It’s Not that Time of Year Without… Remembering Dennis

As Advent begins tomorrow, I was setting up my personal crèche to use as an object lesson with the children during the worship service. Starting out with only the animals and an empty manger, I plan to add figurines each week until the Christ child is added on Christmas morning.

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As I unpacked the nativity set, I thought of Dennis. He was a youth in my first church, who gave us the nativity set nearly 30 years ago. I think of him every Christmas as I break the crèche out of the box.

Dennis had experienced a hard life by the time he came to our church at the invitation of classmates. Both of his parents had died, and he was being raised by an older sister. Short, ruddy, quiet but quick witted, Dennis quickly endeared himself to us.  After a summer youth trip to Branson in which he stabbed another youth in the leg (the truth dennisof how that happened never came out), we had a “come to Jesus talk” and he actually did come to Jesus, that is.

Along with the other youth, Dennis spent a lot of time in our home. He was included in a number of our celebrations, with him supplying the giant cookie from the Great American Cookies store where he worked in the mall. One Christmas he gave us the Fontanini nativity set and he added other figurines over the next few years.dennis-2

I moved to another church staff position in Memphis and then to Iowa, and we lost touch. I tried tracking him down through the internet and eventually found a newspaper article, touting his success in producing organic vegetables and selling them at farmers markets in Memphis. I actually emailed the business he operated, but never heard from him.

Today, my thoughts about this youth, who by now would be about 50, caused me to do a Facebook search again, and I found him. However, I quickly discovered the posts were not by him but about him. Shortly, I reached a post that expressed sorrow for his sudden death on February 15, 2012. The news was like a punch in the gut. I quickly messaged another of the “youth” from that church, who coincidentally just “friended” me on Facebook. He shared that Dennis had a heart attack and died…and “sorry, thought someone told you.”  I know that I could not have prevented his death by staying in touch, but I wish that Dennis had known how I remembered his kindness every time I’ve unpacked the nativity set he gave us so long ago.

nativity-setTomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. We will be lighting the Hope candle, as it represents the hope the people of God had for the long awaited Messiah. Foreshadowed through the curse of the serpent in Genesis 3, promised in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15), and prophesied in many other Old Testament passages (Micah 5:2-3, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 9:6), God’s people were hopeful. They longed for good news to the afflicted, comfort for the brokenhearted, the proclamation of liberty to the captives, and freedom for the imprisoned (Isaiah 61:1). And they were certain that God would fulfill His promises as He had time and time, again.

With every Advent season and every communion we are reminded of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. The Messiah came to fulfill all that God had promised and there are still promises to be fulfilled. As a lamb led to slaughter, who did not protest (Isaiah 53:7), Jesus willingly took upon Himself my sin and suffered my death, enabling me to have eternal life with Him. He continues to give hope to all who know Him as He is coming again to receive us unto Himself. And for that, I am eternally grateful for the light of hope shines upon me.

And so, it’s not that time of the year without remembering Dennis. But knowing that Dennis and I had that “come to Jesus” talk gives me the hope that I will see him again one day…the very HOPE that causes us to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Connection

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I didn’t think long about the most appropriate pictures for this challenge. Two weeks ago today (August 24) my mother graduated from this earthly plain to the heavenly realm. Over the next week we gathered in three locations – three significant places of residence: Creston (IA), Benton (AR) and Memphis (TN) – holding two memorial services and the graveside service.

We gathered as a family almost 10 years ago at the First Baptist Church, Benton for my father’s memorial service. Mom stood on the bottom step in purple in this photo.2005.10Almost 10 years later I updated that picture, connected by event (memorial service), place (church steps) and family (the growing and older connected progeny of Charlie and Grace) in grief and celebration that our matriarch is with the Lord, my father, a granddaughter, my grandson (who I didn’t meet in this life), and many other loved ones who have preceded us.

Family at BentonLooking at the photo with all the smiling faces, you might think we had just attended a wedding. Rest assured, we are grieving, but with hope!

