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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

No Phones in Heaven

Every once in a while I am struck with an almost irresistible urge to call my mom ... or my dad. It makes me a little sad.

You know the song, "I Did It My Way"? Those lyrics that begin with, "Regrets, I've had a few ..." I've had a lot! Not the least of which is good, healthy communication with my parents.

I do not believe that my parents are looking down on me from heaven. That's not how this works. If I don't want to live eternity praising Jesus, then I'm going to be pretty disappointed with heaven.

It seems we really don't know what we've got til it's gone. All those questions left unanswered. All those squandered opportunities to say "I love you." Or to find out where a person stands with God.

I hope that SOMEONE somewhere will take the advice of those who have lost loved ones and truly make the most of every moment. We always say we will, until it's too late.

Call now, because there are no phones in heaven.

The Final Last Supper

Over the many years of my father's pastorate and chaplaincy, he collected Last Supper memorabilia: tapestries, paintings, etched glass, carved candles, china plates. And when it came time to downsize after my mother's death, Dad had to decide what to retain of these keepsakes, and what to give to family or donate.

The final Last Supper in his possession in his single room in the memory care facility was a 2x3 ½ foot tapestry of the DaVinci painting (albeit a poor reproduction).

When we "happened" to be in Grass Valley the week that my dad passed away (nothing is unplanned to God), I came home with that final Last Supper tapestry. But what to do with it? I have too much stuff as it is, and I actually have a much larger version of Dad's collection hanging in my dining room.

After attending a fundraising banquet for Wayside Cross Rescue Mission (now called Wayside Cross ministries, to cover their full spectrum of service), I determined that donating it to this worthy organization was the highest purpose for Dad's tapestry.

But the plot thickens...

My dad had a very poor upbringing, and by "poor" I mean financially, although a case could be made for other poor qualities as well. He was sickly at birth apparently, and the story goes that my grandmother placed my dad in a lined drawer instead of a crib or bassinet for many of his first months. Eventually, he became the scapegoat and brunt of his father's wrath.

When the family moved from southern California to Oregon, my father stayed behind with another family, and the storyline varies from whether it was to finish a school year or because he was too sick to move at the time (asthma and hay fever were his constant enemies). If you were to see a photo of the family move, it would have rivaled The Beverly Hillbillies, so I'm told.

Fast forward to college, and all four of the Sawyer brothers have put themselves through college (no small feat) as well as graduate school, and one even got his doctorate. Although my father wanted to go into foreign missions, my mother's Type 1 diabetes prevented it. And so he went into the denominational pastorate. Small towns. Tiny churches. And we were living on the good graces of whatever parsonage was available and whatever the congregants had canned that year.

At the age of 35–the last possible moment–Dad applied to his denomination for an Air Force chaplaincy. At least there would be a steady paycheck and he could use his seminary training.

This was truly the high life for this branch of the Sawyer family. Officer training, housing, paycheck, travel ... and yet, Dad's upbringing haunted him in more ways than one.

When he retired from the Air Force, he and my mom determined to go back to where they started: Oregon. Portland environs, to be specific. Once they moved out of their home and into a coop retirement community (a bad financial decision), Dad got more and more involved with the homeless population in downtown Portland.

That was the beginning of a downward spiral, if one could point to a defining moment. He made decisions that would eventually get him (and consequently, my mother) evicted from their retirement community without a dime to their name. He would get phone calls from his homeless "friends" saying, "If you love me, Dale, you'll send me xxxx." And Dad, being desperate for folks to like him, would send money, let men use his credit cards, buy a car for a lapsed alcoholic, and allow several homeless men to use my parents' mail box at their retirement community (so they would hang around the entrances waiting for Dad to get their mail). It was that last straw that broke the back of the "covenants and restrictions" policies, and sent my parents packing to northern California.

So, whether Dad was the patron saint of the Portland homeless population, or an easy mark, let's take the high road and say he wanted to help (assuage guilt, gain points, garner affection), even if it was to the detriment of his own family.

And that brings me back to the final Last Supper ... tapestry. I thought it appropriate that it should go to a homeless resource center of some sort. I contacted the wife of the organization's CEO and said I'd drop it off for her husband to use somewhere in their building.

When I arrived with the rolled tapestry, he was ready for me in his office. You see, like a large portion of the Christian community (myself included) he was not keen on displaying a "likeness" of Jesus or other people that could be construed as an idolized image. So, he asked me if I would be all right with them framing it and offering it for sale through their thrift store. Well ... okay ... at least the mission would get something out of it, even if it wasn't what was originally intended. My face probably gave away my disappointment.

But as I talked about my dad, the man then spied the note I had attached to the tapestry:

My dad, Dale Sawyer, was a champion of the homeless. He collected Last Supper memorabilia. Please enjoy. Donated by Rhonda Elfstrand to Wayside Cross Ministries.

"I've changed my mind," he said. "I see there is indeed more emotional investment here. I want to honor your dad. We will frame this and put it in the lounge or dining area. I'll consider it artwork."

And on my way home, I cried.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Soapbox Warning!

Don't say I didn't warn you! You could have kept scrolling, but no ...

