Remembering Aunt Elsie

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elsiewolfe-copyWhen I was a child, my family would make a trek to Modesto, California, to visit my great-Aunt Elsie. Elsie was my grandfather’s sister. She belonged to the Old Mennonite faith, and her home was very different than ours. We were a big, noisy family who’d gather around the TV on Sunday evenings to watch Bonanza. Aunt Elsie’s house wasn’t even wired for electricity.  Eight of us lived under one roof, and life with several teenagers and only two bathrooms could get quite interesting. Aunt Elsie’s house had a small bathroom with plain wooden floors and a big claw-foot tub that needed priming from a water pump outside. A bath was never a spontaneous event there.

Every other summer, my family would pack up the station wagon (prehistoric form of mini-van) and head halfway across the U.S. to visit Daddy’s family down South. Stuffed in the car like sweaty sardines, we’d chew Juicy Fruit gum, and play guessing games led by a mom who believed if we were busy watching for signposts and clues along Route 66, we wouldn’t have time to argue. Aunt Elsie didn’t own a car, but would carefully write out her grocery list and make her monthly trek into town via a vintage horse-drawn wagon. She had her own solution for squabbling kids. This no-nonsense aunt would direct us to a cabinet to choose from a dozen or so well-worn board games.

My favorite part of every visit came on summer evenings when long shadows stretched across her grassy yard and she’d head for the matchbox. Within minutes, her long pictureless living room flickered with soft light.vintage lamps I remember the mood around her table as lighthearted and cozy, sort of how I recall those occasional nights at home when a thunderstorm would knock out our electricity, and my parents would drag out the candles and fix snacks to eat together in the dark. There’s just something about the flicker of candles and sparkly glass lamps that suspend life as we know it for a few sweet minutes.

I’ve often thought of Aunt Elsie’s house and the big hug and kiss I’d receive immediately after I set foot on her property. She’d always say the same thing: “My, how you’ve grown!” As a teen, I remember a strange love-hate relationship with the road leading to her house, but the older I get, the more I cherish those memories.

Although I never personally followed the no-frills lifestyle of my Aunt Elsie, I do embrace her deep faith in Christ and know that life without him at the center would feel very dim. And I guess it goes without saying that I find it impossible to pass a kerosene lamp in a secondhand store without feeling my heart smile at the memory of that tiny, bespectacled lady with the bonnet and wide, welcoming grin.

*(Image of Aunt Elsie was taken by my sister back in the '70s.)

The Beauty of Change

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I love to discover new trails, especially when they lead through woods.  The day after Thanksgiving, I stopped at a local park along the river, just to check out the colors. A deep bed of leaves provided a crunch under each step. I was underwhelmed with the lack of light–the sky was overcast and I could smell rain in the distance–so I focused on the treetops, with their last clinging leaves and slight touch of color.  A breeze was picking up and I knew change was coming.  I would have to hurry.

As is usually the case, I tromped around with my Canon DSLR and a headful of thoughts. It’s impossible to capture the beauty of nature without thinking of the one who created it all. This day, my thoughts turned to how change is inevitable. It’s part of life.

Seasons pass. Flowers eventually wither. Loved ones die while somewhere else, a newborn is making his way into the world with a squeal. Arriving is synchronized with leaving, like a finely tuned clock.

I can’t say I love change, but I’m learning to see beauty in it. There’s an irony in it all–finding stability in change.

For me, stability comes by anchoring myself to what I know for sure: God never changes. His love is unwavering, and his grace bottomless. Nothing can contain it. Seasons shift, but he is unshifting. He meets me at every crossroad in every circumstance.

These treetops are now bare, their branches stretched out in the long wait for new Spring leaf-buds.  Sure am glad I stopped long enough to follow that trail.

Towering trees along the Willamette River

Towering trees along the Willamette River

Safe Landing

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God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
– William Cowper