If Only


&       All Bible verses from the New International Version

Out of every disappointment there is treasure. Satan whispers, "All is lost."
God says, "Much can be gained."
   Frances J. Roberts

Aunt Jeannette was born in Brugge, Belgium June 27, 1908. Less than a year later, Aunt Margaret was born. Then Uncle Al was born the following year. It was because of him that I am here today.

I guess Uncle Al was a brat. When he was only two, Grandma pinched his cheek. He probably picked at it, children do that. Their father was already in America and had sent money for Grandma to bring the children. I have a picture of them. She was delicate and pretty, he stood proud and straight in his Belgian officer's uniform. Why did they leave their homeland? America held a promise for them. She must have looked forward to seeing him. But they would have to wait.

Grandma pinched Uncle Al, and he had a sore on his cheek, so they wouldn't let him on the ship. If Uncle Al couldn't get on the ship, no one would get on the ship. Of course, Grandma would not leave him behind, so they all went home. They would go to America on another ship.

I've heard this story often. Grandma, Aunt Jeannette, Aunt Margaret, and Uncle Al missed the Titanic in 1912, so they sailed to America on the Lusitania the following year. I often wonder how Grandma felt when she heard the Titanic sank. And how did she ever get across the Atlantic with three small children in third class? Steerage. This is the crowded smelly part of the ship, down below in the belly of the ship.  

They made it to America. Ellis Island. When Grandma saw the Statue of Liberty, did she see her handsome soldier husband in the statue's eyes. Hope, opportunity, peace, and her beloved husband's arms.

Grandma had a year of happiness with her young husband. He was killed in an industrial accident and she found herself alone in a foreign country with three small children. She spoke very little English. People took care of each other then. Her husband's best friend married her and he took care of her - he tried anyway. He was an alcoholic. I think he was abusive, but nobody talked about that. They didn't talk back then, they only whispered.

Grandma had two more children - Aunt Saline and my mother, Mary. They moved west to Baker, California, then to Klamath Falls Oregon. Aunt Jeannette was the head of the family. I think she was born that way. She quit high school to go to work and take care of the family. Grandma never spoke much English; her oldest child was her voice. Aunt Jeannette married in her early twenties. Within a year, she was pregnant with their first child. But life never turns out as we plan it. Her husband was killed in a car accident. Soon after, she lost their baby. Aunt Jeannette buried her husband and her baby that was never born. She never talked about it. She went to secretarial school, then back to work.

My mother was wild. She married, divorced, married again, had my older sister, and divorced again. She married my dad, an alcoholic, just like her father.  

Mom and Dad had a baby girl, Charlene. She was a perfect baby that looked just like me, but she wasn't me. There was something wrong with Charlene. She lived just two years. I guess they were painful years. Her little stomach blew up like a balloon with an enlarged liver because she was born without a gall duct. Her skin turned bright yellow from the poisons that built up inside her, since she had no gall duct to take them to the liver. But she was a brave little girl. The nurses marveled at her smiles and giggles, though she was gravely ill.

The doctors didn't know what was wrong with Charlene. They didn't know what to do for her. She would have to go to Portland, 300 miles away, on the other side of the state, then down to California. That may as well have been the moon. My parents didn't have money to travel. They couldn't afford a motel while the baby was in the hospital. But Aunt Jeannette could. She saved money for times like these, times when her family needed her. She took my Mom and Dad and Charlene to Portland and to California. They did all they could, but the baby couldn't be saved. She died at the age of two.

I was born soon after Charlene died. Cherlene. My dad made the name up. He changed one letter. I looked like Charlene. Aunt Jeannette looked at the small home my parents rented. It wasn't big enough for two children. She bought a big house for my family. My parents would pay her back of course, with interest. The interest went into a special savings account. She used it to put my older sister and me through college. And a car for my other sister who was born less than a year after me and never went to college. She paid for other things too. Accordion lessons for my sister, art lessons for me, warm winter coats and who knows what else.

