Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

You Can’t Kid a Kidder | Remembering My Mother-in-Law

 

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker

One of the most surprising attributes of my Mother-in-Law, Elaine was her sense of humor. Part of why it surprised me was because before I got married I bought into a lot of the bad press that mothers-in-law get. But mostly why it surprised me was because she was kind-of stealth with her humor.

Here’s the thing, I’m a funny person. Hilarious really. And I love to give people a hard time. You can tell you’ve gotten in good with me if I start joking around with you.

So, you would think I would recognize it when someone else is joking with me, right?

Well, not with Elaine.

She was kind and gracious, yet she was very serious a great deal of the time. I mean, there were always meals to plan and grocery trips to orchestrate and chores she needed us to do around the house. We spent a good deal of time around the kitchen table planning our days together–all very serious and important planning.

So, every once in a while I would try to introduce a little levity into the seriously important planning. I might joke about serving a food my mother-in-law didn’t like, or I’d suggest adding something ridiculous to the grocery list.

Then, without breaking her serious demeanor, Elaine would respond. Her responses sounded like she took me seriously.

I would clarify, “You know I’m just messing with you, right?”

“I know,” she would grin, “I was messing with you back.”

And just like that she would get me every time!

She was so serious, you see. But that was all part of the craft of her stealthy humor. She would play along as if she missed my joke, all the while plotting to turn the joke on me.

They say you can’t kid a kidder. And maybe that’s my problem. I try so hard to be the funny one that I miss other people setting me up!

I miss laughing with Elaine, joking with one another, and sharing the hilarities of life with each other. She defied the stereotypes and became someone with whom I could enjoy spending time.

Maybe you can’t kid a kidder…but that never stopped Elaine from trying, and it turns out, she still has me laughing about it all!

A Surprising Find on Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago I made the disappointing discovery that I had lost my Deaconess pin (again). And I shared that story here on the blog.

I wrote about how I was getting down on myself about losing something so important, but then it occurred to me that I lost it because I was wearing it a lot. And I was wearing it a lot as I cared for my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the time leading up to her death. And I was wearing it a lot as I worked in Elaine’s kitchen, cooking for the family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death.

So I came to terms with having lost it because those were good, important times to be involved in serving and such.

And I really had let go of the need to berate myself for losing my pin.

But the fact still remained that I did not have my Deaconess pin. And that was still an issue for me, because it still is an important signifier of my ministry.

And then I started this new job as the interim minister of a church near where I live. And I really felt odd not having my Deaconess pin on at this new gig. This is the first ongoing job I’ve had in a very long time, and I preach there every Sunday and they call me Deaconess there and everything. So, to not have my pin on was just not right.

I had almost made up my mind that I was going to call up the Lutheran Deaconess Association (LDA) and order a new pin–if you’re counting, that would have been my fourth pin. But I still held out hope that I might find my pin somewhere. I kept checking and rechecking any place I might have left it.

Even Wednesday night as I was packing my tote bags to come for Thanksgiving at my father-in-law’s house in Houston, I rechecked the side pockets of the bags. But the pin still wasn’t in those same crazy pockets I had checked a bazillion times before.

And when I got to the guest room where we sleep at my father-in-law’s house, I looked once more on and around the desk and bed just in case I had missed the pin there before. But it still was not there.

It wasn’t anywhere obvious. I didn’t give it a whole really lot of thought. And it was late, and I was tired, so I put it out of my mind and went to bed.

By Thanksgiving morning, I had entirely forgotten about the pin. There was work to be done because I was the chief cook for Thanksgiving dinner for 24 people. And that alone is enough to think about. But this was at my in-law’s place…in Elaine’s kitchen…without Elaine.

And I tried not to think too much about this being the first Thanksgiving without Elaine. Because there was work to be done.

So I was just focusing on what needed to be done. Turkey was roasting and other prep was underway. I was in the zone.

I had chopped up all the celery and onions for the dressing, and I needed to get a pan to sauté them in. I knew exactly which one I wanted–the giant, enameled, cast-iron skillet. Of all of the utensils in Elaine’s kitchen, this one is by far my favorite.

It’s a heavy pan, and it’s a bit hard to get to as it is nested under a stack of other heavy pans, each layer carefully separated by protective layers of paper toweling. I could explain to you the intricacies of how everything is stored in Elaine’s kitchen, but the main thing you need to know is that it is really a pain to get this pan out of there. But it is my precious as pans go, so I am always willing to do the acrobatics needed to get it out.

