Mom, Migration, and Graduation

Nellie young

Mom was raised in Wapato, Washington, in a farming family in a farming community. Her father, a widower with two sons, married a much younger woman who had immigrated to America from the Netherlands. They had two daughters and three sons. Mom was the oldest.

Hers was a life of rising early, milking cows, doing chores, watching siblings, weeding gardens, canning produce, cleaning up. Evidently it was also a life of reading and studying. After she graduated from high school, she studied one year at Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles).

She wanted to transfer to a recently established college in Dayton, Tennessee, named after William Jennings Bryan. She was offered a car ride across the country—before the interstate highway system—, so she decided to check it out. Her mom was doubtful. She wondered how Nellie would pay for tuition and books? The admissions director had the same question, asking her what skills she had. “I know how to milk cows,” Mom offered. It just so happened that the college had cows but lacked knowledgeable milkers. So she was hired. She earned money ironing and eked out a degree with academic distinction.

She also met my dad, whom she called “Johnny.”  She wrote in his yearbook: “Labs, water fights, Gutenburg trips, Sun. Piano playing, Street meetings, Dr. Gregg, or reading together, I’ve enjoyed it all and been blessed by it. He has been extra good to us, hasn’t He? Ps 103 — Nellie. I Cor 15:58

It’s a wonder to me that Mom started in the Yakima Valley of Washington and ended in Lombard, IL, two states over from Ohio, where her father began his life. And I, raised in Lombard, settled a few hours south from where she lived.

I’m gobsmacked that this quiet girl took it upon herself to ride halfway across the nation to go to an unknown college. I hitched a ride with friends to go to one year of Bible school in Los Angeles. My plan was to establish residency and go to UCLA. I never stepped on the campus, frozen with fear. If I had but asked, a dozen people would have been willing to help me navigate both the mass transit and the admissions process.

So Mom migrated, milked her way through school, and graduated. She never knew that her oldest son became both a scholar and a dairy farmer. I imagine a conversation today between her and David, her intelligent questions and thoughtful replies. She would chuckle and sigh, “Farming sure has changed.”

Mom left her mark at Bryan. Reading her senior yearbook, I find these benedictions:

Your life has been a blessing and joy to us. — Eugene Rosenau

I’m unable to tell you what your daily work has meant in my life! — Cleo Graham

I’ll never forget what a friend in need you were. Knowing you has really enriched my life. —Dorothy Borror

I’ll never forget your beautiful smiles. — Delbert Baker

Thanks for letting me sleep in your bed overnights-even if there were stones in it! I could never tell you what a blessing you’ve been to me this year. I really enjoyed my frequent visits to your rooms. — Miriam Levengood

Years later, I’ve been told, Mom was in the throes of a nursing baby, dirty diapers, hungry toddlers, and active preschoolers. My dad arrived home, scooped up a child, and asked the most pressing question on his mind: “Did you study your Greek today?”

Yesterday, on the (46th!) anniversary of her death, I talked to my husband about my mom. A sob caught in my throat, and I admitted, “I still miss her.” He nodded and said, “One day you’ll never have to miss her again.”

Reminders of Mortality

DSC_8672One thing hymns do so well is remind us of our mortality. A lifetime of singing lyrics that regularly refer to death prepares us for that one moment from which we can’t escape.

Yesterday I knew that our friend Dean’s life was hanging in the balance. After a long bout with congestive heart failure, he had had a heart attack. His daughter wrote me that the next 24 hours would be vital. As I sung yesterday’s hymns my heart prayed for Dean and for his family.

And when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.  (from Amazing Grace)

Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die  (from There Is a Fountain)

Be near when I am dying,
O show my cross to me;
And for my succor flying,
Come, Lord, to set me free:
These eyes, new faith receiving,
From Jesus shall not move;
For he who dies believing
Dies safely, through thy love. (from O Sacred Head)

We arrived home late, after a long day unplugged from technology and plugged into friendships. I checked my messages to find out that Dean had died a few hours before.

