The Bells Are Ringing

My bathroom window was open as I was putting on make-up. The sounds of traffic and dogs barking drifted through the window, along with the faint sounds of church bells ringing the hour. The bells are a few blocks away, at the church where I teach preschool. If I didn’t know that the bells ring every hour, I might not have noticed their sound. I love those church bells; they remind me of the bells that rang across the street when I was little. I lived in a red brick parsonage with my family; on a street paved with red bricks, by the red brick church with a tall, tall steeple.

Our grade school was just down the street. In the middle of the morning, while we were at class, we would occasionally hear the bells ring out…but at the wrong time.

Imagery of a bell tolling is used as a symbol of death. And that’s exactly why those bells were ringing. A funeral was taking place at the church. As kids, we knew what the bell ringing meant. Listening to the peal of the bells would cause us to pause in our school work, and then we would bend our heads down again to the task at hand. And so, life went on.

It is harder for life to go on after hearing those funeral bells as an adult. I have been thinking about my mother a lot these days. She’s been gone for almost two years. The month of October, with all the pink for breast cancer awareness, used to be easier to face together. Pink is good; pink reminds us that we still need to fight. But pink can also be a lonely color when I worry about the recurrence of cancer.

But yet, I have to laugh as I read that last sentence. In the children’s book, “Purplicious”, the main character moans, “I’m the only on in the whole wide world who likes pink. I am all alone. No one understands me,” when all her friends declare that pink is out and black is in.

By moaning that I am all alone in my breast cancer journey, I am like that pouting little girl in the book. I am not really alone. I am surrounded by love. And of course, I am forgetting that death has no hold on me–a lesson my mother taught me. She had no fear of breast cancer; no fear of death, as one of her favorite hymns proclaims:

Lord, let at last thine angels come, to Abr’hams bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep my body safe in peaceful sleep until thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me that these mine eye with joy may see,
O Son of God, thy glorious face, My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, My prayer attend, my prayer attend, and I will praise thee without end!

What a joyful sound, the ringing of the bells!

The words above are from the hymn “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart.”

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Granddaughter of a Preacher Man

Lily loves water slides. She has no fear…and so I have to have fear for her. Or, you might say I have to be brave for her. After climbing four flights of stairs during our recent trip to a small water park, there were two choices — the benign green slide, which was a nice, well-lit, moderately fast slide — not scary at all. The other slide was a red slide, which was a dark tunnel plunging into unknown depths at unknown speeds. Which slide did six-year-old Lily want to go down? Why, the red slide, of course.

And so this mom told her to let me go down first and see how fast and how dark it really is. This mom, who is scared of the dark and of heights and of going fast.

I went down that red slide, and it was really dark and really fast and really breath-taking. For me. At the same time, I thought it was not too scary for my brave Lily. And she went down the dark, scary red slide several times, shrieking with delight as she entered the darkness.

As we were walking down the hallway back to our hotel room, we were talking about that red slide. It was so dark that you couldn’t see where you were going, which is what scared me. My dad asked Lily why the red slide didn’t scare her. She said, “I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew where I was going to end up.”

My father, the pastor, told Lily he’d have to remember that for a sermon.

Growing up, my sisters and brother and I were always afraid that we would become a sermon illustration. What would Dad share about us with the whole congregation? As we became teens, we dreaded being part of the sermon more than ever. Even as adults, we never know what Dad’s sermons will bring up. One Mother’s Day, I was sitting with my new boyfriend in the pew turning red with embarrassment as my preacher father wondered out loud when his daughter might become a mother. That boyfriend stuck with me anyway and ended up marrying me.

This New Year’s Eve, Dad was the guest preacher at a small church, and we all attended the service. He told us about the young girl hit by a car who didn’t deserve to die; about the man with cancer who shouldn’t have died from such a horrible disease; about how death seems to march on and on. How even Jesus died a horrible death, and death goes on…but wait. Because Jesus died for us, death does not go on and on.

Then he told the story about Lily and the red slide. About how she was not afraid of that dark tunnel because even though she didn’t know where she was going, she knew where she was going to end up.

As Dad was preaching this story about her, Lily looked at me, and her face shone in delight. She beamed. Unlike her mother, her aunts and her uncle, there was no embarrassment.

That look…the huge smile on Lily’s face is the smile I hope is on my face, when I die. Because I know where I’m going to end up.

My cousin recorded Lily the first time she came down the red slide. You can hear Lily’s grandpa laughing in the background.

If you are reading this post in a email, please click through to Lemon Drop Pie to see the video.

Daughter of a preacher man,

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