But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared for them a city.
Last week I visited the town where I grew up and stopped by many of my childhood haunts. The street where our family lived. The empty lot where neighborhood kids played croquet. The elementary and high school. My aunt and uncle’s home. Our church. Each place in its place, yet changed in ways that created a yearning in my heart for what is no more.
The same yearning appears each time I work on my mystery novel set in a fictional South Dakota town much like the one where my husband and I lived in the late 70s and early 80s. My heart rejoices while recreating the place and the people. I revel in the sense of being with the old friends, some still living and some dead, made during the years we lived there. But eventually, the phone rings or the clock says it’s time to fix supper, and I must inhabit the present. Each returning is accompanied by a yearning for what is past.
Even in the town where we have lived for 30 years, the longing pulls at my heart. When I pass the block where the school I taught once stood. When I hear of friends, students, or teaching colleagues who have died. When fellow believers who are part of my life and support system move on or move away. When what I hoped would come to pass doesn’t and a lesser thing takes its place.
In The Weight of Glory, C. L. Lewis puts this yearning in its proper context. “In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency….These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
This God-given longing, Lewis says, either points us to our eternal home or becomes an idol that eventually breaks our hearts when the idols betray them or lose their allure. Only God offers the eternity we desire because he is the one who placed the longing for it in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
With each loss experienced and each idol discarded, the yearning grow inside us and our sense of displacement swells. We feel increasingly fractured. But we also feel increasingly hopeful. Because we begin to realize that our internal longing points to our eternal home. As the bonds to this world loosen and eternity beckons, we pray ever more fervently and ever more frequently. How long, O God, until you make me whole? How long until you call me home?
Once this prayer of the heart is uttered, in the power of the risen Christ, we return to the kingdom work he has for us on this earth until he answers our prayers and takes us home.
The Man of Steel and I cleaned the attic on Saturday. We found too many treasures to mention, but here are my top ten.
10. My 4-H record book, circa 1966–1973.
9. The Man of Steel’s marbles, which he thought he’d lost years ago.
8. Several high school play scripts and the dog dishes from when I played Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
7. The dance marathon trophy won by the Man of Steel in college. He also won a trip to Kansas City and Worlds of Fun. Guess where we went for our honeymoon?
6. A 39-year-old disintegrated wedding bouquet.
5. The journal I kept the first few months we lived in Camp Crook in 1978. Perfect timing as I work on the second novel in my mystery series.
4. 1 wooden block from a 1980s era Fischer Price block set (the kind that came in the little wheeled cart with the pull string) given to Allen when he was a baby. Where in the world is the rest of the set?
3. A little pillow bearing my son’s 4-year-old hand print. It made me cry.
2. A bin filled with my daughter’s old dance costumes. They made me cry.
1. Crumbling mementos in dusty cardboard boxes that are reminders of adventures shared with friends and family, who are priceless treasures that make life worth living.
What surprises did you find while spring cleaning? Leave a comment.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mom’s parents, Vernon and Josephine Hess. Because my paternal grandma died before I was born and my paternal grandpa died when I was 8, Grandpa and Grandma Hess were the only grandparents present throughout my childhood. Their style was more hands-off than hands-on, perhaps because they didn’t have enough hands or time to be actively involved in the lives of 39 grandchildren. Even so, I hope to pass down to my grandchildren many of the heart treasures they passed down to all of their grandkids. Here’s my top ten list.
10. Playing cards. My grandparents didn’t play many board games, but they loved playing cards. Our grandson will old enough to appreciate the finer points of Go Fish! From there, we will move onto Crazy Eights, Old Maid, Uno, Skippo, Hearts, Cribbage, and Shangai Rummy. Once his younger cousins can join the fun, we’ll add Nertz to the mix, too.
9. Love of house plants. Specifically geraniums. Do a Gravel Road website search of “geraniums” for more information.
8. Love for the land. My grandparents were farmers who loved the land. 6 of their 8 children were farmers. We were “town kids” and loved spending time on the farms with our cousins. Because my son is a farmer, I hope my grandparents’ love for the land survives for another generation.
7. Good money management. Grandpa and Grandma raised 8 kids during the Great Depression. Grandma was a gifted money manager. My mom inherited the skill from her, my siblings and I inherited it from her, and hopefully it will be passed along to the grands, too.
6. Strong work ethic. My memories of Grandpa and Grandma all revolve around work. After he retired, Grandpa still helped my uncles on their farms. Grandma was constantly cooking, cleaning, and quilting. The only big whoo-ha of the week was watching Lawrence Welk on Saturday night.
5. Love of cooking. As was mentioned before, Grandma spent a lot of time cooking. And she was a fantastic cook. May of the recipes on this blog originated with her. My grandson and I usually do some kind of “cooking” during weekend visits. Pretty soon, the other grands will join the fun, too.
