The Gathering

We sat on the front porch as the California Summer died around us, coffee cups in hand. It was time for the daily 10am cup outside.

I had only been there a few days, but after one of the worst years of my life, I’d wanted to run from my heaviness in Washington. Sacramento had flashed in my head like a light in the dark.

So I packed a bag and I went.

We sat in comfortable silence as we drank our coffee around the small patio table, until I surprised everyone with a tear falling straight into my cup. Then another, and another. My grandpa reached out and touched my knee as my grandma took my hand and looked at me until I raised my face.

“We know,” she said. “We know.”

I took a breath and looked back at her light blue eyes, practical and comforting all at once.

“You can always come here when you need to. You can always come home.

That was 6 years ago. My grandparents had comforted me on that porch over coffee, packed me a lunch and taken me to the river that day to sit beneath the trees. They’d held hands and split a sandwich, reminding me that there was a kind of love worth waiting for.

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My grandma was known for this: opening up her heart, her time and her home for the ones who needed it the most – gathering the weary and the wanderers to her table.

She’d begun gathering children who needed her in the 1960s.

She chose my father on a December night, adopting him when he was just a few days old, then adopted 2 more and birthed 3.

She’d gathered her 8 year old son to her in a ditch on the side of the road when he was almost killed by a car, and she’d told God if He would spare her son, his life was His. God accepted that day, and the covenant she made on behalf of my dad still bears fruit.

Her children grew up to have children, who grew up to have children. She had 15 grand kids, 10 great grand babies and 2 on the way. She’d taken us all in at some point over the years, offering a bed, a meal, a cup of coffee. Offering her time and love, and maybe an episode or two of Antiques Roadshow.

Her home was the backdrop to a hundred adventures dreamed up by my brother and me as we sat in our clubhouse in the rafters of the workshop. As she called us in from the back pasture for family dinners. She took me in every time my steering wheel turned south. When we pulled an RV full of teenagers up to her door, she took us all in. She welcomed the man I would marry by showing him her record collection that first night, dancing in the kitchen with him to old polka music. She even took in a dog and gave him a home.

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We all gathered in her kitchen to soak. To recharge. To heal. To rest.

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Her kitchen was one of my favorite rooms in the world. It was where the coffee pot hummed. Where the good smells started. Where the company parked and the stories flowed like cream and sugar.

She was always at the center of it all.

My grandparents’ kitchen has always felt just a bit bigger than others, even when our 30+member family crammed into it. It always felt a bit more like a character in the story rather than the setting, welcoming everyone throughout our changing seasons. But it was because of them. It was because of her. She brought it to life.

Each time we’d visit it was the same – early breakfast and coffee with the daily crossword puzzle while Grandma and Grandpa shared the latest news and showed us pictures and memory books. Family would come and go the whole time, a buzz of activity and noise and practical comfort. We’d pull up chairs until we were all hunkered together or shout across the room about recipes or newspaper articles. Her hand would fall to his shoulder while she spoke. It was perfect.

For 63 years, they were perfect together.

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The last time I saw her, I brought my son to her breakfast table.

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Now each night he sleeps beneath the quilts that she pieced together, her name stitched on the back against his warm little chest.

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She celebrated one last gathering in her home on Thanksgiving evening, and there the Lord reached down and gathered her to Him. She was surrounded by the ones she had loved and served for so many years, by the ones who loved her fiercely. Her children, her grandchildren and great grandchildren were nearby. She held the hand of my grandpa.

I should have guessed that it would be this way. That it would be in the home beneath the palm tree where she raised 5 kids, in the city where she buried one. Near the hallways full of her husband’s paintings, by the gardens that she’d tended so lovingly over the years. That it would happen while the sounds of her loved ones filled her kitchen. That by a miracle, all of her children would be home.

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I miss her. I’ll miss her phone calls and the letters we exchanged, the photos and the maps and tips on the best road trips. I’ll miss her voice, and her practical way of letting go of the small things and focusing on the people in front of her. I’ll miss the way she always welcomed me home.

“You can always come here when you need to. You can always come home.”

I miss her. But through it all, I can’t help but think – what a gathering we’ll have in her new home one day.

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A GRAVESIDE SERVICE LETTER FROM MY DAD: I’m glad for this opportunity to share a remembrance. In a way I am glad I do not have to read it, for these days grief rolls over my soul in unpredictable waves.

