Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Sound of my Own Voice

As a child I sang often.  Like my own children, I made up songs while playing.  I sang in the children's choir at church.  I sang along to songs on the radio.  When I was just four-years-old I began singing solo at church. 

My singing voice was never a "big" voice.  Just quiet, but usually confident. 

For years I sang.

Sometime after my twentieth birthday, I stopped singing alone, especially in front of an audience of any size.  I would still sing along with the radio, or in a large group of people, but never alone.

I think, that without realizing it, I lost the sound of my own voice. 

It's a strange thing to lose the sound of your own voice, but I know I'm not alone. 

A few years ago, I saw an autobiographical show about the musician, Shania Twain.  As she told her story, I was struck by her words as she talked about being unable to sing.  She was a professional musician that relied on her vocal talents for her livelihood, and yet she couldn't sing.  She had vocal testing done and was found to be physically fine, but she said her spirit was so broken that she couldn't bear to make music with her voice.

So a couple of weeks ago, I found myself alone in the car.  (This is a very rare occasion when you're a homeschooling mom of four young children.  I'm not often alone anywhere.)  For more than an hour I drove in silence.  I didn't turn on the radio, because I wanted to be alone with my uninterrupted thoughts.

Maybe it's a little narcissistic, but I decided to use the voice memo on my phone and record myself singing the first song that came to mind.  It was a hymn that I sang as a child.

Then I pressed play, and I heard my own voice.  Still quiet, but confident.  The words I sang were truth.  The voice I sang with was much more grown up than I last remembered it sounding.  And it wasn't such a bad thing to hear.  It was refreshing.  It was honest.  It was for an audience of one.  And I think He responded with singing, too.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The gray of grief

I dreamt of my mom last night.  We were sitting across from each other in a restaurant having lunch.  We talked about appointments.  I asked when her next appointment would be and if she wanted me to take her.

She smiled and with glistening eyes said, "Late Thursday, but you can't take me.  It's the last appointment and I'll go alone."

In the dream I wept.  The ugly cry came quickly.

I woke with a damp pillow, an aching heart, and a longing to sleep and be with her again.

The sleep evaded me.  The children began to wake and the demands of the day came with them, tumbling into my bed.

I see grace in the last days, weeks, and months of my mom's life.  But I also feel the gaping hole that has been left in her death. 

This grief is like a foggy morning.  Like a ship engulfed, I bellow fog horn moaning, waiting for a response, longing for the fog to lift.  I sit, surrounded.  It's hard to make out the light, to reach the solid ground, to find my way in the thickness of it, so I wait.  I'm feeling for warmth, looking for light that breaks through, longing for a clear view.  I know the fog is a vapor.  It will not last.  It cannot last.  But right here, right now, it's thick, and heavy, and cumbersome.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sprinkler fun

My children played in the sprinklers in our yard after dinner. 
They ran fast and jumped silly right in the middle of the spray.
They stood directly over it and shook bottoms, crazy dancers in the fading light of day.
We laughed and clapped at an assortment of stunts.
The baby girl walked tentatively on the edges and directed the traffic of older siblings through water.

It was easy.
It was good.
It was medicine to my weary, wounded soul.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tribute to my Mom--Her Eulogy

This entry is a group effort--with input and ideas from my siblings and our children, my sister and I wrote my mom's eulogy.  She passed peacefully from this life into the next, early in the morning, on June 7.  As one friend kindly said, she fell asleep in Dacula, Georgia and woke in Heaven.

My sister spoke eloquently as she delivered treasured memories of our mom on Sunday afternoon at her memorial service.

I want to begin by saying thank you, to all of you for being here and for walking with us these past three months.  Without your love, support, prayers, and innumerable acts of kindness, we could not have made it through this difficult time.  So many of you stepped in to give rides to appointments, bring meals, clean house, pick up groceries or prescriptions, stop by and sit for awhile and visit with Mom and simply lighten the load that our family has carried with her illness and for that we will always be grateful.

Many of you received notes from my mom this week thanking you for helping us to celebrate her 60th birthday and my parents’ 40th anniversary a few weeks ago.  We found a handful more notes on the coffee table that she had written, but not addressed yet, and we plan to deliver those very soon.  She was so grateful for each of you.

There is a line in the movie, Steel Magnoilas, that I love.  “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”  That’s what I want to share, on behalf of our family today.

To start things off, I’d like to share a card that Michael gave mom for Mother’s Day this year.  It says, “Mom, I’m so thankful for all the life lessons you’ve taught me…(open to read)…especially that potty training.  That has come in handy so many times.”  I also gave our dad a card one Father’s Day that said on the front, “You’ve been like a father to me…” then wrote on the inside, “because you are.”  You see, our family isn’t really the serious and moving emotional card kind of bunch. 

