My Uncle–A Memorial Day Story

 

Out of respect, I gained permission to post this story…

Many people have a story of a relative who served in a war or in the service. My hero is my Uncle Art. He is a very humble man.

But I want to honor him on this Memorial Day.

My Uncle Arthur Volkema is a veteran of WWII. There aren’t too many of them left anymore as he served very young. He’s 89 years old, his health isn’t where he would like it to be, but he still gets around. He is like a lot of veterans…they don’t want to be the center of attention and they don’t think they did anything special. They were just doing their job.

An amazing story of his Navy days in WWII, is about when he was serving on the aircraft carrier “U.S.S. Bunker Hill” when it was hit by the Japanese out in the Pacific Ocean. Over three hundred sailors died, some missing, and hundreds more injured, but thankfully not my Uncle Art. He has a picture of that ship hanging in his garage with huge billows of smoke rising above it. It’s a miracle that any of them survived.

The U.S.S. Bunker Hill after it was attacked.

The U.S.S. Bunker Hill after it was attacked.

 

We have a recording of my Uncle Art when he was interviewed long ago, about that awful day in WWII. It came without warning and was gruesome. Two Japanese kamikaze planes evaded the radar and crashed into the ship.

Webster’s dictionary describes them this way: “Kamikazi–(in World War II) a Japanese aircraft loaded with explosives and making a deliberate suicidal crash on an enemy target.”

The fact was, those who were left alive had to carry on immediately. They had to do what soldiers do. They put out the fires and burial at sea had to take place for hundreds of men. They had to take the dog tags or the marked belt off each one, if it was possible, so family could be notified. The clergy-person said a few words, and by tens they were put to sea. All this while wondering if they would be attacked again.

The first and only time my Uncle was willing to be in a Memorial Day parade to be honored was in Holland, Michigan a few years ago. His entire family came along to watch and we were all so proud of him. He rode by in a car wearing his “Bunker Hill” cap and waved and smiled. Then we walked to the grave-sites of my grandparents and lots of other relatives to reminisce.

Of course my Uncle Art has always meant a lot to me personally, because he is my mom’s brother. He is also the only surviving sibling of five children. After the war, he went on to marry my Aunt who has a gentle, loving and encouraging spirit towards me and everyone who has ever met her. Uncle Art and his wife Pauline are about the sweetest, kindest couple you could ever meet. They have been like second parents to me. Being the extremely welcoming and caring people that they are, they have been so encouraging to me over the years.  My Aunt Pauline still writes hand-written letters to the “elderly” people in the nursing facility nearby their simple suburb of Chicago area. They go to church, read their bibles and pray. They brought up their three children to be wonderful Christian people and now have several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They live a quiet God-honoring life.

I’m so thankful that I got to enjoy my Uncle Art all these years.  I wouldn’t have had the cousins that I do. I wouldn’t have known him and experienced the stories he tells of the history of our family and the town he grew up in. He was the youngest brother my mom watched over. They lost their mother at a very young age too, so the family struggled.

 

My mom the oldest, holding her youngest sibling, Arthur.

My mom the oldest, holding her youngest sibling, Arthur.

Today, on Memorial Day, I think about my Uncle Art and the sacrifices he made for our country. If men and women wouldn’t serve our country in the military, we would not be free. I enjoy freedoms of The United States of America because of brave soldiers who have died, or served in the past or present.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you Uncle Arthur Volkema.

 

I have another Uncle, Fred, and my Grandfather, who also have stories I’d like to tell…to be continued another day.

Posted in Ancestry, Family, God's faithfulness, Memorial Day, Memories | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Pretty Place

 The overgrown trail was dotted with purple, white and yellow in the spring. The whole area was called the “gullies.” Grabbing unto tree branches along the way, my senses filled  deeply with the grassy muddy smell.

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In the famous movie “Chronicles of Narnia,” when the character Lucy, finds her way through the coats in the wardrobe the world transforms before her eyes. When I slid the last tree branch aside on the way to my childhood sanctuary, my other world stood before me.