Do you know what today is? Yes, it is MOTHER'S DAY. See that apostrophe? That means it is a possessive noun. The day belongs to MY MOTHER.

You see, the original intent was to honor the one who birthed you (or perhaps who adopted you and raised you). It is NOT "women's day." Nor is it a day to celebrate all mothers or motherhood. That may sound strange to you, but no. The day is to honor YOUR MOTHER in whatever way is appropriate.

There are women who have lost children to disease or suicide or accident, for whom this day is painful, and it shouldn't be. I hope you take what I just said in the way it was intended. There are also women who cannot conceive or will never marry and have children. This day is also not about that.

Do you also know that there are actually women who avoid FB and church today? Because of what this day has become, rather than its original intent.

Please, every time you say "Happy Mother's Day" to someone who is not your mother, you play into the problem. If you try to add every woman on earth into this day, you play into the problem. By your very intention of inclusion you have made the childless painfully aware of their situation.

This day is not about children!!! It is about MY MOTHER. YOUR MOTHER. God gave her to you. Honor her in word and deed. But PLEASE quit making this day about having children or about being a woman.

Stepping down now ...

M is for ...

My mother has been gone for a bit more than two years now. I miss her frequently.

So, M is for missing.

Mom would love to tease about her being self-sacrificing. You know, giving up that last piece of pie. Or going without a new purse so the kids can have shoes.

So, O is for others.

No matter where we lived or where we visited, Mom was always ready with tidbits of information and fun ways to learn.

So, T is for teaching.

One of the last times I saw my mom alive, we looked at her baby book. My grandmother had traced around her tiny hand, and I asked my mother to place her 82-year-old hand next to the drawing. Those hands have held mine, shaken hands of great and lowly, and served wherever she was planted.

So, H is for her hands.

Have you ever seen a mama bear? Watch out if you cross her cubs! Even though my mom was generally soft-spoken, she had no problem standing up for us when she felt we had been wrongfully treated. She was able to feel with us because she had lived a hard life herself.

So, E is for empathy.

I've often heard the contrast between religion and Christianity. Perhaps you thought they were the same. No. Religion follows a set of rules to try and attain someone or something. But Christianity ... the attainment was done for us by Jesus. When my little brother was dying of cancer and asked my mom what it would be like to die, she answered him, "First I'll be holding your hand, and then Jesus will be holding your hand."

So, R is for relationship ... not religion.

Thank you, Mom, for your sacrificial love. Your steadfast care. Your perseverance. Your love of learning. My heart's hope is that you are holding Jesus' hand right now.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

I Can’t See

Today the sadness hits. I cannot see through the tears. Regret building and filling my eyes to overflowing.

Why am I such a coward? Why didn’t I confront him with the truth of a Biblical gospel? Was I more concerned with temporal peace than eternal peace? Lord, have mercy.

Was just told that the cremation took place today and the urns of remembrance are ready. Ashes to ashes. That’s depressing.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

I Can't Say

I can't say that I saw a relationship with Jesus in my Dad's life. I saw religion. I saw "swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat."

Rules were many and strict. But the big things called sins in the Bible seemed to be palatable, at least in the dark side of Dad's life.

Look Up

The catatonic gaze was unsettling. Pupils constricted. Stare drilled to an unseen point on the ceiling.

"What are you looking at, Dad? What do you see?"

No answer. No movement.

"I wish I could put something on the ceiling for you to look at. What would be good to look at up there?"


"What are you thinking, Dad? Are you thinking about Mom? About heaven?"

At this point, I began to weep. We–my two sons, my husband, a daughter-in-law, my sister, and three grandchildren–had been in the room a couple of hours earlier. We had gotten some response from Dad, including his trying to mouth words that seemed to echo our "I love you"s. But now it was just me in the room. I knew I wanted to tell him ... what?

"I love you, Dad" as I stroked his cheek. I'm told that even those in comas can sometimes hear when all other input or expressions are void. So I tried again. "Dad, you know I love you. But Jesus loves you more. You know that, right?"

I couldn't stem the tears. Because, no, I wasn't at all sure that Dad knew that Jesus loved him more than a human being ever could. Even after decades of being a minister and chaplain by vocation, his brand of Christianity was to take care of the poor (a good thing to do), and to not judge lifestyles (you'd be hard pressed to find that theology in the Bible, but I digress.).

This was Sunday, April 21, 2018. And my last words were: "I'll be back to see you on Friday, Dad, okay?"

But it wasn't okay. Dad never made it to Friday.

Wednesday morning I awoke to a voicemail from Diane, my sister who has done the heavy lifting of caring for our parents in their final years. Hi, Rhonda. They just called me and said that Dad passed this morning. Just wanted to let you know I'm gonna be taking my three days off and ... um ... making arrangements. I'll talk to you later. Bye. Short. To the point.

So now all the unwinding of 63 years of living "with Dad" in some fashion had begun. How to process all of it. Not the estate, whatever that might be. Easy come, easy go. No, I mean the processing of what it meant to be Dale Sawyer's family. All the dichotomies. All the ironies. All the half-truths and omissions.

I've learned to look up. I will lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121, NIV)

And that alone is a miracle.