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Grandma and I back when that outfit was cool!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In keeping with what this holiday embodies for me, the story I wrote after my grandma’s funeral is posted below. Thinking about losing her encourages me to embrace an attitude of thankfulness. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I don’t know how long I’ll have the ones I love. With that perspective, being a blessing and appreciating blessings, becomes more and more important–especially the older I get. Instead of thinking of what or whom I’m grateful for just on Thanksgiving day, I’d like today to be the beginning of naming 365 blessings in my life–one for every day of the year. I will list them all on a page in my blog. Join me in the journey and list your own as well! An attitude of gratitude does amazing things for a dull and dreary life. How much time do I spend wishing and praying for things when I already have more than enough? I’m going to try and refocus all that negative into positive and follow Psalm 69:29-31. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” If you see me dancing around my kitchen to praise music, just look the other way!

Day One: I am thankful for the grandma I still have left!

Grandma Marge and Grandpa Don (miss you Grandpa)

Grieving Grandma

For Grandma Rothgery

Baby blue—an odd color for a casket.

Yet there it sat, next to a mound of fresh dirt, waiting to be lowered into the ground. Constructed of thin wood, the casket was clearly bottom of the line, but there wasn’t much money to put toward the burial. Grandpa needed taking care of. Bills needed to be paid.

Good thing Grandma was on the inside of the casket—otherwise she’d have heart palpitations over her final resting place. I could almost see her beside me searching frantically in the bottom of her purse for a Nitroglycerin.

The graveside service was over—the cemetery empty of the living. Except for me. Everyone else had hustled away, whispering in reverent tones, bundled against the frosty air. Six inches of snow covered the ground. Typical for November in Wisconsin. Wind whipped through the trees, pushing snow into odd-shaped piles of white fluff up against the tombstones. Shivers trailed down my spine and I pulled my collar high. The soft fur on my hood brushed against my face, warming it temporarily.

Twelve carnations in various colors lay on top of the blue casket—one for each member of the family. A son, a daughter, five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. My aunt’s way of saying goodbye. Ironic because grandma hated flowers.

Between the coffin and the carnations, two Nitroglycerines were in order. The only thing we did get right was our clothes. Grandma asked us to celebrate her life with bright colors—no black allowed.

I slid my gloved hand across the wood and frowned. We should’ve tried harder to go more traditional—trade up to a conservative brown or black at least. Appearances had mattered to Grandma.

“I miss you.” I laid my check on the cold, coarse casket. “I’m wearing a lavender suit. With matching earrings. And pantyhose.” I glanced at my feet with a grimace. “Okay, so on the way from the church, I traded the heels for boots.” I pulled my hood back as if she could see me. “But I curled my hair with hot rollers.”

I wanted her to say, “I’m sorry for dying and leaving you here.”

But she didn’t.

Her face, the way it had looked the last time I’d seen it—gaunt and strained, flashed through my mind. Watching her die—keeping vigil over each labored breath as her body wasted away and shut down organ by organ—had been the hardest thing. Ever.

I leaned over the casket to rest my icy cheek on top of my hand and let go of all I’d been holding inside. Tears ran down my face, over the glove, and onto the casket.

I cried because no one else but Grandma had ever understood that sometimes I just needed a hug. I cried because no one would make me pistachio salad, without the nuts, and peanut butter balls with them. I cried because Grandma’s pantry would no longer be stocked with Cookie Crisp, powdered sugar donuts, and tomato soup.

“Who’s going to send me cards? And go to lunch on Tuesdays?” For a moment, I was back in her bedroom, stretched out next to her on the tiny twin bed, reading The National Enquirer and watching One Life to Live in closed caption.

Tears froze under my eyes as a gust of wind whipped across my face. “Who’ll notice my haircut? Who’s going to care that I’m still me? Not just Pat’s wife or Kyle and Alek’s mom?”

A half smile pushed through my tears and my eyes opened. “Who’s going to iron Pat’s work pants? They’ll be all wrinkly now.”

The tips of my fingers grew numb, my gloves more stylish than functional. “Remember when you sent those Christmas cookies to my dorm and my roommates ate them and you mailed another batch express mail?”

I moved my toes against my soggy socks—the snow was melting through the faux leather of my boots. I stood there anyway. I couldn’t leave her here. Alone. In the cold.

“I never thanked you for paying for drama lessons that summer when Mom said no.” I rearranged a few of the carnations, separating the colors and forming them into a circle spanning the width of the casket. “Sorry about the flowers.”

I flexed my stiff fingers and rubbed my hands together. It didn’t help.