Sitting on my desk is a sticky note reminding me to send a card. It says “Dean – Even down to old age.”  Today he is in glory — doesn’t need encouragement.

Even down to old age all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love.
(from How Firm a Foundation)

Colson Memorial Service

Curt and I just finished watching Chuck Colson’s Memorial Service held in the Washington Cathedral, on May 16th, 2012. It is close to 2 hours, but time well spent. You can scan the program to see the musical selections and the order of service.

His daughter Emily’s remarks were awesome. Any father would want his daughter to be able to say what she said. The music was over-the-top wonderful. We need to be nourished by the words of the Bible spoken. There was a joyful solemnity infused into the whole service.

I love a good funeral.

An Afternoon in a Graveyard

I’m eating my lunch in a graveyard.
Human seeds have been planted in neat little rows. Stone stakes label the crop.

~ N.D. Wilson in Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl


I like cemeteries.
The names, the epitaphs, the iconography, the quiet.
I like the sadness, the melancholy, the stab of pain, the bracing reality of death.

I hate death.
I hate the ripping and tearing, the long separation, the disruption, the destruction.
Death is my enemy.
I whisper John Donne’s words, “Death, thou shalt die.”


I believe.
Weekly, we quote the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.


Grief for Little Charlie. Grief for Little Charlie’s mom.




So personal: My Mother. Our Son.

A hollow emptiness.

Spring time is perhaps the best time to visit a cemetery.

 Spring’s blossoms sing an ancient melody ~
after death comes the resurrection.


Our favorite epitaph.

 Your life in five words?

Funeral Play List for an Older Saint


On the last day of the year, I played for a funeral for a dear woman whose Christmas present was waking up in heaven. She and her husband left a legacy of faith, family and service.

Though there were tears and hugs and sniffles, it was predominantly a joyful time admiring the imprint of her love on those she knew. The grief of the family and friends was clean grief, unsplattered by regrets, remorse, resentment or reproach. It’s fun to go to funerals and discover stuff you never knew. I didn’t know she was such a fisherwoman, so competitive in games and sports, and rode a zip-line not that long ago!

In my experience, In the Garden is the favorite hymn of her generation. My friend sang this solo beautifully. Can one of my readers explain the third verse? (I discovered the hymn is an Easter hymn written in from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. Still, it doesn’t make sense to me.)  Another favorite is How Great Thou Art, which the congregation sang along with What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

I retrieved the hymnal I grew up with, Choice Hymns of the Faith, and made a play list for the prelude and postlude.

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder

Trust and Obey

Sweet By and By

Softly and Tenderly

Abide with Me

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Come Thou Fount

He Leadeth Me

I Need Thee Every Hour

I Will Sing of My Redeemer

Praise Him! Praise Him!

Standing on the Promises

Amazing Grace

Glory to His Name

Are You Washed in the Blood?

Blessed Be the Name

Jesus, I Am Resting

Lord Jesus, I Love Thee

Make Me a Blessing

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Me

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

There Is a Name I Love to Hear

Immaneul’s Land

Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

It Is Well with My Soul

Sweeter as the Years Go By


My favorite re-discovery is a hymn called God In Heaven Hath a Treasure. Here is the “long-play” version.

God in heaven hath a treasure,
Riches none may count or tell;
Hath a deep eternal pleasure,
Christ, the Son, He loveth well.
God hath here on earth a treasure,
None but He its price may know—
Deep, unfathomable pleasure,
Christ revealed in saints below.

Christ, the Light that fills the heavens,
Shining forth on earth beneath,
Through His Spirit freely given,
Light of life ’midst shades of death.
Down from heav’n’s unclouded glory
God Himself the treasure brought,
Closing thus His love’s sweet story
With His sweetest, deepest thought.

God in tongues of fire descending,
Chosen vessels thus to fill
With the treasure never ending,
Ever spent—unfailing still.
Still unwasted, undiminished,
Though the days of dearth wear on,
Store eternally unfinished,
Fresh, as if but now begun.

