Thursday, April 12, 2012

So Teach Us to Number Our Days

One day, several months after our ninth baby Zac was born, I managed to get my four oldest kids close to tears after starting what seemed to be a happy conversation.

"Do you know that Mr. Friend was the ninth of ten children in his family?  He's just like baby Zac!  They lived right there in that house where he lives now.  They had even numbers, too–five boys and five girls, pretty close to our family."

Oh, everyone thought that was wonderful.  We all looked at Zac and made him laugh.  We thought about 87-year-old Mr. Friend being a happy baby with lots of big brothers and sisters. And they remembered happy and funny stories, too, that he has told us about his growing up time.

We talked about that for a while, and then 6-year-old Ben asked "But, if he's got all those brothers and sisters, why does he live alone?"

"Well, he never got married and he loved farming, so he lived with his mother and father all his life and helped them farm until they died a long time ago, and his brothers and sisters all got married and moved to homes of their own.  He ran that farm by himself for over thirty years.  And now eight of them have died and he has one brother still living, but he (we've met him) hasn't been feeling well lately and can't come over to visit anymore."

Ben took this in matter-of-factly and went on his way, but I looked up to see my older four children standing there wide-eyed and silent.  They were feeling it in their gut for the first time that eventually they too will grow up, their lives will unfold and they will be separated by time and place and circumstance and some way or another all of them would die.  And Mom and Dad, too!

Lydia broke the silence.  "But . . . that's so . . . sad!"

And there they were.  Four children aged 15, 11, 10 and 8, near tears, looking at me and me looking back at them.  Thinking.

It's rare that I sit across the table from my old friend in that quiet house, that tidy house, that bachelor's house, where he lives alone– and not try to imagine that space filled with five young men and five young women talking and laughing while they eat their meals.  Their mother sitting to the side and watching her growing and grown children, catching most of their words while she turns to comment in Swedish to her husband.  In my mind the empty barn is filled again with sixty dairy cows and fifty, or sixty or one-hundred chickens and a dozen pigs are over in the yard.  The diesel tractors parked in his garage are gently replaced by three teams of horses - the six of them the only animals with names on the farm.  Except for the dogs, of course.

My friend grows young before my eyes as I hear stories from his youth–jumping from wood beam to wood beam on the lawn while his older brothers and father and friends built that big red barn in 1929 when he was 7-years-old.  Or later, strong from daily work, when he could carry ten-gallon-pails of water in each hand to the pig pen fifty yards away from the pump. Or back further when he was a small boy, and his sister fell through the soggy land shelf by the stream in the wild area and they thought she'd drown–but they got her out safe and sound after all.  Or when they'd all try to look busy doing something all the time (or at least keep out of sight) lest their dad would find some job for them to do, even the youngest set to work in the yard digging dandelions to get out every root.  Or when four brothers were called up to serve in World War II, but the local draft board decided that my friend should stay at home and help their father farm, so our country would have enough to eat during the war.

Can you imagine the joy around that table the first time they ate together after all four brothers came back home alive from that war?

He tells me where they slept when they were all still living at home - here, there and everywhere in the house depending on the hunting season or the harvest and who needed to get up at 3:00am and who could sleep in until 5:00 or even 6:00.

I look at all the neatly placed cookware on the shelves, and pretty plates set up above, and the place where the pipe went through the wall when they used an old cook stove and wonder if his mother could ever imagine a time when that house would be still, and quiet, and tidy, and chores all finally, finally done and the house–now home to just one aged son–would nearly echo with the lack of busyness.  A dish or two a day now washed in that sink, and one glass used all day long. And though the laundry is no longer done by hand, the machine is only needed once a week or so.

Five sons and five daughters and a man and a wife once occupied these rooms where my friend has lived every day of his life and where he continues to live since he retired from farming but not from life.  Just my friend and one older brother are left from that generation that built that house and farm.  But a patient  stream of nieces, nephews, neighbors and friends pull in and out of the yard through all his days.

And as I think these things, I remember that I really should not talk so long–for my own kids are back in our house around the curve in the road.  A house not quiet, or tidy and with many chores still needing to be done!  This is my time to go home and live it.  I look over at the ninth child born to his house, while I hold the ninth child born to my house in my lap.  Old, sparkling, blue-eyes are bringing laughter into young, blue-eyes from across the table top.  Laughing myself, I rise to go.

It's hard to imagine a moment, let alone day after day when my house could ever be quiet, tidy and chores all finally, finally done.

Yet, it is a certain thing that this life is fleeting.   Kevin helped me realize this from the start.  When we were first left alone with minutes-old, firstborn Grace in the hospital, we were both looking at her sleeping in my arms with tears in our eyes.  Then he quietly said, with his hand on her head, "Tomorrow she will be burying us." It was jarring. At first I couldn't even fit that into that moment, couldn't understand his words.  But I keep that in mind now that the days seem long, and the years seem short.   And as much as I want my children to grow up in the shelter and safe harbor of a happy and loving home, much more do I want their foundation and source of joy and security to rest upon unshakable and eternal realities so that when their life unfolds with its joys and trials and inevitable loss they will rest upon our sure hope in God.

O Lord, teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)


So Teach Us to Number Our Days was included in the Chapel column of The Old Schoolhouse ® Magazine, Summer 2011. My writing agreement stipulated that I had to remove this article from my blog until six months after publication. I'm happy to be able to share it here again with friends and family. 

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  1 Peter 1:3-9


Caryn said...

Absolutely beautiful & sobering. I definitely needed this truth as I strive to mother my 4 blessings well.

faith said...

Sara, this is very beautiful; so are you and your family. I'm so glad we all know the Author and Perfecter and most High Beautiful of Beautifuls and that His hand has lifted Hannah from this bout and is strengthening her daily. I love your blog!

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