Weslee Edwards Hill

Mother's Day, 2018

This Mother’s Day I’m looking at motherhood up close but from a different perspective and new appreciation. Some of this likely has to do with the fact that nowadays I’m doing more mother-associated tasks like taking the lead cooking, grocery shopping, laundering, and hauling boys around (today I’m going to the zoo with the 2nd graders). It has more to do with watching Weslee skillfully and sacrificially mother her three boys. I’m amazed though not surprised one whit.

Her circumstances are not unlike many in the world today. She is a single mom with a full-time job twelve rush-hour miles from our house. More than a year ago she made a very hard decision -- the hardest of her life -- one no one on either side of the equation planned or preferred, but I’m convinced was necessary nonetheless for the long-term well-being of everyone involved.  Gutsy, but good though tough for all involved. Plan B it is and God’s grace is sufficient and abundant for everyone’s new normal.

Weslee leaves before the boys get on the school bus and gets home after they get off. She’s tired, but more times than not is upbeat and over dinner wants to hear the boys’ accounts of their respective days even though many times she will have engaged and managed heavily emotional situations in her job as patient advocate at a cancer treatment facility. Between dinner and the boys’ bedtime, she dedicates her time solely to them because she likes it. At bedtime, she spends “five” minutes in each of the boys’ beds with them but occasionally has absolutely run out of gas and fallen fast asleep right there. One recent Friday night -- a non-school night -- she had been down in the boys’ basement barracks an extra long time so I ventured down to check on them. All four were piled up on one bed in the dark singing and laughing at juvenile made-up lyrics to some song they all knew. It was hilarious and they were having the best time.

“Her time” typically comes in spirts usually in the form of a very early weekday morning several-mile run and on weekends. She treasures a Sunday afternoon nap and an occasional retreat to her “happy place” -- the upper deck that opens into her bedroom.

Far from a push-over (for years I’ve likened her to a junkyard dog), she herds those guys with tender firmness.  Even three sweet boys -- 8, 10, and 13 -- can (and do) create a fair amount of household chaos, but she presides effectively over such and bears by far most of the discipline role allowing me to stay in the Papa role. She’s the disciplinarian, I’m only the enforcer.

She loves spending time and doing things with those boys.  I had an out-of-town Saturday/Sunday engagement a couple of weeks ago. That Saturday I received a phone photo of them all playing in a trickling creek that she explained as a spur-of-the-moment side trip following Thomas’ (8) baseball game. The next day another photo showed up of a Sabbath creek after church during which Andrew (10) had helped two others lead a special song for the early service. The next Sunday afternoon she loaded up their four bicycles and went for a multi-mile ride. She loves hanging out with those growing boys.

Weslee is also a gatherer of people, a budding note-writer, and care-giver leading those efforts in her Sunday School class. She brought awareness, designed and jumped through company hoops to get a T-shirt approved for a run in the St. Jude Music City Marathon two weeks ago.  She’s amazing.

I’ve told many people that as time goes on, Weslee reminds me more and more of Honey. It occurred to me yesterday mowing the yard that Honey quietly showed us how to do many good things well, then “took off” and let us do them. Mothering was one of the best things she showed us. In many ways Weslee is not anything like Honey, but when it comes to the stuff of mothering, she’s the spitting image. (Oh wait, Honey wouldn’t spit!)

Here’s the perfect Celebrating Grace hymn for today:

Like a mother with her children You will comfort us each day,
     giving guidance on our journey, as we seek to find our way.
When we walk through fiery trials, You will help us take a stand; when we pass through
     troubled waters, You hold out Your tender hand.

In Your image You have made us, calling each of us by name,
     giving strength for every challenge as our gifts we fully claim.
We can hear you gently saying, “Do not worry, do not fear;
     for I’ll always go beside you; every moment I am near.”

With Your vision You inspire us, giving each a holy call;
     we will open doors of freedom by Your power in us all.
Life abundant spread before us as with eagle’s wings we soar,
     joining in Your new creation, we rejoice forevermore.

Like a Mother with Her Children – words Jann Aldredge-Clanton, 2000 © 2010, Celebrating Grace, Inc.

Welcome Back!

Welcome back! Oh, wait a minute, ‘tis I who’s been out of touch since mid-July – yikes!

My schedule has undergone a pretty drastic change since business has picked up at my house.  Daughter Weslee and three boys now live with me. But my house is WAY too big for just me so that part is working out just fine. Wes and Chris are going through a divorce; they are both doing a hard thing well. In His perfect world, I doubt God intended for there to be divorce, nor in our imperfect world did Wes, Chris, his family, or ours intend it. But under the circumstances, it may well be the best thing for all long-term. It is not mine to approve, disapprove, or judge. It is what it is and we are looking forward not back while making the best of Plan B. (This is not our first experience with Plan B.)

Carolyn, clearly one of the best student ministers First Baptist Church downtown ever had, our forty-year friend, was also mother to Weslee’s best friend, and hubby to Wayne, who at that time traveled nearly every week in his also full-time employment. One day she blew in tardy -- and suffice it to say a bit disheveled -- to a meeting at work proclaiming “what our house needs is a WIFE!” Of course, the meeting went into immediate recess for a good laugh while Carolyn unloaded and regrouped. “Wife” is my new role at our house and three months into it, I’m getting the hang of only some of it. I have a greater appreciation for working mothers, single moms, anyone whose domestic responsibilities include keeping the home fires burning, especially when there are children.

