Friday, February 22, 2013

The House that Coxes Built

This is the brand new house that was waiting for us.

We hadn't thought too much about where we were going to live after our first four-year term on the mission field.  We knew we'd like to find a place to stay back in the community we'd pastored in Pennsylvania before leaving for Central America.  And even though we'd been away for almost three years, we still thought of beautiful, rural Bradford County as home.  Our kids had loved it and our dearest friends were there.  But our returning to the States for a year of furlough was still over a year off.  We'd find something when the time came.  We hoped.

The Wesleyan Church in Herrickville had been Larry's first pastorate.  He was fresh out of seminary,  full of passion and seemingly limitless energy.  Therefore, it wasn't at all surprising that before long that little country church started filling up with young couples and their families.  There was one  guy in particular who stood out with his red hair and amiable personality.  He had shown up with his wife and two kids one Sunday morning in July and didn't waste any time in giving Larry a call and inviting us over for a visit.  I guess they liked us enough because they started coming regularly and soon became members.  They also became two of our closest friends.

Nioma and Dennis directed the children's ministry in those early years.
Here they are with their own two kids and a few extra. 
I don't remember if it was written in a letter or if the news came through a phone call. It was from these same friends, the Coxes, informing us that there was no need to look for a place to live when we returned stateside for that year.  They would have a place ready for us, a brand new house.  And they were going to build it.
Nioma and Dennis with Autumn a year before they started on the house

A couple of  weeks ago Larry and I were in Bradford County.  We ended the day by having supper with Nioma and Dennis in their home, an old farm house that they had renovated and moved into some years back.  We sat at one end of a very long table that runs the entire length of a very long room where hospitality is practiced freely and often.  But it was getting dark and we had a bit of a drive, so Larry looked at me and said, "What do you say?"  I'm not sure where that expression comes from or why he uses it,  but that's the cue to start gathering our things and say our goodbyes.  

Nioma handed me a disc as Dennis was packing up a bag of venison to send home with us. She'd  been busy transferring their old videos over onto DVD and had decided to make two copies of this particular tape, one for them and one for us.  It was labeled, Building Marcy's and Larry's House.  "The quality's not the best," she warned me. "But I thought you might like to have a copy."

Dennis and Nioma in Honduras

Dennis with our neighborhood children in Honduras

A couple of nights later I carefully set it into the tray of our DVD player and then sat back to watch a story that had been written for us exactly twenty-five years ago.  It begins in the spring of one year and ends in the summer of the next.  During the course of two hours, what starts out as a bit of cleared land grows into a lovely two-story structure, a home.  And with each scene, from the slab being poured, the walls being raised, the roof being built, electricity being run and sheet rock going up, individuals come and go.  Some are strangers, but most are not, people who were a part of our lives back then, all contributing in some way to the house that was being built for us.

No matter where we've lived, Nioma and Dennis have been there.
This was taken in 1999 during our "Alabama" years.

The last fifteen or twenty minutes are especially poignant.  Larry's dad had traveled over from Western New York to spend a few days on the house that would soon be home to his oldest son and family and Nioma films him several times working on the interior.  A few weeks later my father is there in one of his favorite caps and familiar suspenders hauling a large roll of carpet up the stairs.  My mother's voice suddenly comes from the bottom of the steps and for a few short seconds  the camera catches her before she goes out the door.  I found myself wishing she had stayed a bit longer. 

The last scene of the story is my favorite part of all.  The house is finished,  waiting and ready for the travel-weary family that is on its way to take up residence there.  Nioma is by herself.  The place seems oddly quiet after the months of  hammers and saws and voices calling out to each other. She begins to move from room to room, now filled with furniture,  and tells the story of where each piece came from.  The beds, dressers and tables, couches and chairs, pictures on the walls and even the nicknacks on the shelves, all provided by our families and close friends who have been anticipating our coming back home for a time.  And then hearing the sound of a car, she moves with her camera to the large sliding glass doors overlooking the balcony just in time to see a station wagon slowly making its way up the dirt road towards the house.  In anticipation she moves back to the stairway and waits.  Moments later the sound of the door opening below can be heard and she calls out a welcome as the heads of children suddenly appear at the top of the steps, eyes wide, curious, anxious to take it all in.  And then the tape runs out.

Dennis and Nioma with Autumn, Fawn and me before we returned to Honduras
I sat there for awhile afterwards thinking about what had gone into making that house.  I must have known back then all that had taken place to have it ready for us.  But as time goes by,  there's a tendency to get caught up in the happenings of now and to forget what has come before.  I hadn't remembered to what extent our friends had worked and sacrificed to have a home ready for us.  An old video tape from a quarter century ago reminded me of that, and I feel humbled and grateful and blessed all over again at the gift. 
After our return to Central America, Nioma and Dennis sold their old place and moved into our house.  That was fine, we were no longer there to enjoy it.  A few years later they bought and remodeled that old farm house I mentioned earlier and that's where they've been ever since.  But things are soon to change.  Dennis will be retiring in a few months and there's talk of selling this last place and  spending more time with their kids out of state.  But more than anything, they're anticipating the adventures that God still has ahead for them.  They've always enjoyed that, living a good adventure.  And besides that, the bigger the challenge, the better.  I suppose that's why they built us that house. 

