, when called upon to give the story of his life at a recent men’s retreat 3 months ago, Wes gave an emotional 6-word response, “For I know my Redeemer lives.”

And so, with hope, we ache and mourn the passing of Wes —  but he has left to dwell in utter joy.

 

Uncle Richard August 14, 2008


When I came to Ivey Ranch, heart held in front of me raw and scared, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing there. I only just knew I needed a garden, they had one for me, and by Jove, I was going to grow things.

Richard is one of the first people I met once I got there. He is the reason I made it. Without being asked, he offered to till my soil, wet my weeds for pulling, wire my gates against renegade bunnies, holler if my son wandered too near the road by his plot. Without his help I would have ended up worn out, burnt out, and ready to quit within weeks of my plot lease. But Dick was there every warm morning with a smile and a joke and, if I asked, humble but accurate advice on just about every thing from weeds, to corn worms, to kids.

“Hiya, trouble!” I’d call when I got to the plots and saw him with his knee pads on, working away on his own plot or some newcomer’s who he thought needed encouragement. “How’re you?”

“Fat, sassy and happy!” he’d tell me every time. I knew the answer. That’s why I always asked. I tried not to worry when he’d have a coughing fit while I admonished Eamonn not to pick the green tomatoes, worried over my watermelons, and bemoaned my plethora of squash. I’d listen to him joke and laugh with every single gardener there. He’d ask after kids, grandkids, plants, and pets. He’d give a hug and tell a joke any time you’d need it. I had to fight with him to get him to take some of my organic plant food when he demanded to know how I’d gotten my corn so tall.

“Over my dead body will you pay me for that food, Mister! It’s time for a little payback!” I’d holler at him with a foot stamp.

“Do you see??” he’d ask anyone listening, “Do you see what I put up with?”

I really, really love Richard.

Rumor has it, it’s lung cancer.

We all try to water when we can, pull his weeds when there’s time, pile up his harvest for his neighbor to deliver when there are things to pick. Everyone’s worried and no one’s quite sure what to do. But the feel of the whole place has changed. It’s pensive, and it’s quiet, and we all throw glances at that empty plot where no one is hollering out sass and encouragement like he’s supposed to be.

It is amazing how one man can shape the face of a place and how his lack can make it so empty. When I consider it, I ache.

 

For the Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such As These July 9, 2008


Today I made pancakes for Eamonn and Ella as a treat because they have been such loves this week. They have fallen back into their easy pattern together: sharing more than arguing, hugging more than shoving, and running to each other and flinging their arms around each other dramatically every time we get to the condo.

On the way down the freeway, the closer we get to Ella’s house, Eamonn tells me with more and more frequency at every mile, “Mom? I luff Ellas. Mom? I luff Sy (his name for Josiah). Mom? I see Tata (his name for Crista, which we find hysterical)? Mom? I Ellas? I luff Ellas and Yon (my brother).” In between each of these sentences I am peppered with demands to go to “Ampa’s” house and told that “Dah-ee” is at work and that Dah-ee, too, is the object of his undying luff.

When we get to Ella’s, I hardly get the door open before they are running at each other, a tangle of 5-and-2-year-old hug in the entryway. “ELLAS!” my son cries. “OH EAMONN!! I’m SO GLAD you’re finally HERE!” Ella responds. “Hi, Sy!” Eamonn croons at Josiah in his exersaucer and then cries, “Won, Ellas! I play!” Leaving me to the baby, Ella and Eamonn run down the hall together to drag her play table and chairs into the living room while I get Josiah ready for breakfast. They sit across from each other while Eamonn sips “cossee” and Ella reads, like the oldest old married couple you ever did see — perfectly content in their pretend routine and comfortable in the given of the other’s love.

This makes my mornings good.

Because we’ve had a reign of peace this week, as I said, we celebrated this morning with blueberry pancakes. “Aunt Mary?” Ella asked as I whipped up the batter, “Are these blueberry pancakes going to have chocolate chips in them? Because that would just be my favorite.” I secretly designed to put chocolate chip smiley faces on them, but to no avail — we only just had blueberries.

Over breakfast Eamonn chattered and Ella asked for interpretations or interpreted his words to her own designs. “I think he is maybe asking if we can watch TV after breakfast Aunt Mary.” “Really, Ella?” I replied, “Because he just said something about vitamins.” “Oh! Vitamins?” she replied, “Well why would he ask about vitamins? I just thought maybe he likes Sesame Street. That’s what I was thinking.”

It is very hard not to laugh over breakfast.

And then she hit me with it.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“Even though Grandma is with Jesus now, could we still have a party for her? You know, when her birthday comes? She still has a birthday, right?”

“Yes. Yes she does, Ella. It’s in October.”

“So, we could maybe have a party for her, I was thinking? We could remember her even though she’s not here anymore?”

“I think that would be a great idea. We could remember all the things we love about her while we were together.”

I swallowed tears and choked down pancakes.

“Aunt Mary?”

“Yes, love?”

“What did Grandma give me? I mean, which of my toys did she give me that I could bring to the party? I am thinking maybe I would like to bring two things to talk about that she gave me.”

“I don’t know, love. We need to ask your Mommy about that. Like…Eamonn…he sleeps with his tiger from Grandma Wagner and his Dino from Grandma Kathy…I know she gave you toys too but I just can’t think which ones those are.”

“I know I have some,” she said. “I just cant think what they are. But she did give me things.”

“I’m sure she did, love. I’m just not sure which things.”

It’s amazing how quickly pancakes, butter and syrup can taste like cardboard. We ate to the track of Eamonn’s chatter.

“Aunt Mary!!”

“Yes, love?”

“I thought of it! I thought of what she gave me!”

I thought she meant a toy and asked, “You did? That’s great! What did she give you, Ella? What would you bring to the party?”

“Aunt Mary, she gave me all of her MEMORIES! That’s what Grandma gave me! All the things I remember. That’s what she gave me. I will have those with me for always!”

And so, for the umpteenth time, I did not make it through breakfast without weeping.

Just as many nights I end the same way.

Twice in the last week my son has been woken in the night, weeping. I go into him and immediately after I calm him he asks, “Mom, pray?” Always, I agree and we begin to pray. But inevitably he interrupts me, “Mommy…I pray Ampas.” “You want to pray for Grandpa, Eamonn?” “Yes,” he tells me, “Pray Ampas.” And so, we pray. We pray for all our hearts but on those nights we pray especially for Grandpa’s.

The Lord used my Mom to touch hearts and she certainly touched Ella’s…a kid with one of the softest hearts I’ve ever encountered. And I am so thankful to see how my Dad has touched Eamonn in some way that goes beyond the explainable, but gives me joy all the same. As my mother-in-law so aptly puts it regarding these children, “There are waters that run deep.”

It is so humbling when your faith is challenged by that of a child, but it is hard not to be challenged in the face of Ella’s faith and Eamonn’s instinctual desire for prayer. I go through so many days challenged, hurting, not thinking of the hope I possess so securely because of what Jesus has done for me.

I keep stopping here and not knowing what else to write tonight. How do you go beyond something like that? Tonight I cannot. It’s as far as my heart will go. And for now I am content to be led by the wisdom of a child…and I am thankful for the solace of prayer and my memories.

Such pals from the very beginning…Mom and Ella
Mom and Ella together, peas in a pod.

Mom and Dad with Eamonn hours after his birth
Mom and Dad the day Eamonn was born.

 

 
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