Aunt Jeannette was a nag. My mother complained about that. Gifts came with "strings attached." Years later I understood why. The "strings" were proper behaviors she expected out of the family. She gave, she provided, but we were expected to behave in return. My sisters and I were expected to have our rooms clean for her Sunday visits. She never yelled and screamed like my mother. She was kind, but stern. I guess what we dreaded was her disapproval. 

And my mom? Well she was expected to care for her children. My dad was expected to stay sober enough to at least go to work every day and bring home a paycheck. He did. Over the years the sober spells stretched from days to months to years.

Aunt Jeannette was never the domestic type. She was a working lady. A single, independent woman. Aunt Margaret made wonderful Rice Krispie Treats. I remember sitting at her kitchen table for Hawaiian Punch served in tiny juice glasses and cookies. My mother baked pies, cookies, and cakes from scratch. Aunt Jeannette couldn't bake a meringue pie.

"She doesn't use enough eggs," My mother would say. "But she makes the best box cakes." I waited for one of Aunt Jeannette's famous box cakes, but never saw one. As an adult, I found out a box cake is made form a mix that comes from a box. I was looking for a cake in a box.

I bought Aunt Jeannette a bread maker for her 89th birthday. I was sorry, for I thought she would never learn to use it, but she persisted until she was making perfect bread. I didn't know the importance of making bread until she told me several months later, "You know my mother made good bread. I could never make bread." I remember Grandma's bread. Plain white bread with a crispy crust and special raisin bread. Homemade bread was a daily staple then.

Predictable, disciplined life. Except for the travel, especially after she retired. She went to Hawaii and brought back chocolate-covered ants and grasshoppers. I tasted them, and thought it must have been the most exciting thing to travel to exotic places like Hawaii. I had never left the county, but I knew one day I would like to travel and see the world. Then she traveled to Belgium and met relatives she didn't know, except from pictures and letters. My mother asked her to bring back some Belgian spinach so she could once again make a special dish. I had been accused of digging up the last of the Belgian spinach in my quest for fishing worms. I still don't think I did.  

Aunt Jeannette brought back a packet of seeds. She had explained what she wanted, and the Belgian relatives whispered together. A cousin left the house and came back with seeds. Aunt Jeannette brought them home in a small white envelope. We planted the precious seeds and watered them carefully. Two fine rows of trees sprouted, no Belgian spinach. We laughed.

Discipline and structure also contributed to Aunt Jeannette's longevity. She ate balanced meals and walked at least a couple miles a day until her mid 80s. She discovered pizza in her late 80s. She had moved because her apartments were run down. Not her apartment, for she painted it and carpeted it herself, but the other apartments. Her new friends went out for pizza. She hates tomatoes but she went anyway. To her own amazement, she learned to like pizza. Aunt Jeannette discovered pizza because of her desire for friendship. She has always been a sociable person. She surrounded herself with friends. And she loved doing things for others. She spent hours feeding friends in retirement homes or just sitting and visiting with them, not just occasionally, but routinely, dependably. She took food to "the old lady" around the corner for years. Never mind that the old lady was 10 years younger than her. And when people brought cake, candy, cookies, fruit, and other delicacies to Aunt Jeannette, much of it went right out the door to neighbors and friends.

Aunt Jeannette worried. She worried too much. But that's because she loved her family and friends. And she prayd. Oh, did she pray. And her prayers were answered. Friends knew her prayers were answered and come to her with their needs.

One day, my teenage son was sitting on the couch by Aunt Jeannette. She reached into her purse for something, smiled, and said, "I found them! I've been looking and praying for three days and here they are! They must have dropped into my purse from the edge of the couch."

