Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grace Street - Tongue Talkers

We came back from Tulsa with just a little more information. It was late summer. It was time to go back to St. Louis. I come from a Christian tradition that does not baptize infants. Rather we dedicate them as Hannah did Samuel. My husband chose to never participate in these experiences. At the time he assumed that a dedication made them permanently Christian – oh that it would! I had opted to participate in this ritual alone with each of our children.

Bethany was the first one that I dedicated alone. Her father having beaten and deserted me when I was pregnant with her, I had no choice. Our pastor at the time had my mother participate. It was just so difficult for the church to deal with a single mother in those days. (Read about her birth here and the beating here.) I remember he used the passage from Timothy about Timothy’s Mother Lois and Grandmother Eunice. He did do a wonderful job.

Now it was time to take my son alone. I was rather used to this by now but I never liked it. During the dedication, the pastor of course used a little extra oil and prayed for healing. After church a woman approached me.

She was one of those people. If you’ve never gone to a classic Pentecostal church you may not have ever met one of them. These people as if on cue, right after the third song, will start speaking in tongues loudly. It is called a message in tongues. With quietness the congregation waits for the message to be given. This is followed by more silence as someone, sometimes the same person, gives the interpretation.  

I’ve often joked that while most Pentecostal churches spurn liturgy, they have one. In a classic Pentecostal church, it would go like this. First, you have a hand-clapping song often accompanied with handshaking. Next, you sing three hymns moving slow to fast. On the third hymn, the fastest one, you stand up on the last verse. Hand-raising, loud praising and the cued message in tongues by usually that same person follow this. Oh, I love my Pentecostal roots. And that's NOT sarcasm.

I usually smiled politely at this woman. However, I thought her odd. I also thought her messages were habit, cynical person that I am.  This Sunday she approached me. Everyone knew about our son. Everyone prayed for him. Everyone also knew I was leaving the next morning for yet another trip to St. Louis.
As she approached me, I put on that polite smile. She said, I’ve been really praying for him. I thanked her. That I meant. When you have a child who is not well and whose future is uncertain, you appreciate all the prayers you can get.

Then she told me this story about watching the 700 Club. You know, Good ol’Pat Robertson. I’ve never been a big fan of his. He’s too political; I never liked Jerry Falwell for the same reasons. She went on. She said he had a word of knowledge, a supernatural gift whereby God tells an individual about particular situation.  This particularly night as the television lit her living room she heard Pat say, there is a baby, a boy. She perked up her ears she said. She started to pray. He said, this baby has a tumor behind his eye. This baby is in danger of blindness. This baby is instantly being healed right now. If that’s you, claim your healing now. Then get on the phone and tell us about it.

Standard Robertson stuff. I was not impressed. Smiling I nodded thank you as she said she’d claimed that healing for our son and that he was healed.

There had never been any talk about a tumor. She was a nice well meaning overly spiritual lady. I don’t even know if I told my husband about the tumor lady. I got ready to leave in the morning. He would join me in the evening. It was routine.

This trip was not routine. This trip would be different. This trip I would learn something about spiritual gifts. This time my cynicism would be put to the test. On arrival to St. Louis, a very somber doctor greeted me. He had new information. He thought he had figured out what why our son’s glaucoma was not like any other.

He started, I know you and your husband are totally opposed to having his eye removed. After much collaboration and reviewing of his charts, we think we know what’s wrong. We think he has a tumor behind his eye. We’ve never been able to fully see behind the eye in our examinations. A tumor this close to the brain might mean death. If this were my child, I’d remove the eye. If we remove the eye we’ll know for sure about the tumor. Please sign permission.

My husband was the most opposed to removing his eye. He always said, I think God will heal him and we want the eye there so God has something to work with. I said to the doctor, but my husband…? If he still objects, I won’t do it but please sign this now so we have it. I promise you I won’t do anything until I hear from your husband as well. I signed it. I cried.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grace Street - A Trip to a Holy City

This routine of the two-hour trip to St. Louis continued. In the summer, it would often mean a trip to Columbia first, also two hours away but in a different direction.  My mother never liked Hannibal. She was right, but we lived there. She would prefer we bring the children to her.

Grandma was very good to the kids while they were in Columbia. The routine on most hot summer days was a late breakfast of pancakes. Dressed in their bathing suits they’d pile into her car and go to Oakland Pool. For a few cents, they’d enjoy the pleasures of summer at a city pool. Sometimes she would have to hunt for them, other times they were ready, when she’d come to get them to take them home for the evening. Before they arrived at the trailer, they would stop at a hamburger place. The place was shaped in an A frame and sold hamburgers for 50 cents. A bag full of burgers for sun baked chlorinated kids made for a wonderful summer.

