Saturday, December 21, 2013

On Being Home for Christmas

*A year ago today, Nana heard the angels sing for real. She enhanced the meaning of Christmas for us, both in life and through death. I am reposting the words I shared at her memorial service.

Paris 1969

I wanted to share the rush of thoughts that flooded my mind Friday, December 21, 2012 when I got the news about my Nana. None of us live forever.  Surely, we all knew this was coming.  At 100 years old, Nana had definitely lived a full and complete life.

Being in California, I was not able to visit her in Sandusky, Ohio very easily or often. Over the past few years, I was painfully aware that every phone call might end up being our last goodbye.

As it turned out, I was in a long line at the post office waiting to mail Christmas presents that Friday so, I didn't take my mom's call when it came in. She had joined the hospice workers at Nana’s side the day before so I sensed I might want more privacy to take her call. I did play back her voicemail though while I waited my turn, to hear her say, “Mother is in the arms of the Lord.”

Time froze at that point and all I could hear was Phillip Phillips, “Home” song piping through the post office loudspeaker. Perhaps you know it from his American Idol fame or from the U.S. gymnastics team theme song from the summer Olympics.

Music has a way of ushering us back and forth between the physical and spiritual realms.  As I sat in my car for awhile, called my mom back, and absorbed the poignancy of Nana's passing and the timing of the song, I couldn't help but be impressed by the tenderness of God.

That very week, I was waiting for my daughter, Allie, to return home from her first semester at college in Boston.  She was due back December 22nd and it wouldn’t really be Christmas until she got here.  I could so easily imagine how Nana must have felt during so many Christmasses past as she welcomed all of our extended family--her 4 children, 10 grands and 21 great grandchildren--home for the holidays.  It was the heart of God in her to welcome us home.

For my entire childhood, we came home to 44th Street in Sandusky for Christmas.  It was “heaven” to us as kids.  Nana made it so. Without fail, she greeted us at back door as arrived from various out of town places.

John 14:2 says, In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

Waiting to descend Nana's stairs one Christmas morning
Like heaven, Nana’s house had many rooms. Each one bore the mark of her attention to detail and meticulousness. Like her, they emanated a clean distinctive air, an unattainable blend of Bon Ami, Fels Naptha soap, and peroxide all doused in powder puffs of Crabtree & Evelyn "Nantucket" talc and violets. The kitchen had a bulletin board with pictures of the entire family arranged neat as a pin and prominently displayed for all to see--or find themselves.  You could bank on the cookie jar being full of her trademark ice box oatmeal cookies and a not-so-secret drawer stocked with Snickers, York peppermint patties and packs of Wrigley’s gum. The showpiece of the kitchen was her 1940’s Frigidaire in mint condition inside and out.  It was vintage before vintage was hip.

Her dining room boasted custom mural wallpaper depicting a plantation landscape.  It looked brand new and stylish though it was hung thirty years prior.  Her silver service and glasses were always polished and ready at a moment’s notice.  

In the family room were four built-in knotty pine cubbies, one for each of her children, filled with school photos, wedding portraits and other milestones in that particular branch of the family tree.

Like her, the house was always the same: furnished, appointed, and maintained in picture perfect condition.  She set the bar on cleanliness that Py women ever since strive to attain.  It is no exaggeration that you could eat off her basement floor, maybe even the garage floor.

But she was not a “Martha” about it--the woman in the Bible remembered for being slightly frazzled, harried, perturbed, even resentful.  Quite the opposite, Nana went about her tasks gracefully, as if she were royalty.  She was never rushed or busy bodied.  She always had time to sit and tickle your arm or take a phone call. Try as we might, we will never meet her standard, nor her calm.

There was one room in her house that retained a certain mystery.  The door was often closed, especially if you got up as early as her in the morning.  With practical dark brown carpet and hunter green upholstery, it was not exactly off limits but, we all knew to knock.

There was a safe in the closet of this room that I don’t think I ever entered.  We knew it was there though, for on Christmas morning she’d unlock it and retrieve the traditional minted coin sets for all the grandsons, pearls for the girls, savings bonds and distribution checks for her children. This den was where she kept the valuables.  

It was also her sanctuary. The Lord’s Prayer was framed on the wall; a needlepoint kneeler was poised before an open Bible on a stand and a wood carving of praying hands.  Nana prayed there every morning and told us of having done so with Papa when he was alive. I believed her the many times she told me, ”I pray for you everyday.”

Her faith was real, active, consistent and pure, even if private. Her statement of faith might be summed up in these words she told me more than once, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

She had no need to beg to differ or debate. She believed the Bible as it was written and applied it daily and consistently with pressure as if polishing that silver so it was ready at a moment’s notice. I think the most valuable legacy she leaves us is her unwavering faith and those prayers for us.

As we’d leave Nana’s house after a holiday, she’d send us out the back door with lunch for the road, ham sandwiches, Snickers bars, and a jar of mustard pickles. As we’d back out the narrow, hedged driveway she’d scamper to the front window, poke her little gray head out between the dining room drapes, throw a kiss and stand there waving until our car rounded Hancock Street.

"Mim" Py
As she left us last Friday, my mom and Betsy, one of her favorite nurses, were on either side of her bed singing old familiar Christmas carols. Music was the conduit ushering her into the heavenly realm.  They sang all 3 verses of Silent Night as we will do at the end of this service. I believe Jesus welcomed her to a place He’d prepared with more care then even Nana could imagine. (And would you believe that very same song, Silent Night, came on the radio this morning as we watched them carry her out of Groff Funeral home?)  God is so tender with us.

For me, the meaning of Christmas was enhanced this year by thinking of Nana’s new reality. At last, she could see what she’d believed for so many years. 

This Jesus, whose birthday we just celebrated, was Lord at his birth and Christ her Savior was born. He made a way for her to come home. As they sang those lyrics to her, I believe she was literally seeing "glories stream from heaven afar.” The Son of God, love’s pure light, surely greeted her with “radiant beams from His holy face.”

2 Corinthians 5:1 says, We know that if the life we live here on earth is ever taken down like a tent, we still have a building from God. It is an eternal house in heaven that isn't made by human hands.

“God said it. Nana believed it. That settles it.” She was truly home for Christmas. 

I can picture her at the back door of heaven waiting for each one of us to arrive so the fun can really begin!  As she would say, “There is always a light on in the window” and it’d be “wunnerful" if you would be there too.

Oh how she loved Pavarotti!

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