And as I made the final contortions to pull the prized pan out of its place and prepared to remove the paper towels from inside it…there, on top of the paper towels, inside my favorite pan was my Deaconess pin.

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There’s my Deaconess pin–right where I left it apparently–inside my favorite pan in Elaine’s kitchen!

 

It made total sense that it was there. Because that is my favorite pan. And I was the last one to have used it. And I was the one who put it away–partly because I was the one who got it out, but mostly because it’s even harder to put away than it is to get out. It must’ve fallen off while I was putting the pan away, landing so softly on those paper towels that I didn’t even realize it had fallen there.

Finding it then–on the first Thanksgiving without Elaine, and there–inside my favorite pan in Elaine’s kitchen, finding it like that was the perfect encouragement. And I wept. And then I put my pin on and cooked.

It’s not like the pin gives me super powers, but symbols do have meaning. And that pin helps me remember who I am, whose I am, and what I’m about. I know those things even without the pin, but sometimes when life and ministry and kitchens get overwhelming, I forget to remember.

But there is so much work to be done in life and ministry and kitchens that I want to be sure to remember my identity as a servant, my belonging to a gracious God, and my purpose to share love and hope and joy in all I do and say.

Now, I don’t have to call the LDA and order a fourth pin after all! And I can wear it the very next time I preach! And each time I look at it, I will always think of Elaine. And I will have this story to tell about the surprise of finding my Deaconess pin inside that favored pan on Thanksgiving 2014.

Want to Simplify this Christmas?

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The pressure is on to find the right gifts for everyone on your list, to prepare the perfect holiday meal, and to make it to every party. With all the obligations of the season though, can anyone remember what Christmas is all about? Something about a baby—Oh no! I forgot to put the Smith family’s new baby on my shopping list!

Oftentimes we lament the consumerism of the season, but we can’t quite seem to back our sleigh ride away from that slippery slope. Over the years I’ve dabbled with various ideas of simplifying my celebrations to focus on what is most important to me: faith, family, and friends.

In my latest post at Life & Liberty Online Magazine, I wrote a sampling of ideas to help you be more deliberate about how you spend your time and money this holiday season. You can read the full text of the article over there, but here is the basic list broken down by three categories, gift-giving, cooking, and celebrations…

 

Put Joy (Back) Into Gift-Giving

  1. Shorten the gift-giving list.
  2. Make gifts using a craft or skill that is truly enjoyable.
  3. Create gift baskets.
  4. Make a music mix.
  5. Give a copy of a favorite book.
  6. Give gift cards/certificates.
  7. Give a membership.
  8. Write an original story or poetry collection and give it as a gift.
  9. Give yourself permission to give the same gift to more than one person on your list.
  10. Give family gifts.

For more on any of these gift-giving ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Cook Up some Holiday Spirit

  1. Consider potluck.
  2. Say “yes” when someone offers to bring something.
  3. Choose simpler preparations for at least some of your dishes.
  4. Stick with what you know.

For more on any of these cooking ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Keep the Merry in Your Merry-Making

  1. Rethink “White Elephant” parties.
  2. Make kits to give away to charities.
  3. Enjoy the arts together.
  4. See the lights!
  5. Serve together.
  6. Make a special treat or meal together.
  7. Reschedule your celebration for a less-rushed time.

For more on any of these celebration ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Pick and choose from this list, take or leave what works for you and helps you have the most joy this holiday season.

How Pop Culture Saved My Marriage

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Every once in a while a film gains popularity not just for its entertainment value, but also for how it helps us grow. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002, written by Nia Vardalos) has helped me to be a better wife.

 

The Problem

Early on in my marriage I discovered something about my husband that baffled me. He used Windex to clean non-glass surfaces!

This was so foreign to me. I was raised in a home where we cleaned tables and counters with a dishrag and the Windex was strictly for cleaning windows and mirrors.

My confusion and frustration with his liberal use of Windex was not just because it wasn’t the “right” cleaner for all those jobs. It also seemed to me that using Windex added unnecessary steps.

Getting out the spray-bottle, spritzing it on the surface, and then wiping it off with a paper towel seemed like a lot of fuss to clean a surface that just needed a little wipe-down with a dishrag.

