Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Monumental Task

In anticipation of moving to a smaller home, I have been trying to give away and throw away and recycle (Yes, of course, Susan) and in any case reduce the amount of things that we have acquired.

Stored in our basement was a large box of cards that I have had for twenty-three years. Most people would say if you have not looked at it in all of those years, don’t even open it. Just get rid of it. But I couldn’t. For twenty-three years, from time to time, I have thought of that box and intended to go through the cards one more time before I toss them.

Twenty three years ago on May 4th, my first husband died at age thirty-nine. Our sons were ten and twelve years old at the time. Because my husband was young, and because it was a very public death—Dale was a social worker and murdered while at work by a disgruntled employee and also because he was a good man and very respected and left two sons, we received many cards. I do not know how many but I do know that on one day we received over 100 cards. I have a laundry basket full of cards.

At the time, I read the cards but some days I read them quickly. I always intended to go back when things were not so busy and read the cards carefully and give them the attention that they deserved. And now it has been twenty-three years.

I told my second hubby, Bob, that I would not move the box but I was going to take the time to read the cards. I am in process. It is a much longer process than I expected. Many random thoughts come to mind as I read.

  • Inexpressible gratitude overwhelms me. My heart is full of appreciation and love and gratefulness—to God—to Dale—to family and friends and to people that I did/do not know.

  • Prayer makes a difference. Many people prayed for our family. James 5:16 says, The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. My sons both love God and serve Him as do their wives and children. Thanks to all of those people—friends, family, acquaintances and strangers that prayed for us. To God be the glory!

  • I have regrets. I am deeply sorry for not finishing my thank you cards. I just got so far behind and discouraged that I never got them finished. And people were so very good to us. I deeply regret my neglect!

  • These cards were chosen with care. I started reading the cards with a resolve to read every word—to ponder the cards and appreciate the effort it takes to choose a card. I know that the cards were chosen with care. Some of the cards brought tears to my eyes. Various people underlined a word or words in the cards emphasizing hope or concern or comfort.

  • Names from the past keep surfacing. There were so many people that I had not thought about for years. Some of the people that sent cards have died. I received many cards from dear friends of our parents and aunts and uncles and the generation just older than me at our church. Even a few much younger than I, have died. I was amazed as I went through the cards at the number of people that are in heaven with Jesus and perhaps greeting, working with, and praising God with Dale. It was wonderful to think on them and their influence in my life, in Dale’s life and ultimately in our sons’ lives. The cards had a big ripple effect of memories.

  • Simple acts of kindness make big impressions. A card was signed “from Gregory, your custodian.” Many people mentioned that Dale always smiled at them. One was from the couple that sat behind us in Sunday night church for eight years and watched us as a family sitting together—from someone that enjoyed watching Dale garden and fix his car while her son, a neighbor boy, looked on. Another who said that only one time had she ever given a personal prayer request aloud in church and Dale was the one that prayed for her request.

  • When prompted to act, do it. There were so many letters from friends—from when Dale was a little boy and a high school friend and a friend from graduate school. There were letters from children and two younger cousins of Dale’s still in their twenties wrote notes and sent money. And there were multitudes of letters from co-workers some that knew Dale well and some that only worked with him on one case. There were personal letters from government officials—our state representatives, people impressed with Dale’s integrity and work ethic. There were letters from people that heard the story on the radio. There was a letter from a boy that wished he could have been on Dale’s baseball team because he was on Dale’s team last year and he was a nice coach. My second grade Sunday School students wrote notes and drew pictures. Some made me smile at their innocent tender expressions. One little boy drew a picture of man laying in a coffin and just simply said, “Dear Mrs. Rowell. I’m sorry. Love, Brent” Friends of friends sent cards and wrote notes. How often I have had good intentions and not followed through! Many wrote that it was hard to write a note but they did it anyhow! Some even sent more than one card.

