Monday, March 17, 2014

Passing on

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
10,000 years and then forever more.
 -Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons

It's not a song that's normally sung in our traditional service, but yesterday was Youth Sunday and they were in charge, so the song sets for both services were the same. As I sang the lyrics I looked around at the rest of the congregation. Median age? About 70, give or take a few years. And something about that struck me as a beautiful and profound picture of walking out our lives with faith to the very end. It's a reasonable assumption that most of the congregation I stood with yesterday morning are much closer to finishing the race than I am. They know what it's like to have strength that is failing. They've lost parents, partners, friends and more. They are watching the end draw nearer and they are still singing, still faithful.

I didn't know, in that moment when I looked around and thought about endings and lives well lived, that my own grandmother was passing away that morning.

It's odd, the little things that we remember. For me it's the homemade crackers she sometimes made, all crisp and onion-y. I know she made a lot of wonderful food, but the crackers are what I remember, just like I can remember hoping on the long drive from our home in Ohio to theirs in Indiana that this would be a visit when there would be crackers. The first time I made my own batch of homemade crackers I thought of her. I wish I had asked her for her recipe.

And I remember her sewing room, the place where we usually ended up sleeping on our biannual visits. Not in detail, just vague memories of the scent of cotton and sewing machine oil, the sound of the clock on the wall chiming the hour. My grandmother never pieced her quilts while we were there visiting, but I knew that when we were gone that room was her domain, the place where she spent hours at her machine.

I never realized just what an artist she truly was until several years ago, when a rare trip to Indiana meant a chance to visit her after years of living too far away. Ninety-five years old and she was still piecing together quilt tops and wall hangings. Not just piecing from pattern, but designing. "Oh, I saw that picture on a place-mat at breakfast and brought it back to the room because I liked it so I wanted to see if I could make a wall-hanging from it." And so she did, and it was good. Learn a new fabric folding and applique trick at ninety-five? Yes, please.

Me and the boys with my grandmother in 2007

Most of her quilts and wall-hangings were pieced for charity, 46 years of measuring, snipping and stitching all so that they could be auctioned off to raise funds for Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development arm of the Mennonite Church. She pieced her last quilt in 2013, at the age of 101.

This is a faithfulness that brings me to tears, a combined passion for creating and for giving that poured itself out through every snip of the scissors, every stitch of the machine. It's a faithfulness and passion that refused to waste one single moment of her life, that took the gifts she had been given poured them out in her own language of praise.

My husband and I have both been honored to have grandmothers like this. His own grandmother, who passed away in December, pieced over 5,000 comforters in her retirement that have been sent all over the world as part of MCC's relief efforts. Where my grandmother was art and design his grandmother was practicality and 'these scraps are still good, someone should use them.' But it was still snip of the scissors and hum of the machine.

Mike's grandmother and the boys - 2012 (?)

People are warm today because of his grandmother. People have drinkable water and medical care and access to sustainable farming education because of my grandmother. They took their ordinary lives and the resources they had around them and they gave themselves.

I think we sometimes don't hear the songs of the quieter saints. We listen to the young and the loud, the hip and the relevant. There's just not much relevant about piecing a comforter or a quilt. We talk about being radical but sometimes I wonder if we will still be singing our songs with the same fervency when our strength is failing, when our own end is drawing near. I want to have the passion of our grandmothers, to take this beautiful, ordinary life and not waste one second, one word, one drop of the gifts that I've been given.

About two weeks after Mike's grandmother passed away our boys spent a few days down on the farm with his parents. And my nine-year-old decided that he wanted to piece a comforter, so with a little guidance from Mike's mother, he did. Snip of the scissors. Stitch of the machine. Piece by piece. It's finished and waiting to be tied, waiting to be sent on its own journey of relief, to be warmth to someone who needs it.

Kyle's comforter
 There's a legacy that's been passed on, a song of faithfulness that's been sung down through the generations, praise rising up from ordinary lives. Oh, how I want to still be singing it when my day is done.


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