Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Walk

Today I went for a walk.

Step by step. One foot in front of the other, one would rise, the other would fall. One lifted as the other set to rest…for the length of a stride.

And I thought about the last few days…weeks.

We buried Ma. We needed rest. But, the text message read, “Shyloh’s water broke.” Our youngest wasn’t due for another three weeks, but now she was in the hospital, in labor.

As Ma was entering the tomb, our grandbaby was exiting the womb.

Our conversation during the drive to the hospital revolved around timing—God’s perfect timing. As much as we wanted to break the speed limit, we didn’t. Instead, we prayed for God’s perfect timing.

As we were pulling in to the hospital parking lot, the hospital doctor was pulling our grandbaby into the world.

With Kayla, pregnant daughter number two, safely dropped off at the entrance, I found the only spot that didn’t threaten to, “Tow at owners expense”—a hundred miles from the door.

Ignoring my Dougism, “Take yer time, you’ll get there faster,” I jumped out of the truck and sprinted a hundred miles across ice and puddle to the hospital entrance. As I ran, I checked the pocket of my flannel jacket, where I’d stuffed the truck keys—nothing. Did I lock them in the truck? Did they fall out of my pocket during the dash to the door? Well, I’ll have to look later—it’s another story, I’ll tell you about later—now, I’ve got a baby to see.

My hundred mile dash, must not have been that fast. Kayla had already gone to find her sister. Could you blame her?

I made my way to the fourth floor maternity ward and with the help of a nurse, found the delivery room.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. March 26th 2013, at 12:11 p.m., five pound six ounce, nineteen and three quarter inch, Saphira Jo Spurling entered this world—just before I entered the room.

I’d seen a lot of tears the past few weeks, but these looked different. Instead of pain leaking it was hope streaming. The hugs felt different too—and for the moment pain was replaced with joy. Newness of life took the place of sorrow.

I could hear drums rolling and an anthem playing, The Circle of Life. It was Mufasa lifting Simba for the entire kingdom to see and cheer for the newborn king. If you didn’t see The Lion King that last sentence will make no sense; so let me say it another way.

It was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead after declaring: “I AM the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me though he dies, yet shall he live…Lazarus, come forth.”

It was God The Father raising Jesus from the dead and lifting Him up for all the kingdoms of the world to see and cheer for the Newborn King of Kings, The Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Is it not Resurrection Season? What better time for God to shout His message of life from death than now?

My mother in law entered Eternal Life on the first day of spring. Our daughter’s water broke as we were laying my mother in law to rest. They both were declaring with a shout:

“A new season of life has begun.”

As I walked today, I thought about this…all of this.

And I wondered about my steps. One step after another, one foot lifted from the earth another fell to the ground. Where did the step begin? Where did it end? With the lifting up? Or the setting down? Was not the setting down, as much a part of the step, as the lifting up? Didn’t all of it fit together to make the full step?

As I held my new grandbaby, I wondered, did her life just begin or has it just started to end? Did Ma’s life end…or has it just begun?

I’m still wondering.

I don’t know the whys or hows or what ifs about so many things—like why I lost my keys or how they’d be found—but perhaps I’ve found a key, caught a glimpse of something. When we start and when we end, doesn’t matter all that much, as long as we’re walking with—The One Who Matters.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm23:4

“It’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ma's Promotion

Mary Gertrude DeVlaeminck, born February 4, 1926, in Grand Rapids, Michigan to John J. Rewa and Ida May Shawl. Mary passed away at eighty-seven years young into the open arms of her Lord on March 20, 2013, at Madelia Luther Memorial Home surrounded by her family.

Her departure date was the grand finale and declaration of her Lord.

3.3.13 we flew north—3.20.13 she did too, only a bit further.

We were met by a Minnesota wind that bit clear through the skin. It didn’t matter how much you wore, the cold cut to the core.

A prelude to that which was to come

For seventeen days subzero winds blew harsh and hard mirroring death’s attempt to create a ground zero before the princess finished her course.

At first she was just there for a visit.