I had quit my job at the Mental Health Center in order to keep up with the medical appointments. Money was very tight. My husband found out that they were not going to renew his contract after that year. The future was very shaking. About that time, my husband was put on a medication that made him sullen, grouchy, and depressed. Nevertheless, I was so glad he was still with us.

Our next trip to St. Louis was one of the worst. They decided that since they couldn’t control the glaucoma with surgery or medication, they wanted to know how much vision he actually had. He was still an infant. Obviously he couldn’t read the eye chart.

Through the maze of a large medical complex, we meandered to Jewish Hospital adjacent to the Children’s hospital and Barnes. I was shown into a small dark room where electrodes were placed all over our small son’s head. I was to hold him facing out on my lap. Lights were blinked and flashed to determine the activity in his brain related to vision. It was like something out of a horror movie. He didn’t like the procedure. For the most part, it was inconclusive.

The doctors continued to be puzzled. They came and photographed his eye. They probed and questioned. Again, he would go under anesthesia and we would wait. Special medications were prescribed. There were more questions than answers.

We talked a lot about healing. I had always believed God could and would heal. I had grown up watching healing evangelists on television. I went to a Pentecostal church. We were big into healing. My husband, although not a Christian, also believed in healing.

We were going to a more compassionate church. They prayed. They offered concern. I would have him anointed with oil at every opportunity. I prayed.

Someone suggested we take him to another hospital. I had full confidence in our doctor but when you are this desperate, you consider everything. A friend had a plastic credit type card. It said “City of Faith Hospital.” The woman had been a donor to Oral Roberts and supported the building of this hospital that once stood on the grounds of Oral Roberts University. They combined prayer with state of the art medical practices. We packed up and went.

We saw an ophthalmologist there. He was a retina specialist. He also did an exam under anesthesia. The hospital and its staff were wonderful and amazing. A prayer partner followed us around with every procedure. The medical staff were always willing to pray with us. A cab took us to another facility for another one of the tests with electrodes and flashing lights.

They found out nothing more than the doctor in St. Louis. Appreciative of the care and support, still our trip resulted in nothing more.

No healing.

No answers.

I wondered, was I capable of successfully raising a vision impaired, perhaps blind, son.

He was several months old now. He didn’t track with his eyes. His eyes did jerk back and forth, a condition called nystagmus. He didn’t grab for toys. He would smile. Some days I thought he could see. Other days I wondered.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grace Street - More Questions than Answers

Hospitals love early mornings. It was very early the next morning when the nurse came into the room. We were to carry our very hungry son to the surgical floor. As we went down the elevator I held him close and prayed. This was new territory even for me.

My son Jason had been quite sick as an infant. He was in the hospital several times. Bethany had been critical after her birth. She had seen a heart specialist at 2 years old. However, she required no surgery and her birth defect was outgrown. Our fifth child, the precocious daughter who claimed the road, had also been very sick as an infant. I had slept many nights in the hospital with her as she labored for breath. Nathan and Jason had both had tubes in their ears. I was no stranger to children and hospitals. But this was different.

The future looked very bleak at that moment. The airline ticket that meant single parenthood was still in his possession. There was no word on what he would do. I never remember him even speaking of it. I do not know, but I wonder if that night on the floor in the hospital or the long trip down that elevator with an infant son with a mixed prognosis changed his mind. I don’t even recall what he did with the ticket. I just know he stayed. I am glad he stayed.

We went to the cafeteria and picked at some food. We didn’t talk much. We both were absorbed in our thoughts. My breasts longed for the relief of a hungry son; it would be hours before that relief came. It would be years before the relief would come concerning his eye.

We returned to the room to wait. We sat on the hard chairs provided. My husband dozed. He seems to be able to sleep anywhere if necessary.

The doctor’s resident came in first. In scrubs and masked, he told us that yes, our son did have congenital glaucoma. He said that they were puzzled. They saw a lot of glaucoma but this just wasn’t what they usually saw. They attempted a laser procedure. They weren’t hopeful it would work. It didn’t.

In the recovery room, we saw him. He looked terrible. His arms were splinted up past his elbows. I wondered what had happened to his arms. They use these splints to keep their arms from bending and reaching their face. His eye was bandaged. He cried. Finally, I was allowed to nurse him. It calmed us both. Relief…

Another night on the floor-another night of wondering what the future would hold. In the morning, we would get into our Ford Escort wagon and drive the two hours back to Hannibal. We would take that trip many times over the next year. We would take our son to Tulsa Oklahoma twice as we prayed and wondered about his future.

