Thursday, August 13, 2020

To eternity and beyond

 A daughter's perspective on her mother's journey home

August 6: The text

The text from Brooke, my niece, was waiting for me when I got finished with another slog through the woods. “Grandma is going to the ER. She’s vomiting dark stuff. Possibly a GI bleed.” An hour later: “Still vomiting. They’re doing blood work now.”

Oh dear. My dear, sweet mother is in trouble. At 92, she struggles. Two years ago she had to move from independent living to the assisted care section of the retirement home. She is weary and worn. This once vibrant, energy-filled woman who could work circles around everyone can barely manage to use her walker to get to the bathroom. She is a cancer survivor and had a coronary stent placed back when she was about my age. She also had a pacemaker inserted some time ago, and reportedly has a leaky mitral valve. “There’s nothing they can do for me,” she mourns. I get the feeling she is disappointed when she wakes in the morning. She is ready to go home.

Times like this make me introspective and sad. There is so much to emulate in my mother; clearly a role model on so many levels. But now she is tired and wants to go “home.” She’s been alone for a long time, my dad dying in 1986. For the longest time she traveled the world to aid missionaries and teach children. She drove thousands of miles to speak to audiences large and small. She wrote a book that has encouraged many. She directed church choirs forever. But now, we are separated by hundreds of miles, me in my office and she in a hospital bed.

My mother taught me to pray by example. An index card for each day of the week, those cards guided our breakfast prayers before heading off to school. As one card got filled with names, she stapled another to it. When God answered a prayer, she made note of the date. Some of the people on those cards have been prayed for steadily for over sixty-five years. Should mother pass, I plan on cherishing those cards.

I don’t know what will happen with Mother in the following hours and days. But I am grateful that God holds her future securely in His hands. I pray that He encourages her and makes His presence known in this very moment.

Today’s Truth: The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; Psalm 41:3a


Aug 7: Turn your eyes

Yesterday I got THE text. Today I got THE call. Mother was gone. Just like that, her physical struggle ended. She went home to see her Savior. I wasn’t there. Gary and I were stuck in traffic on I-81. It will take some time for me to process that fact.

I am thankful Mother was not alone. My niece and nephew had been vigilant ever since Mother was taken to the hospital yesterday morning. They stayed by her side, talking to her, watching her sleep, and wondering if this was going to be the time mother was 100% right about something being 100% wrong.

There was something wrong. Terribly wrong. She had developed a GI bleed, vomiting up a black, grainy substance. She also aspirated some of that gunk, compromising her lungs. We had a decision to make. Should we let the doctors intubate her in order to do a scope and identify the source of bleeding, a source they may or may not be able to fix? Realistically, it was unlikely she could ever come off the vent should that happen. Or, do we try to make her as comfortable as possible and let nature take its course? We decided on the latter knowing she signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order and wanted nothing to prolong her life.

As we drove, a constant barrage of updates and information distribution occurred. Brooke texted me and my three brothers, and I passed along those messages to my family. Some of the data given to me hinted of an impending cardiovascular collapse. When asked if she was in pain, she moved her head slightly to the right and left as if to say “no.” That was a relief. My brothers, in the meantime, were making decisions on how and when to close the mileage gap that separated them from her.

My phone rang. It was Brooke. “I am so sorry. We were playing hymns for her all morning. I had just finished singing The Old Rugged Cross when her breathing slowed. But as I sang Turn your eyes upon Jesus, she drew in one last breath."

She did turn her eyes to Jesus and looked into his wonderful face. Then she was gone.

Last night Mother told my nephew it was time to fly away. And fly away she did, right into the arms of Jesus. Tonight she sings praises. She reunites with my dad, my grandparents, her three brothers, and so many others.

My heart aches and tears cascade. But as she often prayed, I pray for her. “May the angels go before, behind and beside you.”

Today’s Truth: When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54, 55


August 8: Stuff

With August 6 came the text telling us of mom’s admission to the hospital. With August 7 came the call of Mother’s final breath this side of eternity. And today, August 8, brought the reminder that what is left behind in the form of “stuff” is of little to no value.

