Friday, October 23, 2020

Memories and Moments

Tonight I decided to comb through old posts which had been started but not finished. Of all nights, and as I push back into a regular blogging cycle, it is interesting that this post on this night is what would stand out.
Written one year ago to-the-day, I was still working through some deep emotions which seemed to just flow through my fingertips as the keyboard called. A tribute which I feel must still be published. Perhaps it was too hard in the midst of the many trials and much hurt of autumn 2019. A year later, however, it is a beautiful story which, I believe, is also a testimony the world must hear.....

Evening, October 23, 2019
Memories.  They make us who we are.  Both good and bad and all the in-between.  They filter through a sepia past into a vibrant present.  They even build hope for the shrouded future.

My earliest memories are rooted in a modest split entry single family home nestled in a cozy suburb about 45 minutes west of Chicago.  Short black curly hair and firm patience guide me through the learning tasks all toddlers itch to model: a tiny broom, folding hand towels and standing on step-stools to help stir macaroni.  Soft warm hugs cuddled me close while cartoons played across the counsel and the silly antics which might exhaust a young mother only fed her hearty laughs and gentle rebukes if silly got out of hand. 

She was my grandmother.

I still remember attempting to form the word "g-r-a-n-d-m-a".  It was a word which confused me because, to my young intellect, she was 'ma'.  I still remember my young rational in claiming she was ME-ma, my ma... a mom, though grand she was, she became Mema.

My mother loved me, oh-so-much.  But a turbulent childhood and troubled broken marriage at the young age of 19 left her scrambling to pull herself together.  Mema stepped in and took the reins while my parents, separately, worked to figure it all out.

Mema was tough.  Her medium height and broad shoulders coupled with her no-nonsense attitude made her an invaluable hard worker in the factory industry and a force to be reckoned with in any setting.  Having survived a marriage to an abusive alcoholic who ultimately left for the west, she never lost her faith and commitment to Biblical womanhood.  Six rambunctious kids only added to her zeal.  If she could rustle all those bodies (including a set of twins) and juggle the life she found herself living, well, nothing was going to make her back down!

One thing about Mema which out-shined all task and antic was her faith.  Saved in a south-central Tennessee church at a young age and baptized in the adjoining creek at 16, I can hardly remember a day where she didn't share Jesus with someone.  Vivid memories of tiny me being taught to clasp my hands just so and say the sweet youthful prayers to Jesus were the same memories which kept me from wandering too far when time and disillusionment threatened to snatch me from His hand.

As time passed and my parents regained control of my rearing, grandma became a more occasional fixture.  She was always ready to whisk me a way for a week in the summer or on spring break where we would spend hours learning new crafts, how to cut paper dolls out of catalog models, eating KFC by the rolling Fox River and traveling to Tennessee to visit her childhood home and my great-granny.  VBS, Summer Bible Camps, and adventures of so many shapes and sizes.  I was "co-pilot" on expeditions and learned to love gospel music and big band music in turn.

As teen years hit, Mema was the only one who could tame the beast.  I wandered and doubted but she pushed and persisted.  She attended every play, encouraged all the good endeavors and was quick to recite the folly in the bad.  She celebrated with me when I accepted Christ at 16 and, no doubt, she cried when she learned I ran from the same faith at 19.  Most of all, she prayed without ceasing.

When 20s dawned and my marriage vows broke and her heart likely broke as more folly littered my path, she never gave up.  She never stopped praying.  She never stopped calling.  She never stopped persisting, "Jesus is the only way".  I suppose it was no surprise, then, when 26 year old me, remarried, re-settled and toting baby #3 on my hip, had wandered into a small town church, repeatedly, and all of a sudden was struck by God's mighty grace.  Like a lighting bolt straight to my heart, I surrendered all.  
Her prayers, her persistence, her calls... it all paid off.  And, like childhood all over again, Me-ma and I began to traipse through life together.  We hugged tight when my mother passed away unexpectedly at 48.  Living miles apart, we telephoned often to encourage and strive through the hard times.  We laughed and talked to celebrate the good.  Me in the far northwest corner of Montana, her, now retired, settled back in her hometown in south-central Tennessee.

Our relationship wasn't perfect... whose is.  But it was ours and one thing I always knew: she was there.  NOTHING I could do would change that.  We prayed together and dreamed together and she delighted as our little family grew.  She shared news of cousins and celebrated them in wonderful ways I don't think they ever knew.

