Cross Cultural Family

Divine Hospitality by Joan Wollschlager

“My eyes fluttered open ten minutes before my alarm and for the first time in my life, I said, “I don’t want to go through this day.” Though I’m a pretty strong person and have no fear of speaking in front of a crowd, I wear my heart on my sleeve and cry at the drop of a hat. Today was my mother’s memorial service in Iowa and I wasn’t at all sure I could get through her eulogy without breaking down.

My sister and I had planned the service from beginning to end. As musicians and directors, we’d planned all kinds of services and events, just like our mother had over the years, and we both had our roles to play. My sister, Elaine, had spent years as a music teacher, so planning the music and poetry fell to her. I’d spent lots of time in hospitality, so preparing a suitable lunch was up to me. 

After 85 years in North Dakota, Mom and Dad had moved to the senior independent living center in Elaine’s town in Iowa. Alzheimer’s Disease had veiled Mom’s mind for the past several years, so though her neighbors in the center were cordial to her, none of them really knew the mother we loved and respected so much. We’d always called her “The Hostess with the Mostess!”

Often when I was a child, for no apparent reason, Mom would get very busy cleaning, changing sheets, washing towels, and baking. Nothing extra was on the calendar but somehow she felt the need to “be prepared.”

“I just have a feeling someone’s going to come!” she’d say.  And sure enough, on a bright summer day, a car would pull into the farmyard and out would pile six or seven cousins, aunts and uncles, smiling and hoping we were completely surprised by their impromptu visit. Mom and Dad would usher them in and everyone would sit down to freshly made rhubarb pies and coffee, with my parents ready to act like the perfect hosts and everyone would get a big chuckle out of Mom’s “intuition.” Mom’s sixth sense became famous within the family and everyone knew she would always be ready to host any and everybody.

Everyone always knew they were welcome at my parents’ house. Mom’s most common phrase was, “Can I get you some coffee?” And of course, it was always accompanied with homemade cookies, donuts or pies. No matter how short their visit, no one ever left Mom’s North Dakota house hungry. 

Mom and Dad continued to enjoy surprise visits from many, though they no longer called Mom’s intuitive knowledge a sixth sense. Over the years, they’d replaced the verbiage with a far more accurate phrase that demonstrated their deep dependence on a loving God and called it “Guidance.”

Now in her new more dependent life in Iowa, no one had eaten Mom’s home cooking. But any new friends that had graced her apartment had heard her ask, often more than once, “Can I get you some coffee?” Alzheimer’s may have stolen her stories but it had never robbed her servant’s gracious heart. Even now that she’d been transferred to a nursing home, she still offered to get folks coffee.

Last November, Dad had had to move Mom into that nursing home, 21 miles from the apartment they’d shared in Iowa. With his own failing health, he couldn’t go and see her every day but, in her own inimitable way, Mom always seemed to know when Dad was coming to visit her. The nurses noticed it at first–Mom would scoot to the front door in her wheel chair and watch the door. Within half an hour, in would walk Dad! There hadn’t been a phone call. He hadn’t made an appointment. She just knew he was coming. Soon the nurses came to expect Dad to walk in every time Mom would sit by the door, joking about her marvelous intuition.

In May, six months after Mom had been admitted there, my family drove to Iowa from our home in Texas to celebrate our nephew’s wedding, stopping midway for an overnight in a hotel. And that night, I had the most arresting dream! In it, I got a phone call from someone, saying, “Your mother is not doing well. You need to get there right away!” Then I saw Mom in a hospital bed, her face almost as white as her hair against the white hospital sheets. 

The dream had been so vivid, I’d described it to my daughter and husband that morning as we got back on the road. But I was still completely stunned when my cell phone rang in the car just a few hours later. It was my sister. “Joanie, I just got a call from the nursing home. They say Mom’s been pretty unresponsive. They took a blood test and she’s drastically anemic. They’re taking her to the hospital as we speak.” 

Though our home was 12 hours from that hospital, we were only two hours away when the call came! Hurrying straight there, we walked into the room, only to see Mom’s face as white as her hair against the white sheets, exactly as I’d seen it in my dream! I thought of Mom’s daily dependence on God and realized that only He could have brought us from our home 12 hours away to her bedside only two hours after her arrival at the hospital! Guidance!

What an incredible gift it turned out to be with Mom for those few days surrounding the wedding. Our children were there and we hugged her and sang hymns around her bed, each of us getting to say our goodbyes. God even gave us a time of conversation where she displayed more lucidity than we’d seen for many years, where we discussed her assurance of salvation and her readiness to go to be with Jesus. 

Now only three weeks later she was gone, and we were planning her memorial service. I’d insisted that it wouldn’t be right to have her service without serving lunch and had planned and orchestrated it just like Mom would have liked. But the morning of her service was here and I didn’t think I could face the day. I rolled over for a few more winks before the alarm went off and instantly fell into one of the deepest most profoundly restful sleeps I had ever experienced–and dreamt!

I was standing, and suddenly Mom was on my left, still wearing her hospital gown, her white curly head coming just to my shoulder. Though she’d been quite tall, age and osteoporosis had shrunk her frame by several inches and now she looked up at me just as I remembered her from the hospital. Yet her touch was as firm as a 40 year old’s as she squeezed my shoulder and looked up at me with clear twinkling eyes. Then, with the strong clear voice I’d known as a child, she laughingly said, “You girls are doing such a nice job! And I’m so glad you’re serving lunch!” And just like that, she was gone!