It was a surreal day. Gary and I, along with my brother John and niece Brooke met with the funeral director. There were plenty of laughs as we recalled happy, even raucous times when we were all together as a family. But tsunamis of tears and grief flattened us when we least expected it. It was odd to be allowed into her room where she spent the last couple of years. I almost expected her to come out of the bathroom and brighten up when she realized she finally had visitors despite the pandemic. But alas, her chair was empty, just as she left it. All of her personal belongings sat on shelves, hung in closets, or were tucked away in her lone dresser drawers. Where to being?

We started in on a plan, piling donatable items onto the sofa. Then we stuffed large garbage bags with magazines, old notebooks, and mounds of greeting cards and letters from those she held special—which was just about everyone. Each of us selected pictures, wall art, hand-made quilts and other mementos that held extra special meaning, making sure to make piles for my siblings who had yet to arrive. But when it was all said and done, the stuff was just stuff. That stuff would not go with her in the casket. That stuff would fail to make the trip into eternity.

What mattered was the legacy Mother left: her unrelenting, disciplined prayers, the countless folks she introduced to the Gospel, her service to church and those in need, her love for choral music, the travel to the uttermost parts of the world in service to the King, and her passionate love and care for her family, friends, and anyone she met. She never held back. Even the posts showing up on social media give testimony to the difference she made in the lives of so many.

Saying good-bye to Mother makes me realize I am an earthly orphan. I can no longer pick up the phone and call. I can’t ask her about that little detail in one of her stories. And yet, I know she is exactly where she needs to be--and wanted to be--in the presence of Jesus and reunited with all those who have gone before.

Glory in that, Mother Dearest. Sing and shout and praise to your heart’s content. You no longer need any “stuff” other than that. I love you.

Today’s Truth: For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1


August 9: It didn’t just happen

My mother’s life was full of It Didn’t Just Happen moments. In fact, she wrote an entire book entitled just that. Nothing is coincidence. Everything is sovereignly ordained. Every. Last. Detail.

Even in these last few days, our family has experienced God’s careful planning, even if only recognized in the rear view mirror. It all began when we got the call that Mother had been taken to the hospital. Should I get in the car and start driving, or wait until the next morning to begin the journey? I chose the latter but talked to Mother on the phone that evening. Then I set about to find a place to stay. The intention was that I would visit for a few days before returning home. I was not planning on her passing so quickly.

But everything changed when the phone rang as I was driving along. It was Brooke, my niece. Mother had taken a turn for the worse. It wasn’t looking good. I turned around and headed home. I really needed Gary to be with me if Mom was going to pass through the pearly gates. The trip that Mother in 1946normally takes six and a half hours extended to ten hours due to multiple accidents and delays. In the meantime, the dreaded call came that mom had passed. We missed it. But because we weren’t there, Mother was ushered into eternity to the sweet song Brooke sang, Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Mother deserved that. Mother needed that.

Yesterday we went through Mother’s apartment, separating the “keepers” from the donations. Later on, Gary began to research the intricacies of settling estates in the state of Pennsylvania. It was depressing, especially when our AirBnB host told us her own horror stories as an executrix. We began to pray for wisdom that we could find a reputable, non-greedy lawyer to help us navigate the process.

Then our host handed us the number of an estate attorney she finally found to help her. It was Sunday, but I called and left a message. To my surprise, the office assistant called—on a Sunday—within a few hours. “Yes. We understand and can help. We offer our services at a flat fee, not a percentage.”

Had I went with a hotel instead of the private home, had we not started talking about wills, had the host not given us the phone number of a lawyer, had I not left a message on a Sunday. . .we may have missed the graciousness and kindness of God to work out details way beyond our imagination.

God is so good.

Today’s Truth: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9


 August 10: Remember?

