Nobody Knows in Advance Which Day Will Be the Day of Their Death

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For my Grammy, that day was February 4, 2011.  Sometimes you get an inkling that this life is drawing to a close.  With Grammy, I was completely shocked.  I was thinking that she could live another ten years, being from a family of long livers.  She was even improving and starting to eat and walk again.  I had no idea that February 4th was her day.  I simply thought it was my last day with her for a time, since I was flying back to Pennsylvania on February 5th.  I am so thankful for that last day with her.

Grammy was cozy in her new room at Harbor House, a memory care facility.  She was confused about a lot of things, but she kept on insisting that she was going to move back to her apartment at Primrose.  She had spent the Christmas holiday in rehab after a stroke.  She was unable to get any of her mail.  So she and I spent a long time on her favorite love seat, reading every single Christmas card she had received.  I was amazed by how many people still sent her cards and how detailed their letters were.  She remembered every single person and told me nice things about each one.

Then I read to her the scripture God had given me when I was praying for her before this trip, Isaiah 43:1-4.  I saw Jesus carrying her through this strange new trial like a lamb on his shoulders and he was saying, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  You are precious and honored in my sight and I LOVE YOU!”

Grammy paused from her talking for a moment.  I wondered what was going through her mind, and I hoped that she felt God’s love.  Then she started right back into discussing moving back to Primrose.

Soon she became very tired, and we tucked her into bed for an afternoon nap.  She looked comfortable and peaceful.  I kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye.

Chris and I spent the evening with relatives.   What a wonderful evening we had!  We returned our rental car since a shuttle would be taking us to the airport in the morning.  Our relatives drove us back to our rented room at Primrose.  Chris and I were so worn out from our busy week.  We wanted to just flop into bed and sleep as much as we could before our early morning flight.  However, we still had to pack our bags.  As we were getting everything ready to return home, we received a phone call.  A young nurse from Harbor House informed us with a shaky voice that Grammy had passed away!  She had slept away the afternoon.  One of the nurses had tried to rouse her for dinner, but Grammy said she was too tired and just wanted to keep on sleeping.  When they checked on her again, she had no pulse.

My heart started to beat fast. Was this supposed to be happening?  Grammy dead, this soon?   I had left too early in the day!  I should have stayed at her side all evening.   I had missed the moment when she left this earth.  I immediately felt sad and guilty.  Chris quickly pushed those thoughts aside.

“There was no way that you could have known.  You did just what you were supposed to do this week.”

I began to feel a peace fill me.  All I could do was what I had done.  Grammy lived a long life and died peacefully in her sleep.  She didn’t have to suffer.  May we all have a death so sweet!

We called our relatives and asked them if they could drive us back to Harbor House.  We wanted to say our final goodbyes.  I had never experienced death so closely before.  When I entered Grammy’s room, she looked just the same as I had left her, peaceful and snuggled under her blankets.  I expected her to open her eyes and see me standing there, yet she was still.  I felt that I was standing on holy ground.  Jesus himself had just been there to gather Grammy into his loving arms and carry her home.  His presence still lingered, and it was so sweet.

I really couldn’t know Grammy’s personal relationship with Jesus, what transpired in the depths of her heart and spirit before she died.  But the presence of Jesus in the room gave me the peace that I would see her again in heaven.  None of us can make it to heaven on our own.  It is the same as trying to get to the moon by jumping our very highest.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how well we train, we just can’t reach the moon.  Jesus lived and died in order to carry us there.  He is alive right now, constantly loving us and praying for us that we will trust him to do it.  So let’s do less jumping and more trusting. There is nothing to fear and EVERYTHING  to look forward to. For those who trust in Him, death is a reward and it is holy.

My Daughter is My Hero

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Areli Endura, my firstborn and my oldest daughter, how can I begin to describe her?  I heard both of her unusual names in Belize when I was there on a mission trip.  I thought they were the most beautiful girl names I had ever heard, and filed them in my brain under, “What to call my firstborn daughter.”  Well, a girl has never been more appropriately named.  Areli is Hebrew and means, “Heroic.”  Endura means endurance.  My daughter displays her heroism with an amazing endurance that allows her to continue being my hero day in and day out.

