On the Death of My Brother, Terry Jenkins

What does one say to the bereaved? I know what not to say. I know because I was told this myself just yesterday, the day after my eldest brother, Terry Jenkins, died. I was traveling many hundreds of miles from my Michigan home and had not thought to bring funeral attire with me. When the call came, I knew I would need to do a little shopping. I found a recommended store and quickly found black slacks and two appropriate tops. I approached the check out line.“How are you doing today?” asked the young cashier.

A usual question. I am not good at dodging such questions and so I answered truthfully. “Not too well. My brother died last night.” The cashier’s face turned blank and she began processing my purchases. My eyes teared up. The cashier pushed buttons and crammed my nice clothes into a bag. I paid. Her parting words were, “Have a good one.” Dazed, I shuffled out.

“Have a good one.” Part of me wanted to go back and give that girl some much-needed, motherly guidance on common courtesy, manners, or humanity. She was clearly not raised properly. “Have a good one.” Indeed.

My brother died in western New York State. I chose to take the back roads all the way across the state to Buffalo, where I would pick up my husband, rerouted from a business trip. As I drove, I thought of Terry. He died Monday, June 5, 2017, just one day after his 70th birthday. He died peacefully in his home surrounded by his beloved wife and children, as was his desire. Terry was a passionate man whose heart embraced people. He will be remembered for his wild stories, his jokes, and yet also for his sincerity and integrity. Did I mention his wild stories?

Such adventures he had in his youth! Our mother used to worriedly wait up for him as he drag raced down country roads, returning in the wee hours. He graduated from Southwestern Central High School, but academics were not his thing. Terry was bright, but he excelled in physical intelligence. He had an inborn sense for motors and speed, making racing a dance of choreographic precision. A gear stick was the extension of his brain, arm, and hand. Under his urging, a backhoe could dig a ditch or a hole with inch precision. Terry was the owner of Jenkins Plumbing, plumbing being the trade he learned from his father and that he, in turn, passed down to his sons. Terry was a great teacher of practical skills, always finding a way to do things right. His grandchildren’s earliest memories will include a ride on Grandpa’s backhoe or, in later years, the golf cart. I appreciated the way he shared his knowledge with me over the phone, who, living several states away, sometimes needed a furnace, drain, or tap consultant. With Terry, you could count on more than what he knew. As vast as his knowledge was, you also had his honesty, his integrity, his kindness.

The fact that he served his community as a lifelong member of the Lakewood Fire Department is very ironic; as a boy and teen, Terry would faint even at the sight of a needle. Yet, he overcame this squeamishness and went on to help rescue people from accidents and fires. He encouraged people to live and hang on for professional help. Toward the end of life, he would have daily meetings with self-administered needles, a necessity for which he did not bat an eye.

My brother was loved. Despite his sometimes raw humor, you couldn’t not like Terry. In the end, his heart got him, that ticker that beat too weakly and that caused countless trips to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. How loudly he sang the praises of the good nurses and doctors there. He thanked them by telling them his best jokes.

I haven’t yet mentioned the love of his life, Carol. When awards are handed out for best wife, most patient partner, most long-suffering listener, and most faithful encourager, she will win every trophy. He blessed the day they met. Christopher, Terry, Tina, and Todd are grown now and they drive their own vehicles (additionally, Tina self-propels her racing bicycle) but they also carry on the traits of kindness and integrity modeled in their home. I trust they are passing on that heritage to the grandkids.

Our father (Eugene) died in 2010 and our mother (Mariam) died just last year. Terry was a good son. He and Carol cared for mom in her widowhood; mowing the yard, phoning daily, searching for Chester (the runaway cat), and keeping watch on her safety from across the pond to her house.

Carol and the kids are welcoming friends to the funeral home tomorrow night (Thursday). I trust there will be some stories, some laughter, some jokes, some tears. My sibs and I will be there (Jeff, Gena, Julie, Christine, and Jill) with our own stories to tell.

One story I hold dear is how peacefully he met his death. After years of suffering pain, Terry was ready. He made his peace with God and reports that God’s peace actually flooded his soul. He said his good-byes. He hugged his kids and siblings and friends. He thanked the hospice team. And then, he slipped away.

Terry has gone to be with the God he cried out to for help, courage, forgiveness, and grace. He has entered that place where there is no more suffering, or sighing, or crying anymore, for God is there in the midst of his people. In that place, Terry is walking tall.

And so, dear brother, have a good one. Eternity, that is. We will catch up some day.

Beth Ernest

Jeff, Beth, Terry, and Gena Jenkins, 1956

Yard Sale Blues

Yard sale detritus…

Getting rid of old stuff is hard. Sometimes, you can’t sell it or even give it away. The green, papier mâché parrot that was my whimsical (but unappreciated) gift to my dad, the square end table (itself purchased at a yard sale decades ago and refinished by moi), my daughter’s dresses from Forever 21,  books on world mission and spiritual formation….all remain in my garage awaiting the next leg on their journey.

Since I can remember, I have bought much of what I wear at yard sales, consignment shops, or places like the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Why? I include here a short essay I wrote some years ago about that very topic.

The Hunt

Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?  (Matthew 6:28-30, NET Bible)

Six years ago I lost four dress sizes, which happily necessitated buying a whole new wardrobe. The joy of the hunt for perfect clothes at the lowest prices often took me to my favorite stores; Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul. There, amid the faded, the out-of-style, and the polyester hid Jones NY suits, Talbot skirts, Ann Taylor dresses, Eddie Bauer hiking shorts, and even a genuine tartan kilt from Scotland. Linen, cashmere, and silk of many colors moved into my vacant closet at ridiculous prices. Who offered up these treasures and why? Did these women likewise lose (or gain) weight?  Did they suffer from over-consumption and guiltily weed their closets of shopping spree excess?  Did they trade power suits for maternity tops?  I bless them for their generosity, these good sisters, who passed on their bounty to me.

In younger years, my elder sister passed down her mother-sewn clothes to me, who passed them down to my three younger sisters, but more tired-looking than they began.  Hand-me-downs were, to us younger sisters, unwelcome stewardship in cotton and bonded knit. Embarrassing, obvious hem changes announced our diminished family fortune to classmates and neighbors. Now grown, I dress myself, but always with the voice of my mother pointing out the hidden stain, feeling the weight of the cloth, checking the top stitching, and avoiding mismatched plaids.

My cherished find? A one-of-a-kind, Chanel dress sample from Paris in the lightest, most supple black wool known to woman or sheep. A refugee amid granny dresses and shoulder padded rayon, it leapt into my arms for five dollars and the recognition of its hidden heritage. When shall I wear this dress? To a job interview, perhaps, or to attend the funeral of someone near and dear? It still awaits initiation to an event worthy of its lineage.

I pray my donated bags of clothes brought joy to my larger sisters, who likewise, love the hunt.



All Things Old…

All Things Old…

When my 92-year old mother died two months ago she left a house with four bedrooms, a large sewing room, a large laundry-storage room, an attic, a barn, a large storage shed, and a cat. The cat quickly joined the herd at my brother’s house, but the rest of mom’s possessions now sit waiting to be dispatched in some way.

Years ago, mom expressed an interest in angels, so her seven children began giving her angel gifts: angel mugs, statues, shirts, pictures, jewelry, and ornaments. These angels are everywhere, along with other gifts given her. With seven children, twelve grandchildren, and a growing number of great grandchildren, photos abound. There are also pictures that go back the other way—stoic Swedish parlor portraits, WW2 candids snapped of dad pretending he was having a good time overseas, and black and white pics of mom’s own siblings and in-laws going back as many generations as cameras have existed.