Do you recall the story of Josiah, king of Judah? (Circa 620’s BC) He was the kid who became king at eight years old. About eight years into his reign and at the ripe ol' age of 16, his heart was drawn to God, creating a desire to restore the temple that had fallen into ruin. It must have been exciting to find the original plans and charge the craftsmen to bring the center of worship back to its original glory. Then came the day that Hilkiah, the priest, found the long-lost Book of the Law that was given to Moses. Imagine! The very law that God had given to Moses centuries before. It’s no wonder the people had been acting so poorly. That generation did not know the Law.

Hilkiah gave the Book to Shaphan, the king’s right-hand guy, who then read it to Josiah. Josiah set out from there to bring the Law to the people, reading to them for hours on end. The people embraced the words and turned their attention back to their God. The found treasures made a difference.

It’s always exciting to find unexpected treasures. We found some of those when we finished moving everything out from Mother’s room. Pictures from long ago. Hand-written letters between Mother and her parents that reveal deep family love. Hundreds of index cards, neatly alphabetized and stored in plastic boxes, filled with names of missionaries for whom she prayed. We discovered an equal number of greeting cards sent to her from friends around the world, and the trinkets she held dear bore Scripture verses. We found (and kept) her well-worn Bible, filled with notes and underlined passages.

It’s true, you can tell a lot about what someone treasures. Mother loved people, and it showed. She engaged with them, sharing Jesus in normal conversation. She was generous in every way. “Why sure, you can take this book and read it.” She looked for opportunities to share her resources, never an ounce of stinginess surfacing. She drew her caretakers into conversation, asking them questions and getting involved with their lives. “May I pray with you?” she would ask. So many of the nurses and aides spoke to us today, and with tears in their eyes, told us of the love Mom showed them.

I am so honored to be Mother’s daughter. What a legacy! Tomorrow we bury a vacated body. “She” is not there. Mother graduated to heaven this past Friday and will live on for eternity. Her treasures we hold onto serve only as reminders of what is really important.

Today’s Truth: And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. 

2 Chronicles 34:31


August 11: The internment

My mind swirled as I laid my head on the pillow last night. It was hard to believe that the events of the last three or four days were going to come to an abrupt halt come morning. In the darkness of the room I began to cry silent tears, Gary and my brother John already asleep. Had it not been for a self-reprimand to maintain control, the cries could easily have become loud sobs.

It had been a whirlwind to get Mother’s room cleaned out, but working together, we turned in the keys and closed the door on that chapter of life. Mother had been the matriarch of the family for over 30 years, Dad passing away in 1986. Now it was up to my brothers and me to continue the DeLancey legacy so well established. What a challenge. So much so that when I woke up at 3 a.m., I was still thinking about the earthly finality of Mother’s life and the new role thrust upon me.

It was with nervous trepidation that I dressed and waited for the time to head for the cemetery. Praying to keep from turning into an ugly, blubbering mourner, I greeted my family as they arrived. Little Addyson was her bubbly self, fascinated with the variety of tombstones in this centuries-old burial grounds. But finally it was time to gather under the tent, Mother’s simple, bronze-colored coffin poised to be lowered into the earth.

With young and old standing respectfully, we listened to stories of Mother’s faithfulness to her Lord, her family, and to service. Pam, who had never met Mother, could certainly get a sense of how her mother-in-law lived out her faith. There were moments of laughter when niece Brooke shared her thoughts and memories of her Grandma. Pastor Doug offered reflections on her willing heart and vivacious prayer life. Aaron’s blessing from Numbers 6 was offered in Hebrew by brother John. From a family full of singers and musicians, we harmonized when singing Amazing Grace. I almost didn’t want the service to come to an end, but it did with brother Dan’s rendition of Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, the song that ushered Mother into eternity.

Rejoice now, Mother. You are home.

Today’s Truth: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6: 24-26


August 12: The common denominator

I’m not sure how math works nowadays, but back in the time when I was learning arithmetic, we learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide. We arranged numbers in tidy columns to make the process a little easier. We also learned about fractions. Early on, a picture of a pie cut into four pieces might be used to show that four pieces together make a whole. As the math became a bit more complicated, we manipulated fractions, having to find the common denominator before performing the function. Doing

so allowed for the fractions to be joined together in a way that made sense.