A month later we were back. This time there was no stop at the McMillan building first. It was straight to the children’s hospital. I would travel alone to St. Louis the day before the exam under anesthesia. I would hold him for the blood work and the pre-op procedures. That afternoon after the dismissal bell had rung at school, my husband would get in his car to St. Louis. A late supper, a night on a cot listening to our son cry with hunger-there was no 2 a.m. feeding in the hospital as he prepared for surgery. Those were very long hard nights.

The next morning we’d take that elevator ride to surgery. We’d hand our infant son off to a masked nurse. Would the laser procedure work this time? Last time it was a failure. The doctors were stumped. They were experts in congenital glaucoma and yet, they had never seen a case like this one.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grace Street - A New Kind of Pressure

The ophthalmologist was old. He was nearing retirement. His manner was very gruff.  He was old fashioned, no receptionist, no nurse, just him and his equipment. His equipment was very old as well. As I held my screaming infant down he looked in his eyes with hand-held equipment. He had a hand-held instrument that sat directly on the eyeball to measure the pressure in the eye. He placed this instrument on his right eyeball.

I found the emotional strength to keep it together. Finally, with a worried look on his face, the doctor had a verdict. He said, I’ve never this before. You usually see it only once in your practice. Your son has glaucoma.

Glaucoma?! That was a disease of an old person.

He continued. I am not equipped to handle this. He got on the phone. He called St. Louis. A doctor’s office at Barnes hospital answered. An appointment was made for the next day. It seemed there was an urgency. If his eye were to be saved, we’d need to act quickly.

The old ophthalmologist softened some. He said, these doctors know what they are doing. I hope that they can help. I wish you well. He smiled that smile that is mixed with pity and good wishes.

As I carried my infant down the stairs, to the car, I thought – will he be blind? What does this mean? Can I manage? I got to the car to see my two year old hanging out the window smiling. She made me smile. I said to my husband, it’s bad. He said nothing. I told him that we had to go to St. Louis the next day.

I stopped at the library on the way home. I’ve always been a research oriented person. I went to the card catalog and looked up glaucoma. Hannibal didn’t have a great library but I found out that glaucoma in infants was very rare. I also found out what glaucoma actually was, it is a disease of the eye that causes pressure. Untreated, it causes blindness.

While I was in the doctor’s office, my husband was playing with our daughter in the car. It was warm, the car had no air conditioning, and the window was open. One of the stories that my husband loves to tell to this day, is about that time sitting in the car with this daughter. There wasn’t a lot of pedestrian traffic on this main thoroughfare of Hannibal, but there was some. Some young girls were walking together on the sidewalk. As our little girl was watching them with her head hanging out the window she became quite indignant about these girls. With the precociousness of a bright two year old she yelled out the window at them, GET OFF MY ROAD.

I don’t remember what we ate or what we did that night. I do know I prayed. My mother came from Columbia to stay with the other children. I was scared. I had no idea what the next day would bring.
I held my son tight that night. It was hot, we had a window air conditioner in the living room. Sleeping upstairs was impossible. I would sleep on the open up couch with the baby. The rest of the family, including my husband, would be lined up on the floor like refuges from the heat.

The next morning we got in our Escort and made the first of what would be many trips to Barnes Hospital, the Children’s Hospital and the McMillan medical office building. Our first stop was the McMillan building, 7th floor and the offices of an ophthalmologist who specialized in congenital glaucoma.

Everything about this new doctor was better. He was skilled. He was kind. He had better equipment. His diagnosis was the same. His urgency was also the same. Immediately we were sent to the Children’s Hospital for admission. The next morning would be the first “examination under anesthesia” for our six week old son.

It was a ward of four children. One of the other families who waited in agony for surgery was a young couple from Illinois. Their daughter was born with spina-bifida. The sadness and pain of the parents in that room was palpable. As our son fussed in the crib, my breasts engorged with milk I couldn’t give to him. We were not prepared to spend the night. We had no clothes or toothbrush. We didn't sleep much as we crouched under the crib with our heads on one pillow we attempted to sleep.  

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grace Street - Born in Hannibal

I was about to have this baby any time. I had lost weight but my stomach swelled. It seemed this baby was a large one. I continued to see the doctor in Hannibal and planned to have this baby in the hospital where I worked.

I had so much anxiety. I had no idea what I would do. I remember thinking that at least I knew the “system.” I could go back on food stamps. The government was no longer giving away commodity foods except for the large blocks of cheese. Later we would qualify for this cheese and because of the size of our family get 45 pounds of cheese a month – that’s a LOT of cheese.