“Come in, Sweet Precious Princess Mary.” His Voice echoed like surround sound.

Princess? She thought and then took a step forward and stopped. “I can walk?” She took another step and then another—quicker—and then she skipped and twirled feeling like a school girl. Her blue dress billowed as she twirled. “I know I’m dreaming. But it feels so real. I love this. I love this place.”

“This is no dream.” He smiled.

“Oh, I feel so free” she jumped, hands over her head. “Like I’ve just been released from a lifetime in prison—I’m free” she sang. She even liked the sound of her voice.

His eyes danced, He laughed. It was a good laugh; like a parent laughs watching their children open presents on Christmas morn. “You’re in your new Home, Sweet Precious Princess Mary.”

Princess? Oh well, I do feel like one. “It’s not a dream? My new Home? It’s so beautiful I’ve never imagined anything so wonderful—ever. I love it.” Suddenly she stopped her prancing and dancing. Her eyes grew wide—even wider than they already were. You, You must be… Jesus.” She squeaked; her hands flew over her mouth. “I recognize you from my dreams”

“Those weren’t dreams, either – and yes, I AM.” His smile dropped a bit. “I have a favor to ask of you.”

“You, have a favor to ask of me? Who am I…how can I do anything for You? But…but of course if I can I will—anything for You Lord.”

“Will you return?”

Suddenly she remembered her life on earth. She remembered the weakness and pain of her aged failing body. Back to prison? No, I can’t do that. “Oh my…please no. You don’t understand; it was like prison back there.”

His smile returned creased with compassion. “Oh My sweet precious princess, I do understand. You won’t be alone. I’ll be with you each step of the way.”

She looked at His eyes and saw love so deep it made her weep.

He wiped all the tears from her eyes with nail scarred hands.

“For just a little while? I have a special day appointed, but the enemy is trying to take you too soon. Just like he did me with Me, when I walked the earth.”

“Oh my, is there any other way my Lord?”

He wrapped His arms around her shoulders, kissed her forehead, and made a soft laugh. “I tried that prayer too, remember?”

“Yes, I remember” she whispered.

“And…?” He whispered back.

“You said, ‘Not my will but yours be done.’ ”

“And what do you say?”

“How will I know when I can return?”

“When you see your special messenger, you’ll know.”

She remembered another Mary who had to make a difficult decision; another passage of scripture came to mind. She smiled, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

In that instant death pierced an icy blade—she winced. Eyes squeezed shut. She was back—in prison.

She willed herself to stay, one more second, one more minute, hour, day. She pushed toward the finish—even though she didn’t know when that would be.

Death blew cold and hard. “Give up and go home.”

She would squeeze her eyes shut tight with pain, too weak to speak.

“Think of your kids. They don’t want to see you in pain. Let go, curse God and die.” The serpent would sting.

She wanted to go. She missed her husband Henry. She could hear kids telling her it was alright to go and be with dad. They even prayed the Lord would take her Home. But the words of her Lord echoed in her soul. “When you see your special messenger, then you’ll know.” So, she held on—longing for the messenger to arrive.

Death pierced—she persevered.

The coronation celebration was set in the Book of Life.

The enemy of her soul did everything in his power,

to squelch her life—to get her to throw in the towel.

But she willed her heart to beat, until her final hour.

Death would hiss, “What are you waiting for? There’s no special time—no special hour. It’s time to go.”

“Dear Lord is it time yet?” she’d ask in her heart.

“Not yet Sweet Precious Princess, but soon.”

“Lord, if I may ask; I heard someone say I was going Home around three o’clock—the time You died on the cross. Will I share this honor too?”

“Yes, one has declared that the time of your departing will match the time of mine—I have granted this request. But, the day appointed has not yet come. All will know and understand when it arrives.”

“Oh, come quickly Lord Jesus” she sighed.

For seventeen days she pulled each breath through a gauntlet of fluid filled lungs, like sucking mud through a straw.

Against death’s taunts, she willed her weary heart to beat—until the first day of spring, she saw him come. She saw and knew.

“Time to go” he simply said.

