My son and daughter-in-law needed a break. I needed time with Elsa since Dan was on the road. Sometimes needs just come together. I had only a few hours to get ready for my favorite three and a half year old. I finished some indoor chores and then put on my gardening gloves and began weeding before they dropped her off.
Out of the blue, while pulling unwanted grass beneath the heather bushes, I thought back to my early childhood Saturday nights when my sister and I would be dropped off at my grandparents’ home on Wyandotte Road in Grandview, Ohio. In the front yard was “The Becky Tree” and in the backyard was “The Judy Tree” for my older sister. We would sometimes sit on the wicker chairs on the front porch and listen to the leaves gently blowing on a hot summer day. If we were good, we got to walk in our seersucker shorts and matching midriff tops to the corner drug store and buy a lime or root beer popsicle.
My grandmother would often make applesauce with the apples from “The Judy” tree. We would get to stand on metal chairs that rocked while my grandfather had his hand nearby in case we lost our balance as we helped pick the apples.
In the winter my sister and I would help my grandmother mash the potatoes. My grandparents’ bedroom was downstairs and there were two bedrooms upstairs. My grandmother would walk us up the dark walnut stairs, and after we said our prayers she would always say, “Nighty night and don’t let the bedbugs bite” before she turned off the light.
I remember the pace of life being so much slower than at our home. My grandparents would sit and talk to us. We were graced with smiles and laughter. They had a swing set in their backyard and would push us for hours, or so it seemed. There was only one bathroom, and I don’t remember anyone rushing to get to it first or waiting outside the bathroom door with impatience.
I have a picture of my last birthday dinner celebration at their home when I turned five. I guess I was allowed to carry my own cake into the dining room with the candles lit, (with my grandparents beside me) while everyone sang happy birthday.
I really loved going to their home. A few months later they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. I wrote to them every month and my grandmother would write me back. She always signed every letter, “Oceans of love, Grandma and Granddaddy”.
In the span of a life, I had very few days with my grandparents. I would visit them on family vacations, but those trips were far and few between.
What is an embrace? Is it just the physical arms that enfold our bodies? Or is it the love that extends beyond numbered weekends of care?
Could there have been one hundred embraces from my grandparents in a lifetime? Is it the number that matters?
What deep pathways of love were grooved in our hearts and minds in our young years? Those memories are a refuge in a world that feels progressively harder and scarier. I use them like a withdrawal from a bank account that never runs out. Those embraces have given me a gift that cost seconds but gives a return on investment unlike any worldly security. They are like a treasure we harvest whether it has been a good year of gardening or not. As the weight and uncertainly of life bears down, I reach back into my heart and wonder how much they worried and suffered during the lifetime they were handed.
The weekend that I watched Elsa turned into a time of deep anguish and self-doubt. The roots of the war came from wrestling with new risks that I was taking in my life. The kingdom of darkness assaulted me and I felt disqualified from doing even things I knew I could do.
I took Elsa to church and when the children were dismissed I went to help in Elsa’s class. I felt inadequate in every way. I could not fly like a butterfly or walk like an elephant when “Miss Deby” sang and played her guitar. I could not help a young two and a half year old sit on my lap to quiet her. I was unable to return to a glorious celebration of our new pastor who was installed that morning. It seemed impossible to go to a church lunch and be with people.
I took Elsa to her home and drove home with such sorrow. The day was beautiful and I was in dark pit. I was burdened, fearful and felt too shy to walk in our yard in case neighbors would see me.
Soon after Dan called in the midst of a travel nightmare. His day had turned from a simple flight home to seventeen hours of misery. He was furious and overwhelmed with exhaustion. As we talked, I knew he didn’t want care, but he was desperate for relief. I couldn’t do a thing to take him out of his pain and it was easier to wish him well and go back to my doubt.
But I didn’t. I don’t know how I had the courage to invite him to comfort, but I asked if I could pray for him. I heard a ten second hesitation and the silence felt deafening. He quietly said: “Yes. I need you to pray.”
I reached deep and found the embraces from decades ago and then offered them to a man I adore. I spoke words of truth about his heart, the darkness of his moment, and my desire for him surrounded him like holding him in my arms. I could tell his war was not over, but I could tell he was calmer and knew he was loved. The investment offered to us by the arms of love always opens the heart to receive the stranger among us, even when we are estranged.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 38 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs