This past week, my family said goodbye to my Mamaw.  She was 89 and had been in failing health for the past few years.  Her going was unavoidable but I wouldn’t have been ready even if she had been 189. 

I grew up living next door to Mamaw and Papa my entire life so they were always a part of my dailiness.  Papa could always found in his garden tending to his show-stopping tomatoes and as a retired carpenter, was always tinkering with a wood-working project.  If Mamaw wasn’t in her flowers she was in the kitchen.  After I married I spent a day with her so she could teach me how to make her perfect chicken and dumplings.  I never have been able to get them right (she made the flat noodle dumplings and mine always turn out too puffy) but the memories of trying are priceless.   I have discovered that Mary B’s makes a frozen version that is a pretty good knock off but they are not the same. 

Lots of things will never be the same now that both of them are gone.  The hardest thing about the funeral was going back to Mamaw and Papa’s house afterward and knowing that a generation had passed the likes of which will not come our way again.  They wouldn’t recognize our world today – in fact Mamaw never drove a car once in her life.  She had no clue about iPods or iPhones.  She just loved her family and enjoyed recounting her life as a child in the Tennessee countryside more than anything.  She missed the farm, the spring house, and her horse named Edith Esther Stella (okay, I just forgot the rest of the names. Help me out here, Mom).  The horse had about seven names because she couldn’t make up her mind between all that she liked.  She laughed extra long and hard when I told her it must have taken a long time to giddy up.

My heart is so full of both of my grandparents and there are many things I could share that would mean nothing to anyone but me.  There is one thing that sticks out though that will always be my favorite time with Mamaw.  Let’s see if I can get through this.

My Papa died in 1995 somewhat unexpectedly.  It was already a very sad season for me because a short time before that I had miscarried my first baby.  At the time, Luke and I were in college in Kentucky and so we traveled home for the funeral.  Luke stayed with his parents but I stayed with Mamaw because I didn’t want her to be alone.  I was terribly sick with bronchitis and that night could not stop coughing when I went to bed.   Mamaw got up, brought me cough medicine, and in a shocking move asked me if I wanted to come sleep with her.  I knew she was asking as much for herself as for me.

We laid awake in bed for a long time.  Mamaw liked to talk but our conversations were typically shallow.  My family is not one given to expression of deep sentiment or shows of emotion.  So again, it was shocking to me when she asked, “Lis, what do you think happened to make you lose the baby?”  I told her I had no idea and that it was just one of those things that will have no explanation until the Lord tells us one day.  And then she said, “I know you’ll get to have another one.  You’re going to be okay.”  I said, “I know, Mamaw.  And you know what?  You are going to be okay, too.”

And there we lay, two women grieving personal losses and yet sharing them by virtue of our lineage.  Something about that exchange caused me – in my own mind anway – to understand that in the course of that night I was no longer regarded a child but as one entrusted with shouldering a hard thing instead of being shielded from it.  I never loved her more than I did on that day.   

I miss her.  I miss the era and simplicity she represented and I miss that I never had to wonder where I stood with her.  She was a safe place.  I say goodbye to her knowing I’ll never be half the woman she was.  We live in a time where intention has replaced action.  Where frozen biscuits have replaced those deftly rolled out under a skilled hand.  Where we have family reunions on Facebook.   Where we wish things could be like they were 50 years ago but in our hearts we know we can’t go back.

The last time we talked while she was in the hospital – more lucid than I had seen her in months I might add –  I said to her, “You are my favorite, Mamaw.”  She said, “You’re my favorite, too.”  She was too polite not to respond in kind but I’ll carry it as truth as long as my sisters and cousins will allow it.  I can pretend I was her favorite but I don’t have to fudge to say she was mine. 

I love you, Mamaw.  I’m glad that you are finally okay.  And you know what?  Though it’s going to take some time, we are going to be okay, too.

The Divine Paradox

There are many reasons I love being married to a preacher man but one of the privileges of that role is being present by (what I hope is not a begrudged) default during the hallowed days in the lives of people we love.  We relive our own wedding vicariously through yours wishing we had been believers when we had married.  We rejoice again each time you bring a new life into this world both by birth and baptism.  When you say goodbye to your loved ones, we grieve with you and do our best to minister out of our own experiences of loss. 

During a short 2 hour span Monday, the Lord allowed me to both hold Deedra’s precious baby Walker for the first time and laugh at his adorable big brother and sister as they showed off ‘their baby’.  Straightaway, I went to hold my sweet friend Jenni and cry with her shortly before Randall went to be with the Lord.  Later that afternoon I sat on my bed staring into nothingness as I thought about how far the pendulum swings.  About the great expanse between life and death; the enormous arc between joy and sorrow.

The amazing thing about a pendulum is how very close one comes to making a full circle not unlike The Flying Dutchman at an amusement park.  If one extreme is sorrow and the other joy, then at the top of that arc the two are practically in kissing distance.  And there lies – or flies – paradox.  It’s in that terrifying limbo that we find unexplainable peace.  Where in our loss we are found.  When we are convinced yet again that God was holding us all along even when it felt He had left us hanging midair. 

I personally despise the Flying Dutchman.  Every time I’ve ever been on one I’m convinced that I’m that one person for whom gravity will fail and I’ll go crashing to the ground.  And yet, here I sit on sure ground proven wrong time after time.  In the words of Mr. Hopeful in The Pilgrim’s Progress, “Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom, and it is sound.” 

Are there any out there who feel the bottom has fallen out?  It would be hypocritical for me to assure you that you are held if I hadn’t experienced being caught midair so many times.  No, I’ve not lost my husband or grown child, but there are other devastations that have pushed us to the brink of faith.  That being the case I can confidently say, you will get through this.  There will be a day when you are going about the course of things when you stop and realize the pain of this day is not prevailing as it did the day before.  I daresay you will even smile again.  There are many things I do not know, but this I do:  Now matter how scary the How, I can rest knowing I am safe in the Who.  The same one who called Peter to the Waves and Moses to the Sea has not chosen this day to forsake His children.

Sweet Jenni and girls:  I pray when you are desperate to see Christ, that you will only need look around to see Him in the faces of those who love you.  That you will be bold in your fear.  That you will find some unexpected joy in the midst of this sorrow.   That you will remember your husband and father with a smile through your tears.  

 That is the divine paradox and it is there you will find Him waiting.

Swallowed Up By Life

I want to thank all of you who have prayed for Randall and Jenni.  It is with the heaviest of hearts I tell you that Randall went home to be with the Lord today, November 23rd. 

I have many thoughts but not the wits to put them together.  The one thing the Lord has impressed upon me today is that death has not overcome Randall, but rather he has been set free to life.  No doubt, he has received the better resurrection; however, Jenni, Alicia, Allison, and Lindsey could use one to raise their broken hearts as well.  Jenni needs the strength that only God can give to both teach her how to navigate the days ahead and give her the stamina to comfort her precious girls in the midst of her own grief.  The only way she’ll have that is through the prayers of God’s people and the hands of those who will be Jesus to her when she desperately needs to know He hasn’t forgotten.  

Again, I thank you for being invested in the lives of this family who most of you have never met.  If you find a pause in the midst of your prayers, please utter “The Black’s” to fill the space.  God knows.   

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  ~2 Corinthians 5:3-5

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