Pursuing the past, finding the future

Pursuing the past, finding the future

We drove southeast from Zürich toward the birthplace of Maria Tschanen Zimmerman, my great-grandmother. I’d hoped to find family tombstones, especially for her sister, Anna. My grandmother’s only expressed wish, unfulfilled, had been to visit Switzerland. After my mother’s death this year, I felt the need to link back to her grandmother’s land, especially since it is my middle daughter’s home, and the birthplace of two of my grandchildren.

By the time we reached Wohlen bei Bern, early winter darkness forced us to pull out flashlights. We stomped around the graveyard at Die Pfarrkirche, but all we found were fairly recent graves.

church at Wohlen bei Bern
church at Wohlen bei Bern

Inside the church, the boys and I were fascinated with the manger scene, loaded with woolly sheep.

Manger scene in church at Wohlen bei Bern, Switzerland
Manger scene in church at Wohlen bei Bern, Switzerland

We read that the church was founded in 1320.

Wohlen bei Bern Die Pfarrkirche
inside church looking toward the back
Ten Commandments from 1681
Ten Commandments from 1681

So why no old gravestones, the kind my older brother and his wife found throughout the U.S. to establish our family tree on our father’s side?

In a country rich with history, even pre-dating the Romans, it didn’t make sense.

After thoroughly covering every part of the cemetery, I stopped to listen to my daughter explain that, according to Swiss law, any graves over 100 years old are removed to make space for new ones. (No, we don’t know what happens to them.)

Finally, we chose a young cinnamon rose-bush near some Zimmerman and Tschanen graves to disperse a portion of Mom’s ashes. (Mom had been an avid gardener.)

Cinnamon Rose bush in Wohlen bei Bern churchyard
Cinnamon Rose bush in Wohlen bei Bern churchyard

Tracey and the boys sang “I Am His Child,” which Jeremy and Kyle had sung to Mom on their last visit in April – and to which she had responded with deep emotion and tears. (They also sang it at the reception after her Requiem.)

For days I was frustrated that I had not been able to find my ancestors’ tombs.

Yesterday, understanding dawned, and I sighed in relief.

empty manger
empty manger

Just like the empty manger, the empty cross, and the empty tomb where they had laid the body of Jesus, someday all our tombs will be empty.
The only thing that really matters is where we go from there.

“My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence.” I John 5:13-14


sunrise over Schindellegi
sunrise over Schindellegi, Switzerland

Below is a partial clip of Jeremy and Kyle singing “I Am His Child” at the reception.

Needing a taste of heaven

a taste of heaven
Mom singing
Grief is a strange bedfellow. One moment I’m hugging a family member and celebrating the knowledge that my mother is now free from the prison of her mind and failing body. The next, I’m struck with longing for one more chance to spend an afternoon with her, even with her dementia-tortured mind.

It’s the little things that tear me up.

I pass the ice cream shop where I took her the last time we went out, my grandson grinning across the table as they smacked their lips over sundaes. She loved being with family, and was crazy about ice cream. Why didn’t I take her more often?

I leave an appointment and cringe at the “right turn only” sign at the end of the parking lot, the road leading to Mom’s place. Instead, I head the other way, aching over the number of times I turned that way, when I could have gone to see her.

There was so much more I could have done to make her last year better.

But I didn’t know it was her last year, her last month, my last chance to love on her.

So what do I do with my tears? The heavy weight of “if only” and “I wish I had…”?

My brain says she is happy now, so much better off with Jesus.

But I am here and cannot stretch to heaven.

My heart sleeps with grief, walks with loss, and aches with the hole torn asunder by her death.

So I cry.


And even before I blot those tears, my brother calls. Love soothes through the air waves, tender encouragement, and even chuckles when he says, if she could, Mom would scold me for feeling badly. He says I did enough. Time to let go.

To recall the last time we were alone, hugging her and praying with her and singing, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

It was fairly easy this past month, surrounded by loved ones. We are family. We share relationship and the thread woven through our lives by that unforgettable lady.

Now that we’ve gone home, “back to normal” life, I limp along, alone.

But not alone. That’s pity-party stuff.

My husband’s hug, my brother’s call, a sweet text from my daughter, a blog post from a dear cyber sister, Healing, like grief, comes in waves remind me that we are meant to connect, to share our hearts, and to reach out.

Hell is isolation, going it alone.

I believe God created us to need each other, to live connected.

To reach out to each other when we need a hand, to offer a hand, and when the moment arises, to share a taste of heaven.

But when I come to the end of it all, there is only one place for my soul to find rest.

This side of the curtain, I taste a bit of heaven when I splay my soul before my Lord in worship.

Since music touches me where thoughts don’t walk, I love many songs. But this is without a doubt my favorite modern one. I leave myself, my “should-a , would-a, could-a” self behind, and listen to the angels cry, His Glory Appears.

I’m sure my Mom is singing that now.

And because of the faith she shared with me, I sing, and I look forward to the day when we’ll sing it together, with all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

We are all wonderfully unique. When you are down, what do you seek?

Where do you go for a touch of heaven?

Until the sun rises with healing on its wings

As I sort through my mother’s boxes, filled with letters, notes and cards, old announcements and playbills and church bulletins, I see a thread of grace running through the piles. As I shared right after her death, the watershed moment was my brother’s funeral, when Psalm 27 was read, specifically the last verses.

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:13-14

For me, the life changer was a few months after Mac died, when I stayed with my mother’s mother in NJ. A woman of deep faith who prayed for me every day from the time I was born until she took her last breath, Grandmom took me to Ocean City Baptist Church every Sunday and weekday, morning and night.

There, in the midst of her faith and prayers, I responded to the mysterious call of God on my life.

Many months later, when I was baptized in Christ Church, Oswego, NY, though no physical signs or emotions marked that event, I see now that my life was never the same again. I received a means of grace, the physical overlapping with the heavenly.

winding road NC mountain © Jack H Thompson
winding road NC mountain © Jack H Thompson

Thus began a long, circuitous journey. Many times I eased toward the light, and other times I stumbled in the darkness, but with a sense that, no matter what, the sun would rise with healing on its wings.

Now, still in that alternative reality that comes from experiencing the slow death of a dear loved one, so much of what I usually spend time and energy on seems just a shadow. Dark images on the wall, created by hands in front of a light. Tiny, one-dimensional signposts pointing to reality.

Everyday actions and objects have taken on greater meaning, become symbols mediating a deeper reality.

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.

Col 1:15-18

At this writing, I am in the Smokey Mountains.

Maggie Valley, NC © Jack H Thompson
Maggie Valley, NC © Jack H Thompson

The great vistas speak strongly of a great Creator. Wildflowers, colored leaves, even lichens on tree bark tell of His creativity and imagination.

wildflower © Jack H Thompson
wildflower © Jack H Thompson
white wildflowers
white wildflowers
tree bark © Jack H Thompson
tree bark © Jack H Thompson

yellow wildflowers © Jack H Thompson
yellow wildflowers © Jack H Thompson

As the pain of a homeless man wrings my heart as we must wring His, feeling our pain, even when self-inflicted, a curly-headed girl dancing in front of the restaurant speaks of His delight in his children.

And each new day assures me that the sun rises with healing on its wings.