When we asked the grandchildren about their favorite memories of Nana, most were general things like Easter egg hunts, Nana’s swing set or front porch swings, playing with Nana and reading stories with her.  However, Andrew had a very recent and specific memory he wanted to share.  Just last Saturday we went with Nana to dinner at Red Lobster.  Andrew ordered the chicken fingers, and he is our more selective eater, so this was the first time he had eaten Red Lobster’s chicken fingers.  As he began to eat he asked, “What part of the chicken does this come from?”  Mom, without hesitation very matter-of-factly said, “The breast.”  Andrew then said, “Well, if this is the chicken’s breast, where’s the nipple?”  I leaned over and pointed to the end of one chicken finger, “Right there.”  At which point, Mom nearly spit her food out, she was laughing so hard.

As I was reading my devotion this weekend, I was drawn to the verses in 1Peter 4:8-10.  It says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  I feel like these verses say a lot about the way my mom chose to live her life, and I hope you’ll see that in what is said here today.

Anyone who spent more than five minutes with my mom knew just how amazing her children are.  To hear mom tell it, I (Kimberly) would likely have my own design show on HGTV any day now & probably a Grammy for singing and songwriting within the year.  Lorie would be expecting publication of her writing, while homeschooling her 4 children, and preparing an acceptance speech for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Michael would we be in the process of creating the next version of the internet, it would be hard for her to explain it exactly, because it was probably a top secret army project and she wasn’t even sure how to get a wi-fi connection when she wasn’t in her own living room.
She would tell you about her sons-in-law and how proud she was to have them in the family.  She was so accepting and welcoming when each one joined the family.  She might let you know that her son-in-law, Todd, was very good with small engine repair and he could surely repair any problems with your lawn equipment.  One of Todd's first memories of her was when he was over at the house for lunch one day early in our dating relationsihp.  As we were seated in the dining room, there was no need for Daddy to be cleaning a gun or sharpening a knife.  Unknown to us, but clearly in Todd's line of vision, was Mom, hacking with all her might with an ice pick in the freezer.  In his words, she was, "easy to talk to, but she was definitely a Mama Bear."
When Eric joined our family, with him came a newfound appreciation of cultural diversity.  Eric is American-born Korean.  It was nothing for Mom to strike up a conversation with with anyone of Asian descent that she encountered.  She would ask if they were Korean and then she would tell them all about her wonderful son-in-law, his parents, and how they came to live in America.  She was a self-appointed ambassador to the local Asian community.

If you had the good fortune of another five minutes with my mom, you’d soon find out about her grandchildren.  Seven of the most brilliant, entertaining, extraordinary kids anyone could hope to meet.  Like their parents, in Nana’s eyes, they did no wrong…well maybe occasionally they did wrong, but Nana would just mention it to their parents in a question, “Did you tell the kids they could play in the street?” because she simply couldn’t imagine that our perfect offspring might actually choose to go anywhere or do anything without their parents' consent and blessing, and she wouldn’t want to overstep our parenting decisions by telling us exactly what we should do with them. 

Within 15 minutes of talking with, or maybe listening to, my mom, you’d know how she and my dad were both Gwinnett County natives.  You’d know about how they had known each others’ families for years before they ever started dating.  You’d know about her brothers and sisters.  She may have even recommended one of her brothers to repair your transmission, or car’s air conditioner.  She may have told you how proud she is of all that they’ve accomplished in the last year since her father died.  She would talk about how “Daddy was so worried about them, but they’ve all done so well.  It’s really just great!”  She would have told you about her baby sister, how she remembers being so excited to have a sister and what a smart, beautiful, determined and amazing woman she is. 

In my mom’s eyes, her family could do very little wrong.  I think that she was well aware of our faults, she just consciously chose to focus on the best in everyone.  This may be why she was able to continue to do childcare for more than 35 years.

My mom loved children, especially babies.  They say that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” so you might think that Deborah Plott would have achieved total world domination by now.  If you look around Gwinnett and the surrounding counties, and followed the paths of every child that was in her home, either through childcare or friends of her kids growing up, add in children that were touched by her volunteer efforts in the local schools through PTA and Girl Scout leadership, combine the kids that were under her care through Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or church nursery, we could estimate that given another few  years, she would have at least ruled the state of Georgia, if not the world.

So even with a basic introduction, you quickly knew what my mom valued…relationships.  Now what you may not have realized is how my mom valued relationships so much, that she often gave much more than was expected to feed the relationships most important to her.