I was in labor all day. I waited until my husband came home from work. I headed to the hospital thinking it would be a quick and easy delivery. My last two had been very quick. This one was not. It wasn’t a long delivery, but it wasn’t short like the others. This baby was large. The large baby I had was only 7 pounds and she came quick and easily.

Delivery rooms were still mere operating rooms. It seemed especially cold and hostile. As I pushed this new life into the world, I had so many worries. Finally, the doctor said, It’s a boy.

A boy, finally! I thought that perhaps my worries would be over. My husband had wanted a son. Now he had one. Would that be enough to keep him with us? It didn’t seem so. The ticket was still ready to be used to fly back to his native country. The joy I expected at the news of a son was not experienced.

He was such a handsome little boy. He weighed in at 8 lbs 13 oz. He had unusual bluish eyes. I thought that odd but knew that often children are born with blue eyes regardless of the final color. Unlike our daughters, he light colored hair. 

I noticed from the beginning that he had an unusually sweet disposition. I would keep a journal about him – the journal is now lost with the many moves, house fire and such – but I remember writing that he was the best natured infant of all my children.

He was two weeks old and there had been no change in the status of my husband’s plans and ticket. The school year would be over soon and his obligations complete. There were probably a multitude of reasons that went into his decision to return “home.” Supposedly, love for me was not one of them. He professed his love all the while planning to leave.

In theory, I had the option to go with him. I don’t know if I had said I would go how he would have paid for it. However, I couldn’t face taking six children, including three fully American children to a foreign, underdeveloped country. I would cry at times. I would try to draw on the knowledge that God who had gotten me through abuse by Alvin, had given me strength to go to college, would see me through this as well.

I noticed something odd with my newborn son. His right eye would tear. Babies usually don’t cry tears. This was my sixth child. I had experience. This was odd. I called the doctor’s office. Medical staff often assumes you are stupid or over-reacting. Truth is I under react. The nurse brushed it off. I watched and waited for his six-week check up.

I remember clearly sitting at a small group church meeting with him cradled in my arms. His eyes were open with that look of worship that newborns have for their mothers. There was this odd small white dot on the iris of his bluish right eye. It seems no one else could see it. I could. Mother’s intuition told me something wasn’t right. When he would cry the area above and around that right eye would get a blotchy red. The rest of his face would be fine, but in this area blood vessels engorged with blood.

Finally, it came time for that six-week check-up. The same doctor who delivered him would be his pediatrician. I was a firm believer in family practice. I mentioned his eyes. He double checked and triple check the right eye in particular. He shone the tiny light into his eye. He looked at me and said, his eyes just don’t react right. I’m sending you to a ophthalmologists immediately.

I wrapped up my son in a blanket. My husband was waiting in the car with our two year old. Perhaps he was trying to have some last minute quality time with her as they played with the steering wheel. I said: take us downtown. In our brown escort station wagon, we drove in silence to a second floor medical office of the only ophthalmologist in town. I walked up the stairs alone still cradling my infant son. I wondered, what next?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grace Street - Roach Motel

I’ve sort of gotten side tracked in telling this story. Plus I’ve gotten busy. The idea was I wanted to tell you about the miracle of my youngest son. I’m going to fast forward to that.

No one in the family who remembers Hannibal, remembers it fondly. We’d been through some pretty awful stuff. We’d had some funny experiences with the kids – things that are funny now, but weren’t at the time. Like the time my oldest son Nathan and his brother faked illness to stay in the hospital. They had matching coughs and were admitted to share a room in the hospital. Jason knew how much fun this was sitting in bed, watching TV and having nurses call you sweetie while they brought you popsicles and pudding at the ring of a bell.

One day the doctor decided to give Nathan his antibiotics by injections in the rump. I was working upstairs in the hospital. I heard it. Paging Dr. Strong – the code for a person who needed to be subdued by all the men available. We used that page a lot on the psych unit. This time it was for peds. It was Nathan to be subdued. 

As my coworkers hurried down the stairs to assist, he was nowhere to be found. He ran away from the hospital. A very angry and unprofessional doctor discharged both of them immediately. We entertain ourselves at family gatherings with this story and many others – they are call the Nate the Great stories. Sometimes we add some about Jason as well.

Nathan, ever creative, was also troubled. Remembering his abusive father, he had many, many issues. All of the older children did to varying degrees. Many times, I drove the streets of Hannibal wondering where they were. I thought at first it was the Huck Finn syndrome – they’d go off on an adventure. Many times the police would find them before we could find them.

