Rick's Sabbatical 2017: Story 3

Posted by Rick Carpenter on

“Family – You Can’t Pick’em”  (July 1 – 15) 

Our first venture away in Sabbatical 2017 was a visit to Kay’s family in Louisville, Kentucky, with a quick trip to Bee Spring for Kay’s dad’s family reunion. I mentioned then that visits to the family have been infrequent if not rare for us, since moving to Texas, due to distance and schedules. I had planned a visit with my mother in late June, but Landon’s surgery in Dallas put that one on hold. (He’s doing quite well now, though the healing process goes on, and there’s still no definitive word on the cultures, and recommended treatment for the infection. Thanks to all for prayers.) So after the surgery, followed by a trip to Atlanta for CBF, I rescheduled plans for a visit to Alabama to spend some time with my mother. 


After a few days in Houston for some time to relax and read and write, and another doctor’s follow-up appointment, I left on Wednesday, July 18, with the car aimed at LA—Lower Alabama. The drive is about 11 hours, but with the new “Beatles” channel on satellite radio, the 675-mile drive, for the most part on I-10, was relatively easy.


Linnie Godfrey Carpenter was 20 years and 11 days of age when she delivered her first child, a boy—ME! She and my dad were married 9 months and 17 days before I arrived. They both grew up on modest farms in extreme Southeast Alabama. My dad served in the US Army, and after returning to his home met my mother at a church ice cream social. My dad had to quit school in the 8th grade, after his dad died suddenly while working in the fields, to help the family farm the land. After they were married and I was born, my dad got a job with a company in Dothan, the county seat, and we moved to “town.” They bought a small house, the same house that my mother still lives in today, and where she lived for 60 years with my Dad before his death in 2011.


My mother is 87 now. She’s very independent, still pretty strong, and for the most part, still very independent. And this is the conversation that my mother and I have now: How do we keep this old house working and together? Do you feel safe “again” since you came home from church a few months ago and found your house broken into? How do you feel about the options we’ve talked about before—moving to another house in a new neighborhood in Dothan; moving to Tallassee, Alabama, where my sister lives (about 2 ½ hours away); going to an assisted living community?


The conversations this time went well—for 3 days. Not so well, the last 3.  But this isn’t the first time we’ve had them. And they almost always take an ugly turn before we finish. Remember, my mother hasn’t moved in 66 years. She’s attended the same church for about 65 of those years. She didn’t work outside the home until she was about 60 or so when she drove a van and picked up patients to bring them to Dothan for eye surgery. She doesn’t want to move. She doesn’t feel safe where she is.  She loves her “place,” the house that they “built,” the yard that they landscaped, the neighbors that she has, the proximity to her exercise class, her doctors, her pharmacy, and of course, the Sunday School group of ladies that she still teaches. It’s hard for her to think about moving. And I understand that. So do my siblings. We understand, and yet, we are so concerned for her safety, and her peace of mind, and her financial well-being. And so we push, and my mother, the independent one, pushes back. And on my rare visits, I find myself pushing, probably too hard, and my mother pushing back. And it gets uncomfortable. And we cry.


Family has always been hard. In the work I’m in, I’ve discovered that ours aren’t the only ones who struggle. As my friend Mike often says, “Family: you can’t pick’em.” Why is it that the people you love the most are the ones who get on your nerves the most? Is it a control issue? My mother has always been a strong person. My dad was a quiet, easy-going guy, who worked hard and provided well for his family. My mother was the “take charge” person, the active, athletic type (she played high school basketball and was voted “most athletic” her senior year), and the disciplinarian—I don’t remember my dad spanking me, but I do remember my mother using a “switch” or a belt to “teach” me a lesson or ten.) And now, this 87-year-old woman, who was married to my dad for 60 years, who raised 3 children in that little house on Frederick Road, who loves God and her family and her friends, finds herself alone, with her health still strong but declining with age, and we the neighborhood around her transitioning in the wrong direction. And she’s being forced to make decisions that she doesn’t want to make—“should I pay ‘this much’ to fix the air conditioner?”;  “what do I do when my car quits?”; and “how much longer should I stay in this house?”.


But the hardest part of all of this, at least as far as I can tell, is, “how do we as a family help my mother, and how does she let us help her without feeling that she has to please us?”.


The good news is that before I left LA last week, my mother and I had a great “coming together” on the issues. I was able to tell her that if she could not move, I understand. She was able to tell me that she appreciates our attempts to help. And we both agreed that all of us—her family—are going to keep trying to figure this thing out. Family—you can’t pick em. But when the family works the way it’s supposed to, with love and peace and joy and hope, there’s nothing better. I thank God for my family—both the one I came from and the one that came from me. And I’m so thankful for a mother who taught me to love God and to follow Christ, even though that journey took me a long way away from her. Now I’m just praying every day that the latter days of her journey will be filled with that same joy and peace, as long as God leaves her here on this earth.


As I’m writing, we’re in Little Rock with the “other family,” the one becoming. We made this trip so that we could be with Logan and Christy and Annabelle to see Ellie and Levi swim in the Arkansas Meet of Champions at the University of Arkansas Little Rock tomorrow. It’s a rare occasion that we can all be together, if just for a day or two, as Landon and Angela and Avery and Aiden traveled from Dallas to see them as well. For Kay and me, THIS family is pretty easy. We have our struggles—surgeries and illnesses and growing-up stuff—but for the most part, it’s very good.  Being with our grandchildren is arguably the greatest joy of our lives today. And we are reminded every day, especially by the presence of our 2 adopted grands, that “picked” or not, everyone in this family is the same—loved the same, equally a part of the family. Which is also a reminder that God “picked” us, and loves us all the same—male or female, American or Asian, Christian or Muslim, democrat or republican, good, bad, or ugly. We are His family. Thanks be to God!


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