I understand that today folks have gathered to honor my Mom, but I would also like to share a word about my Father, for over the years their love and lives merged, and they became one. Scripture notes that, “Two are better than one.” I did not just read of this truth, I witnessed it growing up. I saw love multiply as our family grew.

I see that Dad and Mom did not choose the selfish or easy road. They adopted children, and then Mom gave birth to several more. They cared for a large family and also showed extraordinary care to Mom’s siblings, Mom’s Mother, grandchildren, and to great grandchildren. Mom and Dad provided encouragement and support to neighbors, friends and family. If there was a need, prayers and offers of help usually quickly followed.

Mom took the lead in much of this, but Dad stood behind her, supported her, made it possible, and spent countless hours in the shop, under a hood, or in a field making, painting, helping, creating, fixing and through it all, blessing many.

In Philippians 2 believers are encouraged to view the needs of others as being more important than their own. This was not a new or strange exhortation when I read it for the first time, for I had seen Mom and Dad model this for years. Countless times, luxuries, conveniences, trips and toys were deferred or denied so that someone else could have their need met, or see their dream come true. And even in the retirement years, when perhaps a greater claim could be made to personal time and resources, Mom and Dad did not become more selfish, but rather, more sacrificial—opening their home and exhibiting great generosity on all fronts.

I love my Dad and my Mom—always have and always will. I marvel at their integrity and perseverance. I am inspired by how they have lived their lives, and faced their own mortality, with courage and grace.

Mom and Dad led in insuring that we children had a good life—they did not just hope it would happen, they sacrificed and tenaciously persevered to make it happen. Looking back, I see that in many simple but important ways, Mom led us down the path that emphasized the more important things in life—family and faith. And so, in a sense it is fitting that she lead our family now around the final turn in the road, and up into heaven. It is right that she leads us—be first among us (her adult kids, grandkids, great grandchildren and husband), to see the wonders of heaven, to hug Joel Patrick, to walk the streets of gold, to receive a better, stronger, glorified body, and to hear the Savior say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

I miss my Mom. We all miss her. But we can know, and even find solace in the truth, that our loss—Dad’s great loss, is her great gain. Today we say goodbye, but it does not have to be a forever farewell. A wonderous blessing awaits those who believe and put their faith in Jesus. If we walk the same path that Mom walked, we will arrive at the same destination. This is just the beginning of life—heaven is our home. One day, perhaps in the twinkling of an eye, we’ll join the Lord in the sky and once again see again Mom’s smiling face….She’ll give us a hug, and we will likely hear her say, “I hope you vacuumed up the crumbs in the living room before you left the house.” Let us commit today to believe in Him, and live for Him, so that we too can have the hope of heaven and receive the countless promises found in His name.



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Arlene Ray went home to be with the Lord on November, 22, 2018. Arlene grew up in Portland Oregon, and moved to California in 1953 with her mother, brother and future husband Joseph Theron Ray. Arlene married Joe in July 1955. He was the love of her life – they were married 63 years. Believing they could not have children, Arlene and Joe adopted three in the 1960’s. Arlene was then blessed with delivering twins (one died soon after birth), and then one more. Over the years she was able to add “fine mother” to her list of many achievements. Arlene was an exceptional quilter, gardener, mentor, wife and mother. Her heart to help and mentor was evident, even in her later years as a proud grand and great grandmother. She was generous and kind, and a believer in Jesus who lived out her faith. Arlene is survived by her husband Joe, 5 children (Gary, Nancy, Amy, Leslie and Mike), 15 grandchildren (Ryan, Randi, Anton Aaron, Ari, Anna, Nathan, Vanessa, Felicia, Victoria, Greg, Michaela, Emily, Alex, Alyssa), and 10 great grandchildren (Riley, Charlie, Sawyer, Jacob, Joseph, Elisha, Lily, Jase, Toby and Sadie Grace). Arlene was quick to love and help and give. She was dearly loved, and will be deeply missed. Graveside service are scheduled for Thursday November 29th at 2pm, at Calvary Catholic Cemetery (7101 Verner Ave, Citrus Heights CA 95621). A reception at the home of Joseph Theron Ray (7201 Mariposa Ave, Citrus Heights CA 95610) will follow the graveside service. Flowers may be delivered to Calvary Catholic Cemetery (note that they are for Arlene Ray’s service), 7101 Verner Ave, Citrus Heights CA 95621.
Published in The Sacramento Bee on Nov. 27, 2018

 

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