I woke up laughing, reveling in the still tangible feel of my mother’s reassuring embrace on my shoulder! I could still hear her words in my ears, still see her laughing eyes! And I knew she was exactly where she had spent her entire life preparing to be–next to her Savior, enjoying every minute.

Suddenly I wanted to be at her memorial service! I wanted to tell her new friends about the woman I loved and respected, who’d taught me every important lesson I’d ever learned! I wanted them to know her like I did! 

And I did just that! I sailed through the service with humor, laughter, honor and without tears! We shared my dream, served the lunch and laughed at her unexpected endorsement of the day. And I have never been so happy to use the words, “Can I get you some coffee?”

Written By Joan Wollschlager (my mother)  in honor of her mother’s 90th birthday.  
Every time I set the table or journal a prayer I try to honor her.
I aspire to her grace, hospitality and spiritual tenderness.
We all have a story to tell. . . what’s yours?
 
#divinehospitality
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The child of missionary parents, writing became a natural was to process my adventures across the world.

Ndjerareou means 'he who builds the road in Ngambai, Nate's tribal language spoken in Chad, Africa.

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  • My fall flavors are carrot cake & ginger bread. But I have a confession, I don’t bake well. I rarely wear my glasses in the kitchen and I’ve NEVER followed instructions very well so my baking mistakes are epic. The precision and concentration to create confectionary masterpieces is rarely worth the time or the guilt.  Birthday cakes come from Cosco, I can make put cookie dough on a pan but I’ve even been known to mix up baked goods that come out of a box.  I do LOVE to cook.  I used to love painting but it feels the same in my brain as standing over the stove and my people are much more excited to see my culinary creations than my artwork. Go figure! .  Today, I bake to make memories. Life is moving fast and I’m always looking for meaningful ways to engage my children.  This recipe will give you those stolen moments together. For the recipe on these Carrot Cake Cookies click the link in my profile. It’s so easy even I can do it. .  #makememories #carrotcakecookies #fall #nothingisordinary #familytime #everydayadventure #nothingisordinary #ibakedit #webaketogether #frommykitchentoyours
  • "One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Another secret is that laughter is carbonated holiness." -Anne LaMott .
I'm so thankful for my tribe @arthousedallas and the inspiration, encouragement and laughter they've brought along the way. .
Today, I got my hands on an advance copy of Empathy for the Devil, Finding Ourselves In The Villains of the Bible, by JR Forasteros. @jrforasteros .
I've had the privilege of watching this piece grow from edited pages our tribe has spoken into and over to this fantastic book. Thanks for sharing your journey with us! Look for the book Nov. 7th. .
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  • Natural hair, it can be overwhelming, messy, imperfect and expensive but the look of confidence in her eyes when we get it right is priceless. The help I’ve received has not only helped us learn about hair but also given us a place in a beautiful community with members being added every day.  Our repertoire has grown from simple twists or braids to crochet styles and faux dreads. Afro puffs still make my heart go soft and I love the auntie that gave her blue box braids this summer with an affection only a white mama can understand.
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These days it’s special watching her grow and care for her hair on her own. But I still love separating the curls with my fingers, massaging conditioner into the root myself. Each style becomes a mother’s prayer. It’s a prayer for peace, for beauty, for strength.
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A prayer she finds her own voice in this world and delights in her unique expression of God’s glory.  For more of our journey, click the link in profile. .  #frommyhearttoyours #nothingisordinary #ndjerareoujourney #ourfamilyourworld #itsanadventure #naturalhair #herbeautyherstrength #forallthebravewomenwhovegonebefore #amothersprayer #weareallextraordinary #delightinourdifferences #exploretheworldtogether #onedayatatime
  • Three generations walking to remember my grandmother Ethel Helgeson and all those affected by Alzheimer's. We walk to remember, we walk to raise awareness, we walk to raise money for research, we walk in hopes of finding a cure, we walk to bring dignity to all those living with this disease.
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The best part of today- all the family moments that happened, we explored UTA, we told stories of past lessons and adventures, we fell into step with one another as only family can.
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Thank you to all the family that gathered for today's Walk for Alzheimer's. @kacalligraphydesign @jwollsch @bwwollsc1 and more. .
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  • "Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink in the wild air." -Ralph Waldo Emerson .
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@heleneinbetween On our summer escape in Europe I loved the epic sights but the moments that have stuck in my heart are the impromptu berry picking, carousel rides, funny faces, late night book readings, BBQ adventures, getting lost, and lazy days by the river. .
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None of it required much planning but it did require being present. Thank you Europe for helping me witness their childhood. May we never be too old to explore and play. .
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  • "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." -Mark Twain
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  • Not all who wander are lost. . .  in the brilliant words of J.R.R Tolkien. Sometimes we’re at home restlessly wondering, floundering, worrying if we’ll ever wander again? The time in-between adventures can be the most desolate for this mama. I struggle through the hum-drum details of a daily routine.  Auto-pilot is the danger here. I adore my family, friends and home but my nomadic heart can get lost in the daily grind.
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Thankfully, when my heart needs a taste of adventure I can wander as far as my local ethnic market. Thai, Indian, Nigerian, their colors, tools, meats, vegetables and spices can enliven any after school doldrums.  My kids get to wander the aisles and practice cultural sensitivity (Yes, it smells intense but this is the food of their culture, how do you think hot dogs seem to them?) and explore drinks, fruit or sweet treats.
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As a bonus, our finds become hospitable moments and ways to invite our friends and family into our adventures.
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For a few of my favorite recipes from my visit to Kashgar and how to make them in your kitchen click the link in profile. Join us on an everyday adventure. 
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