Over the last couple days, I’ve witnessed the personification of a common denominator. He is called the Holy Spirit. The Spirit tied together very different people, allowing us to be unified in function.

My Mother told me that when her mother died and the time to clean out the house came along, the siblings and spouses gathered together to pray for wisdom and unity. She made me promise to do the same first thing. So we did. Very different people came together to work in love and with purpose.

David, the first born, led the way as a professional tennis player, Navy fighter pilot, and tech guru. He has more “If I told you, I would have to kill you” stories than should be humanly allowed. Dan and John, my younger twin brothers are as different as night and day—and have always been that way. John was a long-time pastor, has an earned doctorate, and now leads tours and teaches seminars on biblical archaeology. Dan is a creative, talented and hardworking guy with his site-work company, daily playing with his life size Tonka trucks and heavy equipment. Then there’s me; the only girl, who has tried her

hand in medicine, teaching, and writing.

We are like fractions with various numerators that first have to be converted to a common denominator. We are different parts of a whole. But just as the well-known analogy of the Body of Christ having many parts, so do we as family. Each does his own job. Each is equally important to the whole. The whole is not complete if someone goes missing. We need each other now more than ever, united by our common denominator of the one sent from God, His Holy Spirit.

Today’s Truth: There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6


Gone but not forgotten

Margaret Belle (Wunderley) DeLancey was born on March 25, 1928. She accepted the Lord as Savior at the age of 21. She married Dr. Donald Ellis DeLancey on February 11, 1050, remaining a dedicated wife until his passing on March 2, 1986. She was the mother to four children, grandmother to seven, and great-grandmother to three children. She leaves a legacy of faithful service to her Lord, family, and others. 

Margaret's obituary can be found here.


Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free
Turn you eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are
And turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
His word shall not fail you, He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell
And turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace


Monday, August 3, 2020

The wee hours

The house is quiet at 3:18 a.m. Outside, faint rumbles of thunder roll as lightening sporadically brightens the dark sky with jagged spears of light thrown from the heavens. I look outside to see if it
is raining. It is not. But from my vantage point, my heart quickens to see a bear has come to visit, taking a seat by the sidewalk. But alas, a closer look informs my better senses that the black shape I view is simply the garden cart left there after weeding the edges. “Perhaps it is the lack of sleep that fools my eyes,” I think as I paddle bare-footed back to the sofa and the comforter spread out there.

Sleep does not come easily though I wish it to. Some nights I fall asleep only to wake within an hour or two, restless and unable to fall back into the embrace of slumber. Other times, like tonight, I lay quietly in bed, jealously listening to my husband find his rest. When it becomes clear to me that I will not sleep, like a ninja I make my way to what has become my reading spot. There, a book and reading glasses await. The paragraphs roll by until I wistfully believe to be tired. I shift to the couch, arrange the blanket, and anticipate eventual sleep lulled into existence by the soothing, rhythmic tic-toc of the clock.
I tell myself to let go. Relax. But soon, no matter how tightly or long I hold my eyes shut, I am as awake as ever. I try the guest bed, but in time find the stillness of the air sans fan to be oppressive. An hour passes before I move back to the sofa. Gary’s snores from the other room have silenced and I am hopeful. But the hope is in vain as my fingers now alight on the keyboard. Oh, how I wish I could sleep.

I used to look forward to bed and the nearly instantaneous sleep I experienced. Now, bedtime is dreaded, not knowing if the wee hours will provide a much needed source of respite and recovery. But in an odd sense, there are times that in the stillness, I put aside my angst for the weariness I am sure to feel come morning. 

The solitude I feel informs my thinking. I share my innermost thoughts and fears with The Father. I ask for clarity and guidance. I plan and pray. I am embraced by the creator of the universe. And that is enough for this moment.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. Psalm 16:7

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

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