"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"  Luke 15:4-6

April 25, 2007

Life In The Fold:

(This article is longer than usual and I thought about dividing it into two separate parts, but couldn't find a good place to separate it without losing the full message.  I have never shared this full story before, but feel like it is time to do so.  My prayer is that it will either minister and touch your life, or perhaps help you better understand someone who is dealing with or has dealt with grief.)

Grief is something that each of us must deal with at one time or another.  Whether it's the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, wayward children or any number of things; each one of us will face grief.  How we deal with it may differ, but in our own way we will have to go through a process that will result in either inner healing or bitterness.

The death of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins is something I have dealt with since an early age.  Although I was saddened by their loss, I could never fully empathize with their families until my own home was tragically touched.

Bonnie (Parton) Horton was my mother, and in my opinion was as close to a saint as one could possibly get here on earth.  She was a woman of great faith and touched everyone's life who came in contact with her.

Growing up, my mom was the one who taught me the importance of prayer.  Each night my parents, my four older sisters and I would gather in the living room for family prayer before going to bed.

Being the baby of the family, it felt as if I had a special bond with Mama.  My sister, Janie, started kindergarten the year I was born so it was just me and Mama at home for five school years.  She was a housewife so was home with me every day.  The year I began school was extremely difficult for me.  I had never been separated from my mother and didn't want to leave her.  I cried every day, all year long, my first year in school.

My mom's family were all extremely close knit.  Three girls and seven boys had been born to Jesse and Rosa Parton.  Even after both parents were deceased, all but their oldest daughter still lived within twenty miles of one another.

Although they were all married and had families of their own, Mama's brothers would often stop by our house during the day.  Relatives would come by during the evenings to visit.  Upon arrival, my uncles would always go into the  kitchen to see if Mama had a pie baked or something good to eat.  Whenever she made donuts, her brother who lived nearby, would always somehow find out and show up in her kitchen.

Our house was tiny, but it was a comfortable place where everyone felt at home and loved to be.  Until I was five, the house consisted of a living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms.  My dad then built on another bedroom, utility room, and most importantly, an indoor bathroom.  My parents owned forty acres in Lampe, Missouri, which was a small town where everyone knew one another.

When I was eight years old my mother began having some problems and went to the doctor.  She was told that she had an ulcer.  The problems continued and upon going to another doctor she was diagnosed with colon cancer.  At that time she was forty years old.

During the next seven years Mama fought hard and tried everything she could to fight against the cancer.  Chemotherapy and radiation treatments had no effect.  She ended up with a colostomy and over time endured four different surgeries.

At that time, children under the age of twelve were not allowed into the patient's hospital room, so I would either have to stay with a relative or sit in the waiting room when my dad and sisters would go visit her in the evenings.  I would write her letters or make cards to send to her.  She kept those and I still have a lot of them today.

She received chemotherapy treatments once a week and had severe headaches for days afterwards.  She would start feeling better right before the next treatment and have to go through the whole process again.

During all this, I remember coming home from school and she would be lying on her bed with her Bible always beside her.  The first thing I would do is lie down beside her and she would put her arm around me and ask me to tell her about my day.  This time with her was my favorite part of the day.

After going through the radiation, she could no longer sit up straight in a chair and had to sit leaning to the side.  Her health began to deteriorate and my sisters and I began to take on more of the responsibilities of the home.

There were nights that the pain would get so severe that she couldn't sleep.  Several times when the pain was severe, Daddy would call my mom's sister, who would pass the word on to her brothers that they needed to come pray.  They would all get out of bed and drive down to our house and we would all pray until the pain subsided and she could sleep again.

Mama would get up before every one else in the morning, because we only had one bathroom and she had to clean her colostomy daily.  At times I would wake up and hear her crying in the bathroom, because she was hurting so badly and desperate for relief.  She would be praying and ask God to heal her and requested if He chose not to, to please let her die.

Through it all, she kept a positive outlook and rarely complained.  People would ask how she was feeling and her reply would always be that she was doing okay.  She was always steadfast in her faith in God.  There came a point where she could no longer attend church, which was something she missed desperately.  Several times the church people came to our house and had service with her there.

Finally in December of 1980, she was in the hospital for the last time.  Her doctor told her there was nothing more they could do and told our family that she had a month left to live.  Mama wanted to come home and spend her last days with her family there, instead of being in a hospital.

We set up a hospital bed in one of the bedrooms and brought her home.  My oldest sister, Joyce and her husband, who were pastors, had resigned their church and moved a mobile home close to our house so they could help the family.  They had four little boys and I think having her grandkids close by was very special to Mama.  Linda quit her job to stay home and give Mama the constant care she needed.  Shirley and her husband were youth pastors at that time and expecting their first child, who would be born exactly one month to the day after Mama passed away.  Janie continued working and used most of her paycheck to help buy groceries and pay bills.  Daddy was self employed and worked as much as he could during this time.  I was a sophomore in high school.

I'm not sure that anyone realized how financially poor we were during that time.  There were times when we had only had a few groceries in the house and it was just a day to day existence, but God was faithful to provide.  It seemed like we lived on pinto beans, and I got to the point where for years afterwards I could barely force myself to eat them.  I have never forgotten one meal that my mom's nephew and his wife brought to our family during that time.  That roast, potatoes and red velvet cake is the most memorable meal I have ever eaten.  Another time a lady gave us $100 for groceries, which was an answer to prayer.

There had been other incidents throughout the prior years where people within the community had stepped up to help our family.  A benefit singing was held in the local school gym where the proceeds helped us with medical expenses.  One summer, a man in the community who had known my parents for years, bought a window unit air conditioner for us hoping that it would keep our house cooler and make Mama more comfortable.

We were now dealing with the doctor's final prognosis. The next several weeks were the most frightening and emotional weeks of my life.  I hated going to school in the mornings because I was scared that Mama wouldn't be there when I got back home.  There were times when her breathing would get irregular and we would call her family to come, thinking that dreaded moment had arrived.  After a while, her breathing would regulate and she would seem to gain strength.  It was heart wrenching, watching her struggle for breath and thinking each breath might be her last.

The doctor had prescribed morphine for her pain and had told us to give it to her whenever she needed it.  There were times when she was lucid and knew what was going on and was able to converse with her family.  At other times, she would hallucinate.  One afternoon as I sat talking with her, she looked at me and said, “You'll miss me by and by.”  I think she knew that she wasn't going to make it and was trying to tell me.

The week before her death, she slipped into a coma.  We called the county nurse who had been stopping by regularly, and also made a call to her doctor.  Her blood pressure was barely registering, her heartbeat was slowing and we were told she wouldn't wake out of the coma.

Mama's sister and brothers were there at our house the majority of that time.  I can still picture her younger brother sleeping on our couch with his feet hanging off the end.

One evening we were all shocked when she woke up.  Her first words were, “I thought you all would be praying” then she proceeded to sing the chorus to the old hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour”.

She seemed to regain strength and her mind was clear, and I was jubilant inside thinking this was a sign that she was miraculously going to be healed and live.  I hated watching Mama having to endure such sickness and suffering and just wanted her to get well.

A couple of days later, I was awakened and told that I needed to get up because she was struggling to breathe.  I remember standing at the foot of her bed wishing I could somehow help her as she lay fighting for each breath.  At 5:15 A.M. on February 22, 1981, she left this life of sickness and pain and went home to be with Jesus at the age of 48.

I was devastated to lose my mom. I was 15 years old and needed her desperately. Even though I didn't want her to suffer, I wasn't ready to say goodbye.

My mom's brother-in-law called the funeral home and I remember watching them carry her, all covered up, out on a stretcher to the hearse.  There was a part of me that wanted to hide and not watch what was taking place so that it wouldn't seem so real.

Some of the events of the next few days are a blur, while other details stand out vividly in my mind.

The next morning my dad, my sisters and I all went to the funeral home to make the arrangements.  My sisters and I had to go shopping to pick out a dress for Mama to be buried in.  She had lost so much weight that none of her other clothes would fit.  That afternoon we went back to the funeral home for visitation.  Tuesday afternoon was the funeral.

The main thing I can remember about the funeral was walking up to the casket and seeing my mom for the last time.  There was something about having to turn around and walk away that was almost impossible for me to do.  I stood there, and the thought went through my head was that once I turned around, they were going to close the lid to the casket and I would never see her again.  What if I forgot what she looked like?  I wanted to imprint her face in my memory.

The other thing that stands out in my mind about that day was some of the “well meaning” comments made to me by some women while we were at the cemetery.  My heart was breaking and I had just endured the toughest event of my 15 year old life.  I remember women hugging me and saying things like “you can't blame God” and “don't question God, because there's a reason why your mom died” and “you have to just accept this” or other such remarks.

When I went back to school one of my teachers told me that some of the students had been concerned about me but she had told them that I could handle this because I was tough.

I felt as though everyone expected me to be strong and deal with this loss. I also felt that if I mourned the loss of Mama, that meant I was questioning God and His wisdom.  All I wanted was to someday go to Heaven and be reunited with my mom, and I didn't want to do anything to prevent that from happening.

I told myself I was strong and could handle it just like I had been told, and the only time I cried was when I was in bed at night and no one could hear or see me.  People commented on how well I was doing and I let them think that was true, even though my heart felt shattered.

For many years afterwards, whenever something happened I would tell myself that people expected me to be strong, and that I needed to just take care of the situation and deal with it.  That worked for a long time, until something happened that finally freed me from that deception.

Twelve or thirteen years after Mama passed away, her sister-in-law found out that she had cancer.  It was already fairly advanced by the time she was diagnosed and she only lived a few months.  A few days before her death she was taken to a facility where she could receive hospice and nursing care.  The Sunday before she passed away, I went to check on the family to see if they needed anything.  They were all exhausted and I volunteered to spend the night so they could go home and get some rest.  A couple of other ladies also stayed and helped with her care. When she grew restless, I would sing and it seemed to calm her.  I got the call late Monday evening that she had passed away.