My son had difficulty keeping his mouth firm and straight, trying not to laugh, as Aunt Jeannette pulled her false teeth out of her purse. This was one of the first indications that Aunt Jeannette was getting forgetful. Her speech slowed and she repeated things. Then the arthritis got worse. But still, Aunt Jeannette headed my family. Even now, since she's gone home to be with the Lord, she still influences my life. Every decision I make is based on God's will first, then Aunt Jeannette. Would Aunt Jeannette be proud?  

         Who has been influential in your life? In what way have they been influential?

         List a few ways you have influenced others.


The Past Forms Our Future

   If John James Audubon had succeeded as a merchant in Louisville, Kentucky, we probably would not have his marvelous paintings of birds nor an Audubon Society for the protection of birds. When he failed in the grocery business in 1819, he began his career as a naturalist and painter of birds. Robert C. Shannon

If only Grandma hadn't pinched Uncle Al's cheek, her family could have sailed on the ship - the Titanic. Their lives would have been totally different. Maybe that's why Aunt Jeannette and Aunt Margaret accepted life as it came, while my mother, who was born in America nine years later, tended to dwell on the past. She was always looking back and thinking, if only . . .   

A year after Grandma joined her husband in America he died. His best friend married her. if only . . .  Grandma's first husband had lived, my mother wouldn't have been born and I wouldn't have been born – not that the world needed me so much, but I'm sure glad to be here.

Aunt Jeannette had only a year with her husband and only a dream of a family of her own when she lost both her husband and her unborn child. if only . . .  But what if Aunt Jeannette hadn't been Aunt Jeannette? What if the events of her life hadn't formed her into the person she became? What if her hardships hadn't given her the strength to lead our family and provide for our needs? What if she hadn't been praying for each of us as we struggled with daily life? And what if she hadn't put me through nursing school? Where would I be now?

         Do you have an if only? I think we all do. What if things had turned out differently, had turned out your way? Think about the influential people in your life. What if things had turned out differently and they weren't in your life? 

         What if things had turned out differently and you weren't there to influence your loved ones?


Joseph and His Brothers

There is no past we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternal now that builds and creates out of the past something new and better. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When I wonder if only . . .  I am reminded of Joseph. When he was young, his jealous brothers threw him into a cistern, then pulled him out and sold him to passing merchants for twenty shekels of silver. They sold him to a high official in Egypt. From there, things got even worse. He was wrongly accused and thrown in prison. I can only imagine what went through his mind as he sat in the dark jail day after day. if only . . .  my brothers had understood me. if only . . .  they hadn't thrown me in the cistern and sold me to the merchants. if only . . .  I had escaped from the merchants. I would be back home with my father. if only . . .  But things began to look up for Joseph. God cared for him, even in prison.

&           But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the Lord was          with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. Genesis 39:20b-23 

         What made Joseph's situation bearable?

         What made your if only situation bearable?

God continued to take care of Joseph. Not only was he released from prison, but Pharoah placed him in charge of his palace and all of Egypt. God confided in Joseph that there would be a famine and he prepared Egypt for the coming scarcity. People came from all over seeking help from Pharaoh. Eventually Joseph's brothers made the trip to Egypt. Joseph recognized them, but they didn't recognize him. if only became Thank God for Joseph and his family.

&           Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, `This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me - you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.'"  Genesis 45:3-11

         As Joseph understood it, who sent him  to Egypt?

         God was in control of Joseph's if only situation. Who was and is in control of your if only situation?


Forgiveness

As we grow in wisdom, we pardon more freely. Anne-Louise-Germaine de Stal

Joseph protected his family during the famine. But what if he was only providing for them and their families for the sake of their father, Israel? I think Joseph had already forgiven his brothers, but they weren't so sure. When their father died, the brothers begged him to forgive them. I just love Joseph's response. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Joseph recognized God's hand in his life, even when he was mistreated by his own brothers.

&       When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21

         if only situations are often filled with people who have done us wrong. List people you need to forgive.

         if only situations are also filled with people we have wronged. Do you need to ask others for forgiveness?
 



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