The church was no help. In fact, they were a huge problem. Prejudice and narrow mindedness caused them to do some pretty terrible things to us. The love of God, grace, mercy and compassion seemed far from this congregation. Someday I'll tell that story in detail, just not today.

And I was pregnant again. Overall, it was a very bad time. A sixth pregnancy didn’t help. To add to it, my husband decided he wanted to go home. No, not back to Columbia – but home to his native country. I faced the thought of being a single mother once again – this time with six children, the last yet to be born.

It was a terrible pregnancy. I was sick all the time. I was working. I was praying. What would I do? How would I manage alone with six kids? Even though we had two incomes, money was tight. We’d buy rice by the 100 lb bag, store it in a plastic bag inside a plastic trash can. Most nights we had rice of some variation with little meat. The older kids still say that the rice and lentils was the best – they said when I made that they eat all they wanted. Other times, when there was meat in the meal, that wasn’t the case. It was rationed.

Then there were the roaches. Have you ever had to deal with an infestation of roaches? I have a few times in my life. They are near impossible to get rid of… we cleaned, we bombed, we sprayed. For a while, my husband would pay the children a penny for each roach they killed. That didn’t work. At times, I would open a can of something like tuna and they’d march toward it from every direction. It was GROSS.

My mother bought a sonic contraption that was supposed to get rid of roaches. I plugged it into the wall. It was warm. They made nests in it – the roaches loved their new breeding grounds. I kept food sealed in plastic bags. Many things were kept in the refrigeration that didn’t need it – it was safe from the roaches. They don’t like cold. In case you’re wondering, we did eventually get rid of them. Someone told me to get Boric Acid – it works! There’s your free tip for the day J

It was spring and a new life was soon to be born. There was no happiness or hopeful expectation. Facing single parenthood again, with no support from anyone, I prayed. I prayed for this child to be born. I prayed for God to help me, to give me wisdom and strength. Soon I would be delivering a child for the sixth time. I thought about what it would be like to say good-bye to my husband for the last time holding a new infant in my arms.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Grace Street - It's a Girl

My sons were sick most of that winter. Eventually Jason was put in the hospital. They never could find out what was wrong with him. He had never been a well-child but I suspect now that it was grief. Once in the hospital he liked the attention. He liked having someone bring him popsicles and pudding at will. Lying in bed watching television or playing video games was certainly better than school.

Eventually he was pronounced well enough to go home. Then it was my turn. I was pregnant with my fifth child. We didn’t know whether we would have a boy or a girl. My husband desperately wanted a son. We planned to name him Isaac.

Perhaps because of stress or grief or both or neither, my blood pressure shot up to dangerous levels. I was still working at the mental health center. I asked one of the nurses to take my blood pressure. In horror, they told me it was 160/110. I called the doctor 100 miles away. He said come tomorrow and if it is still that high I’ll admit you to the hospital. It was; he did. This was the first time I had a private doctor and went to a private hospital.

They put me on the surgical wing and I shared a room with an older woman who had just had surgery. What I remember most about her was that the poor dear needed to pass gas. All day long I would hear her moan. Eventually she got relief. I thought to myself I hope I never have surgery.

No x-ray as with my son Nathan. This time it was ultrasound and monitors. Technology however, couldn’t tell us that she was a girl but thankfully she was healthy. I went back to work until the blood pressure shot up again.

Eventually I would move in with my mother with my near two years old until I went into labor. My husband took care of the other three children in Hannibal packing them up to come to Columbia every weekend.

It was May. My blood pressure shot up dangerously high once again. My husband was called to come to Columbia as I was to have our baby. The doctor asked me to come to the hospital at 10:30 that night. My husband arrived, we went to eat. We kissed the children good night at my mother’s and left for the hospital. My mother’s last words were soon Isaac will be here. 

That is a name we never used. Instead we had a beautiful baby girl. Her name had been chosen one night during those weekend visits. It is a long beautiful name that is difficult to pronounce. Her delivery was a breeze. My water was broke at 11:30 p.m. and by 1:00 a.m. she was born. Daddy cut the cord. I walked out of the delivery room, no stitches, no tears, a perfect delivery of a perfect little girl.

Things seemed to be going well. A good steady job for both of us and now a beautiful baby girl added to our family. Ten days later my step-sister delivered her beautiful perfect little girl. Life continues. There seemed hope for the future. Stress and sadness were just around the corner. The choice for Christian school and daycare turned out to be a very bad choice. Within a year I would be worrying that I would be a single mother with six children.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Grace Street - Grief

I knew my stepfather but never really did know him. My mother’s relationship with him was probably as complex and complicated as any marriage. I am sure a marriage later in life, a second marriage where both have been widowed is very different from anything I have experienced. I think that overall, they were happy. I know the day he died suddenly and unexpectedly, they were happy.