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NASB*)

And who couldn’t smile at the sense of humor of a 95 year old woman’s final wish to have this picture and caption on the back of her memorial folder!

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In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Connected.”

*New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

To Our Beloved Bunny

Kids at Mom's bedWhile my four sisters, my wife and I have been physically present with my mother in hospice care for the last week and a half, other family members have sought by other means to be present to express their love and appreciation of their beloved grandmother and great-grandmother (aka Bunny). Spanning the distance of the country by phone and Facetime, they have expressed that love through words of remembrance, singing, piano playing and the words “I love you, Bunny!” Below, I reblog my daughter’s post from yesterday, one of those fitting tributes, that I was able to share with my mother today.

To Our Beloved Bunny

My grandmother is in hospice care…and while she is still with us, though I’m certain she is certain of my love for her…I won’t wait to write it down. I need to do it now.

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I can’t stop thinking of my last hospital stay, exactly one month ago, for the birth our of twins. With that stay, came the promise of finality: of pregnancy and of delivering babies. The end was in site: the end of tests and dr’s visits and apprehension. And that hospital stay culminated in life. For months, I was so giddy when I thought about coming home with life. Leaving with LIFE, 2 lives. The thought of it made me cry.

In so many ways, her stay in the hospital now is the same, final and culminating in LIFE. The end of this life on Earth, means life in Heaven for her. And at 35, I can barely wrap my mind around the idea of being excited about that. But for her…for my Bunny, our Grace, it means seeing her mom and dad, and brothers and sisters, and her beloved, our Pop. It means holding my sister’s baby boy, Silas, before any of us do. It means greeting our cousin Amy again with a kiss and tears. It means seeing the face of God. And sitting here thinking about THAT, about seeing Jesus…that makes me giddy for her, even in my heartbreak over my impending separation from her.

So how do I honor this woman, who for my entire life has meant the world to me; who has prayed unceasingly for all of us, remaining lucid for her 94 years, sharing griefs and triumphs, stealing giggles on porch swings over slightly inappropriate stories, fingers still gliding effortlessly across piano keys? For this woman who is a picture of godliness and purpose, I will honor her with my words…and I think that’s how she’d want me to honor her.

Bunny and me

Two things about my grandmother have shaped me and helped me to become who I am.

The first is music. 

When I was five, I remember telling Bunny a story using the keys of her piano to differentiate my characters. Then she taught me about the symphony, sitting on the floor listening to Peter and the Wolf…hearing story through music for the first time. And years later, it was Bunny who encouraged my first piano lessons. And finally in high school, when I was still practicing piano at my dad’s church, Bunny bought me my own piano, perhaps the most amazing gift I’ve ever been given. The gift of song. And because of her blood that courses through me and her influence, I feel God’s glory no more acutely than when I am wrapped up in the beauty of making music.

The second is faith.

When I was little my mother taught us how to study God’s word. I will always look back and praise God for a mom who was disciplined in her teaching of us. Without her, I would have no idea that the Bible is indeed living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. But it was Bunny, who also helped shaped the love of Bible study into my mom. I love legacies. I love tracing my faith back to faithful men and women. I am so grateful.

I loved watching my mom and dad wake up every morning and pray together…I saw that in my grandparents, too. I hope our children will remember our prayer times, too.

Bunny and Georgie

It’s impossible to wrap up my grandmother in a silly blog post, just as it’s impossible to catch the memory of a dream the night before with our words. It all falls short. To list all of my memories seems trite. But they are a part of me. She is a part of me.

Not everyone gets the pleasure of having a family that they are wild about. I do. And at the helm is Bunny.

Bunny, you mean the world to me. I love you more than words could ever say. Your purpose in my life…has been inexplicable.

Originally posted on http://www.itsallbananas.wordpress.com: To Our Beloved Bunny

Some additional pictures of Mom, me, Anna and my granddaughter, Charlie.