When Saying Goodbye is Not Forever

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Allen as a toddler – probably around the time his mother died.

Saying goodbye is not forever if you belong to the family of God. I know that in my head, and I believe it with my heart.

On a Friday evening in January, my brother Allen crossed the shores of the Jordan and entered the Promised Land for eternity. It happened on his oldest brother’s 91st birthday and also on the birthday of their mother. While those at his bedside watched his last breaths as he left this earth and told him goodbye, I believe there were those in Heaven anxiously waiting his arrival.

Jesus, for sure. He paid the way for Allen to arrive there redeemed and free from pain, burden, and sin. Jesus was with Him, I know. He promised those who serve Him that we are not alone. “For I,” He promised, “am with you.” I know Jesus was there.

Allen’s mother. I know she was there, and I think she was probably closest to the shore. She never had a chance to say goodbye to her youngest son. Allen was only two-and-a-half when she was ushered into Heaven following the birth of Allen’s baby sister.  Allen acknowledged that he did not remember his mother. He’d heard stories and seen pictures. He had talked to people who knew her. For Allen, crossing the shores of the Jordan brought him face to face with the mother he never knew. What a reunion that must have been!

His father (Floyd) after whom he was named and who died when Allen Floyd was twenty, almost fifty-eight years ago. From his father, Allen inherited his inquisitiveness, his ingenuity and his ability to figure out how things worked.

His next older sister, Mary.  She died at the age of three of scarlet fever, a year to the day before his mother died. Allen didn’t remember her, either. He’d heard the stories and had siblings who remembered Mary’s spunk. Yet, he never remembered the days of playing with her as a toddler.

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Allen with a younger and an older sister

Three brothers and the sister who became his mother when he was two. They were on the other side, waiting. His fourteen-year-old sister cuddled and rocked him after the death of their mother and became a stabilizing force, not only for Allen but for his siblings as well.

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A tire makes a wonderful horse! Allen and his baby sister.

The brothers were his cohorts in crime and as equally entertaining, hard-working, and inventive as was Allen. There was competition, connectedness, and camaraderie among these boys for sure.

When the middle brother died a few years ago, Allen contemplated all those goodbyes. He told us, “There were five boys. Now there are only two: the oldest and the best looking.”

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Circa 1958-The brothers from youngest to oldest

And now? Now only the oldest one is left.

A host of uncles, aunts, and cousins (and grandparents). It’s a big extended family and we’re all getting older. Each year, the ranks on the other side increase. Heaven is more inviting than when we were younger. For the believer, Heaven is going Home.

Who Allen Was

My brother was an inventor and a tease. While he wasn’t interested much in books, he could figure things out and get them to work. At the grade school he attended, Allen was the first student the teachers called on when there was a problem with the furnace (back in the day when the janitor was not on duty and the teachers took care of the furnace themselves).

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Allen enjoyed having the last laugh at folks, like the time he had a driver’s license in two states because of where he was living and working. He lost the one license but retained the other one. An aunt, who didn’t know he had a second license, scolded him for driving without a license. He just allowed her to think what she thought and never told her the truth. Oh, did he have fun with that one!

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He was always figuring out how to do things to make it easier and faster. There was the time he rigged up a power drill to the Squeezo strainer when his sisters came to their house to make homemade applesauce together.  Ever after that, the Squeezo was powered by electricity instead of arm-power. I heard about it and had my husband try it with our Squeezo, and it worked (of course). He’d never tell you what he was going to do. If you’d ask, he’d just get that impish grin on his face, then proceed to set up his contraption. You’d find out what he was up to when he was good and ready.

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Great-nephews from Nebraska, Delaware, and Pennsylvania wait for Uncle Allen’s homemade ice cream at a family reunion.

Every spring, Allen drove his tractor to the Home Place and plowed the garden so our mother could till and plant her garden. Eventually, he invented a plow-tiller combination that readied the soil so no more tilling was needed.

In the summertime, he took his tractor and ice cream machine to festivals, celebrations, church, and family events. He promised to serve his homemade ice cream for our youngest daughter’s wedding – but she’s still waiting for her groom.

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In the autumn,  Allen shared his homemade ice cream with us at the annual Springs Folk Festival and helped himself to the homemade bread we made at the bread booth just up the hill from him. His family served the cream, but he kept the machine running and enjoyed tinkering to keep things going as smoothly as possible.

In the winter, he’d be out plowing driveways for neighbors, helping stranded motorists get unstuck, sometimes providing transportation for them. He was always available for his sisters at the Home Place when there were issues with the coal furnace in the cellar. He looked out for his sisters in many ways. Every one of us was proud to claim him as a brother.