Areli was the sweetest baby.  I didn’t know a thing about being a mom, but Areli made it a breeze.  She was almost always happy, and slept through the night at six weeks.  She did give us a scare when she stopped gaining weight from 2 months until 4 months of age.  In my inexperience, I didn’t realize that a two month old should not be sleeping 12 continuous hours at night without a feeding.  As soon as I started to wake her up to nurse her more often, she started gaining weight again.

As a baby, she would wake up during the night very infrequently.  When she did, she would cry quietly and the go back to sleep.  One night she let out a cry and then went back to sleep as usual.  Normally I wouldn’t check on her but would just go back to sleep myself.  This night something compelled me to walk into the hall and I smelled that something wasn’t right.  When I entered her room I realized what had happened.  She had gotten sick all over her crib sheets and let out a cry.  Then she simply settled down in a dry corner of her bed and went back to sleep!  How thankful I was that I could clean her up and put my uncomplaining baby back to sleep on fresh sheets!

When my second baby was born, he seemed to be the opposite of Areli, waking up constantly and crying with loud persistent wails.  Areli was only 18 months old and still slept in her crib.  She would sleep in each morning and then play happily by herself until I could drag myself out of bed in the morning, sometimes as late as 10am!  Her sweet personality persisted as she grew, always wanting to please, always being kind to others.

One morning when she was 5 years old, she came downstairs clutching her belly.  She simply went and lay down on the couch and moaned in pain.  I hardly ever have to take my children to the doctor, but I knew something was wrong.  She never acted this way!  I immediately took her and the three younger children to an urgent care clinic.  They in turn immediately sent us to the emergency room, convinced that she was suffering from an appendicitis.  Areli endured the pain through waiting and lots of tests.

The day had turned into night, Chris was flying home from a job in New York, and nothing had been done to help Areli.  Areli was in the greatest pain of her life, yet she was still quiet and uncomplaining.  All the nurses adored her and would bring her anything they could find to cheer her up; puzzles, a special quilt, and a stuffed animal.  When a nurse gave Areli a very strong pain medication, Areli got her first relief of the day.  She also became quite loopy.  She turned to the nurse and said in a goofy voice, “I love you!”  It was obvious to me that the feeling was mutual.

Unbelievably, they sent her home!  The next day brought the same intense pain.  I had to take all of my children (four, five and under) to a follow-up appointment.  All Areli could do was sit in the stroller and moan every time I hit a bump.  Finally we saw the doctor and he said, “We had better operate.”  This is another story of God’s faithfulness that maybe I will tell at another time.  Through it all, Areli was a gem!

As Areli got older she continued to show this ability to remain steady and calm during sickness, pain, and 6 extremely annoying younger brothers.  She was always quick to forgive and the first one to offer to help.

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The most amazing thing was the stories that I heard after the fact, told to me by her brothers, about how Areli had saved their lives!  The first incident happened when Areli was around 8 years of age.  She and Cole and Cadin were invited to a friend’s birthday party at an indoor pool.  I was very nervous to allow them to go without me or Chris attending, since none of them had officially learned how to swim.  Chris insisted that they would be fine, and that his friend Paul would watch over them.  When they returned from the party, Cadin relayed this terrifying story to me.  Maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal, but my mother’s heart began to tremble!  Cadin had torn out of the dressing room long before Paul was ready.  He ran directly to the deeper end of the pool and jumped right in.  It was at that point that Cadin realized that he couldn’t swim, nor could he touch the sides or bottom of the pool.  He started to struggle and sink under the water.  Areli was the first one there to save him.  She jumped in despite the fact that she couldn’t swim either.  She held on to the side to the pool with one arm and grabbed Cadin with the other, pulling him to the wall as much a she could.  The grandmother of the birthday boy noticed what was going on.  She reached down and pulled Cadin to safety.

Talking about this amazing example of heroics a few months ago, Cole piped up.

