Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mothers Day, Part 3

On Mothers Day I remembered my mother. Part Two was for Lois. Of course, we remember another mother in our family, who stands in the background somewhat because of the other memories. She deserves to be remembered and honoured.
Two days ago was her and Dad's anniversary. Fourteen years ago David Climenhaga and Verna Mae Ressler were wed. Yesterday was her birthday, so this time of year is full of times to celebrate. Today is my birthday: I now have 57 years from which to reflect on life.
I remember Verna Mae from Missions Office, when Lois and I went to Zimbabwe (1988 to 1992). Lois knew her before that through connections in New Mexico, where Verna Mae worked with the Navajo people, and where Lois lived for three years as a young girl. (Lois' Dad was the clinic doctor at the Brethren in Christ Navajo Mission in the mid 1950s.) Always we knew her as someone who cared for many details around her, competently and carefully.
Now we know her as mother, living with and loving Dad. They have lived together, played together, travelled to many places, and made a home for us to visit from so far away in Manitoba and for our sons to stop in. We are blessed by her love and care and presence, and honour our mother and grandmother on Mothers Day, Part 3.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More About Lois

These three pictures come from London, on the way to southern Africa in 2003. The second and third pictures were taken on the London bridge, with the Tower Bridge in the background. As our guide told us, the original London Bridge was sold to an American, who was somewhat startled to find that he did not get the Tower Bridge. But then he didn't buy the Tower Bridge!
I put these pictures up because Lois looked at the staged picture from our backyard, which Nevin had taken for a class, and wondered if the two from the London Bridge weren't better. I don't know. Any picture in which I get to be with her is a good picture in my book.
This year marks our 30th anniversary. We have travelled to three continents and lived in four different countries. We have realized some of my dreams, and now her dreams are also taking more realistic shape in our lives. When we got married I was the dreamer and impulsive one. Now I like stability and consistency, and Lois surprises me with new ideas and dreams.
Just now she was talking about microloans with MEDATrust, an organization which promotes microloans in developing countries. I have thought from time to time that we are doing what we should be doing to help others in this world. She keeps reminding me that we can do more, that God wants us to do more.
It's neat being married to someone who keeps growing and developing and discovering more of what means to live in the image of God.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mothers Day, Part 2

Because of the memories of my own mother on Mothers Day, other mothers in my life get mentioned second. You can't really rank people, placing this one before that one, and no such intention exists in remembering my own mother. Her death on Mothers Day 1991 is sufficient reason for remembering her as we do. Her beauty and character would also be enough by themselves.

But of course I remember Lois on Mothers Day. This year she was visiting her mother a week ago, so we celebrated her special day this evening, going out for supper to a nearby restaurant and enjoying quiet meal and conversation.

We met some 32 years ago. I had just returned from three years of teaching secondary school in Zimbabwe. Mother invited three young women for lunch. They were from our church and were attending Goshen College, and Lois was one of them. We had met 10 years before. Our family had come back from almost 20 years in southern Africa, and we stayed with her family. I played chess and table tennis with her older brother, who later became my classmate in college. I didn't notice his younger sister. I was 15; she was 11.

Ten years later in Nappanee, I noticed her. We dated for a year or so. Then she went off to Belize for Goshen College's "Study Service Trimester" (SST). Before she left we stopped dating. I thought it would be good for both of us to be free to pursue other relationships while she was gone. I was wrong! I don't remember how long it took for me to know how wrong I was, but a few weeks later I wrote to Lois to ask if our relationship could be back on. She agreed, and sometime after she returned from SST we were engaged and married. It has been almost 30 years.

The picture at the top was staged: Nevin wanted a picture for a photography class he was taking. But there is no pretending in how important Lois is to me. I don't know how I would have experienced the past 3o years without her. I know that my life would have been much poorer, and I know that I am more grateful than I can express. Happy Mothers Day, Lois!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Welcome Home!

Last night I went to the airport to pick up Lois. The plan was simple. Lois went to Ohio last week to spend mothers day with her mother and younger sister. She was set to return from Dayton to Chicago to Winnipeg, arriving about 10 pm.

Kyle and I drove in from Steinbach, arriving just before 10. The board showed that her flight was delayed (en retard) until midnight. I am grateful to Kyle for accompanying me. We spent the next hour and a half cruising around Winnipeg: Grant park to Corydon to Osborne Village (sort of a miniature Greenwich Village, I'm told), on to Broadway, Portage, and north to Red River College, and finally back to the airport.