“Last night I told Julie I was your favorite grandchild. She said, ‘I was Grandma’s favorite, but she asked me not to tell you.’ I laughed so hard I slid off the bed. You told me the same thing and made me promise not to tell. The funny thing is we both believed you.”

The feeling in my toes completely disappeared. I couldn’t stand out here much longer. I’d freeze—or lose an appendage. I wiped my face on the inside of my collar and blew out a long breath. “No one will ever love me like you did.”

My eyes ached, swollen from too many tears, and stung from the cold wind. “I miss you so much already.”

I pushed against the casket. My legs were stiff from squatting so long. Just then, the sun peeked through the clouds and the wind took a momentary hiatus.

“Wait for me—we’ll eat beef stroganoff and strawberry shortcake when I get there.”

The sun warmed my face, drying the tears and soothing the icy burn. I skimmed my hand across the small blue box one last time, arranged the flowers again, until they were just right, and whispered with a sigh, “Good-bye. I love you.”

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Courting Catastrophe, a true story, won second place in last year’s NTCW Conference for Adult Novel/Short Story. My baby bump will be turning 18 in January!

The gun was small and black. It looked plastic.

 A party raged in the apartment next door—music blared, people laughed. Oblivious to the nightmare transpiring in my living room. My mind sprinted forward, sorting through the possibilities of how the next few minutes could play out, while my body melted into the couch, overloaded with the mental pictures my mind produced.

I should yell. Run. Do something.

Instead, I froze—acutely aware of each hammer of my heart, each prolonged breath. My hands slid down the soft terrycloth robe to cradle the small, round bump over my stomach.

Lord, please, protect this baby.

“Get on the floor!”

Kevin—if that really was his name—staggered forward, nothing like the man we’d chatted with this afternoon. His hand trembled, but at close range, he probably wouldn’t miss.

My husband, Pat, sat on my left and our friend, Judy, on my right. A TV mini-series played in the background. Next door, the music cranked up a notch, loud enough to drown out gunshots. Laughter floated through our screen door as people came and went from the party. If any of them came close enough, they would have a clear view. Of us. Of Kevin. Of the gun.

But no one did.

How long had Kevin been here? Minutes? Hours? Days?

Lord, please, protect this baby.

Pat moved off the couch to stand in front of me. Kevin lunged forward, smacking the gun against Pat’s head hard enough to send him to his knees. I slid off the couch beside him and locked my panicked eyes with his.

Kevin knelt, placed his knee on Pat’s neck and grabbed my left hand. Diamonds sparkled under the light and I understood why Kevin had come back.

My finger, already swollen from the pregnancy, throbbed in his rough grasp as he tried to wrench the ring over my knuckle. When it got stuck, he rocked back on his heels and shoved his glasses back up his nose. Sweat dotted his forehead.  He wiped his face against his shirt and pushed the gun into my cheek. It was cold and hard and didn’t feel at all like plastic.

“Please.” My voice shook as I held my hand up. “I can get it off.”

Kevin pulled the gun back a few inches and stared at me with unfocused large black pupils.

I licked my finger then twisted and pulled until the ring finally slipped free.

Kevin snatched it from my hand, stood and backed toward the door. Hesitated and shifted his feet. Brought the gun back up. “Down on the floor! Face first.”

Judy and I obeyed. Pat grabbed my hand and squeezed. Afraid to rest on my stomach, I rolled slightly to the side.

Why had we put the ad in the paper about the moving sale? Why had we let Kevin in our apartment hours earlier to look at our furniture?

We invited death to our door.

Would he kill Pat first and work his way down the line? What would it sound like? Would I feel it or just slip away? Would this baby be with me in Heaven right away?

Lord, please, protect this baby.  

There were so many things to wrestle out, but no time to work them through. Half curled into a fetal position, I waited, wanting it to be over.

Nothing happened.

I glanced up, careful not to move my head. Kevin rummaged through my purse, pocketed my wallet. I stared at his shoes—black sneakers, white laces, Nike stripes—watched him walk closer, the gun hanging at his side.

I closed my eyes again, entirely powerless to save my child.

Lord, please, protect this baby

The Nikes shuffled back a step. “Get up. Lock yourselves in the bathroom. Come out, you’re dead.”

Pat quickly pulled me up, pushing me into the bathroom, locking the door after all three of us were inside. I slumped onto the edge of the bathtub. Dizziness spun around my head and my legs went numb.

The screen door slammed and after a moment, Pat carefully turned the door handle and peeked out. Kevin had disappeared.

It was over.