As I recall they had gone out for a dinner. I know he had just finished his new shed that would become his workshop. He did wood carvings. This shed had electricity for his tools and lots of room. They had moved from a large house into a two-bedroom two-bath mobile home. The shed would supplement for storage as well.

My mother married her second husband in December before Bethany was born, one month before the beating and three months after I had remarried Alvin. It was a quick romance. It was so odd to see my mother with the blush of new love.  Even odder was to see my mother change into a holiness woman with long hair, never wearing anything but a longer sleeve dress. Yet in many ways, she blossomed. She made candies and become quite adept at it. I suppose it was in part because they had no television. She worked with her husband cleaning doctors’ offices every evening. They bought a small camper trailer and parked it by the river in the little town of Easley. She even slept in a tent from time to time.

They made frequent trips to visit his mother. His mother was one of my favorite people in that family. I do love them all – they are all great people. Read more about them here. We all called her Granny Iddy. Her name was Ida. In her nineties, she was healthy, alert, spry and lived alone near her daughter in Bolivar Missouri. One of her greatest pride was her strawberry patch.

On various occasions, I would go with my mother to Bolivar to this woman’s house. I think in my heart she was like the grandmother I never had. She’d known tragedy and had already buried two husbands and daughter. Her daughter died tragically leaving three children after a porch collapsed on her while she stood on it. I would later watch her weep over her son, my stepfather’s, coffin. It seems that regardless of the age of the mother, losing a child seems unnatural and is grief beyond description.

In the cold of December as they embraced each other one last time before going to sleep, he slumped, he gasped, he died. I have a theology professor who said that every night we rehearse our death as we go to sleep – this was no rehearsal. As I think of what that night must have been like for her, I think of the scripture
Ephesians 4:26 26 Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry - but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. (The Message)
You never never know when you say good night or good bye when it will be the last time. My mother, only 63 years of age, was widowed for the second time. She never had the opportunity for love again. She channeled that love and affection to my children become a grandmother superior. As she aged, like fine wine she mellowed.

I was four months pregnant. My step-sister was four months pregnant. Once again, I attended a funeral of a father figure pregnant with a child. While we were not children of the same womb, we had bonded and became family. I don’t think any of us thought that day at the funeral home that the next time all of us would be together again would be twenty-nine years later as we gathered around the coffin of my mother.

We drove to southern Missouri to lay his body to rest. His mother was with us. She requested that the coffin be open in the cold dusk of that day so that family and friends who were there to pay their final respects could do so to an open coffin.

We returned to Hannibal in that Mercury Monterey. I wonder how my mother felt as she laid her head down on the pillow, alone, in the same bed where her husband died. The aloneness must have been deafening. The chill of reality was overwhelming. It no doubt matched the bitter cold of that winter.

Soon we would return to that trailer where he died to try to celebrate Christmas. That Christmas there was a minus 60-degree wind chill that whipped around that trailer. It was cold inside as well. The children had lost the only grandfather they knew. Nathan and Jason started vomiting. As children, they had no idea how to express their grief so it made them physically sick.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Grace Street - Welcome to Hannibal

I remember our move to 2007 Grace Street. Everyone was excited. My husband and I had our first child together. Her older siblings were excited. The house was great. It was an older three bedroom Victorian that had been remodeled. It had pocket doors in the living room, arches between the living room and dining room and a grand staircase.

We moved from the tiny town of Hallsville Missouri. My husband taught Agriculture in Mexico Missouri half time and in the evening would deliver trays to patients at the Medical Center. I substitute taught in Hallsville. This new marriage was working out reasonably well. It had kinks like all new marriages. I was determined to be successful.

Yet, something was wrong. I never felt like I belonged anywhere. Now I know that some of that was internal. I went to the same church but my life was so different than the vibrant college students, recent grads and newly married. I was newly married but not in the same fresh faced way that they were – what I saw as rejection probably wasn’t intended that way. Nevertheless, I felt like I didn't belong.

Then we moved to Grace Street. Even the name sounded like it would be good. A new house to live in, a new job for my husband – we would be respectable. He was a schoolteacher. Later I went to work for Mark Twain Mental Health. We were two young professionals with a growing family. Certainly, our image would change.

When we moved in the kids ran up and down the stairs. I want this room! Nathan and Jason settled into one large bedroom, my husband and I settled in the master and the two little girls in a small bedroom. Our youngest slept with us most of the time but she did have an official crib and bed.

The local Assemblies of God church had a school. The church I had come from had a school but we couldn’t afford it. I enrolled the children in Christian school once again thinking, we had really arrived. We were now normal people. Our youngest went to the church’s daycare once I started work.

I worked on the house. Initially we just stayed in Hannibal not traveling the two hours back to Columbia. Everything we needed and wanted was there. It was a new life for us.

The church was traditional. I missed the vibrancy of our previous church but I’d been a church going gal all my life and very adaptable. My husband, who had gone to church in our first year of marriage, drifted away returning to the religion of his family and upbringing. Alone I would go to church. The boys were Royal Rangers, Bethany became a Daisy Missionette, we went to Sunday School, morning and evening worship and Wednesday night. Alone I would be stared at; I was the wife of that foreigner. The neighbors looked at us the same way. The children were chased in the street being yelled at with ethnic slurs. The welcome mat certainly wasn’t out in Hannibal.

In the midst of this, I got pregnant again. The new child was due within days of the second birthday of our last child. Natural spacing they call it. Child number five was due to be born in May of 1981. For reasons I don’t remember now, I decided I didn’t want to have this child in Hannibal. However, I wanted a private doctor this time. The last two birth experiences with clinic residence had been excellent. I think in my quest for what I thought was normal, I wanted a private doctor.

The most popular doctor in Columbia among my peers was the one I chose. He was popular for good reason and an excellent doctor. He was one of the few people who actually treated me with respect and treated me normally.

A new house, a new town, new jobs, a new child, it should have all been good. I don’t remember it ever really being good in Hannibal after that first day or two. Things soured very quickly. In December of our first year in Hannibal, I answered the phone one day. It was my mother. Her husband had died. It was an omen of things to come. We packed our children in our old Mercury Monterey to a funeral in the bitter cold of a Missouri December.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Grace Street

My husband woke me up from a very sound dreaming sleep this morning. He usually tries very hard to be quiet but after 32 years of marriage, I hear him. However, I didn’t this morning. I guess because I have been sleep deprived and this was good sleep.

I get up with near perfect predictability and fix his bowl of oatmeal every morning. He doesn’t like oatmeal particularly but he’s been on a cholesterol reducing diet for a while. I fix the oatmeal for him the way my mother fixed it for me when I was a kid, with milk, on the stove. No micro oatmeal here.

Some mornings I want to play possum and just stay in bed. He wouldn’t care. He’s not demanding about his oatmeal. But love gets me out of bed and to the stove. Occasionally I really do oversleep. I thought that was the case this morning. My husband leaned over and kissed me. When your prince gives you a kiss, you wake up.

My initial reaction wasn’t princess like. I thought geez I was sound asleep. Then for a split second I thought oh, this must have been one of those mornings where I overslept. Then I heard him say congratulations.

Congratulations! For what? My husband’s not prone to sarcasm like I am – so this wasn’t a congratulations you overslept… Then he said our son’s* been accepted to Medical school. My mood instantly changed. I had the biggest smile on my face. I don't remember what I said if anything. Joy was present.

I’ve been debating what to write about in this blog for a while. I’ve done a few “series” about my life. Readers seem to like them. I also am working on a book about my life. I want people to read the book so it has been hard for me to decide how much to write.

I had thought about writing about the birth of this son. About the miracles we saw. About the pain we experienced. Now with his official acceptance to medical school, it seems like a great idea.

Over the next few days I’ll be telling my story about his birth. After he was born, I kept a journal for a while. Like many of my mementos and things, they’ve been lost in moves, theft and the house fire. But I remember it well. Mother’s are like that. My mother told me once that birth is very physically painful but when you hold your child in your arms for the first time, you completely forget.  She was right.

This son is my sixth child. In the family constellation, he is sandwiched between sisters. My pregnancy had been terrible with him. My husband was planning on leaving to return to his native country. I was stressed all the time wondering how I would survive with six children.

Nathan was now a rebellious adolescent. The years of abuse he suffered had taken it’s toll. His siblings that you have already met in this blog, Jason and Bethany, also struggled with feelings of rejection knowing that they had a father somewhere who had abandoned them. Nathan remembered Alvin. Jason had some memories. Bethany didn’t know until her brother told her one day that the man she thought was her dad, wasn’t.

There were two other precious girls in the family. It seemed I was very fertile. Following natural spacing, these girls were two years apart and their soon to be born brother would fit the pattern as well. By the time he would be born, his siblings ages would be 14, 11, 8, 4, & 2.

We lived in Hannibal Missouri of Mark Twain fame. Our address was 2007 Grace Street. There was little grace in Hannibal. It was a terrible time for us as a family. Bethany said the other day that she remembers when we left there. She said none of us were sad. She said it was like hallelujah, we are finally getting out of here.