His words startled her. She choked out three short coughs; her eyes popped open and shut again. She sprang out of her body. Her heart stopped and her face went pale.

She touched every child in the room and whispered her favorite words, “As ever, forever, I love you.”

“We’ve lost her” echoed through the room.

She turned to her special messenger, “I’m ready.”

As they were about to exit the room the messenger turned, “You may have lost her, but she’s not lost.”

None of us heard his voice, but all of us knew the two words I texted into my phone, “She’s Home.”

As they traveled from this realm to the next the princess turned toward the handsome escort, “What’s your name?”

He smiled at her with familiar eyes, “You always called me Hank.”


The first day of spring the angels did sing

Come forth Sweet Precious Princess Mary

Your day has come

For you have won

The first day of spring she sprung free of life’s shackle into God’s tabernacle.

God’s declaration from the Home Coming Coronation of Sweet Precious Princess Mary:

“Enter into the joy of the Lord my Sweet Precious Princess Mary. This first day of spring represents a new season for you and your children who are left behind. I wanted them to remember this day as a day of new beginning, not the ending. And you, My sweet precious child welcome to your new Home where there is no sorrow or pain. Only, as ever, forever, Love. ”

God’s specialty is bringing life from death. And He’s done it again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What kids know about goin'

(Note: about two hours and fifteen minutes after posting this story Ma answered The Call.)

I was dropping off a few boxes from Ma’s room. I didn’t want to bother anyone, so I simply set them on a big wooden chest on their back porch.

My plan was going fine until she walked out. Katherine looked at the stuff and then looked at me—her eyes held the ocean, “That’s gramma’s. Why’d you…” her lip rolled and quivered like a breaking wave.

I sat in my favorite chair on their porch, an old wooden rocker. She sat cross legged on the floor and stared at her feet.

“I’m just a kid. I’m six. But I know.

Daddy’s phone rings a lot, and sometimes he says words I prob’ly shouldn’t say. And then, when he hangs up he says, ‘I gotta go.’

Not like when I say, I gotta go, you know—to the potty. He means he gots to go to work. It don’t matter what time it is neither, when his phone rings, he gots to go. We could be eating or playing or watching a movie or reading a story—it don’t matter—when his phone rings, he's gotta go.

Last night his phone ringed. He had to go—but I don’t think it was for work.

He helps people who get in bad wrecks and he pulls the cars out of the ditch with his tow truck with pretty lights on top. He can pick up big trucks that tip over, too. He goes fishin’ sometimes—not for fish either, but for cars that fall in the lake, through the ice. He gots to go a lot—but it’s to help people out of bad trouble…so it’s ok.

It was like before, like other times. Daddy was home, daddy was tired, the phone ringed, and daddy was gone. But, his voice shaked when he said, ‘I gotta go, I love you,’ and his eyes looked wet when he kissed mommy bye-bye. And then, he bumped the door like he couldn’t find the door knob when he was trying to leave.

Yep…somethin’ was deff-na-lly different.”

She looked up at the things I’d brought. “We always go see Gramma Mary…but now, how come we can’t go no more?” She looked back at the floor and picked at a lose string on her shoe.

I told her that Gramma needed her rest.

“Daddy told me Gramma was sick. I told Daddy, ‘you can bring her home and I can make her all better.’” She paused and wiped her sleeve across her nose.

I sat back and wiped my sleeve across my eyes.

“Daddy asked me if it was ok for Gramma to go to heaven and be with Jesus. He said that would make her all better and she wouldn’t get sick no more.”

She looked at the things on the chest. It was high tide. The ocean spilled over.

“Then, I’ll only have—” her words were chopped in pieces by a quivering chin—“one gramma left.”

The ocean wave reached its crest and spilled over me too.

She pulled her knees up to her chest and folded her arms around them. “Maybe Gramma’s phone ringed. Maybe God called…and she’s gotta go, too.”

Katherine lifted her shoulders up and down, tilted her head and looked at me. “I told daddy it was ok if Gramma's gotta go. God's gonna bring her to His Home and make her all better, help her outta her bad it's ok.