But time and memories have a funny way of running out.  I started to notice the skipped record.  The repeat questions.  The confusion at certain statements.  Being in her 80s, it was natural to write it off as 'old age'.  But it wasn't old age.  Dementia had set in and, as she began to outlive her own children, the progression of loosing each of her 3 oldest before all but one had turned 50, seemed to drive her deeper.  Before we knew and understood the full effects of the disease, misunderstandings mounted and her irritability over these dark gaps drove us apart for a short season. The worst part, even though our divide lasted only a few months, by the time our relationship worked back around.... Mema was simply gone.  Her body remained but the laughter and tears and long afternoon talks... those were no more.  The record was broken, "How's the weather up there, how are the kids, how is your step-dad..... How's the weather up there, how'....."  I knew, in my heart, that nothing would ever be the same. 

There were rare glimpses, moments of recognition to current events.  But mostly she knew I was 'Mandy' and the recognition ended there. On occasion she cried from her heart when she heard my "hello" on the other end, a mixture of joy and longing sadness, forgetting our most resent conversations, her drifting mind felt it had been forever.  I tried to call monthly, but it grew harder and harder.  Family pressure of all I could and couldn't say, lectures and my (unfortunately) timid digression.  But I still called, as often as I could, even though I knew each conversation would be the same.

Then last week.

As I heard tired excitement in her voice upon my name through the receiver, I lamented in my heart how I miss our deep conversations, I miss her comfort and encouragement, and just now I needed it so much. I braced for our usual broken-record-repeat. Nothing deep, just basic... weather, kids, yes we all still love Jesus. Weather, kids, yes.... But I so desperately wanted more. I wanted to rewind the clock to those days of deep conversation and sage advice which dementia had already stolen years before. Right now, life had taken an unexpected turn and I just did not know what to do.  Big decisions, big changes and big heartbreak were all colliding.  
But I kept it to myself and, with an inward sigh, I listened as the record skipped and skipped and then, in one moment of sheer clarity, the record spun into a new tune. The very tone of her voice seemed to change as she broke the rote and began, as if knowing all the pains in my heart though I had not spoken of any of them... "I know you have decisions to make and I know you will keep your eyes on God," she paused and seemed to muster, "I know you will make the right decisions. I know you will do what is right.  Let's pray."  We use to always pray together, especially in hard times, I didn't realize how much I would miss it until dementia took it away from us.  Just above a whisper I eagerly agreed, "That would be nice" as a lump caught in my throat.  She pressed in.

"... God, guide Mandy and help her in the decision she needs to make, help all of them with the decisions they need to make and the things they need to do.  Help everyone with their jobs.  I know how much Mandy wants to do what's right, guide her and help her to do it."

Suspended in amazement, I was speechless.  I whispered again, "Thank you" and, just as quickly as the record stopped skipping, it started again... repeat.  I hadn't mentioned anything about jobs, but she knew. I hadn't even hinted and tough decisions pressing in, but she understood. Her words did not provide the needed answers to the problems at hand but that single moment of clarity after years of fog was like a message from God that HE saw me, He heard the desperate need in my heart and, for one beautiful moment on a cool autumn day, He answered my cry. Our final goodbyes were filled with the usual "I love you"s and her heart-felt, "I am so proud of you."  It is a wonderful thing when someone you love and admire issues those words.

As the call ended I made a mental note to not wait so long for our next check-in while also pondering the gravity of her moment of clarity and if this may have been our last call... the last time I hear her sage voice.

It was.

She was 89.  Almost 3 months from 90. 

Me-Ma is gone.

It is hard and it hurts, especially in a climate where family in the region is no longer close.  Truthfully, though, Dementia took her almost 7 years ago but God gave me that one, brief, wonderful moment two Wednesdays ago and I am so grateful He did.

Every conversation's repeat included the emphatic statement, "I'm ready to go Home.  I've lived a long life.  Mother was 96 when she died.  If God takes me home, that is OK." She lived completely but with one foot always ready to step into Heaven.

No more produce isle Witnessing.
No more good-bye prayers.
No more hearty chuckles at childhood antics.

But.  She is worshiping at the feet of Jesus with a whole host of angels, I'll see her again and then we can pray and worship together in fields of Grace ❤️

Treasure those God gives you.  Make memories while you can.  Speak Jesus.  Love deeply.  It will sustain you when "good-byes" end all "hellos".



In Loving Memory of Mema, 

Dorothy Robertson

January 1, 1930 - October 20, 2019

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