  • My mother-in-law and I share a love for Dale. I needed to talk to someone during this project and called the best of all people—Mom Rowell, Dale’s mom. Oh my, she is sweet and how wonderful to still have her. I asked if she would like me to keep the cards for her to read but wisely she declined. She told me that she has stacks of cards—birthday cards, anniversary cards, sympathy cards, that she has kept and that she needs to read through and then discard. At age 95, she needs to get started. She says that every year after age 70 is a bonus year because the Bible says that generally people live to age 70 and some to age 80. (Psalm 90:10) She says, “I’ve had lots of bonus years.”

  • There is still sadness. I miss Dale. He was good. I loved him. He loved me. I wonder how life would be different had he lived. I wish that I could marvel over our kids and grandkids with him. We used to stand at the boys bedroom door on our way to bed and marvel at how cute and wonderful were the sons that came from our genes! God chose the best genes from both of us! And now I marvel in the same way over our grandkids. I am reminded of the blessing of being Dale’s wife. I am still amazed that he chose me. What a joy to be married to a godly man. Over and over, people commented about his easy, ready, friendly smile. His countenance reflected Jesus.

  • Renew a right spirit in me. I want to do a better job of “Paying it Forward.” I want to smile more and not be so preoccupied that I forget to be friendly. I want to serve more and be kinder. I want to send thank you notes and sympathy cards. I want to serve others. I want to be a better neighbor and wife. I want to live better and be more responsive and obedient to the quiet nudging of the Holy Spirit in my life. I want to reflect Jesus.

I’ll put away a few letters for my grandchildren. Maybe someday when they are older, they will want to know what Dale was like. There is a story in Joshua about the children of Israel crossing the Jordan and God instructing them to build a memorial, one stone for each tribe, serving as a reminder for future generations of what God had done for their ancestors. I will keep twelve cards. These will be “Stones of Remembrance.” I made a stack of cards that touched me with the stories of Dale. Right now, 108 cards have made the first cut.

To Dale, I would quote Philippians 1:3, I thank my God every time I remember you.

By the way, thank you to Rebecca and Donna—my two most faithful blog readers. You have been supportive for all of these years! Thank you! I found cards from both of you . . . do you want to read what you wrote?


Wanda..... said...

Your monumental task is one all of us can relate to. I even have my mother-in-law's cards, along with a scrap book my mother put her special cards in. I keep thinking I will go through them and maybe use some for my mail art correspondence.

You're blessed to have had two wonderful men in your life, Brenda.

Bernie said...

Oh my Brenda I could of written this post for you. I could feel every word and expression you spoke of. I think when we love and have been loved as we have then even many years later it is painful to read the cards, even bringing our memories to the front of us for a while....I am so glad you were able to find love again, Dale would of wanted that I'm sure. I almost did but somehow just couldn't as I was/am afraid of ever going through the pain of losing that special someone again. I was wrong, I have let many years pass without true love and commitment. I too have boxes of cards in my storage space one marked husband and one marked son. So much love and so much pain.
Sending big hugs....:-)

Donna's Book Nook said...

It might be interesting to see what I wrote.

I can understand the process you're going through. I have cards from when John died (it will be 11 years on May 31st), and also from when Sara died (almost 5 years ago). I have the same feeling that I should go back and re-read and then probably discard many.

Isn't it good that we can't discard the memories?

Rebecca said...

YES! Oh, yes. All the way through this post I wondered if I'd taken the time to send a card! I'm so relieved that I did.

Every bulleted item of yours here challenged or encouraged me. I can't imagine the task you are undertaking, Brenda.

May God's grace, mercy, and strength support you through this particular task and the ENTIRE task of moving. I KNOW you have encouraged many, many, many others and that Dale is STILL smiling.

Ann Gemmel said...

Such a precious post Brenda. All you wrote so reflects your dear heart. I so wish I had the priviledge of knowing Dale. I get a sense of who he was through your writings and the joy of knowing you. He must have been an amazing man. Your fortitude and courage are such an example to me. You truly are a Titus 2 woman to many - and I am blessed to be on the receiving end of your wisdom, encouragement and kindness.