I tried to come to terms with this practice of his, but the conflict was made worse when he decided to try a different brand of glass cleaner to save money. That alternative brand was so heavily scented that I lost all sympathy with his choice to clean everything with glass cleaner.

I dubbed that off-brand, ‘The Death Spray’ and I prohibited my husband from using it in my presence.

Eventually he managed to use up The Death Spray and when he did, in my own way, I actually welcomed the return of good old Windex. We had reached a bit of a truce about this cleaning conflict.

 

Seeing Clearly

The real breakthrough for me with the Windex issue came when we saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The father in the movie used Windex for everything–including physical ailments. Anytime someone had something wrong, the father urged them to “put some Windex on it.”

Seeing this over-the-top, yet sincere insistence on using Windex put my husband’s use of it in perspective. The movie character went way beyond what my husband ever proposed doing with it!

I mean, my husband was just adding a couple of surfaces to the glass-cleaner’s usage. He wasn’t trying to pass it off as a cure-all!

And so finally, I relaxed more about my husband using Windex to clean non-glass surfaces.

 

Set-Backs

Since those days we have expanded our repertoire of surface cleaners. We have used all-purpose surface cleaning sprays and antibacterial surface wipes extensively.

In my view, Windex is still best for windows and glass only. And I even got my husband to go along with using the all-purpose sprays instead of Windex on tables and counters!

I thought we had reached a point where he no longer felt the need to use Windex for “inappropriate” cleaning scenarios.

But I was wrong.

Since moving to Texas I have favored the antibacterial wipes over all-purpose spray cleaners, so we don’t have any all-purpose spray cleaner in the house.

So…the other night I asked my husband to wipe down a table and he, by default, reached for the Windex and paper towels.

“But honey, we have the antibacterial surface wipes for that!” I insisted.

He looked at me with that deer-in-headlights look that always means I overreacted.

I paused, remembered the perspective on Windex I gained from watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and then I relented.

So, you see, that movie has made me a better wife! And that is how pop culture saved my marriage.

 

Risk, Loss, and Gain -or- What I Gained from Losing

I lost my deaconess pin. Again. And I started on a downward spiral of berating myself for losing something so special. Blessedly, before I got too far down, I interrupted myself and was able to reframe the loss in a way that gave me peace.

Don’t get me wrong, the deaconess pin—made of real silver—is very special. I received it as part of the consecration rite in which I officially became a deaconess. Each of us, as deaconess students, look forward to the day when we will get to wear the pin.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples' feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The deaconess pin is an important reminder of our servant-hearted ministry. And wearing the pin is a great conversation starter with folks who don’t know about our ministry, or about the love of Jesus—the source and model of our serving.

But sometimes even important things get lost.

What really turned around my thinking about losing my deaconess pin this time (it is the third pin I’ve lost), was when I paused and remembered the stories of other deaconesses I admire who have lost pins more than once. “I’m in good company,” I told myself.

What’s more, part of why I lost my pin was because I was wearing it a lot. I wore it everyday (and every night) that I went to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the hospital before she died. I wore it everyday that I planned meals for the Tinker family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death and funeral.

I wore it to remind myself that what I was doing was, in fact, ministry. It wasn’t some ground-breaking innovation in church-work, nonetheless it was ministry. It was ordinary, everyday ministry.

So, the clincher for me was the realization that I lost my pin because I was…using it.

It reminded me of my attitude about the “good dishes.” I know some people have the idea that you don’t want to use the good dishes because something might happen to them!

But my thinking is, if I’m never gonna use my good dishes, then why do I have them? What good are they?

Not much, not really.

I mean, sure they can sit there and look pretty. But tucked away in a china cabinet, they’ll be quickly forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. And even their beauty will fade into the background.

They will be safe though.

Of course, my deaconess pin, like the good dishes, was vulnerable by being used so much.

But what good is it if I don’t wear it? It would be safe in one sense, but not wearing it is its own kind of loss.

And you know all those nights I spent with Elaine? I made myself vulnerable by being of service in that way—my sleep was often interrupted, I was away from my husband and son, and I lived out of a couple of bags for 3 1/2 weeks.

Most of all though, by being there with Elaine—by spending so very much time with her—I came to care more and more deeply for her. And while that bond being strengthened was its own reward, it also made me more vulnerable to the pain of losing her.

But I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the finest china. No amount of silver could replace the ways my life was enriched by being there with Elaine in that time.

I took risks with that pin. And I lost it. But what I gained made it all worthwhile.