“Oh yeah, Areli saved my life too!”  It turns out that when we were camping in 2011, we were all enjoying the pool.  Cole had worn himself out but still decided to jump into the deep end.  Again, he was not a strong swimmer.  He found himself too weak to swim and too weak to call out for help.  Areli was the first one to realized that Cole was sinking, and she threw him a life-preserver.  This hero just saved brother number two!

Three months ago I was getting ready in the upstairs bathroom as the other children were playing downstairs.  Chai came upstairs to tell me about an event that had just taken place in my own home while I was completely unaware. My insides started to tremble again!

Chai had put a small Lego in his mouth.  Why do boys do things like that?  He is 9 and knows better!  He accidentally swallowed it, but it got stuck on the way down.  He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t call out, and he couldn’t make a sound!  Cole noticed his distress and brought him to  Areli.  She thought fast and realized that she probably didn’t have time to bring him to me.  So she performed the Heimlich maneuver on him herself, sending that Lego flying!

As a mother, I am always thinking about my children’s safety, always making and enforcing rules to keep them safe, always training them to be safe, always checking on them.  Yet I know that it is impossible to watch even one child every moment of everyday.  I am not in control of every action and reaction.  Yet I know that God IS in control!  I am almost constantly praying for them, placing them into God’s hands and asking Him to keep his angels right next to them to deliver them from danger.  Well, at least three times that angel has been my daughter, Areli!

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I cannot even describe my deep, deep gratitude and relief!

Areli does something that is perhaps even more heroic every day.  She has the endurance to help around the house, love her annoying…er, I mean precious and adorable siblings, excel in her school work and have a sweet disposition almost EVERY, SINGLE DAY!  Now that I am pregnant, Areli does even more.

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She shares a room with her special needs sister who is 11, but acts like a three-year old.  Every morning Areli changes Ashlyn’s pull-up, gets her dressed, puts the special braces on her feet, and takes her potty.

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Then Areli goes down to the kitchen and makes kefir, oatmeal, and a smoothie.  She serves breakfast to her brothers and sister and then cleans up the very messy kitchen.  She puts in a load of laundry and goes off to work on her cyber school for hours.  At lunch, she helps to prepare the food, cleans the kitchen again, and does more laundry.  Then she sits Ashlyn on the potty again, changes her, and puts her to bed for nap.  During nap Areli works on more school and watches over the house while I take a rest.  In the evening she cleans the kitchen for the third time and puts Ashlyn to bed for the night.  In her free time I see her reading her Bible and taking notes.  She loves God and it shows!

She babysits for me whenever I need to do an errand or whenever Chris and I get a date night.  She has witnessed the birth of her four youngest brothers and has helped to care for them.  One of the baby boys even slept in Areli’s room at night, and Areli would hold him and comfort him when he woke up.  She tells me that she is so excited to have the new baby girl in her room.  She loves babies.

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She really does enjoy spending time with the family and being our family photographer.  Practically every single photo on this blog was taken by Areli.

Some days she looks worn out.  Some days she acts like if she doesn’t get away from the younger Brandenburg brood, she is going to explode!  But most days she is joyful, helpful, and efficient.  Chris and I love to reward her with special gifts, time out with friends, time doing Youth Group activities, and letting her relax in the evening later than any of the other children.  I know that God desires to reward her even more!

Without Areli, I couldn’t handle all of my mothering duties.  I wonder how I will ever make it when she grows up and moves out!

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It seems to me that there could never be a young man worthy enough to deserve my Areli.

It is probably very unlikely that any young men will be reading my blog.  But perhaps their mothers will be.  So let me make my prayers for a son-in-law known.  I have prayed that he would be twice the servant that my heroic daughter is.  That he would excel at serving, having practiced all of his growing up years.  That once he marries my daughter, he would make it his life’s goal to out serve her and never take advantage of her giving spirit.  I pray that he would be passionate for God, out doing Areli in seeking after Him and obeying Him in everything.  I pray that he would be a man who considers fatherhood his most lofty goal and children his most precious resource.

`               All of my children are amazing and I could write an article like this about each one of them. (Maybe I will someday!)  But today I am considering this beautiful young woman who truly is my hero and the joy of my heart!

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