It was a sacred spot to sit, cry or pray. For me, it was my escape from all those hurts and pains which kept plaguing me during my child and teenage years. It was lovingly dubbed the “Pretty Place” by our family.

I felt like it was mine.

I knew others went there at times, but hoped no hunter or far-away neighbor would show up when I was out there. It was about a half mile walk behind our old farmhouse. It included woods, trails, and gully-like twists and turns, some of which were vertical and very deep. This un-tillable area sat almost right in the middle of the four roads that make up a country mile.

Long ago in my dad’s younger days, it had clearly defined two-track paths for tractors and wagons to go through to the field on the other side. The path was useful then, to get from one field to the other through the valleys and trees. When I was young I could still use the path although it was quite a challenge. The trees would sway in the wind and the sun would kiss my face as I basked in the innocence of childhood. After I crossed a large creek I’d walk walk off the path to the left, through the umbrella plants, up a knoll to the right, push a few tree branches to the side and there it would be. It was like opening the door to a church.

Arriving at the Pretty Place, sometimes I would stand at the top of the hill which seemed like a mountain when I was small. Looking down, there was a stream that ran from my far left side, wound around in front of me and then over to the right side. The stream about 30 feet below, had cut away at the earth and ran in a beautiful S shape.

There was a tree root to sit on at the top perfectly formed like a chair. Sometimes I sang my heart out and I dreamed I was a famous gospel singer.  I might arrive in anger or quiet shock. At times, I sat on that root and cried until there weren’t any more tears left.

The Pretty Place didn’t demand anything of me. It just listened. I could scream or be silent, and it would return the same calm trickling sound. It would never tell me how to feel, or blow up at me. Even if my grief of losing my mom and sister overtook me, the stream of grace remained the same.

Unchanging.

Just like God is.

I met God somewhere out in those fields and Pretty Place. I cannot tell you the moment or the day, or even the year. I just know He was always with me since I was a very young child. He was the only steady rock in my life. He didn’t die on me. He didn’t shout or fight, disappoint, or sneer sarcastically at me. He just listened. He accepted me the way I was. I didn’t have to put on airs of having it all together or stuff my grief down. I didn’t have to try to control anyone else or perform in a church service for Him. He loved me before I was even formed.

God walked beside me all the way to the gullies, and all the way back.

The Holy Spirit of God never condemned me if I was angry at Him. Lightning didn’t come down to strike me. Sometimes conviction would happen softly in my heart as a loving mother corrects her children in a whisper. If there was corn in the field that year, God’s words were like a soft clack of corn stalks swaying back and forth. If wheat was planted that year, the amber waves would create a gentle shhhhh sound like a loving gesture of a father putting his finger on his lips. It’s as if He said, “Just rest in Me, I will lead you.”

Photo credit: Jane Klingenberg

Photo credit: Jane Klingenberg

Ahhh….the sounds of His voice were there in the breeze through my hair. I have always been in His warm embrace.

 

Did you have a safe or comforting place to go when you were a child?

Posted in Childhood, Farming, God our Father, God's faithfulness, God's protection, Grief and loss, Memories, mother loss, prayer, sister loss, Springtime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Her Hands On Those Keys

It’s a symbol of a life well lived. As I sit down I can imagine my mom sitting on the exact same bench. I lay my hands on the keys and close my eyes. It’s soothing to touch the same ebony and ivory that she could make sing. My ability is very limited. She could enable them to praise the LORD with all her heart. She could press those keys in perfect rhythm and harmony to forget the world and think on greater things.

My mom is linked to me by blood, sweat and tears. She is forever connected to me because I was brought forth from her loins. Her blood streams through my veins. Although I knew her for only seven years, I am so thankful that she was around long enough to make me who I am. She laid her soul and faith before me by the way she lived. She laid out the keys to life.

I’m sure she bent her knees as she cried over me and all her beloved offspring of six. She combed my hair, cooked my meals, and worked hard gathering and cleaning eggs. As I was in the tub, she lifted the washcloth to warm me with water from the stove that trickled down. Mom is the one who wiped my tears when I fell onto the gravel driveway. She raised a hand from those keys to pull me close when I came to sit on that bench beside her.

Springtime tulips in the breeze.

Springtime tulips in the breeze.

She would come into my room in that huge white farmhouse at bedtime. My mom listened to my prayer in the springtime dusk as she pulled the shade down, and the covers up around my shoulders. She read me a story and ran her hand over my forehead as she kissed me goodnight. I remember her very last night. The two hairpins she left on the corner of my bookcase that I didn’t dare touch for weeks hoping she might come back to get them.

Her hands worked intensely hard, and could also rest softly on those keys and fill every corner of that farmhouse with music for our souls. Every piece of woodwork absorbed the melody of praise.

My mom's piano in my home.

My mom’s piano in my home.

Now the piano sits in my living room and I can imagine her hands on those keys. Two of her diaries are always on the piano so I can turn to a page to listen to her voice. My mom knew the key to true contentment even when life handed her unpleasant keys.

Your hands are now on those keys of life. Thank you for showing me what they are. I choose life.

Happy Mother’s Day mom. I love you and will see you later.

Posted in Death, Family, Farming, Grief and loss, Hope, Mom, mother loss, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughters | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mother’s Day Isn’t Always Simple

Mother’s Day.

A day when all the ladies are honored and everything is flowers and sunshine all around.

Hold on.

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Let’s not forget the ones who have lost their moms. Motherless daughters. It could be that a woman has lost her mother to death a short time or a long time ago…the pain of being without a mom never completely goes away. Or the Motherless mother who has just been trying so hard to figure out how to be a mother when she had no model of what that looks like.

A woman could be the product of a deep dark family secret. Or she could be adopted into a wonderful family but the curiosity of knowing her biological mother is there. What about the woman who deeply misses her mom because she was too young to remember her. Maybe she died when she was a young child or during childbirth. And what of the woman who longs for the mom she can remember as a child, but the monster of Alzheimers took her to another place and she was left with the shell of the mom she once knew.

What if she’s an orphan because her mom abandoned her as a child or even disowned her as an adult because of a disagreement that spun out of control. Some people are totally estranged from their mother and there’s pain on both ends. Maybe the daughter knew the mom until she was a teen, and then divorce, abuse or incarceration took her away? What about the gal who would have really enjoyed marriage and children but it didn’t work out that way.

Infertility could have been a cross she had to bear. There’s a possibility of a father who abducted his own children and took them away from their mother. Those children miss their mothers greatly. And what family has not been affected in some way by the dreaded cancer. It could have taken the mom, grandma or precious daughter out of the family. Some women have lost children by crib death, sudden unexplained death, miscarriage, birth defects or accident.

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She cannot wipe that many tears away.

Some women had a mom, but she was emotionally absent. She had to become the responsible one, and be the caretaker for her own mom. The aunts and grandma did the best they could but it just wasn’t the same. And speaking of that, some ladies had to take care of their physically or mentally challenged mom. They can’t celebrate because it has always been painful. Maybe a woman is 70 years old, but her mom who was her best friend, just passed away. It doesn’t matter whether a woman is 5, 18, or 70, it still is your mom.

Moms are moms. No one can grasp that except a woman who has gone through the loss. Time helps, but never completely heals the scab of a mother loss. Mothers day can be the worst day of the year for some. There has never been anyone to go to those mother-daughter banquets with, because there’s no mother, daughter, or grandmother.

I’m sure there are many other scenarios which I have not mentioned. Everyone has their own story and I have only heard of some, by interviewing women,  or just listening to the news. These situations happen to moms, daughters, grandmothers, and granddaughters in a variety of mixed up ways, and role reversals.

Let’s keep them in our thoughts and prayers and try to be careful on Mother’s day because it is just not that simple for a lot of women. This is a messed up world. We’d like to think otherwise, but it’s just not.

