Remaining To Be Seen

How many times did I have to hear her tell this story? It was ingrained in my mind, and I didn’t fully believe it. It would come out of nowhere, and it made me uncomfortable sometimes because it gave off the idea that I was “special.” I didn’t want to be perceived as that.

“Your dad thought you were going to be a boy, and I knew we were going to have another girl.”

This is how the soliloquy always started. She would get this far-off look and go back in time.

“We chose your name because we knew we could go either way with it, and you were destined to either be a Christine or a Christopher.”

When I started printing my name, I realized the first part looked like a major holiday. She displayed all of the cards after getting them in the mail. I took one of them to her and said,

“Is Christmas named after me?”

I pointed out the first five letters. If she said yes, my life at six years old was about to change for the better.

“No. It’s named after Christ and not Christine.”

What a major disappointment!

“The “mas” part means mass. So together, it means Christ’s Mass, and to celebrate his birth.”

This is why I was at church on Christmas Eve at midnight, trying not to fall asleep. I would never make kids do that if it was named after me. There would have been one present after another, candy and no school, ever for the rest of our lives. Instead, it was a hot environment with lung-burning incense and words spoken in Latin in low monotone voices. That was a tranquilizer right there.

“Your dad was so sure that you were going to be a boy that he went out and bought a set of infant pajamas that said little slugger on them. He wanted a boy to play baseball.”

Somehow his wish was granted. I played softball for eight years, and he was at every single game.

He was so accustomed to having three sons ahead of me; he tried to lure me into the fold. I think he secretly wanted to outnumber the girls and get an advantage over my mother.

If I didn’t want to eat something, he would look at me and say,

“Chris, eat that! It will put hair on your chest!”

“John! Don’t tell her that! She really won’t eat it now!”

She was right because I visualized everything. I was not about to leave that table looking like a gorilla because he convinced me to eat beets. No way.

I watched every football game with him, and he always had me open the numbers that he had bought at the office.

“Open these, Chris. You have better luck than I do.”

It never made sense to me, but I took the paper that was sealed and opened it. He always won some small amount based on the score, and I recall two zeros won him $50.

“Here. Sip the foam.”

He would hand me his mug of beer. I absolutely hated the taste, but it was his, so I slurped as he said to.

It was an indoctrination to tip the scales in his favor.

“The day I went into labor with you, he took his time. I told him we had to go, and he made himself a cup of coffee, took a long shower, slowly shaved every hair off his face, and had breakfast. I kept telling him to hurry up. He thought it would be like the other five. A long, laborious process and him sitting in a waiting room. I told him it wouldn’t be that way this time.”

The nurse had gotten her into the room and settled.

“I think you should call the doctor right away,” she said.

“Oh, it will be a while.” I will be back to check on you in a little bit.”

“That was so frustrating not to have anyone listen to me. I knew it was going to happen fast.”

She pushed her call light, and when the nurse appeared again, she insisted.

“You need to get the doctor now!”

The nurse saw that my mom was right and ran to get help.

“The obstetrician slid into the room and caught you at the last second. And then the moment came!”

This is when the story always took a higher, dramatic turn.

“I told your dad that I didn’t enjoy looking into a baby’s eyes because they never looked back at me. It was like a blank slate with nothing there. But not you! You looked at me, and I said…look! She has an understanding of things, and she came here with knowledge, and God sent her here with a message.”

I didn’t fully believe her recounting of this because she also went around telling everyone I had blue eyes way past the point of it being a possibility. She desperately wanted one of her children to have my dad’s colored eyes, but her predominant brown always won out.

“I never got my blue-eyed child! Actually, his eyes can be blue sometimes and switch to green. I would have taken either one.”

I innocently asked him once,

“Why do your eyes change color?”

“They are green when I have money and blue when I don’t.”

I believed him, so I always looked at him closely before executing my begging session for spare change.

“You had something that no other infant I held ever had. Instead of a dark void, you were born with wisdom, Chris.”

She had seen her fair share of dealing with births, from her own to those she assisted with as an RN.

In later years, I searched the meaning of my name and found out it means “follower of Christ.” She knew what she was doing, sealing my association with God.

She also gave me this piece of advice,

“You can always tell what’s going on with a person by looking them in the eye.”