You may not have known about the summer days in the early to mid 1980s that she would load a station wagon full of kids (really full because they didn’t have to all be in carseats or even seatbelts) to go get books from the library for summer reading and hours spent watching those kids splash around in the pool in the backyard.  She may not have told you the story of the day that she stayed bent over the bathroom tub trying to clean bubblegum out of the hair of at least 4, if not six, 4-7 year old kids.  She probably didn’t tell you about the silliness at the dinner table that actually ended with some mashed-potatoes on the wall occasionally...and that was when we were teenagers.  She might have also omitted the fact that her kids, and their friends, could be found sitting on her kitchen countertops as she made dinner lots of evenings.  And if you weren’t fortunate enough to have visited our home in the late 90s, you wouldn’t have known about the way my mom turned our living room into a pool hall, which my dad, brother, and his friends, enjoyed many evenings.  You may not have realized that my mom’s recent home renovations, adding a doorway where there wasn’t one before, was so everyone could feel like they were together when they came to her house.

There were other random and amusing things that you may not have known about my mom:

1)       She loved Elvis, and even married a man with long black hair and pork-chop sideburns

2)      She was very hot natured.  It was quite common for her home to be “comfortably” cool to her and we would be sitting on the couch in a sweatshirt, socks, and gloves in the summer.

3)      If she talked about her kids or grandkids, she was always conscious not to leave someone out.  In every photo book she made, she made sure to have the exact same number of photos for everyone, even if it meant including a blurry one, a non-flattering one, or one of the back side of your head.

4)      She had a very good memory.  Especially when it came to names, dates, time of birth for pretty much everyone she knew.  We joked that she would have been a brilliant CIA agent, or perhaps a stalker.

5)      She was an avid reader and would often incorporate things she read into her lifestyle and conversations.  For example, she read somewhere that prunes are very good for you and there are trace amounts in Dr. Pepper.  So she switched to that from Coke. (True story)

6)      It was nothing for her to decide that she wanted to rearrange the furniture in the house, or just buy new, without my dad knowing.  This would have been okay, except for the times when he returned home from work late at night and would try to navigate through the house in the dark.

7)      If you had the chance to travel out of the country, you could be sure to expect a party or possibly a cross-country road trip upon your return.  When Lorie returned from living in China for a year, Mom had a trip planned for everyone to drive from Georgia to Utah the day after she arrived home to visit Todd and me.  Having never traveled outside of the US herself, she never even thought that you might be jetlagged and exhausted.

8)      In the last several years, with an empty nest, she really liked to eat out and didn’t have much food at the house.  If my kids were over, she might say, “Do they want something to eat?  I’ve got a bag of croutons and some raisins.” Or some equally random and unusual combination of foods.

9)      Often she would call me and in general conversation would say, “What are you doing?"  No matter what I ever said in reply she would respond, “I thought you might be doing that.”  We joked that I should say something crazy like, “Todd and I were playing cowboys and Indians,” just to see if she would still say, “I thought you might be doing that.”

10)   She liked her bacon extra crispy and her hashbrowns lightly cooked, and her regular waitress at Waffle House, Amanda, knew that.

I could go on for a while about all the different layers that made up my mom, but I really believe these last few months she was getting ready to leave us all behind.  She put everything into her relationships, as much as she could give.  And even as she prepared to pass from this life into the next, she was thinking of those she loved.  She read a letter online somewhere and we found where she had copied it into her journal.  We believe she wrote it in just the last few days.  (letter)

When most of us leave home, we write a letter back to our loved ones.  I believe that if our loved ones that have gone on to be with Jesus could write such a letter back, this is what they might say:

                I had a safe trip .  The angels carried me safely into Abraham’s bosom.  You won’t  believe the thrill I felt when I met the one who died for me.  And no matter what you’ve heard, there’s just not words that can describe the glory that surrounds Him.  I’m satisfied here.  Every need has been supplied and just wait till you see my new home.  I’m satisfied because there is no sin here.  No murders, no divorce, no abortions, no selfishness, no need to even have locks on the door.  Perfect peace.  I’m satisfied.  There’s even no sickness.  I never felt better.  I have a new body, just like Jesus.  And oh, I wish you could hear the singing!  David played his harp today and a great crowd gathered by the river of life and sang a new song.  Of course the angels couldn’t sing that one, but they were all listening.  It’s really wonderful here ‘cause there are no strangers and everyone knows me by name.  Seems like I’ve been here forever.  The weather is great.  There is a cool breeze blowing all the time and you know one of the nicest things, night or dark never comes.  It’s light here where Jesus himself is the light of the city.

                Please remember I’m safe.  I’m satisfied.  And I’m not sick anymore.  There’ll be no need for me to write again, ‘cause nothing here ever changes.

                Well, in closing, the only thing that would make it complete is for all my family and friends to join me in heaven.