Card-Carrying Couple

LoveBirdsI know of a couple, who on every wedding anniversary would stroll into a Hallmark store together. They would take their time and quietly browse through the rows of neatly stacked greeting cards. Every now and then, a smile would break out on their faces or a snicker escape from their lips. Eventually, they would meet up, grinning as if hiding a secret, both with a card in their hands. First, the husband would hand a card to his wife. “Oh, for me?” she would croon teasingly and open and read it and make some sweet remark. Then she would hand him a card, and he would laugh and do likewise. Then they would quietly place the cards back on the shelves and hand-in-hand exit the store. Mission accomplished. $10 saved. Off to Starbucks!

We are not that couple. And even with the advent of all the digital modes of communication, I still like to give and receive the real deal, a piece of light-weight, colorful cardboard with sticky sweet sentiments imprinted inside. One that I can discretely flip over and see the price. I don’t often visit the Family Christian Stores, purveyors of “jesus junk” or “holy hardware,” but when I do, it’s in search of the perfect anniversary card. Such was the case on this day a few years ago.

As I foraged through the cards, I became aware of a song being played in the background on a Christian radio station. Instantly, I recognized it. “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman. “Wow, that’s an oldie,” I thought to myself. Then it dawned on me. God knows what day this is! He arranged for this song to be played right at this moment while I’m in this store. This is His anniversary card to me. Soon I was scrambling through my purse for a Kleenex.

“Tomorrow morning if you wake up,
And the future is unclear
I will be here
As sure as seasons are made for change,
Our lifetimes are made for years
So, I will be here

I will be here and you can cry on my shoulder,
When the mirror tells us we’re older,
I will hold you and
I will be here to watch you grow in beauty
And tell you all the things you are to me
I will be here

I will be true to the promise I have made
To you and to the One who gave you to me

I will be here”

And when it was over, the announcer informed, “This song was played for many weddings over 20 years ago.” Yeah, I was pretty much a mess by this time. I found the card I was looking for and made a beeline for the counter, swiping at my cheeks.

Larry made good on those words to me.

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The Silver One

422_1066137806663_2743_nIt was untimely to say the least. Our silver anniversary, August 6, 2008, collided with the financial crisis of 2007–2009, considered by many economists to have been the worst financial fallout since the Great Depression, and it hit Michigan hard. It hit us hard. Larry lost his job of many years, and I was still in the deep throes of my own medical crisis, which had impeded my ability to work.

Any thoughts of a special celebration were quickly dismissed. We were in survival mode, and that would continue for another five years. Years where we hung on by a thread, where fears loomed large threatening our union and sneering that we were going down. I was broken. My body, as well as my mind, were spent. All my energy was used just keeping my head above water.

But on that day, the silver day, we sat on the steps of 2420 Abbott, the home we were fighting for.  A photo was snapped to commemorate the occasion. Our smiles belied the pain we were in. We managed to go out for dinner, but I don’t remember where or anything about it. And so passed this unceremonious milestone of 25 years. Nothing like I had imagined or expected it would be.

These were the dark days of our union. We clung to God and to each other like never before. And we saw the hand of God work on our behalf in amazing ways, too numerous to count. We stood and stood and then stood some more. Then suddenly, out of the blue, in January 2013, everything changed. But that’s a story for another time.

We always talked about making up for that lost silver anniversary. Perhaps we could go on a Mediterranean cruise or a special vacation, maybe travel back to where it all started in McAllen, Texas. Where a girl from Iowa and a boy from Michigan exchanged glances in a library but promptly dismissed one another as “not my type,” but then took a closer look. We could revisit the botanical gardens where the white lilies bloomed and emitted a fragrance so sweet and heady, it was intoxicating. Where we sat on a little stone bench in the moonlight and talked into the wee hours of the night and danced to music only we heard.

But then again, perhaps we celebrated the 25th in the fashion that was right for the time, as bare-boned and bare-souled warriors.  We were in a perfect storm, where we kept our boat from capsizing, where we bailed water like crazy, where we kept our wits (what remained of them) intact, where we sailed until we came into smooth waters. Yeah, it was the perfect way to celebrate the anniversary with a silver lining.

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So Many Selves

LJ&AIt was a hot and humid August weekend in 1987 at one of the Yohnke family reunions. We had gathered for this happy and momentous occasion from five different states and converged in a tiny town in Iowa for the dedication and baptism of one of my nieces. It was the decade of the ‘80s, and all my brothers and sisters were having babies one after another! Every year someone else was announcing their pregnancy. In fact, most of my parents’ 15 grandchildren were born within the span of a decade.

Aaron was just 10 months old and was on the verge of taking his first steps. In fact, it was just days later, after we returned home to Michigan, that on tottering, chubby legs he stumbled into his daddy’s outreached arms and never looked back!

I’m sharing this photo as part of our wedding anniversary week-long celebration. Now this little tow-headed, plump-cheeked cherub of ours, whom we called Aaron David, is expecting his first child with his wife, Adrienne, this fall. Next year at this time, they will be holding their very own baby boy of about 10 1/2 months!

