But, more to the point, as I walked in, I was greeted with construction chaos. Ladders in the hallway and storage room as electricians did some re-wiring. More work on the new sound booth in the worship center. The administrative office completely re-arranged. A new and wonderful laminator has been delivered, purchased by the lengthy and laborious collection of food labels by church members under the leadership of Kristi Lounsbry, and it is HUGE and needs a place to live.
My desk sagged with work that I had hurriedly left on Tuesday thinking I'd be back on Wednesday to clear it out but became ill instead. Mail stacked high for me to look at, charge conference reports coming in and still needing to be finished, emails, people I needed to see. The book I'm writing on my mother's death sits unfinished as I read her letters and pick out the very best for this. Yes, wonderful chaos.
I'm deep into the 1971 letters. I can only read a few and then have to stop. The complexity of this year for my family gets to me.
- My brother, graduating in 1970 from Rice University, had moved to Santa Barbara, California as a computer engineer.
- I graduated from Rice in May, 1971, and went to California in June to join Campus Crusade for Christ.
- My sister became engaged that summer; I broke off yet one more relationship that summer (I had ended an engagement the previous summer; this summer's young man was living with my parents at the time when I broke that one off!)
- My dad's mother, Kokomo, died on August 10. I found the last letter she wrote to my mother on August 1. From what I've can glean, she wrote nearly daily to my mother for 20 years. And then she became ill from some sort of gastrointestinal situation (apparently of long standing), went into the hospital, slipped into a coma and died.
- I moved to Seattle, Washington; my brother got engaged to Nancy, from Dearborne, Michigan. and they started making their wedding plans for February, 1972; my sister and her fiance broke up and she did a tailspin into a terrible depression.
- I found Campus Crusade to be a very difficult environment theologically and personally (I've often said this was the first really bad decision I ever made), gained 25 pounds and watched with horror as my to-then perfect complexion turned into a mass of red welts.
- There had long been difficulties between my mother and my father--all three of us children figured they would split when we had all left home. They didn't split formally; they just split emotionally.
- Money was still tight--the big delight was finding frozen dinners for $.33 apiece. Fortunately, there was only Jill left in college, so that helped a great deal. But still, I could see the financial pressures on all of us.
And mother just kept writing letters. This may be the year of her highest achievement in writing. I can almost see her trying so hard to hold everyone together as we are individually, especially me, my sister, and my grieving grandfather, disintegrating. She wrote and she sewed frantically, as if making clothes for us (she had become quite skilled at making clothes for me, my sister and for herself as a way of saving money) would heal the wounds.
So, on this rainy Saturday in October, 2010, five weeks after my mother's death, she is extraordinarily alive to me. That caring heart, that need to control (that one was handed down to me in a BIG way), the hope that activity can smooth over turbulent emotions and unsettled relationships, the gift with words: they are all here in these folders filled with onionskin copies and hard-to-decipher originals.
It gives me hope in the midst of my own chaos. When I read my own letters written than year, I see the glimmers of an emerging maturity, even as I struggle with a deep depression and do my best to hide it and cover it up.
All of us will always live in some kind of chaos--it is the nature of life. And it is possible to find the holiness in the chaos, at least for me, as we're all trying to figure out our lives and how God does work in them. It is not a neat and ordered process. Right now, I simply feel extraordinarily lucky in the glue of my mother that sought to hold us together so tightly as our lives swirled, danced and got tangled up around us. What a prize she was!