Something about watching her brought back memories I had kept deeply buried of Mama being sick, and the things we had dealt with during that time.  In the days that followed something hidden inside of me began to make it's way to the surface, and this time I couldn't squash it down.

I began thinking of Mama and missing her terribly.  I would cry all the time and couldn't seem to control it.  I was overwhelmed by my emotions and as hard as I tried to be strong and deal with this, I just couldn't.  This went on for several weeks and I came to the place where I knew that I had to have help from someone.  I was desperate and felt like I was falling apart in every aspect - physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.  I had been in church all my life and had been a Christian since I was five years old and had always had a strong relationship with God, but for some reason it seemed like when I prayed, God was far off and I just couldn't find any peace.  These were dark days that I went through, and I had a hard time talking to anyone about how I felt because I didn't really understand it myself.

One day my pastor called me into his office.  He had been watching me and knew that I was struggling. Prior to this, he had questioned me but I had pushed him away not knowing how to explain what I was feeling.  Once again, he talked to me and suggested that perhaps I needed to get professional counseling because he wasn't sure how to help.

He offered a suggestion for me to try.  He suggested that I go someplace where I could be alone and basically “have it out” with God.  He told me that God already knew how I felt and that nothing I said to Him would be a surprise.

I agreed to try that and it was one of the most emotional, honest, heart felt talks I have ever had with God.  I let out every bottled thought and emotion I had kept buried and hidden since I was fifteen years old.

I yelled, sobbed my heart out, and experienced everything from anger to heartbreak to unfairness.  I covered everything from it being unfair that Mama had seen all my sister's graduate high school but not me, to questioning why she hadn't received her healing.  I confessed that I was tired of always trying to be strong.  The bottom line is, what I finally did was mourn for the loss of Mama and experience grief.  I still don't understand why things happened as they did, but after all those years I finally found peace with the situation.

My dad remarried a wonderful lady when I was a senior in high school, and although they have been happy and she has been so good to him and our family, there are still times when I miss my mom and wished she were here.

It's not a deep heart-wrenching grief, but on Mother's Day I think of Mama and miss her.  On my wedding day, I wished she could have been there to see me all dressed up, walking down the aisle holding on to Daddy's arm.  There are times I wish I could pick up the phone and ask her advice.

I no longer mourn, for something wonderful happened after that afternoon I spend with God.  After all the words of anger and hurt were said, and after all the tears were cried, healing began to take place within my spirit.  I no longer felt wounded and trapped, but felt whole and complete.  I know that Mama is completely healed and will never suffer pain again and that some day I will once again be reunited with her.

Even though her sickness covered a lot of the years that we had together, I can now remember some of the good times, instead of only memories of her suffering.  For many years, it seemed the only thing I could remember about my childhood was my mom being sick.  I didn't have any recollection of the precious, happy memories that my sister's had.

I am so grateful that there was no unfinished business or no words left unsaid between my mother and me.  I know that Mama loved me and that she knew that I loved her.  I have no regrets.

When circumstances happen that causes a person pain, those of us who have been in a similar situation need to empathize with them and walk with them during their grief.  Those who have never walked in their shoes, need to withhold well meaning words of instruction and advice that rolls so easily off lips, when they know not that of which they speak.  We need not say “I know how you feel” when we really don't.  The process of healing can only begin after an individual has acknowledged and conquered grief.  If we withhold the benefit of grieving from an individual then we also withhold the joy of healing and wholeness.

Jon's Perspective:

In John Chapter 9, Jesus healed a man who was born blind.  His disciples asked whether the man was blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned.  Jesus basically said, "No!  He was blind so you could see a miracle today."  Can you imagine the horrible guilt he and his parents must have felt when everyone around them assumed it was their fault?  And can you imagine the great ministry he had when he told others of his healing?


On The Menewe:

Apple Salad

4-5 apples diced 1 small pkg white chocolate or vanilla pudding
1 banana sliced 1 can pineapple with juice
cool whip 1 cup miniature marshmellows
pecans- optional

Mix the dry pudding and cool whip together.  Fold in the other ingredients.



Laughing Lambs:

My sister, Janie, and her husband have been pastors of a deaf church for many years now.  When their two oldest children, Janee' and Jordan, were young, Janie and the kids were the only hearing people in the church.  To keep them quiet and occupied, she would have them take turns voice interpreting in the Sunday evening service.  My brother-in-law would preach his sermon in sign language, and they would voice out loud what he was signing.  One evening in his sermon, Jimmy was signing "God reigns, God reigns."  Janee' misread his sign and very seriously voice interpreted, "God roller skates, God roller skates".

Thought For The Week:

Whatever you're going through now, good or bad, remember that seasons change.

May the blessings of God rest upon you and your family each day.

We pray that our newsletters will touch and enrich your life.

We appreciate hearing from you!

(I love ewe)

Loretta & Jon Gray