Allen was the brother who lived at the home the longest. I was twelve when he got married, but he was always around. As kids, we knew him as a tease. If he wasn’t tickling someone, he was pestering and teasing. I remember the day he told me that kids who played like we did ended up going crazy when they got older. I decided I didn’t think I’d mind going crazy when I was older if it meant having that much fun today. So I kept playing outside with my siblings, pretending and imagining and creating. Allen shook his head at us, but we knew he loved us (his six younger from-another-mother sisters) just the same. He didn’t like cats and promised us a dog if we’d get rid of our cats. Allen kept his promise and we got our first of many St. Bernard dogs whom we named Julie.

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Over the years, he worked in different capacities: farming, excavating, fertilizing, hauling hay, building, and inventing. He’d say goodbye to one chapter and immediately begin another one. Because he moved in so many circles, he had friends from many walks of life. Everybody knew Allen Miller.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1974, a snowstorm stranded motorists on the interstate near our western Maryland hometown. With his leg still in a cast following an accident, Allen spent the entire night bringing people to safety. On one trip, he had thirteen people plus two dogs and two cats in his trail duster. We would have expected nothing less. This is who Allen was.

In 2002, Allen and our brother Lewie chauffered twenty-four family members on a 2000 mile round trip for a wedding using a chartered bus. When the bus broke down on the way home, the brothers argued and cajoled among themselves on the best way to fix it. After several hours, they rigged things well enough to get the bus to run and brought us all the way home, none the worse for the wear.

Ingenious as ever, he showed up at a family reunion one summer with a cherry picker to use as a swing. We said, “Only Allen would think of this . . . ”  The kids were enthralled and it was the highlight of the weekend.

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The cherry picker-turned-into-a-swing

He developed friendships and relationships and garnered respect from old and young alike. We knew that, but it was rewarding to hear others’ stories. A farmer neighbor told us, “I liked when Allen borrowed my equipment because he always brought it back running better than when he took it.”  No surprise to those of us who knew him.

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Solving the world’s problems with a brother-in-law during a family reunion.

That’s how life was with Allen. He was unassuming. I don’t think he realized the way he touched lives just by being a friend. Friendships and relationships were better after Allen had his hands in them. There were times I called him for advice, and there were times when he quietly stepped up to bat in situations when he knew his influence would be positive.

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We will miss Allen. We missed him before he left because things changed after his stroke. There were times we’d say to each other, “We could ask Allen, but he won’t know now.”

The stroke nearly three years ago changed our Allen as we knew him. He still had his sense of humor and his desire to help others. Physical limitations prevented that, and in time his ability to understand and reason also changed.

In some ways, we lost him after his stroke. We learned to say goodbye to the things he used to be able to do. Now we have lost him again – but not forever. Because, for the Christian, we never say good-bye. We only say good night, for we know we will see him again when our mourning turns to Morning and eternity arrives.

 

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“I’m a Mother, Not an Octopus!”

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One of the biggest differences between a human mother and a mother octopus is the amount of “arms” each one has. I used that analogy often when my kids had something they wanted me to do for them.

With a half-dozen wanting homework help or help with chores, there were days I felt pulled in many directions. Some of it was my fault. I allowed my kids to expect me to help them. By bailing them out, I taught them that they could expect me to bail them out. By going ahead and doing their assigned tasks for them because I wanted it done now, I taught them that if they just poked around and waited, they had a good chance of having it done for them. Oh, they were smart kids. They surely knew how to play me.

Like any mother, the octopus is protective of its young. Yet the octopus is different, in that, after the months of caring for its eggs, it dies soon after they hatch. We are not alike in that the octopus has a nerve poison (did you know that?!) which it secretes in its saliva. It can also change colors to blend in with its surroundings.

What I didn’t realize back in the day when I was raising my kids, is that the mother octopus can produce 56,000 eggs. Then she “sews” them together and guards them with her life. She neither feeds or socializes as she protects her unborn young. Then, in the last ounce of energy, she “blows” her babies out of the cave she has provided, and dies. It’s a beautiful picture of a mother’s hard work and sacrifice for her children, and one that I was not inclined to make.

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I’m not like a mother octopus in that I am not willing to go without food or rest for months at a time. I’m not like a mother octopus in that I can’t change colors (although I was good at changing moods when my kids got on my last nerve).