The board was unchanged, and at midnight around 100 passengers emerged noisily to the waiting crowd. Passengers from international flights come in to the lower level at the Winnipeg airport, go through Immigration and Customs, then pass through opaque doors to those waiting for them. The trouble was that no one from this noisy crowd was from Chicago. They had arrived from Minneapolis. The flight from Chicago was still "en retard", with no clear idea of when it would arrive.

We learned later that Lois boarded her flight on schedule in Dayton, then sat in the aircraft on the runway for about three hours because of stormy weather in Chicago. The controllers refused to let the plane take off when they knew it could not land in Chicago; so they waited. And waited some more. About the time Kyle and I first checked the board in Winnipeg (10pm), Lois was landing in Chicago.

An hour later she was on her way to Winnipeg, while we waited in the terminal. Kyle was cheerful, enjoying the random responses of the few others who were still waiting for the Chicago flight. I was less calm, walking up to the observation deck and back to burn off the energy that comes from frustration and annoyance. I talked with another man waiting for one of the passengers, and we agreed that we were needed to hold up the central pillar of the waiting area. So we leaned against it. Then I talked with another woman who turned out to come from near Johannesburg. Her husband is (if I remember the story right) planning to bringing the King Pie franchise from South Africa to Winnipeg. So perhaps I can get some good meat pies now in Winnipeg!

The board gave no new information, and no one from the airlines or airport was left around to give information. There were security personnel, and two of them did some checking for us, finally telling us that the flight had now landed. But no one came out: another delay, waiting for baggage. Then everyone else came through the automatic opaque doors, but no Lois.

As people went through the doors, we could see others waiting at the baggage carousel. Lois and I saw each other, and she gave a gesture of helplessness, waiting for bags that never came. Finally at about 1:30 am she too emerged, baggage-less, but with a form that promised she would get her bags the next day, sent out by bus to Steinbach. So today she has to go to the bus terminal and pick up her luggage. We hope it's there.

We got home about 3, and to bed and sleep around 4 am. A late night, and today has enough to do. But she arrived safely, and I am grateful. And the visit with mother and Janet was good, and I am grateful. Waiting isn't so bad, even if I do dislike it. At least, when we're together again, the waiting doesn't seem as bad. For the longer separation .... We'll cross that bridge when we come to the river.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mothers Day

Both of my sisters have already posted, remembering our Mother, who died on Mothers Day in 1991. Sixteen years ago, 12 May, 1991. Donna tells the story of Mother's last months: surgery on the day after Easter to replace a defective valve; complications after the surgery including a staph infection that eventually took Mother's life; the last days as family and mother knew that she was dying; her death on that particular Mothers Day.

It is a story worth telling, worth remembering. Mother was the centre of our family, as we knew well. Dad has told us often that his life would have been less fulfilling, less significant without her. I have often thought that Dad and Mother complemented each other particularly well. She grew up in dairy country in western Pennsylvania. Morrison's Cove: a beautiful place, which always remained as her heart's home, I think; yet a place that would have been too small for her if she had stayed there all her life. Dad grew up in Zimbabwe, and Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, and California. He has told us how he once filled out his address on the front of a map, reflecting his own sense that the world itself was his address, and that he could not call any one place, this one or that, his home.

She gave Dad roots; he gave Mother the world. Both benefited and their lives showed it.

Donna told how she and Denise both spent time with Mother before she died, but on her advice I stayed in school in Kentucky, waiting for the end of the semester to come home. I have never (that I remember) felt as though she gave me bad advice, or that Lois and I made the wrong choice. But of course not seeing Mother in those last six weeks remains a loss in the whole experience. Some years later (1995, I think it was) I did have an experience that helped bring further closure.

Bethel was a member of the congregation in which I was the pastor, a small church of 40 or so people gathering each Sunday morning. Bethel had three daughters in the church as well. She was in the hospital, and I knew from the family (the daughters were close to my age) that their mother was in serious condition. One afternoon they called and asked me to come quickly; I drove to the hospital and joined them for the waiting that precedes death. The medical personnel had said that they thought Bethel would die that evening, and the family asked if I would be with them.

I remember well enough how the evening went. We waited sometimes at Bethel's bedside. She had been in a coma and unresponsive. We waited outside of her room in the "waiting room", talking as people do in the presence of death: mundane conversation, as we cloak our deepest thoughts with everyday realities.