Praise God for the mentors, the grandmas, the aunts, big sisters, the friends, the dads who tried to be both parents. Thank you to the adoptive mothers who took in the orphans. Glory be for the ones who have been prayer warriors to the lonely women and put their arms around them in many ways.

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She might need you to listen to her story because no one else ever has. 

Let’s look for a girl, teen or woman who needs a hug, an understanding conversation, a flower, a card, or simply a smile.

Give someone hope.

Do you know of a story, so we can be more sensitive this year?

Posted in Childhood, Death, Family, Grief and loss, Hope, Mom, mother loss, Motherless Daughters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Friends Please Forgive Me

I happen to be blessed with three prayer warriors that are with me anytime I need them. I’m making a public apology to them for my behavior yesterday. I love these three women as if they are blood sisters. I had asked them to keep me in prayer because I would be going on a “fast” from texting, facebook and emailing for a couple days at least, and of course they sent me out with encouraging notes like “you go and be blessed,” and “write like crazy!” and “I’ll be praying for you,” etc. They always do that kind of thing. We can text prayer requests any day or time and usually at least a couple of us will be able to answer almost immediately. They are huge in my life.

Well, Monday night I said I would be off the grid for a little while. I am awfully distracted by Facebook and e-mails especially. So I know these three were in prayer for me because I have some writing projects to do and needed a writing blitz. I know that every time the Lord brought them to their minds, they were in warfare for me to overcome the distractions and write.

There were a couple reasons I had to keep my phone on during this “fast.” So late afternoon on Tuesday when the texts came in, one after another, it made me mad. I think I was tired because I had been writing almost all day. Plus I was jealous I couldn’t respond because I had told them I wasn’t going to text. I could see it on my screen, but had pledged not to answer. So the only way I could respond to them, would be if I wrote to them on my blog. Some of you might have seen the post. I deleted it everywhere I could, so I hope you can’t find it. If you do, please tell me so that I can try to delete it. It wasn’t kind or loving. It was about them being similar to the three friends of Job, who discouraged him. I had just wrote a story about them a few weeks ago about the way I could send out a distress call anytime. What is the matter with me???

I am so sorry that I wrote that story and I apologized to them, and now am apologizing publicly. It is something that I did spur of the moment and didn’t pray about it. Of course when I apologize today, they again respond in love, with things like, ” go forth in peace,” and “blessings on your day.” See how blessed I am??

I need to think about how my words affect so many people. My words that I write can build up, or tear down. I had just written a devotional in fact, earlier yesterday, about “Taming the Tongue.” If you read James 3:1-12, you will understand.

Satan really must not want my words to get out there for some reason. Else he wouldn’t try so hard to mess things up like this. He wouldn’t try so hard to make me unloving, and try to discourage my friends from praying for me.

Anyway, one more time, again, for the millionth time, I learned to shut my mouth! When words come out on the page or in person they need to be edifying or they should not be said at all. Only by the grace of God, and only with His strength can I keep it shut when it needs to be. I hope it lasts a while this time…

I love you my dear friends.

Posted in forgiveness, friends, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

New Beginnings

In this season of Spring, those of us who live in Michigan enjoy a grand transition. It has been a long, cold winter, and we look forward to many warm and sunny days.

As I was taking a walk a couple weeks ago, I took notice of how everything in God’s creation was beginning to bud and bloom. It was one of the first warm days. I wore jeans and a light jacket. At the beginning of the long walk, I was a little bit chilled.
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I consciously took in very deep breaths through my nose. I wanted to smell that first hint of spring. The air held a bit of the musty brown grass and the cool leaves left over from last fall. I could smell the woody bark on the trees and the dirt in the field was still dormant. Small dirty piles of snow were trying to linger, but the drains along the sidewalk showed a small dark trickle of water as they diminished down into the earth.