I did learn, however, to help my kids realize that since I was not an octopus, I could not be all things to all kids. I only had two arms (as did they) and was only capable of doing so much.

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Therefore, one of my frequent lines became, “I’m a mother, not an octopus!”

That simply meant, “Do it yourself.”

It also meant, “You’re very capable so you can do this without help from me.”

Or it might have meant, “You need to learn to step up to the plate and take care of it yourself instead of expecting me to bail you out.”

Indeed, it was a reminder to myself: “It’s his job and it’s your job to teach him responsibility by seeing to it that he does his job instead of bailing him out.”

I’m all for helping a kid when he’s struggling and I’m good at pinch-hitting in times of need. Yet I also recognize that the sooner we help our kids learn responsibility, the easier it will be to maintain order in the household, and the smoother everything will go.

Maybe the next time you feel pulled in too many directions, consider whether the pulling is coming because you have not been firm enough or have bailed a kid out one too many times.

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Try my line: “I’m a mother, not an octopus.” Watch your kids show you how well they can function all by themselves!

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How to Respect Your Spouse without Defending Him

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To begin with, it’s okay to disagree with your spouse. Disagreement does not equal disrespect. It’s even okay to let him know when he does something that you don’t think is a good idea. In fact, it’s more than a good idea, because you really ought to let him know. What isn’t okay is for a gal to put down her man in such a way that she is being disrespectful. If a gal agrees with everything her man does, then does he really need her?

Secondly, I assure you that I have little tolerance for women who belittle their spouse in front of others. It matters not if it’s in the company of just one person, a group of women, the kids, neighbors, or church folks. You don’t have to say a word to belittle your spouse; you can do it with eye movement, facial expressions, and body posture. Tell me it ain’t so!  Belittling your man is emasculating him, which is totally counter to “reverencing” one’s spouse. The scripture asks the Christian wife to reverence her husband.

So what’s a gal to do when she knows that others are wrongly affected by the choices (or lack of them) of her spouse? This can be related to work/co-workers, committees (social or church), or family situations. Unless your spouse is perfect, it’s happened to you. Sometimes others come to you expecting you to tell your spouse their grievances.

For some reason, there are gals who think that showing respect means defending their spouse no matter what. It puts them in a pickle. For to defend him is to say they agree with him. Yet, they think that indicating that they don’t feel good about a decision is being disrespectful to their spouse.Of course, there is a time, a place, and an attitude – all of which must be right if we are going to be respectful.

My point here is the other extreme: the woman who defends her spouse to others – no matter what he says or does – because he is her spouse. For some reason, we seem to think that if anyone finds out that we are not in agreement, it will make us not look good. After all, a gal will say, I’m his helpmeet, his support, and his chief admirer. How can I disagree with him and be all of these things at the same time?

For starters, a spouse is not a true helpmeet, support, or true admirer if she is not honest. To be supportive of our spouse means we are honest with him. Being untruthful is not being faithful to our commitment to love and honor. When we are dishonest, we are not honoring the one about whom we are lying.

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How is a gal to disagree with her husband and still be respectful?  I have some ideas, and here they are.

  1. Don’t tell all. Only tell what is necessary. If your spouse makes a decision that affects others and you are asked about that decision, it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry for the way this affected you.” You don’t have to say, “I told him this wasn’t a good idea and I just knew this was going to happen!” This tells the ones who are affected that you recognize how his decision (or lack of it) affected them. It doesn’t excuse him or defend him. It also absolves you of responsibility.
  2. Don’t defend. A few weeks ago I sent a friend a private message because my hubby asked me to. This gal’s hubby wasn’t responding to numerous voice mail messages. We both felt it was because he’s a busy guy, but my man still needed to talk to this guy. The reply of the spouse was this. “I’m sorry. I’ll give him the message.”  You see what she did there? She acknowledged that her man had been delinquent in responding, but she didn’t defend him. She apologized which said she recognized this was inconvenient for others and gave us contact info to get in touch with her man. No excuses (He’s just so busy; if you only knew!) no putting him down (I don’t know what’s the matter with him), just total respect. Total recognition and not defending someone who had slacked a little on the job. She’s in his corner, as evidenced by her response.
  3. Don’t be a message bearer. If someone has a grievance with your spouse, encourage that person to talk to him instead of you. It’s not your job to relay messages from others about his failures. Refusing to be a message bearer is not being dishonest, nor it is defending him. It’s being in his corner. If the problem is big enough for someone to think it needs to be addressed, then the biblical thing is for that person to bring it to his attention, and not yours. If a person won’t talk to your spouse (even if she takes someone with her), then it must not be that large a problem. Don’t get caught up using someone else’s grievances to get a message to your spouse.
  4. Don’t deny the truth. When you have to make choices based on the wishes of your spouse, it’s okay to tell your friends that you’d love to do such-and-such, but out of respect for your spouse’s wishes, you will defer to him. It’s okay to change your schedule and sometimes meetings with friends because of your spouse, and it’s more than okay to let your friends know that while it might appear to be shunning on your part, you have made the choice because you are honoring your spouse. What isn’t okay is not being truthful about the why behind your actions. Your friends should not need to wonder if they’ve done something or if you’re upset with them. They should know the truth.
  5. Honor with your pocketbook. Or something like that, anyhow. Your pocketbook or other things.  Dave hates a large pocketbook.  When I go shopping, I like to carry a larger bag so I can stuff all my small packages in the bag and not carry individual packages. In my case, I am likely to leave a small package behind in some store when I lay it down to purchase more items. We have an agreement: I don’t carry a large pocketbook when we go shopping together and he carries all my packages. If I go shopping with other gals or by myself, I carry whatever size I want. He doesn’t care because he’s not with me. Your issue probably isn’t the size of your pocketbook. It might be something you wear or something you do or even places you go. To continue doing something when you know your spouse isn’t happy about it is disrespectful. It emasculates him. It places the wife over her spouse every single time.