Then the nurses called us, hearing the distinctive breathing that heralds the last moments of physical life. As we stood beside her, I took Bethel's hand. She looked up at me, focused clearly, and a tear came from her eyes. Her daughters became very excited. (I normally avoid the use of "very": a weak word, but the only one I can think of for this account.) "She recognizes you!" Their mother had been gone from our awareness for more than a day, but she was clearly back with us. Holding her hand, I prayed aloud for her, for us, for her family, for her church. As I prayed, the monitor beeping in the background went flat -- I now know what "flatlining" is. She stopped breathing, and she was gone, at least gone from us.

In some indefinable way, as I held Bethel's hand while she died, I held my mother's hand also. They were two different people, but they walked the same path, the path that we all walk. It is a strange path from our perspective on this side of the curtain. I and her daughters and their husbands walked with Bethel as far as we could, and then she was gone. She walked through a door, or behind a curtain, somewhere where we could not see or go. One moment we were in each other's presence; the next, we weren't.

The old song says, "You've got to walk that lonesome valley, you've got to walk it by yourself. Nobody else can walk it for you. You've got to walk it by yourself." True, but not completely. Bethel, and Mother, and each of us goes on alone, at least alone so far as our eyes here can see. But we all walk the same path. And Bethel gave me the great gift of seeing where my own Mother walked, and taking me as far as anyone can be led on that path.

I think also of C.S. Lewis' words when his wife died -- something like: "She smiled, but not at me." Mother, and Bethel, and all who truly walk with God, walk the valley with a kind of joy you can't get here. Perhaps that sadness and joy were mingled in the look Donna describers from their last Thursday together. Mothers Day is bittersweet indeed, but I'm not sure that the bitter remains forever bitter. Always grief, always sorrow, always on this side of the grave an emptiness that only Mother could fill. But also always, on both sides of the grave, a joy deeper than any sorrow. "For all the saints, who from their labours rest; Who Thee by faith before the world confessed; Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed: Allelluia!"

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Late Nights

These weeks are my busiest of the year, even busier than Christmas. Three weeks ago was the last week of classes. One could see students standing straighter as the load of assignments lifted, and teachers bowing over as the same load descended. Two weeks ago I was marking at full speed, while also taking in the faculty retreat. This week were the doctor of ministry modules. I direct the programme, so although I did not teach, I was still on call throughout. The last paper is now finished; the modules are over. Two more weeks of classes in Global Studies (which I am responsible for arranging) lie ahead, but the heaviest times lie behind.

This is the context, then, for last Sunday. Just before 11 pm the phone rang: one of our incoming doctoral students was stranded at the airport. I started calling around, trying to find out what had happened, and finally got in touch with the student himself. Albert's flight from Calgary had been cancelled. He had been put on a flight from Vancouver which stopped over in Calgary, and arrived about 45 minutes late. Meanwhile the student who was to pick him up arrived at the airport, found no evidence of a flight from Calgary, and after waiting an extra half hour, he went back to Providence.

All this we figured out later. At 11:25 all I could do was put on some clothes, get in the car, and drive to the airport. I met Albert at 12:30 am, brought him back to our house (quicker than stopping by the school) by 1:30, and then went to bed. Of course the adrenalin was flowing, and I went to sleep rather later than that. Sometimes you can't just "go to sleep".

The next morning Albert and I were up on schedule and off for the day at Providence. What I notice about the whole thing is how little trouble it actually is to respond to surprise events. I was tired; but doctors in emergency rooms would smile at the thought of so little. Truck drivers regularly deal with harder schedules. To lose sleep one night is less than new parents experience every night -- and forget remarkably quickly as their children get older.

Instead I notice how I had a good chance to be with Albert, and appreciate his genuine interest in what is happening in my life and at the school. We had a brief chance to talk about some research he hopes to do. In all, it was a serendipitous event, good to find oneself in, rather than an imposition or hardship.

There are of course lessons for how to handle airport pickups: provide the person being picked up with a number to call (a cell on the pick up person would work well) to give any changes of plans when they happen. But more important is the goodness of the events we experience. My sister asked recently what lessons others have taught us. I remember this from my mother: good and bad things happen all the time and you can't help that; but you can decide how you will respond to what happens. That personal choice usually matters more than anything. I wish I could always remember that.