Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday Night Reflections

While cleaning my attic, I came across this piece that I wrote a number of years ago for Mother's Day. I know that it's a little late for Mother's Day, but I hope that if anyone is struggling, my little story might help you find peace. 

A while back, I had the opportunity to wander the back roads of East Texas. As I drove along, I realized that I was driving the exact same red dirt roads that my great-great-grandmother traveled in 1896 when she moved her family from Florida to Texas. She had recently lost her husband, had very little money, but heard that land was available in Texas. So, she packed her wagon, tied the cow to the back, hitched up her horses, and she and her 4 children began their journey.

A few years later, her daughter, Fannie Anderson married Mr. Youngblood. He had lost his wife and was left with 5 young children. Fannie took on the task of raising those children and went on to have 8 of her own, one of which was my grandmother. Her home was quite simple, but all were welcome, and it was always full of people and laughter.

As a child, I would be so delighted when I knew that we would be going to the country. The bedrooms of my great-grandmother's house were not heated. In fact, I can remember icicles hanging in the corners of the room on cold winter nights. But, this didn't bother me! The mattresses were made of feathers, plucked from my great-grandmother's geese. When it was time for bed, my father would throw me into the air, and I would squeal with glee as I landed in what seemed like the perfect cloud. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt safe, nestled between my parents and covered with piles of my great-grandmother's handmade quilts.

In the morning, I would awaken to the sound of her stoking a big wood stove that sat in the corner of her kitchen. I would carefully crawl out of the bed, pull on my shoes, grab a jacket, and head out to help her gather eggs. Breakfast was never just breakfast, but a feast! Her biscuits were the size of saucers, and literally melted in your mouth.

On Sundays, we were off to church. In my memory, Sundays in the country were always sunny. We would sing about heaven's streets of gold, and of how we would one day be reunited with all those we loved. My great-grandmother had an intense love for the Lord. I can remember tears welling in her eyes as she sang. She made me want to know that same passion.

I never knew my grandmother. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1940 when my mother was only 5 months old. Her name was Lilly, and she was as beautiful as the Easter flower whose name she bore. Realizing that she would not be able to care for a baby while she underwent treatment, she entrusted my mother to her sister-in-law, and best friend, Elvera. Lilly was an extremely brave and courageous woman, choosing experimental measures in the hope that her life would be saved. The night before she died, Lilly called Elvera and asked her to dress my mother in a dusty rose outfit that Elvera had made for her. She also asked if by chance she had any of my great-grandmother's homemade sausage. She did. So Elvera fried the sausage, made biscuits, dressed my mother and made her way to the hospital. Lilly told Elvera that she was tired , and could no longer fight. She asked Elvera to take my mother and raise her as her own. Elvera left the hospital that night with this precious, sleeping child in her arms. She had not been able to have children of her own. She looked down at the sleeping child grateful, and yet heartbroken that her dream came at such a great cost.

Many years later, at about the age of 4, while sitting at Elvera's white enameled-topped kitchen table, I told her that I could not wait to have grandchildren of my own. Thinking that I did not understand, she explained that I would have to have children first. I told her that I understood, and then said, " I just can't wait to have someone love me as much as I love you." Lilly had chosen well. 

My mother continued the legacy of brave and courageous women. In 1969 we lived in rural Mississippi where my father was the pastor of a small country church. The schools, and the town for that matter were still segregated. The federal government finally stepped in and forced the the schools to integrate. The white community quickly rallied to build a so called "private school." The church told my parents that they would pay for my brother and me to attend. My mother said, "No! I will not teach my children to fear or hate others." Years later, my mother told me that when the first day of school rolled around, she so hoped that she had made the right decision. She did, and I will forever be grateful for the experience and the lesson that I learned.

I always assumed that I would one day have a family of my own. Years of struggling to have a child, to no avail brought me to a point that I questioned my own existence. My heartbreak lead me to talk to the priest at our church. He told me that I have the heart of a mother, but it was up to me to figure out how this should happen. Some weeks later, I came across a small ad in our neighborhood newsletter, asking for people to consider hosting foreign exchange students. After a lot of thought, I told my husband that I didn't need to have a baby, I just needed to feel that I had made a difference in a child's life. He liked the idea of hosting foreign students. That first year we went from having no children to having 2 teenagers, a girl from Spain, and a boy from Germany. We went on to host 11 more students, 13 in total.

The year that we hosted our first students, I decided to learn to fly. In the years that have followed, I have had some of the most amazing opportunities. I joined a group that partnered with the Chicago chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, and through this organization, I have flown and introduced over 350 children to aviation. Most of these children have been from Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.

I have wondered why, why didn't I have the opportunity of having my own family? One day, through tears I prayed and said, "Lord, I only asked for 1 child, but you gave me none." As quickly as I said this, I heard in my soul, "yes, but I have trusted with hundreds." At that moment I realized that I have been a mother to so many, not a traditional mother, but still a mother. I've loved, I've taught, I've disciplined, and I've protected. By letting go of how I thought my life should be, and allowing God's dream for my life to to take place, I have experienced a life that I could not have imagined.         

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  1. Rhonda, you are a blessing. Love and hugs, my friend.

  2. Beautiful. Sometimes it is difficult to understand what God is doing then one 'lets go and lets God' and life is fulfilled. May God continue to bless you.

  3. This is beautiful - what our country desperately needs now is people like your parents to teach our young to do the right thing in face of so much wrong. In your disappointment, I can sense such strength and peace - gifts only the Lord can give those who trust him! Bless you!

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  5. Thank you Rhonda! I needed THIS today!

  6. My eyes are leaking but my mouth is smiling. Thank you and bless you.

  7. Just beautiful, no other words because my eyes are full of tears. Bless you :)

  8. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, told so evocatively. It makes me want to be a better person.

  9. Oh, Rhonda! That was a tear-jerker, for sure. You are an amazing woman, and all of us who know you from the internet love you and appreciate you greatly. Hugs, Joy