4. Family history. My grandparents and parents constantly told stories about their growing up years, and stories about their parents and grandparents. My mother even wrote stories about growing up in the depression. My sister illustrates them, puts them in book form, and gives one to Mom each Christmas. She also gives Mom’s great-grands sets of the books when they are born. The stories I wrote for my kids about growing up with a dad in a wheelchair were what nudged me into a writing career. I hope my kids and grands treasure our family stories and add their own to the narrative.
3. Sense of belonging. Though my grandparents didn’t have lots of time to spend with each individual grandchild, they made it very clear that we belonged to them. All my life, being part of their family has been a deep sense of security. What better gift can I give my grands than the same sense of security and belonging?
2. Family love. Unconditional. Unending. All-encompassing. Love that sees not only who a person is in the present, but sees future potential. What a precious gift to pass along to a new generation.
1. Memories of Grandpa and Grandma’s house. My grandparents’ house in town is still standing. I could walk in today and identify where Grandma’s sewing machine stood, where Grandpa sat in the kitchen nook and scraped his grapefruit rind clean, where Grandma hid the red hots, and the exact spot where the bed with a mattress so soft we always slid to the middle stood, where the board games were stored in the coat closet, and where Grandma stored extra pajamas for her grandkids, who sometimes stayed overnight unexpectedly, in the bottom drawer of a dresser in the hallway. Though I haven’t been in the house for 33 years, those memories and many more, are clear and vivid in my mind. When my grandchildren turn 50, then 60, and older, I hope their memories of Papoo and Grammy Jo’s house remain crystal clear and timeless treasures in their hearts.
What do you hope to pass along to your grands? Leave a comment.
A week ago today I visited the home where my family lived from 1961 through 1965. The molding above the front door where my sister and I posed in our Christmas best was still there, more lovely than I remembered.
The corner where a Westmar college student snapped a photo of us in front of the best snowman ever is framed in bushes, but the memory of that day remains.
The side yard where Grandpa supervised my sister, brother and me while we swam in our inflatable pool…
…the same yard where my one and only birthday party was held, looked smaller than I remembered.
The house looked smaller too, much smaller, when we went inside. When my cousins and I were very young, we never noticed how completely we filled the space between the door to the upstairs and the kitchen table. Now in our fifties, my cousin and I both commented on how small that space was. I marveled that Dad had been able to right angle his wheelchair around two corners to get to the bathroom from either the living room or his bedroom.
Scanning the living room, I wondered how we crammed the upright piano, the TV with rabbit ears, the fold out couch, grandma’s walnut desk, and an upholstered chair with a large footstool, and found room for company.
I thanked the present owner for welcoming into her home and allowing me to take pictures to show Mom and my siblings. Leaving with my cousin, I realized that our family of five–and Grandpa Stratton for a few months–filled the house to overflowing and then some.
Ever since, my thoughts have overflowed with memories of the years on the street where I once lived.
- Dad sailing down the hill by our house in his wheel chair with one of us in his lap.
- Doing dishes with my little brother in the kitchen…until Uncle Jim came in and said, “John, that’s women’s work,” and Little Brother went on strike.
- Learning how to make snickerdoodles with Mom.
- Her pride in the new Singer sewing machine in the dining room corner.
Small memories of a small child over a handful of years. Indescribably precious. Forever held dear. They live inside me and warm my heart.
This Fantastic Friday post comes from October of 2007. It’s one of the first blog posts ever published on Down the Gravel Road. I can’t remember the name of the person who’s funeral is mentioned. But every day, I remember and treasure the lesson my dad taught me each day of his life.
On Monday, I went to a funeral for a man from our church. His children paid tribute to their dad during the service. He’d been a wonderful father, who took them hunting and fishing. He coached Little League, encouraging and teaching every child on the team. They mentioned that throughout their adult lives, when they reunited with childhood friends, their friends said hello and in the next breath, “How’s your dad?”
Maybe I shouldn’t confess this, but their memories saddened me. They reminded me of all my father couldn’t do with us. Don’t get me wrong. Dad was a vibrant man who loved children. He would have been a great Little League coach. And though he wasn’t a hunter or fisherman, he would have led our 4-H club. He would have taught us to raise, show and judge cattle because that was what he loved.
But he couldn’t do any of that because multiple sclerosis put him in a wheelchair when he was thirty, my sister was six, I was three and my brother was a baby. So I was sad at Monday’s funeral, not only for the family of the man who had died but also for what our family lost to Dad’s illness.
For the last few days, God has comforted me with truth. Over and over I’ve pictured Dad in his wheelchair while he lived at home or in his bed at the nursing home. And in every picture, his wide face is serious, even sad. Until one of his children or grandkids comes into his presence. Then his face breaks into a big grin that shows his square, white teeth and his green eyes light with delight.
And that is what Dad taught me: a father’s delight in the presence of his children. His delight didn’t come from what we could do for him. He was delighted because we were his children. We had taken time to be with him.
So now I’m thinking about God the Father. When I enter His presence, does His face light up? After all, I’m His child too.