Sunshine streamed between every branch and house without hindrance. The trees still seem to hold back. I get the feeling that the trees “know” when they should dare to allow their buds to fully open. It is such a slow process that most years I don’t realize what’s happening. But today, I stopped at a tree, held a baby bud between my fingers and turned it over carefully. It’s now a very tiny red raindrop shaped end which isn’t yet open.
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Many people were riding bikes, walking and some were even beginning to groom their yards. An occasional swish of a rake, the scrape of shovel on dirt, and a leaf blower’s long blaring drone met me a couple times. The people seemed to hold the mood of the day in their spirit, as they looked my way and greeted. My dog at my side, sparked the interest of another dog or two, and they either barked or had to be reprimanded by their owners.

There were a few wild flowers bursting forth green and proud out of the ground and a several even dared to show their colors. It is an exciting time of year for those of us who live in Michigan. It is a time of change. The wild flowers do not worry about a possible sleet or snow storm which might still appear. They don’t concern themselves with that. It’s as if they have faith to array their greens, yellows, whites and purples without worry.

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When we neared Lake Macatawa, a cool smell of water and ice filled my senses. There are huge ice chunks which break off from the icebergs and winds blow them in and out of the channel. Today a lot of them were resting between the docks with barely any movement to them. It was almost a completely calm day. The sun shone down on the ice, and the ice was fighting it’s final battle with the brightness. I imagined months of spending time at this Marina this summer on hot summer days. I stood there and closed my eyes and soaked it in.

The winds of change will come. Today was a calm bright day which coaxed nature to come out and play. It teased us all if we dared to get out in it. Around here, we know that we will have rainy, windy, cold or even snowy days yet to come before we settle into a routine of consistently warm days.

The sun seemed very hot on my back and my feet hurt on the way back, as Ebony and I finally neared home. We could sit on the deck in the sun and rest and drink water when we got home.

In Luke, the author says that even King Solomon didn’t dress as beautifully as a wild flower blooming in Spring. Wild flowers don’t worry and spin, they have a new beginning in this season.

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Each of us can have a new beginning in Christ, and not worry and “spin” as the scripture says in Luke 12:22-31. It says we are more valuable to God than birds, the flowers or the grass. Our Heavenly Father knows each of us, and our daily necessities. Praise God for new beginnings!

A small portion of the verses say this, “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you–you of little faith!”

Prayer: Creator of the earth, I praise you for new beginnings each day and each season.

Posted in God's faithfulness, new beginnings, old self/new self in Christ, seasons, Springtime | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

So We Pray

The healing can come when we open our heart and mind to the Holy Spirit.

The inner pain that you didn’t even know about. Physical healing in this life.

A daughter who took her own life. A best friend is in and out of the drug rehab center. Your friend was healed of cancer and the doctors can’t find any trace of it. You never knew your father because he left.

Anxiety when anyone around you is fighting. You often awoke to family members fighting when you were a child. What your mind covered up to protect you. The flashes of memories which are good or bad. The smell of roast beef brings you back to your grandmas kitchen. Picking sides for the dodgeball team in middle school. There are deep fears of running because you were the last one to round the corner of the track. A waft of alcohol calls you back to the false security of comfort.

Oh the ache that comes when you walk past a store that is emitting a cologne smell of your late husband. As the mother and daughter embrace you long for the relationship you missed out on. Riding on the swing, there’s memories of the push from your father. The agony of remembering the slam of the door that last time. You catch the whiff of the cigarette when the man passes you and it tempts you to break that pledge. Guilt laid on you when people carelessly tell you that the abuse was your fault. Hurt cuts deep when someone tells you that your mom would have lived if your family had more faith. A family carrying the burden of a disabled child and all that entails.

Real people. Real issues. Real joys. Real pain.

The sun came out, the waves are rolling but the icebergs are gone.

Life can be like that. Waves roll but the sunshine is here and the ice is gone. The storm of last night is past.

At times it’s His choosing to heal at that moment. Sometimes He takes the person to their heavenly home. Another one is granted 15 more years on this earth.

He is the Great I AM.

It is not for us to know. He is omniscient.

So we pray. We never know what the Holy Spirit may want to do

Posted in God's faithfulness, God's protection, Grief and loss, Hope, prayer | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments