This Woman

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by Karen E. Case

It’s hard to believe it’s less than two weeks now until my daughter turns into a vision of loveliness, I do my best not to let my makeup run, and my husband has to answer that fateful question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

This woman? Who is “this woman?” That’s our little girl he’s talking about. The one who weighed five and a half pounds at birth. Definitely a member of the “small but mighty” brigade. The memories flow by. The toddler who would fix a fierce eye on a mommy eager to give a helping hand, and gruffly exclaim, “Do it meZULF!!!” Singing rounds and learning harmony at bedtime, until her daddy’s voice would call from the living room, “Aren’t you done singing yet? That child needs to go to sleep!” The “daddy dates” she looked forward to so eagerly.

How hard it was not to be too proud of her cute performance in a Christmas play as a 5th grader, and how much harder it was not to be too proud of her command performance at the age of 16, before 3,000 people at James Madison University. And the trip to Texas the next year, all expenses paid, so she could perform at a Christmas banquet. And then on to college and and all its chances to bask in her reflected glory. (Reflected glory is a natural side of effect of having an actor as a child.)

This woman? Still “small but mighty,” still with a bit of a spunky, independent spirit, still dramatic in more ways than one. And one other thing has remained. At about seven, she once brought us a glass of cold water while we were working in the yard, overjoyed to be able to do something that Jesus had commanded. She still has the desire to do what Jesus says. And happily – wonderfully – her fiance James has that same desire. And because of that, tears notwithstanding, we peacefully and joyfully give this woman.

Ordinary

By Viv Walden

Oh, the things people say. Like this one – Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  In truth, life is measured in breaths. We have only so many.summer cartoon no watermark

I think the ordinary, predictable, humdrum, regular- breathing parts of life are great. Dad coming home, supper at six, gather around the table, bedtime story and now I lay me down to sleep, church on Sunday, Christmas program every year, and long boring summers with dandelions and daisies. That makes for a happy childhood.

So I like ordinary. I think it’s great.

Except.

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There are people in the world whose ordinary isn’t great at all. It is predictable that they will suffer slavery or disease or death. They can’t count on tomorrow being blessedly humdrum in the way that we can.  Hunger and thirst is commonplace. Parents worry their children will die. They are happy when there is a next breath. From our places of plenty it is hard to remember that a third of the world does not have enough to eat, or good access to health care or education.

So maybe we should add a few new things to the proverbial ‘take my breath away’ thrill seeking bucket list. Between ‘See the Eiffel tower’ and ‘Ride an elephant’, we can pencil in ‘Help a homeless person’. Or ‘Help provide a well for a village in Africa.’ Or ‘Sponsor a child.’ There are so many opportunities out there, so many ways to help. Let’s give some of our ‘ordinary’ away. It is the right thing to do and much more fulfilling than a trip to Vegas or a bungee jump in New Zealand.

And perhaps we should change that quote to something like this, ‘Life is measured by the breaths we take. Let’s make them count.


 

Not All Dogs Speak the Same Language but Fairies Do!

954714_10151493960986994_1951687637_nYes, it’s true. Some dogs don’t say, ‘Ruff!’. They say, ‘Guff!’. At least this is what my granddaughter tells me. You see, in Russia many of the animals speak a different language.  Horses say, ‘ Eeeeee- yaaaaa’. Pigs say, ‘Khru-Khru’.  And the infernal cat remains committed to, ‘Meow-meow’ (no imagination at all).

I am learning a lot from this beautiful little sprite who has entered our world.  She marched out of the airport and straight into my heart. Oh, I know it sounds trite and just what you would have expected a grandmother to say. It’s just that I’ve waited so long and as I sat at tea with her today I kept reminding myself that it was really true….that she was really here in my kitchen, with ME!

I love to hear her chatter on in Russian and I chuckle as she speaks s-l-o-w-l-y and LOUDLY to me when I don’t understand.  I love to hear the English words already creeping into her vocabulary— ‘Babushka (grandmother), come on!’—as she beckons me to play with her. I find I cannot resist her smile, her dimple, her completely  glorious perfection!  And as we danced around the living room this evening, I struggled to hold back tears. She would never understand; I could not explain in Russian. So we held hands, we laughed, we twirled—- a very happy Babushka and this beautiful gift of a girl….this little fairy.

Sofya’s taught me a lot in our first week together. I’ve learned that not all dogs speak the same language,  and that four year old fairies are just as wonderful as I always thought they would be. I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!

Running in Church

This morning I wenIMG_4869t to church with Moses and Abraham. I worshiped with them at the throne of the God who has conquered death.

It happened like this. I woke up early and went running in the cathedral of the outdoors. The sky was so blue above and underneath my feet was grass and dirt, so heavenly and earthy at the same time. In this church there are no walls. The sun shone, a chill was in the air, and birds were singing. A few bursts of color were here and there- a dandelion, a purple weed, a red flower. (It is, after all, winter so the full range of color was muted.) It seemed like the earth sang with the joy of worship. My mind flew into the heavens.

And I found I was not by myself. I thought of all those worshiping before the throne of  God in heaven, that great multitude of believers who have gone on ahead. I saw Moses and Abraham. David and Job and Ruth. Luther and CS Lewis and Corrie Ten Boom. Mom and Dad.  Mick and Lynn and Ralph J and Ruth T. And so many children, among them Olivia and Rejoice and Marian. Some faces I recognized and more I did not – it was, after all, a great multitude, a cloud of witnesses.

I listened to the words of my friend, Libby, on my ipod reminding me that life is only partly lived here – that there is sAll_saints_(Kolomenskoe,_18_c.)o much more to come.   Our loved ones who have gone on ahead are even now enjoying heaven and the presence of God in a way we can only look forward to. And in the here and now, we can worship with them – in faith. In a sense we praise God together.

I came home from my ‘church in the open’ encouraged and lighthearted. Life is good, God is amazing and I look to all of the future with anticipation and joy.

Vivian Walden

Pure Joy

923292_10151389054511640_1574856398_nThis week is full of joy, pure joy. I am writing simply to share it. Sometimes our joy comes  quietly  and we are content to treasure it silently, and contemplate its beauty. At other times, we are ready to shout our happiness from the rooftops and share it with the world. This week I’m experiencing BOTH of these joys. This week, as I count down to the arrival of our firstborn and her family, my heart is full and I find myself swallowing lumps in my throat and wiping overflowing eyes when I least expect it.

Can this be real? Can my girl be coming home at last? How well I remember that time ten years ago, when we said goodbye.  Her journey would take her to Moscow, and then, on to Siberia (via the Trans Siberian RR) , to a little Buryat village to teach English…the only English speaker in that area. This was total immersion at it best (and worst). She experienced it all….the lack of indoor plumbing, the severely cold Siberian winters, carrying wood in to keep the stove going, needing no refrigeration because the window sill was a sufficient icebox.

Our little girl had grown up loving Russia and all things Russian, writing to and praying for Russian Christians while the country was still closed. And then it happened! Perestroika (restructuring) began in the mid-80s under Gorbachev and by 1991 Russia was open to visitors and all things American. Our daughter was twelve; ten years later she left for Russia. Her dreams were to open an orphanage, which didn’t work out. But she met a handsome young Russian and that DID work out.

She  embraced Russian culture and language with a vengeance. In so many ways, these were her people. And soon, she had a lovely little Russian princess of her own. Someone else to love and enjoy. I knew the feeling, I had had a firstborn too. I knew the joy of having a little girl.

What I did NOT know was the pain of loss she would  experience over the next few years. My heart broke as I prayed for her from afar. I longed to hold her and yet I knew that her grief was a personal grief, too personal for me to fully understand. I had never experienced the loss of a child. My daughter had entered uncharted territory.  I felt ill equipped.  This is indeed, one of the hardest things for a parent to deal with…longing to comfort, yet knowing that, for a certain time, there is no comfort. There is only a deep, dark, tunnel of grief.  The child we rescued from skinned knees is the adult we cannot rescue from life’s very darkest journeys.

She returns to us a different person than the young 20-something who left over ten years ago. She will bring her darling daughter, our granddaughter, and her sweet, gentle husband. He will begin the journey she started long ago. He will take over the cultural immersion as he learns English, as will their little girl. He will experience all things American, as his wife experienced his homeland  all those years ago. Our world is a little bigger and a little smaller—– and the circle continues. 998253_10151440812171640_1447367830_n A little Russian girl will come to America. She will come marching  down the entryway  at the airport and she will march straight into our hearts. And here it comes again….that lump is building. I am swallowing hard and there is a familiar wetness  coming from my eyes.  My heart is full and this is life at its best. They are coming home, and this must surely be what they call….pure joy!

The Last Birthday

babies!

Yes, the last birthday is here. And it has come upon me unaware. It’s odd how the seasons of life ebb and flow. When my babies were small, they went through so many changes so quickly that life seemed to have a rapid, breathless rhythm. Then we came to what I think of as “the middle years.” Everybody could now walk, and talk, and feed themselves, and go to the bathroom alone. And the changes were more gradual – an inch added to someone’s stature, the advent of a pimple or two, the deepening of my guys’ voices.

And then the avalanche hit. Well, what did I expect? When you have four kids in five years, they’re going to be leaving the nest in just as close succession. And I am caught in a sort of maternal schizophrenia. I love the young adults that my kids have become. They’re the most fascinating people I’ve ever known. I revel in their company, in their humor, in their insights and achievements. I just plain like them! But at the same time, sometimes I am achingly homesick for those little people who used to live in my house . . .

The first of these was Katrina Jeannette Case, born 24 years ago today. I have to use her full name here because this was her last birthday. On August 3rd, her name will change forever, and another woman will be celebrating this day next year. And that brings it all home to me. In mid-August, Danny leaves for a year of teaching English in China. On February 7th, 2014, Steven will marry Sandra, the love of his life. Joey will be in his second year of college.

Sometimes I feel as if the Tardis has snatched me up and dropped me down in another time. I feel disoriented. The world – my world – is changing so fast. Is it jetlag? “Timelag?” Or do moms have growing pains, too? I want so much to clasp my fingers tightly, and keep my babies all together for just a little longer. But it’s too late. The last birthday is here. And they were never really mine, anyway. I just had the incredible privilege of being their mom. As I open my fingers to let them go, I remember the scripture,”underneath are the everlasting arms.”

by Karen