My father collected Avon bottles (he could never say no to any salesperson) so we have shelves full of perfume and bath oils. There is even a bottle of Chanel No 5 dad sent home from Paris in 1944 that seemed so special mom just couldn’t bring herself to use it. Mom was a champion seamstress, so there are boxes of cloth going back to the Kennedy administration, as well as beautiful lace and embroidered linens from her own mother. Clothes—homemade and store bought—fill closets all over the house.

In later life, my mom took up woodworking, making small items for the kids and even some small furniture pieces. These join a couple larger, more substantial antiques made by the Swedish side of the family. On these rest magazines, nic-nacks, candles, lamps, vases….

You get the idea. There is “stuff” galore, some of which meant a lot to my mom, some that might mean something to one or more of her children, and a whole lot that doesn’t mean anything to anybody. The next months of my life will be spent helping my siblings sort and dispatch what remains of mom’s “stuff”. Alas, she left no instructions.

The coming work of sorting my mom’s possessions makes me think of the situation older churches find themselves in.  As they seek to revitalize, they often find themselves stymied by discussion about “stuff”, often beautiful things given to them or built for them in decades past. Articles no longer needed but given by some ancient saint can become the object of a tug-of-war between nostalgia and reality. Old hymnals, hundreds of chairs, and old technology take up storage space that would be great to use for new purposes. Artwork—some nice but out-of-date and other that can only be described as bad in any era—take up wall or storage space because “Mrs. So-and-So” gave it. Books people brought to the church after their own parents died fill church libraries despite the archaic language, questionable theology or total uselessness of some of them to a modern ministry. Shepherds’ robes and the remnants of crafts from past children’s programs bulge from closets. Musical scores no longer sung and anthems for 8-part choirs languish unused, unlikely to ever be used again. In many churches, bronze plaques adorn everything nailed down and much that isn’t, indicating to whom the congregation owes an eternal debt of gratitude. Is getting rid of the item a rejection of the person? (No.)

A friend recently offered some wise words about sorting through the belongings of the dead. “Be glad for what it meant to your mother, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it now needs to mean something to you.”

Perhaps you know a church in such a situation. If that might be a church near you, I would suggest a show of confidence in God’s provision for your beloved congregation: clean house. Say a word of gratitude for the art that Mrs. So-and-So gave in the 1930’s or 70’s but is now not needed, then give it to someone who wants it or throw it away. Have a wooden chair burning hot dog roast. Clear out the Sunday School rooms and pray about the space and children’s ministry. Then redesign, paint in bright colors, and buy furniture and equipment needed for modern classrooms. If there is a use for the present furniture and equipment, by all means, use it, but don’t let sentimentality hold you back.

If tempers flare, look first at the interpersonal dynamics. Figure out what the attachment to “stuff” is, and honor those attachments that make sense and have a godly purpose. Detach yourselves from feelings of ownership of “stuff” simply because it has been around for so long or was given by someone you knew. Look for old things that have perhaps been buried and could be brought back into circulation, perhaps an antique communion service or cross. See how the old mixes with the new. The object isn’t to throw out the past, but to allow the past to serve your future well.

Remember that you are not alone. I will think of you fondly as I sort through boxes of angels, old photographs, and woodworking tools and then return to Michigan to take inventory of my own possessions. In the meantime, let me know if you need any Avon bottles.



Nothing says spring to me like forsythia blossoms.

New beginnings.

Having just finished my latest interim, I now lift the pen–or rather, press the keys–to write.

Stay tuned.


Orla’s pups have gone on to good homes, but the memory of their messy birth, playful wrestling, and ever-hungry, often-sleepy, baby-dogginess lingers in our home. Their July arrival and noisy sojourn among us were defining events for my family in 2012 and provided entertainment for neighborhood children and Facebook friends far and wide. What new life will 2013 bring? I await its quickening, should it arrive with pointy ears and wagging tails, or new call and community. May God answer the world’s prayers for new beginnings of peace, safety, protection, provision, and meaning in the coming year.