Earthen vessels, marred, unsightly,
But the treasure as of old,
Fresh from glory, gleaming brightly,
Heav’n’s undimmed, unchanging gold.
God’s own hand the vessel filling
From the glory far above,
Longing hearts forever stilling
With those riches of His love.

Thus, through earthen vessels only,
Shining forth in ceaseless grace,
Reaching weary hearts and lonely,
Beams the light in Jesus’ face.
Vessels worthless, broken, bearing
Through the hungry ages on,
Riches giv’n with hand unsparing,
God’s great gift, His precious Son.

Thus though worn, and tried, and tempted,
Glorious calling, saint, is thine;
Let the Lord but find thee emptied,
Living branch in Christ the Vine!
Vessels of the world’s despising,
Vessels weak, and poor, and base;
Bearing wealth God’s heart is prizing,
Glory from Christ’s blessed face.

Oh, to be but emptier, lowlier,
Mean, unnoticed, and unknown,
And to God a vessel holier,
Filled with Christ, and Christ alone!
Naught of earth to cloud the glory,
Naught of self the light to dim,
Telling forth His wondrous story,
Emptied—to be filled with Him.

There is a decent piano version here. I don’t care for (read: I’m unfamiliar with) the extra beat at the end of the bridge section.

If you were choosing funeral songs for a grandma, what would you pick?

My South African Aunt

My Aunt Betty [7/16/1926 – 7/23/2011] and her son Jean Blaise

Although I had never seen her, the knowledge that I had an aunt living in South Africa was both delicious and thrilling to my young heart.  I fingered the African curios on the bookshelf by the piano: woven baskets, a small carved ivory tusk, a wooden giraffe.  My favorite doll was an African baby with tight black curls and beaded skirts.

I would sit in the kitchen and quiz my mom on the family tree: going through aunts, uncles and cousins and fitting them, like puzzle pieces, in their proper place.  There was a secret satisfaction when we came to Aunt Betty and Aunt Ruthie. I felt a connection to these foreign aunts because I had been given their names, Carol from Elizabeth Carolyn and Ruth from Ruth Ethel.

 ::     ::     ::

After I grew up and married, Aunt Betty visited us in California. She was aghast at the extravagant size of our mugs and glasses. “Everything here is SO BIG!” she exclaimed.  When we shopped for groceries she informed me how many rands it would take to purchase each item, a bit of information that baffled me.

One night she suggested we drink coffee.

“We aren’t coffee drinkers, Aunt Betty, but I’d be glad to make you a cup.”

“Why don’t you drink coffee?” she inquired.

“We just don’t like the taste.” (We didn’t back then!)

“Let me make the coffee and I promise you will like it!” She warmed a small pan of milk, mixed in a cup of sugar and added instant coffee.  And so we enjoyed our first latte.

 ::     ::     ::

Several years later, she again paid us a visit. Aunt Betty helped me plant my garden, dispensing folk wisdom for better tomatoes and healthy vegetables. She gave me a cloth bib she had sewn with an African print…and I continue to use it on my grandsons.

One afternoon my young son, on his own initiative, climbed up on Aunt Betty’s lap and snuggled into her. She almost came undone with surprise and delight.That hour of rocking him, holding him close, giving and accepting affection,was a highlight of her visit.

 ::     ::     ::

Like all of us, Betty hadconflicting desires. She was a study in contrasts:

    ~ compassionate and yet critical

   ~ exotic and yet proper

   ~ generous and yet demanding

   ~ confident and yet insecure

   ~ stubborn and yet charming

   ~ connected and yet lonely

::     ::    ::

A good way to know a woman is to notice what she loves.  Aunt Betty loved the Lord Jesus, she loved being connected with family, she loved good food, sewing, gardening, old hymns, telephone calls, getting a bargain, dressing well and her beloved South Africa.

She dearly loved Jean Blaise. Many phone calls were filled with stories about “her son” and how pleased she was with him. “He calls me Mum,” she said. Jean Blaise gave her a focus; helping him was the crowning achievement of her life. Through Betty’s love and generosity, I now have a cousin/brother in South Africa. Through Aunt Betty and now through Jean Blaise, I will always be connected to South Africa.