My husband taught Vocational Agriculture. I worked at Mark Twain Mental Health. We should have been seen as respectable professionals. Instead, because of prejudice and provincialism, we were never accepted anywhere we went, especially the church.

Join with me on a new journey of my life. You’ll be surprised, you’ll be amazed. At times you’ll need a Kleenex. Such is the story of Joyce Lighari.

*I’ve been asked by some of my children not to use their names in my blog. They are young professionals and in a day when people’s names are routinely googled before job offers, I suppose I understand. I also respect their requests. For that reason, I will also not use the names of my younger children.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Worshiping Around Lapskaus Blvd.

I grew up not far from Lapskaus Boulevard in Brooklyn. No that wasn’t it’s official name. Officially it was 8th Avenue.  It was the heart of the commercial heart of the Norwegian community. A stroll down this avenue felt no different than a stroll down a street in Norway. There were fish markets and bakeries, restaurants and bars and lots and lots of churches.

There were several Norwegian congregations. Most were Lutheran of one sort or another. The Salvation Army had an officer straight from Norway. My own church, a Pentecostal church, had a pastor with a thick Norwegian accent who could switch from Norwegian to English without thinking.

Our life centered on the church. It didn’t always have to our church, just THE church. My father liked to go to a good meeting. That meant if one of the Lutheran churches had someone special, or a special meeting he’d go for the service. If it were the Salvation Army, same thing. Everyone seemed to know Brother Johannesen. Then there was the mission or the Seaman’s church in downtown Brooklyn. My father got around.

He didn’t have much to pick from in Pentecostal circles. Norwegian’s aren’t known for being lively. I often say that to be Norwegian and Pentecostal is an oxymoron. I’ve found here in the Norwegian sanctuary of the upper mid-west, people think you can’t be truly Norwegian and be Pentecostal. It’s unheard of!

He would from time to time go to a church closer to downtown. It wasn’t all Norwegian. They didn’t have a Norwegian pastor either. This was something unheard of in my childhood world. The church was pastored by a man name Clair Hutchins. You’ve probably never heard of him, but you’ve no doubt heard of his daughter, Carol Cymbal director of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

I remember visiting this church, Maranatha one time – it is a vague memory. What I remember the most is that they clapped and raised their hands more than we did and just seemed to be a much livelier group than I’d seen before. I rather liked it.

Later, when we left the Norwegian church of my childhood, again for a more lively Pentecostal experience, we would run into the now famous Carol Hutchins Cymbala. She was dating a young man in the church, Jim Cymbala and were soon to be married.

I write so much about my childhood church and it truly is my foundation. A strong foundation has stood the test of time, trials and tribulations. I thank God more and more for that foundation. I’ve found people who influenced my live or their descendants through the internet and Facebook. I’ve written about honoring those who have gone before you on Kingdom Bloggers.

Yet my childhood was spiritually diverse. I think there was some wisdom to my father’s visits to many churches. It was even wiser that he exposed his daughter to various expressions of the body of Christ. It seemed that during that time period, while fidelity to your local congregation was certainly important, strengthening the body of Christ was more important.

The Sunbeams at the Salvation Army are part of my heritage. The Pioneer Girls at the 59th Street Lutheran Brethren Church are part of my heritage. Camp Challenge and Ashford Hills Camp are part of my heritage. HiBa (High School Born Againers – an interfaith group for High School Students) was part of my heritage. Marantha Tabernacle and Calvary Tabernacle, exuberant Pentecostal houses of worship, were part of my heritage. And, of course, Salem Gospel Tabernacle, with its deep piety and faith were the foundation of my heritage. I even would visit the Catholic church, dip my finger in the holy water, light a candle and knee and pray for a while. That was also part of my heritage.

I’ve always wondered how the prayer of Jesus, that we be one, would look like. Unity is so hard to achieve. Two people who love each other in marriage often can’t achieve unity. So how do we as people, red and yellow black and white, ever achieve unity? We don’t even agree on how to say the Lord’s Prayer. You say debts, I say trespass – someone else says sins. Some end with thine is the kingdom and the power. Others stop with deliver us from evil.

I think the lesson from Brother Johannesen is that you just mix it up. You go where there’s a good meeting. You meet your brothers and sisters in the Lord where they live. You worship together. You forget about your denominational difference and just focus on worshipping Jesus.

This weekend people will be worshipping in all sorts of ways, some will clap and shout, others will bow and confess. It may look different. It may not be your style. Nevertheless, the focus is Jesus. Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. How will you worship the Lord?