Her words came to life for me recently when I was at a restaurant with a friend. She travels with her small dog everywhere she goes, and she puts her in a high chair. The staff at this particular place think something is wrong if she doesn’t show up with her pet. Not a single patron took offense, and everyone who looked our way would smile brightly.

We had been there for a while, and a lady on her way out stopped.

“That is the cutest thing I have ever seen!”

Then, she broke down crying.

“I had to put my beagle down a few months ago.”

She was so overcome with grief we had her pull up a chair. She told us that her significant other of twenty years had died unexpectedly in March. He was driving his semi-truck, and an autopsy later showed he had suffered a blood clot to the brain, killing him instantly. A man saw what was happening and took control of the truck, and called for help.

I found out she was in her mid-70s, while he had been 64 and one year away from retirement.

“Do you feel his presence?” I asked.

She wasn’t drawn to us to just admire the dog.

“Not really. I miss him terribly.”

Her pain was so severe, and I felt a crushing pain in my chest. She felt as if her life was turned upside down financially, and fear gripped her regarding how she would take care of a house all by herself. As she spoke of all of her worries, she cried harder.

I knew this type of fear, not from death but from a divorce. Except she was much older than I had been when my unexpected adjustment arrived.

“He’s standing right here. I can see him, and he isn’t gone.” I tried to break past her pain for just a second.

I start to feel like I’m saying the same thing to different people, but this is how it seems to be. Those who have gone on stand near or behind those to who they are connected to. This seemed to calm her down a bit.

“I do feel him sometimes on the side you say he is.”

“What about lights? Mine used to get clicked on and off when my mom first wanted my attention. I would suddenly be sitting in a dark room, and then they would blink back on. Does that happen to you?”

“Oh. Yes. I have a lamp that does that all the time.”

“That’s him. He’s trying to tell you that he is around. And I know you have to grieve, but try to take yourself out of it for a little bit. When you feel happy, that is the frequency he is on. Heaven isn’t on anything but joy.”

“I kept seeing a cardinal in my daughter’s yard all last summer, and it would come to sit by me. Do you know about what is said about that?”

Do I know about the symbols of cardinals showing up to represent a message from heaven? Definitely.

“Yes. I know about that a lot. So, you said at first you didn’t feel his presence, but you do. He isn’t gone from you at all. You miss the physical part of who he was, but if you can feel his presence, it will help you heal. It will help you overcome the loneliness.”

I took her hand and asked God to have her start seeing what I could.

By the time she said goodbye to us, I saw her smile reach her eyes. I was witnessing Psalm 147:3 in action:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (NIV)

“I’m so glad I met you both,” she said on her way out. There wasn’t a trace of one tear because I helped her realize this from Psalm 32:8 that says:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (NIV)

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you allow God to take over your life completely, all else will fall to the wayside and that will be the only thing remaining to be seen.

I still think it should have been named after me…

Grandma’s Goodbye

“I need you to pray that grandma’s surgery goes well.” I heard the plea in her voice and considered how difficult it must have been for my mom to ask for prayer. She had always been close to my grandma, her mother.

“When is the procedure?” I asked.

“Tomorrow at nine in the evening.”

My grandma had been residing in an assisted living facility because her memory had begun to slip making it impossible for her to live unsupervised. Her physical health was superior, and the only medication she was taking was eye drops. One day, while walking down a hallway, she tumbled, broke her hip and was now in need of surgery.

“Her physician says she will do just fine, so I am not worried, but prayer would be nice.”

“I will pray, ” I said as we hung up.

Instead of rushing right ahead to pray, I began thinking about my grandma and the times we had visited her when I was a child. Scenes from days gone by went through my mind. I recalled how she repeatedly said to me,

“Chrissy, I feel Jesus standing right here next to me.” She would point to her right shoulder, and I would imagine Him standing there. “He is always with me.”

Then, it was as if someone pushed a fast forward button on my memory and a recent conversation with her came to my mind.

“I am ready to go anytime. I don’t need to stay here anymore.”

At this, tears began to fall from my eyes because I was beginning to get the picture.

I hadn’t gotten down on my knees to plead with heaven to spare her. I didn’t pull out scriptures from the Bible requesting that it be done. I simply had paused for a moment, took a breath and decided to let whatever I felt come to me.

I wasn’t so sure I was comfortable with what I was feeling, so I decided to call my brother. When he answered the phone I explained my dilemma.