Hours later, my heart had yet to settle into a regular beat. My stomach tightened and rolled. Tea wasn’t helping. Neither was rocking back and forth on the edge of Judy’s bed, but I was grateful she asked us to stay with her tonight. I was never going back into that apartment again.

Our seminary friend, Brent, sat in the rocking chair across the room.

“I’m not ever going back inside the apartment.” The teacup wavered in my hands. I put it down on the nightstand.

“It’s okay if you don’t.” Brent rocked a moment, his hands on his knees. “But later, when you can breathe again, remember that you weren’t alone tonight. Jesus was with you.”

“Was He?” I hadn’t felt Him there.

The rocking chair scraped along the floor as Brent dragged it closer to the bed. “He was. I’ll show you. Picture yourself back in your living room.”

I shook my head. “I can’t.”

Brent leaned forward and pulled my hands into his. “Close your eyes.”

After a few deep breaths, I closed my eyes. I was back in the apartment. I watched Kevin pull open the screen door, reach into his black jacket and pull out the gun.

My eyes snapped open. “It’s too real. I’m still there. I’m trying to forget this day, not relive it.”

“Close your eyes and look behind Kevin. Jesus is standing there—completely in control. He’s whispering in Kevin’s ear. ‘You can wave that gun around, but I won’t let you hurt them. They’re mine, not yours.’”

I closed my eyes and tried to see Jesus.

But all I saw was Kevin.

Six weeks later sun streamed through the glass window in our hotel room, bathing me in a rectangular glow. After stretching along the large, soft bed, I looked at the clock—9:00 am. Moving day was tomorrow.

These last six weeks, the hotel had been my safe haven—a gift from God, complete with maid service and a breakfast buffet. Miraculously, we were moving to Colorado! Pat received his transfer papers the day after the incident. As part of his relocation package, the company agreed to put us up in a hotel on this end of the move, rather than on the Colorado side. I hadn’t set foot in the apartment since that night.

Dressed in jeans and his favorite Packer’s sweatshirt, Pat stood by the bed. “We need to go back and get anything that’s important to you because the mover’s are putting our stuff into storage.”

I rolled away from him, burying my face in the pillow. “You pack.”

The bed dipped and his hand rested on my arm. “Lori, please. Just walk in, pick up what you want and then we’ll leave.”

I was safe here in the hotel. I didn’t want to go back.

Pat rubbed my back through the covers, leaned over, and kissed my neck. “Get dressed. Ride with me.”

I shook my head.

He whispered in my ear. “You can wait in the car and boss me around through the window.”

The mental picture made me smile. “Fine. But I’m not going in.”

Pat parked in front of the apartment, kissed my cheek, and disappeared through our front door. The police had never caught Kevin—I wasn’t sure they’d ever really looked for him—and in the back of my mind I wondered if he would come back. Suddenly, being in the car alone didn’t feel safe. I opened the door and heaved my pregnant body off the seat.

I only got as far as the sidewalk before I congealed on the concrete.

Birds sung. The sun shone. And sweat trickled down my back. Staring at the front door stole my breath. My hands flew to my belly. The baby kicked, pulling me out of paralysis.

My foot slid forward and pushed against the screen door. The TV remote lay on the floor where Judy dropped it. Pillows were piled on the couch. My slippers peeked out from under the glass end table. Everything was the same—as if we walked away and hadn’t come back—exactly like we had.

How many times had I begged that night—Lord, please protect this baby? And He had. But I was still afraid.

My ring finger tingled. It felt naked without my ring.

I inched forward and paused where Kevin had stood. What had he been thinking that night? Had he come here to rob and kill us and then changed his mind? Had there been a plan at all? Or was he too high to think anything through? What drove someone to do what he had done—meeting with us earlier, sharing about his fiancée, fabricating such an intricate story? Had there been any truth to his words?

My legs trembled. Before they gave out, I made it to the edge of the couch and closed my eyes. I could still see Kevin in front of the door—gun lifted, black jacket hanging open, greasy ponytail. My breathing quickened. I squeezed my hands into fists and thought about what Brent had said.

Jesus was standing behind Kevin. Jesus was the one in control.

And then suddenly I could see Him behind Kevin—glowing and full of power, filling the room with warmth and peace. Tears slid down my cheeks.

My hand flattened on the couch, the fabric soft against my palm. The other hand rested on my stomach.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I erased Kevin from the picture and left Jesus standing there alone.

The fear wound into a tight little ball, growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared. “Thank you for protecting this baby.”

My eyes flew open and fell on the front door where the sun entered and brightened the room. Grateful for the baby’s life, all our lives, and for the peace in my heart, I smiled.

I pushed off the couch and went to help Pat pack in the bedroom.  


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