Anyway, we''ll  still visit her 'cuz I know where she'll be, up on the hill, layin' next to Grandpa.”

Her mouth turned up. It was crooked; half sad, half glad, but it was a smile just the same.

That night in the nursing home, Mark told his mother about the conversation he’d had with his daughter. “Ma, Kat said it’d be ok if you go to be with Jesus. She’s going to be alright—we all are.”

We were amazed at what happened next.

Ma settled into the most comfortable sleep. We watched her face relax and my wife said, “Look, Ma looks like she’s getting younger.”

Her mouth turned up. It was crooked, half sad, half glad, but it was a smile just the same.


My brother-in-law told me about the conversation he had with his six year old daughter regarding his mother’s condition. This story is the result of that conversation.

At the time of this writing Ma is still with us but hovering near Eternity’s Door.

Thank you for your prayers, they are felt all the way from where you are to here.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Ma crucified with Christ

We half-sleep-walked  into the hotel this morning after spending another night in the nursing home. 

Last night one of the nurses had said “this is the end” and after that none of us wanted to leave. And so, hour after hour, tear after tear, we stayed. Our emotions swirled like the wind whipped snow off the roof.

 My feet ached from walking the halls or standing like a sentinel. My back and neck ached from pretending to sleep in a chair.

We figured we’d get some rest and head back when we woke. I woke feeling rested, but when I looked at the clock it'd only been  two and a half hours. Nevertheless, I couldn't sleep. 

I had a prayer swirling around in my head. 

It was about the similarities between what  Ma is going through and what Jesus went through during the final hours before their death. It went something like this:

Father thank you for giving Your Son, Jesus and thank you for Your precious daughter our mother and grandmother.

Jesus, thank you for putting on flesh—putting on skin—to walk among us and show us how to love. 

And thank you that you're the same yesterday, today and forever. And what You did back then, in a way--You've done it again, by putting on skin and showing us how to love through our dear mother. 

Lord Jesus as you hung between heaven and earth on an old rugged cross just hours before your death , you struggled to drag air into your lungs, so too, our dear mother, Your sweet precious child,  hangs in the balance between heaven and earth and each breath sounds like the dragging of an old rugged cross. 

As you hung on that cross, You winced as You drew a ragged breath and cried "Father forgive them." She too, drags in a gargled breath and when she could speak she'd say,  "I love you...everyone."

Lord, when Your time to leave drew near, You spoke to a realm not seen from here. And so did our mother.  She spoke as if to those gone long ago, and could see that which remains to be seen.

When Your work here was done, You said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit. And so too, Your sweet child will soon commit her spirit into Your hands. And although we're going to miss her, and our hearts will certainly ache--through tears we'll still find the strength to thank you. 

Thank you for visiting us through her, and showing us how to love.

Now, with Your help we'll not allow her life to be in vain. 

As You committed Your Spirit, and as your precious child is about to commit hers... we commit ours, too. 

Today, right now, this moment, we draw a ragged line across our broken, weary torn and bleeding heart and declare as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. We will  honor the life and memory of our dear sweet mother--Your child.

We will live our lives by the law of Love. When we fall, which we are sure to do--we will follow Your example...and hers, and forgive ourselves and eachother  and simply live by the  power of love. 

Now, before we say amen,  Lord help us to be ever mindful to number our days. Because someday soon  we too,  will be the ones hanging in the balance between heaven and our eyes Lord to see that that day is today.


John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters


Friday, March 15, 2013

How do you say goodbye?


We know she’s leaving, and so we’ve come to say our goodbye, but…

While we're saying goodbye, she’s saying hi.

We want need to say goodbye. We imagine the words I love you, flowing through hugs and tears. But it doesn’t go well. She says hello to people we cannot see.

We see the big ending, she sees the beginning.

Her soul is in transition to a realm beyond our reach. We say I love you, only to hear; Do I know you dear? She meant no harm, but still, her words pierce like a dart. She didn’t recognize me, a pain we can't believe.

Her eyes are closed but she sees beyond this waiting room we call life.

Many times the act of saying goodbye is more for us, than for our loved one. It’s a form of closure—something we need. It’s not as important to say goodbye with our mouth, as long as we can say it with our heart.

Thus it can be done—by the bedside the graveside or inside our heart, no matter where we are. In fact in many cases, by the time we realize we should say our final farewell it’s too late to have a cohesive conversation.

So, whether you’re at her side, or a thousand miles away, love knows no distance and you can find peace and closure. Sometimes closure won’t come until after all is said and done. Perhaps one lonely rainy day you’ll find yourself alone next to her grave—or sitting on a river bank—and then and there, you’ll find peace for your soul.

All who’ve gone before know this is not the end.

It’s a crazy contradiction, but it happens all the time. Folks fight over last wishes. She wanted this, she wanted that, they ball and squall and fight—in such cases even if you win, you lose...

And all the while all she ever wanted was for her kids to live in peace.

What matters most is not whether her body is laid to rest in an ivory tomb or a pine box.

Her greatest desire is that in your goodbye you can really mean—see you later.

We are blessed because she has made her peace. She knows where she’s going and wants you, to someday, go there too. At the end there’s a door we all must pass through, but alas, we don’t all wind up in the same place...that decision is up to you.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9)


Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die (John 11:25)


Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)


If you want prayer or would like to talk feel free to comment or contact me at


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hospice & Horses

Not sure how it happened, but there she was on her side. Bones poked out of her skin. The foreleg dangled from a bloody piece of hide just below the knee. She tried to stand but collapsed. Her nostrils flared. I knelt beside her, cradled her head and whispered, “Easy girl.” Fear and pain stared at me through wide bloodshot eyes.

A quiet river ran down my trembling cheeks, but inside I was a screaming, raving lunatic. But, I had to stay calm for her. I didn’t want to spook her and cause her more pain than she was already in.

If I can grab her leg—both pieces—I can put it together, splint it. Fix-it. I knew that wasn’t true, but denial clouded my mind.

“Easy girl, easy” I reached for her leg and she kicked. Razor sharp bones sliced the air next to my head. I placed my hand on her forehead and the side of her neck. “Easy Sugar.” She quieted.

Dad stood behind me, “Son.” That was all he said, but I knew what he meant. I heard the click as he chambered a bullet. I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I turned and stood all in one motion and pushed him back. “No, she can be fixed. It’s not that bad. I’ll stay with her. I’ll make a splint—a cast. I’ll feed her by hand. I’ll make sure she doesn’t try to stand and hurt herself. She’s strong. She can make it through this. She’s my best friend. I love her. I can’t...Please Dad. We can fix her.”

He holstered his revolver and hugged me without saying a word. Finally he kissed the top of my head and whispered into my hair, “This isn’t about fixin’ —it’s about easing her pain.”

I stepped back and looked up at my dad. I hated him at that moment—how could he. “But, we fixed her before. Remember, she hurt her leg and couldn’t walk and we fixed her. We can do it again. I’ll do it if you won’t. We can—”

“This isn’t a pulled muscle.” He looked over my shoulder toward Sugar, the horse I’d owned for ten years. Dad brought her home from the auction on my second birthday. A two year old for a two year old, he’d said.

“But can’t we try.” I said. We both stared at Sugar’s leg hanging by a thread.

He put his hands on my shoulders and stared me square in the eye. “Son, this isn’t about you…Nursing your pain…prolongs hers.”

Sugar made a sound that made me shiver. I could smell dust and sweat and blood. I wanted to hold her and cry until the tears ran dry—until I didn’t hurt anymore. But I knew that it was selfish to make her suffer more than she had, just so I could attend to my sorrow.

“Sometimes doing what’s right—” he slid his pistol out of the holster—“means doing what’s hard.”

I knew I had to put her out of her misery. And the longer I waited—the longer she suffered. I nodded. I could mourn later. I figured I’d cry for the rest of my life. But for now, I had to do right by her. Ease her pain. Bring her peace. Bring her comfort. That’s what she deserved. No matter how hard or how bad it made me feel. “We’ve got to put her out of her misery, Dad.” I held out my hand.

“Son, you don’t have to. You can go—”

“No, she’s mine.” I swallowed hard, clenched my teeth and felt pain leak out and run down my cheek. “I’ll do it.”

Dad laid the revolver in my palm. I gripped the gun with two hands and tried to stop it from trembling—it didn’t help. I knelt next to Sugar and placed the muzzle against her forehead. She exhaled a long slow breath stirring up dust under her nostrils. My finger was straight beside the death cold trigger. My vision blurred and I tasted liquid sorrow cross my lips. I sucked in two jerky breathes and held. I clicked off the safety, closed my eyes and applied pressure to the trigger.

Sugar was gone.

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and at 400 a.m. this scene was playing in my head. Only the horror of it came after pulling the trigger.

I opened my eyes and saw my hand on the gun. Only the gun wasn’t a gun, but a needle. And Sugar wasn’t my horse but sweet Grandma Mary.

The haunting words from the Hospice nurse started echoing in my head, “We’re not in the fix-it business—we’re in the comfort business.”

The connection became clear. We do to people what we do to horses. Put them out of their misery. Not with a bullet, but with medicine to ease their pain, to make them more comfortable. We do it because we love them and we don’t want them to suffer. We do it at our own hurt.

• We let a quiet river run down trembling cheeks, while inside we’re screaming, raving lunatics. We stay calm for her. We don’t want to scare her or cause her any more pain than she’s already in.

• We accept that it’s not about fixin’ —it’s about easing her pain.

• We recognize it’s not about us. And that nursing our pain…prolongs hers.

• We want to hold her and cry until the tears run dry—until we don’t hurt anymore. But we know that it’s selfish to make her suffer more than she has to, just so we can attend to our sorrow.

• Sometimes doing what’s right—means doing what’s hard. So, we limit our visits for her sake. We won’t deny her the rest she needs by saying, “She’ll get all the rest she needs soon enough.”
• We can mourn later. But for now, we’ll do right by her. Ease her pain. Bring her peace. Bring her comfort. That’s what she deserves. No matter how hard or how bad it makes us feel.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How do you tell Ma she's dying?

Yesterday we were surprised to see Ma out of bed. It was the first time in over a week. The nurse told us Ma asked to be transferred into the stuffed recliner next to the bed.

“Good morning mother, how are you feeling?” Roxy asked.

“Not too good.” Ma replied in her quiet voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“My neck hurts.”

She was sitting in her chair with pillows propped around her. One of the pillows caused her head to be in an awkward position kind of burying her chin into her chest. I thought, she’s feeling good enough to complain—she must be feeling better. We repositioned her pillows and she told us, “that’s better.”

And then I remembered the question.

I’d been praying about it for awhile. Asked God to remind me if He wanted me to ask...I never remembered—until just then.

It was only Roxy and I in the room.

“Ma, do you know what’s happening to you?” I asked.

“No. I wish somebody would find out.” She said.

“Well, you don’t have a disease, like cancer or anything…but you are eighty-seven.”

“I know.” She had her eyes closed. “But there are others who are eighty-seven.” She started breathing a little heavier than before. “They put us in a basement. It was wet. It was damp… and cold.”

I asked. “You were in a cold wet basement. When you were a child you mean?”

She shook her head, “No.”

I had an idea. “You mean you were in a cold wet basement with others who were eighty-seven—and so you think that’s how you got sick?”

“Yes.” She whispered and nodded, her eyes were still closed.

I took a deep breath and released it slow trying to think. I read somewhere that people who are nearing death will start to sleep a lot. While they’re sleeping—they’re processing what’s happening to their body. And many times they come to grips with the reality that they’re dying before their loved ones.

Ma had been sleeping a lot. She alluded to dying on a few occasions to others, but never to me. I figured she knew down inside what was happening but needed someone to confirm it, to share the load, let her know she wasn’t carrying the cross of this knowledge all by herself.

If a person thinks they alone carry the knowledge that they’re dying, then sharing this knowledge, in a way that won’t break their loved ones hearts, becomes a burden almost too great to bear.