“I can’t pray for her like mom has asked me to. I feel like she wants to leave.”

“I know, ” he replied. “I feel the same way. She doesn’t want to be here anymore.” We spoke of her age and the full life she had lived.

The two of us had known her as a loving grandma without being fully aware of the hardships she had endured. I hadn’t realized until I was an adult that she had suffered through an unloving, unfaithful marriage. If that was difficult enough, she had raised a bedridden daughter and later watched her die. We just knew her as the one who made the best peanut butter cookies and cherry kool aid.

“I have never had this happen before. Usually, I pray for people and expect the best. I still expect the best, but she might be called to go home.”

“I know,” he said again. With that, I felt reassured that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.

The next day, I completely forgot about the surgery. I got out of bed and went about my day, full speed ahead with an eleven month old and a five year old. Back then, there wasn’t time to think or dwell on anything.

By evening, I had somehow tucked both girls into bed by 9 pm without the usual silly hassle of multiple drinks of water and last minute requests. Already, divine intervention was at work. Quietly, I shut their bedroom door and tiptoed to the kitchen. This is what I used to call “mommy time.”  The house was quiet, and I had a few moments of peace all to myself.

As I entered the kitchen, I found myself in a strange place. It was as if a projector screen was pulled down in front of me. My eyes were wide open as I stood and observed the scene. I was standing at the head of a hospital bed. The white, soft curls were immediately recognizable. It was my grandma. Then it hit me. The surgery was scheduled for 9 pm!

In a whispered tone I heard,

“We cannot stabilize her blood pressure. I don’t know why.”

The whir of the machines was quite audible. It is difficult to put into words what happened next. It felt like a warm blanket was wrapped around me but not just on the external. I felt warm from the inside out. Similar to when you see someone whom you love across a crowded room. As I looked on, I saw my grandma, or her image, float above her body and begin to fly away. I felt myself begin to go with her. Soon, we were out of the building and in the sky. Again, this was all happening like a virtual game going on as I stood in my kitchen, yet I was with her as well. As she flew higher and higher, these words went through my mind,

“Keep writing. Don’t give up. And, take care of your mother for me. ”

As I stood there, I thought,

What is this warm feeling?

“Heaven,” came the reply.

After this, I was able to walk into my living room with the glorious feeling radiating in my being. I began to wonder,

How can she see me? I live in Minnesota. She lives in North Dakota.  The answer swiftly popped into my head.

“It was promised to you when you were a child. She promised to say goodbye to you before she left here.”

I then saw a scene from when I was nine years old. My grandma and I were walking in her backyard looking at trees, flowers and birds. Our talk turned to how life soon is over and becomes death.

She jokingly said,

“Chrissy, I am going to come back and haunt you.” She made these big scary eyes and starting hooting like an owl which made me laugh.

“What if I go first? I will come back for you!”

As we continued on our walk we spoke of God and the afterlife.

“Will you say goodbye to me before you leave?” I asked innocently.

“Yes. If God lets me I will.”

And, it happened. My grandma Hazel, who made me feel so important as a child, came and said farewell before going on to a much better place.

Without warning, I was back in the living room and the warmth had disappeared.  I cried because I knew she was gone.

Shortly after, the phone rang. A family member said he had news for me.

“Grandma is gone,” I said.

“How do you know that? I was calling to tell you.”

“She came and said goodbye to me.”

That night, before bed, a poem came to mind. I can’t help think that she sent it my way. After all, she was a talented writer who never found fame or glory in it, but wrote for the love of it.

I know what she is doing
Now that she’s taken flight
She is standing next to Jesus
Bathed in His glorious light
She’s hugging close the little ones
Who leave the earth too soon
She’s telling them God’s secrets
How He made the sun, the stars, the moon
She is not getting out her china
And setting places so neat
No, she is at the Lord’s table
In her own special reserved seat
She’s living in her mansion
That Jesus went to prepare
I know she has a garden
She’s tending with extra care
Her eyes no longer blurred
She can hear the angels sing
She joins in the chorus
Giving praises to the King
I know that she will be there
Waiting expectantly for me
Her home is heaven
Peaceful eternity.

Seventeen years ago today on January 29, 1998 I experienced my grandma’s goodbye.

Hazel

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