This was taken a few years ago at Fawn's wedding.
It's hard to imagine greater friends than these, the best gift of all!


Friday, February 8, 2013

Saying Goodbye

The phone call had come only a week or so after our last trip to the Manor.  That visit had left me heartbroken for the couple that had become increasingly dear to us over the past three years.  When we had first met, they were living on the first floor of a home for seniors that allowed them to share a small living room and bedroom.  As the husband's dementia worsened, however, he and his wife were moved to a secured area where he could be more closely supervised.  A few months later, a serious fall resulted in a hospital stay for him and eventually a transfer for both to the Manor, a full-care nursing home.  It had been hard seeing him there, slumped over in his wheelchair and looking so terribly lost, seemingly out of touch with everyone around him, including his wife of so many years.  It had left me feeling particularly sad that day. 

Larry had taken the call.  It was from their daughter.  Her dad was failing, she informed him, and was going under hospice care.  She thought we'd want to know.   A few days later he was gone.

Today we attended the funeral of our friend.  His wife sat in a wheel chair in front of the casket that held her mate of sixty-two years.  I know that the body lying there was just the shell that had held the soul and spirit of her husband,  but somehow it was still comforting to see him as he had been a few years back when we first sat in that tiny living room introducing ourselves.  And though it was apparent that the dementia had already begun,  we were able to see bits of who he had been.

The last several weeks had not been kind to him, however.  His appearance had changed drastically, the sparkle gone altogether from his eyes.  But the terrible impersonator who lay in the hospice bed had been far worse,  not even remotely resembling the man who had been called by a certain name for eighty plus years.   Therefore I was grateful for those who had prepared his body, allowing those who had loved him to remember him at least in this way one last time.  His wife spoke softly. "He looks good, doesn't he."  I nodded.  He did. 

It was cold as we stood in the cemetery.  A large winter storm was making its way towards us, but grace had been extended.  The roads were clear and as yet there was no indication of what was to come a bit later.  He had been a military man.  Those there to honor him fired their guns, the bugle sang its song and the flag that had draped the coffin was quietly and reverently folded and handed to the one who had loved him the longest.

We shall continue to visit the Manor.  There is a lovely woman who lives there with curly silver hair and a face that lights up whenever someone comes to pass a little time with her.  It will be strange at first not to see the both of them, they were together such a very long time.  A long, long time. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Extra Day

I was still in bed when the phone rang early one morning a few weeks back.   It was Larry.  He had missed his flight out of Montgomery.  He'd begged the attendant at the counter to let him through, the plane was still on the tarmac after all, but she insisted that it was too late.  The gates were closed.  He'd have to either catch a later flight which would only get him as far as Philadelphia, or he could rebook for the next day.  He opted for the second choice.  "I was only five minutes late," he sounded tired.  "Well," I told him.  "You probably should have left the house a bit earlier."  I'm not always the most sympathetic listener.  He mumbled something on the other end and hung up.

I know the plans I have for you....I called him back a few minutes later.  He'd left our place on Monday for a meeting in Alabama on Tuesday and had booked his flight back to New York for the day after.  I'd suggested when he purchased his ticket that he might want to spend an extra day in Prattville.  It was, after all, our home for twelve years.  Now he had no choice but to make the best of it.  He was already sounding better when he picked up.  "I'm glad you're there for an extra day," I said.  " You'll know what to do, who to see."
I know the plans I have for you....  Because he missed his flight by those mere five minutes,  he saw and brought comfort to a friend whose husband had recently died,  ministered to a woman who is battling breast cancer and counseled a man who has been struggling with guilt over an issue in his past.  On top of that, there was an extra evening with his son and youngest daughter to be enjoyed,  a steak dinner out at a nice restaurant followed by games, home videos and lots of laughter.

I drove to the Elmira Airport to pick him up the next evening, exactly twenty-four hours later than originally planned.  The plane came in right on time.  Not willing to take a chance on missing another flight, he'd gotten up at four that morning, much earlier than necessary. "You tired?" I asked as we headed out the terminal to the parking lot.  "I think so," he said, "I was in six airports today."  If he'd made his flight the day before, he'd have only been in four.  No doubt he was relieved that this day was almost over.

It was snowing lightly as we climbed into the car, a considerable contrast to the Alabama weather he'd experienced over the last couple of days.  I was glad to hand him the keys and let him drive the  twenty minutes or so it would take to get home.  "You were supposed to be there you know."  I tend to repeat myself when I'm trying to make a point. "You needed to stay that extra day."  He nodded in agreement.  There was no question.  I know the plans I have for you.....