Maybe Ma was trying to figure out a cause for her physical decline, because if there was a cause—like being in a damp basement—then surely there’d be a cure.

I cleared my throat and held her hand. “Ma, you’re not sick because you were put in a wet basement.” Her eyes and lips squeezed shut a little tighter. I got the feeling she didn’t want to believe it, because she knew what was coming next.

I let that sink in and waited. Her face relaxed and she took one full even breath and ever so slightly nodded. I continued. “You, the real you, the loving, caring, compassionate you, is not sick and is not going to die. You are just getting ready to move. You’re going to a place where there is no sickness, no disease, no sorrow and no pain…just Love, joy and peace. However, you can’t take this body with you. You’re going to shed this skin you live in. It—your body—is tired and preparing to take its final rest, from which it will never wake. You are leading the way, showing your family how to go through this door with courage and integrity and peace and love."

She sat quiet, moving her lips up and down a bit. Finally she spoke clear and quiet. “I guess that sounds about right…about what’s happening to me.”

I repeated what she said just to be sure I heard her right. She nodded and whispered. “But we don’t want to do that right away.”

What an honor it is to know this woman was all I could think.


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Monday, March 11, 2013

Ma's progress

“Ma’s not well, you best come quick.” We boarded a plane a week ago yesterday.

Minnesota welcomed us with one of the biggest snowstorms of the season. And although the official start of spring is less than two weeks away, the frigid monster has sunk its icy teeth and refuses to leave.

My-oh-my how things change in such a short while. Ma was sitting up smiling and talking the Sunday we arrived. Now, sweet mother Mary can barely move her arms. And she’s all but stopped eating and drinking.

Her food is the consistency of applesauce, and she only eats a teaspoon or two a day. She’ll ask for cold water and sips a little at a time through a straw. A congested cough follows each sip. Her water intake is about a cup a day.

Her words are not much more than a gargle. However, in spurts she’ll talk clear as a whistle, and then nod off to rest. Sometimes she speaks of the here and now, and other times she talks of things far and away that have no earthly meaning as far as we can tell. Some say it’s the medication and others say it’s because she’s hovering between this world and the next.

She’ll usually recognize a new visitor. Her eyes will pop open; she’ll smile and whisper their name. Her arms will raise a few inches and then drop back to the bed—a sign that she wants a hug.

Most of her time is spent sleeping.

Her breathing is less than rhythmic. Her chest rises and then drops all at once with a quiet groan.

For us, the days have become a revolving door between visiting and attempts to eat and sleep. At times they all collide and we eat and sleep and visit all at once in Ma’s room. Some are running on empty with little to no sleep, driving back and forth to visit and spending nights on watch while still somehow managing to maintain jobs and responsibilities.

Sweet Mother Mary is not the only one suffering from the pangs of death. The entire family swings pendulum style over deaths door. With each pass sliding a little further down grief’s fraying rope. Each heart tries to hold on but the gravity of the moment pulls and burns and rips the heart raw.

Everyone hangs by a thread and hopes for hope.

The thread of denial at first blurs the vision and slips into anger and blame and division. Guilt and regret over words and deeds, said and unsaid, done and undone pull like an anchor tied to the heart. Back and forth, swinging the emotional gamut; twisting and clawing in search of an emotion that won’t sting.

Sweet Mother Mary dangles by a thin thread as she rests and waits and hopes and prays.

Someone sees another rope—another strand. It hangs loose beside—not over—death’s door. It looks thin and weak and impossible to reach.

The little strand beckons. It has the word, acceptance, woven in its fiber.

One weary soul calls to the other. Together they work and in unison they swing toward the rope of acceptance.

One by one they let go of grief unraveled and grasp the strand that looks so weak. And as they do, a strange thing happens. The thin strand grows thick and strong and easy to hold. They help each other cross from grief to acceptance and climb down beside death’s door.

Sweet Grandma Mary smiles at their efforts. Peace rests in her soul.

Her greatest prayer has been for her children to love each other as she has loved them—her greatest fear is that they wouldn’t. She learned the prayer from Jesus—it’s the same one He prayed before He passed through death’s door. That we would love each other as He loves us. (John 17)

When the children stand united by Love, death doesn’t look so scary.

“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” echoes from behind the door.

The words of Jesus ring like an anthem, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”

Standing at the threshold of death—life becomes clear. No earthly treasure can be carried through—only what the heart can store.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


We got word this evening, “If you want to see Ma you better come quick.”

In the morning we head to the airport and catch an emergency flight to Minnesota. We pray we get there before she goes Home.

I know I should try and sleep, but I think I’d just toss and turn, so I figured I’d pray awhile and repost a tribute to my Mother-in-Law written about a year ago.

The following is an edited version of the original submission. Since the original post our sweet Grandma Mary has been placed in a nursing home and…well, we sure would appreciate your prayers. Thanks.


I climb a lot of ladders for my job. Kids must think it’s cool, because whenever they’re around, and I’m up on a roof, they point and stare.

I usually ask their names, and then say “Nice to meet you…What’s my name?”

They’ll giggle, “I don’t know.”

“My name’s Santa,” I tell them.

They giggle more—kind of nervous like, and before they can say anything, I say, “No, just kidding. I’m not Santa…BUT, I do work for him.”

“Huh?” Wide eyes get wider.

“Yeah, I check out the best places for the reindeer to land and stuff so Santa don’t get hurt.”

Those kids are on their best behavior for days.

Well, dear reader I’m sure you know I don’t really work for Santa, but…I think perhaps I’m related to him—through marriage.

You see, Mrs. Claus is my Mother-in-Law, or at least I think she is. Just look at her. Doesn’t she look like Santa’s wife?

At eighty-seven she has limited mobility. She can use a walker for short distances, but other than that – she’s either in a wheel chair or her recliner-type chair that elevates at the seat, to help her get up. Her hands are starting to show signs of arthritis and her eye sight is growing dim, yet, even though her body is aging, she’s still a wide-eyed-child in her soul.

With over a hundred and some ought grand-kids she’s managed to keep track of them all. All year she’d sit and knit and weave some kind of Christmas magic into hats and scarves and baby blankets. And somehow, at Christmas, without even leaving her chair, she’d manage to have a gift for everyone. She’s spent more time making gifts for others than many folks have been alive. She MUST be Mrs. Claus – or related in some kind-of-way, right?

She watches, too. With dimming eyes and one finger she pecks at a keyboard. Like a mother-hen she watches her brood banter on face-book.

Although confined physically, she’s a world traveler in her soul. Sit by her and listen. She’ll take you places decades from here with her stories. Her eyes will gleam like a school girl in love when she tells about the first time she met the man she would marry at Coney Island—Santa. No, actually–Henry Joseph DeVlaeminck; the man she still dreams of even though he’s been gone over three decades. She’ll walk you through the depression and wade through life on a pig farm. You’ll ride her words to school with horse and sleigh. She’ll tell of trials and laughter and raising fourteen children—the birth of some…the loss of others.

With a never fading smile, she’ll tell of how she saw Jesus in a dream, and how she travels the world with her prayers.

Her house was nothing fancy, but her Home is a mansion. Each day her house would fill with family, including ex-husbands, ex-wives, ex-this and ex-that, once in—you’re IN. It’s easier to get out of the mob, than this family.

She’s soft spoken, just above a whisper, but she can move an army of adoring children with a simple word.

Maybe my mother-in-law isn’t really related to Santa. But—she is related to the Greatest Gift Giver of all. And, her family may not be like the mob—with the Godfather. But– she’s real close to God The Father.

And I am honored to share her with you today. Her kids call her Ma, but everyone else – related or not – calls her Gramma Mary. So, if you need a family, you can join ours.

Thanks for stopping by and as Ma would say; “Gramma misses you, come back and see me.”

If you think you don’t have a family…think again, you do.

Jesus asked; Who are My brothers and sisters and mother? And then answered; “But those who do the will of My Father.” Mark 3:35

Come…be part of the family.