I love looking at this photo and remembering who we were then. By looking at our youthful faces, I think maybe I can recapture, even just for a moment, what it was like to be just starting out. We were full of hopes and expectations for our family. Every day brought some new discovery for Aaron and for us, as we marveled at our child’s growth. Mostly, we had all the energy and vitality we needed for any given day. Sure, there were fears and what ifs, but those were drowned in a sea of trust and optimism and “everything is going to be just fine.”

Recently, I was reading about a woman whose grandmother told her that getting old was like carrying all these different selves inside you. I thought about my 13-year-old self, all awkward and self-conscious. She’s still in there. My 20-something-year-old self just burgeoning with optimism, self-discovery, and new love. She’s still there when I look for her. My 35-year-old-self engulfed and swallowed up with the little ones I am raising. I remember her. My 50-year-old self, releasing and letting those same children go with a gulp and a sigh, first one and then the other, and wondering, “What I am going to do now?”

This grandmother said you carry them around inside you, collecting them along the way, all these different selves. She likened them to those nesting Russian dolls that are stacked inside one another. You open up one and discover another and then another and yet another, all inside the one.

I believe it’s the same way for a couple united in marriage. We establish our own new identity with our vows. We are no longer two, but one. Then we go about exploring and expanding upon this newly founded entity of Mr. and Mrs. The experiences and memories build up year after year. The good times, the hard times, the impossible times. All meant to forge us into an unbreakable union.

And then there are the anniversaries. Those occasions when you look back and remember who you were when your union was just one year old and then 10 years old, 20, 30, 40, and if you are so blessed, even 50 years. You break out the photo albums and gaze into the faces of who you were and realize you are still all of them. You are the couple so passionately in love with each other you can’t stand to be apart even for an hour. You are the awe-struck couple studying every little detail of your first newborn. You are the couple surrounded by a sea of children and can hardly remember when it was “just the two of us” but wouldn’t trade it for anything. You are the couple so proud and so exhausted with graduation after graduation. You high-five each other and whisper, “We made it!”

Your faces show the signs of aging now with little cracks and crevices. You realize you’ve come too far to ever turn back, to turn away from who you have become. It’s your anniversary, and you say, “Honey, let’s take a picture.”

Doors, Collectively Speaking

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IMG_0478Happy New Year! My husband and I spent a little time yesterday on a New Year’s Eve tradition we call dream casting. It’s kind of like vision casting, only it’s dreaming with God for what our new year might hold, turning the dreams into prayers, and writing down the themes we are seeing in a special journal just for dream casting. It’s not the same as goal setting, but it can turn into that.

During our dream casting session, we first review all the previous years’ prayers and themes and see what God has done. There is always a mixture of, “Wow, that happened! Hmmmm, nothing happening here that we can see. And stuff is happening, but there is so much more to come.” And sometimes there are seasons when God just steps in and does something so unexpected and completely off the radar, it’s radical! Because He’s God!

Another one of the ways I review the old year is by looking back at the photographs I took. One thing that stood out to me from 2015 was the number of DOORS I photographed. I wasn’t aware that I was taking so many at the time. I created a folder of these door photos and decided to share some of them and what they speak to me.  You can find them on my Facebook page under albums.

Doors are entrances, exits, portals, openings, and invitations. They can be simple or elaborate, tiny or humongous, high or low. They can be closed, locked, barred, left ajar, or wide open. They can be preceded by a pathway or a stairway requiring a protocol to enter. Some doors require a key or code to enter, some just a simple knock or ring, some multiple “hard knocks,” and others we always have complete access to enter immediately. To use a door always demands two things…to leave one place and to enter another. Doors both define and decide movement, although I suppose one could stand in a doorway and not move in or out, but what an awkward place to spend much time!

Some of the doors I photographed I admired from a distance but never entered or even approached. Others, I enthusiastically strolled through, still others I waited until an invitation was given to enter. Doors, whether entered or not, have defined my past year. My decision to enter some of them has determined where I am today.

Jesus once told a parable of a shepherd who entered the sheep pen by the door, not by climbing in some other way. The Pharisees didn’t get it. So Jesus had to spell it out for them clearly, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:9,10)

Another time, Jesus inferred that we are doors. “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

My New Year’s prayer for you comes from Revelation 3:8, “Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.” May it be so for you in 2016.

Of Praying and Prying

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Recently, when I wanted to open the heart of someone I love, I placed some Scrabble tiles in my kitchen window frame to spell the word, PRAY.  Just a simple reminder to pray whenever I stood at the kitchen sink.  One day as I was dusting the window frame, I accidentally knocked over the letter A.  Now it spelled PRY.  In that moment God asked me, “Which will it be?  PRAY or PRY?”  To pry means to move, raise, or open by leverage; to obtain, extract, or separate with difficulty, for example, to pry a secret out of someone.  Was I going to turn to Him to open the heart of someone I love or was I going to turn to the leverage I have to do it?  If through leverage, I am able to get the result I want, will it be the result I want years from now?  Will it be genuine heart change?  Will it come from the free will of the individual?  We all have been given good gifts that can serve as leverage to open difficult situations and people.  Things like wisdom, beauty, intelligence, education, wit, knowledge, strength, finances, and yes, even love.  How and when we wield them and whether it is in our own strength and will or in God’s way and time, determines the effectiveness.  And sometimes God does things without any of our help.  Because He can.  Because He is God.  He has been doing this for eons of time:  Opening hardened, encrusted, glued-shut, darkened, deceived, blinded, broken hearts.  Changing circumstances that have been set in stone for years, impenetrable, immovable, and seemingly unchangeable.  This one is no exception.

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September 29, 1929

The year was 1929, the year of the stock market crash in the U.S.  But that autumn, somewhere else in the world, was born a little girl, and her parents named her Mary Ann.  She went on to immigrate from Argentina to the U.S. when but a wee girl of 11.  She married, had four children, and lived a full life as a U.S. citizen.  I married one of her boys.  Today is this woman’s birthday.  She passed from this earth into glory in July, and the following tribute was given at her funeral.  Today I wish to honor her again on her 85th birthday.

A TRIBUTE TO MARY ANN EARL
by Janet Mueller

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

On this day, as we put your body to rest next to your beloved husband, we wish to honor and bless you, Mary Ann Earl, for your lifetime of love and service to your family.

We honor you, Mom, for your courage in coming to the United States, when you were just 11 years old, and learning the language and culture in spite of the barriers.

We honor you, Mom, for your faithful admiration and devotion to your beloved Bert for 30 years and for caring for him until his final breath nearly 25 years ago.

We honor you, Mom, for raising three fine men, Tom, Steve, and Larry, and one beautiful daughter, Marsha.

We honor you, Mom, for extending your care to your grandchildren, Kristie, Jessica, Cody, Tim, Michael, Aaron, and Adam, and now 9 great-grandchildren.

We honor you, Mom, for your hospitality and the hundreds of pots of coffee you served us over the years, for the multitude of Thanksgiving dinners (that always seem to turn out great in spite of your fretting) and for the numerous holidays you made special by your presence and your provision of a food-laden table.  We especially thank you for your lasagna and spaetzle.

We honor you, Mom, for your genuine, heart-felt compassion that you had for others outside the family, who were hurting or in need.

We honor you, Mom, for your ongoing bravery as you battled your multiple medical conditions that had threatened to extinguish your life before your time.  We admire your courage and even the sense of humor you demonstrated in spite of pain and fatigue.

We thank you, Mom, for the years of putting others’ needs before your own, for tirelessly and many times tiredly serving your family, and for never giving up until it was your time.

It is said, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.”  You masterfully modeled endurance…that quality that seems hammered into us at times against our wills but brings the ability to withstand hardship.  You developed layers and layers of stamina and strength that caused you to live a life of patient perseverance, even in the face of tremendous pressure to give up.

Love hopes and endures all things, Mom!  Thanks for showing us.

The End of an Era

wemadeitToday marks the end of a 23-year-long era for us.  In 1991 we sent our oldest son, Aaron, off to Kindergarten on his wobbly little legs to begin his educational studies.  Today our youngest son, Adam, turned in his blood-sweat-tear-stained, 188-page thesis for his master’s degree in structural engineering.  Though presented with the opportunity, Adam has decided not to pursue his doctorate but join his brother in the world of the gratefully, gainfully employed.  With little fanfare, we end what seemed like an indomitable journey of our children’s education.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  No big deal.  Every family comes to this day.  However, I must give pause and recount.

The months of May and June always bring back fond memories for me of the end of the school year.  The teachers are classroom fatigued and want it to end as much (and maybe more) than the kids. The warm weather serves as a charmer to taunt the children about all the fun they are missing outside.  And then the day arrives…The Last Day of School.  Backpacks are unloaded, papers gone through, and lunch boxes with grimy interiors are thrown out.  And mothers take a deep breath and plunge into the summer months of looser schedules, trips to the beach and zoo, vacations, popsicles and ice-cream cones, and and before you know it…backpacks and school supplies show up again in the store aisles.  And this occurs over and over and over again with no end in sight.  But the end does come and Voila!, there stands before you a taller-than-you figure in cap and gown.  Tears are shed and chests are pumped with pride and throats enlarged with lumps.  Gulp…can it be?  Is it really over?

Then come the college years.  Rooms are empty and hollow.  Hallways are quiet.  The dinner table seems too big.  The phone is always for you.  (Back in the day before we all had cell phones.) The first time he comes home, he seems suddenly grown up and adult-like.  The first summer he is home, you realize you can never go back to the way it was, but maybe this empty nest thing is not so bad.  Four or five or six years seem to pass quickly (for you at least!)  Another graduation dawns.  The sands are shifting from the tides of change.  You welcome them now.  You know that your job is done but your title and status remain.  You never stop being a mother.