When we follow these principles, it goes a long way in honoring and respecting our spouse even when we disagree. Following these principles helps us live with integrity, not only with our spouse, but also with others. Our husbands don’t need us to defend them. They need us to honor and respect their position as the leader in the relationship. Our spouses need to be elevated instead of emasculated.

What changes could you make this week to show honor and respect to your spouse even when you think he’s in the wrong? For starters, choose one of the points listed above, focus on developing this change – then watch and see what God is going to do!

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A Teacher’s Apology

When school work was caught up, we were allowed to read or find another way to entertain ourselves. My classroom was one of four in the school. Our classroom housed about twenty-five students, grades four through six.

As was our practice, if something struck us as being funny, we’d push our chairs back and peer into our desks, trying to stifle our laughter. Rearranging one’s desk was a quick cure for laughter that threatened to spill out into the silent air. Plus, looking into a messy desk kept one from looking at the other students who were also laughing, which would only have heightened the problem.

Our teachers knew that our laughter was normally not from naughtiness and, on usual school days, a little laughter in fun was okay. Students also liked to hide what they were reading by using a textbook as a cover. That was easier to do if a child put the opened textbook on his lap, put a smaller library book on top, scooted his chair back just far enough that he could put his forehead on his desk, and read to his heart’s content. The teacher walking by noticed only the textbook on the lap and assumed her student was being studious.

I was guilty of doing that a few times, but most times, my schoolwork was done when I chose a library book for entertainment. Once my work was done, I’d pull out my latest reading material and block out the sounds of shuffling feet, pencil marks being erased, and quiet whispers of a teacher helping a student.

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On this particular day, our teacher’s countenance was more dour than normal. We all sensed her mood and there seemed to be no explanation for it. Certainly, I didn’t think we were the problem, for no behavior problems had surfaced during the day. It’s possible she wasn’t feeling well herself; but whatever the reason, it was not apparent to the rest of us.

Putting my head on my desk and placing my book on my lap, I started reading. Page after page turned under my hands and I was oblivious to what was taking place in the room. Yet, even when a student feels oblivious, he still has a sense of what is happening.

That day was no different than others. I vaguely remembered stifled laughter of other students, but I was so engrossed in my book that I just kept on reading. Suddenly, the teacher spoke, reprimanding other students sitting near me. Apparently, their laughter made her feel that they were laughing at her. She scolded them, and they maintained their innocence.

Her voice penetrated through the words on my library book page.

“Then tell me why,” she demanded sharply, “is Gertrude sitting there with her head down?”

I lifted my head slowly, blinking my eyes at the brightness of the room.

“I’m reading,” I answered her truthfully.

Total silence reigned. The teacher dismissed the subject and class continued.

A few days later during a class discussion, my teacher spoke to all of us about her actions on that day.

“I need to apologize to you all,” she said, “and especially,” her eyes caught mine, “to you, Gertrude. I judged you harshly without getting my facts straight first. Will you forgive me?”

My respect for this teacher soared, and all was forgiven.

The apology eased the conscience of the teacher. More importantly, it modeled for me and for the entire classroom what it means to be authentic and real.

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