The boys -- ages 12, 9, and 7 -- are great. They are doing admirably well adjusting to their new normal -- larger schools, a different church, learning new friends, split family relationships, Papa, greater cultural diversity, etc. Having several months of “warning” they were coming, I was able to re-purpose some of the house to accommodate them and it is working out fine.  The guys inhabit the Boys Basement Barracks with more living space than they’ve had before; Wes and I are on the main floor. My designated space is a small bedroom within view but with just enough distance from the ebb and flow of activity to provide occasionally required respite. I love my cozy quarters. Apparently so does everyone else because nearly every night some or all of us end up in there visiting or watching TV. It’s great!

Looking back trying to put things in perspective, it appears that all this seems to be yet more manifestations of God at work -- not causing stuff like Wes’ divorce or Honey’s death, but God knowing what was ahead and laying some groundwork even when we didn’t see it going on.  Things like this house -- as new empty-nesters in 1997, Honey and I didn’t need a house this size with a full basement configured as it is. Would Wes and boys have come to live in this house five years ago when Honey was alive? Doubtful. The timing and nature of my continuing employment with Celebrating Grace -- thanks yet again to my ten-year friend Tom -- allows me to be available to the boys before and after school while Wes works full-time at Tennessee Oncology, the major provider of Honey’s last year of cancer treatment. The vitality and convenience of Brentwood UMC less than two miles from our house enables the boys to participate in wonderful children, youth, and music programs and for us to get them there easily. It couldn’t be better. We’re not smart enough to orchestrate all of this -- we had help.

I can’t help but remember the refrain to one of my favorite “new” hymns in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, the first hymn Honey and I shared in our updates --

We walk by faith and not by sight,
     led by God’s pure and holy Light!
Prepare us for the journey, Lord,
     and may we know Your power and might,
     as we walk by faith and not by sight.

Words – Lloyd Larson © 1998 Beckenhorst Bress, Inc.

And these Elisha Hoffman lines penned 150 years earlier --

Oh, how sweet to walk in the pilgrim way…
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day…

- Mark






Exclusive Excerpt: Weslee Edwards Hill

Whether you were a part of the original Facebook group or Susie and Mark's cancer journey is all new to you, Notes from Susie: Choosing Gratitude in Life’s Low Places offers something helpful to each reader. Combining additional material with the compiled and enriched Facebook posts written during Susie's illness, the book illuminates the Edwards' joys and struggles, all the while buoyed by recent and timeless hymns that assured them of God's presence.

As part of our next blog series, we will highlight excerpts from the sections of the book created to complete the story, add background, and lend future perspective to the reader. This week, explore an exclusive excerpt from Weslee Edwards Hill as she recounts how she and her young family processed the realization that cancer would inevitably claim the life of their beloved mother and grandmother:

As a counselor, there have been many times I have sat across from a client and walked with them down their personal road of grief offering advice, hope, encouragement, and hopefully comfort along that often difficult road. Taking classes, reading books, and having a piece of paper on your wall that says you have learned enough to help others doesn’t always mean you are adequately prepared to help your own loved ones as they travel down the same road of grief.

There are books to be read, there are classes that can be taken, there are degrees to be granted, but when it comes to helping your own little ones navigate this road, you do the best you can do, and hope and pray that God takes what you’ve attempted to do and that He makes it something helpful, beautiful, and part of His plan in their lives.

Chris and I have three precious boys, and I knew from the beginning that each one would approach Honey’s illness and death differently. The challenge was knowing what each needed and when they needed it. As a whole, we were up front with them when we knew specifics to tell them. It was a hard balance to find between too much and not enough information for children under age ten. We prayed for Mom at mealtimes, and any time the boys had questions we answered them to the best of our abilities. I probably shielded them from most of the day-to-day stuff to keep them from being overwhelmed with it all.

One week sticks out most vividly in my mind as we were all processing what the inevitable outcome was going to be for Mom. I had come back from a weekend trip to Nashville, and our family was sitting down to Sunday night dinner. It was a gut-check moment for me as I told the boys that Mom wasn’t going to be getting better. I tried to balance each of the kids’ needs as I carefully chose the words I said. I watched Jonathan clam up and try to change the subject.  I watched Andrew’s eyes fill up with tears and then try to comfort me. I watched Thomas as he looked around the table. We left the table that night, but the conversation stayed with everyone. It wasn’t until Wednesday night after church as I was tucking the boys into bed that it came up again. Andrew crawled up on the top bunk, laid his head down on his pillow, and told me that he asked for prayer for Honey since she was going to die from her illness.

I said, “Yes sweetheart, she is.”

At that moment, Jonathan, who was in the bed behind me, said, “WHAT?!?!?!? Honey is going to die from cancer????” I turned around to see the fire and tears in his sweet, big, blue eyes. I said, “Yes, sweetheart, she isn’t going to get better and she is going to die from cancer.” His face got red, the tears started flowing, and out came everything he had been storing up. He hit his bed over and over with balled-up fists and screamed, “I. HATE. CANCER!!!!!!” When he got all the rage out and collapsed in a ball of tears, we all just cried and hugged and held each other tight because there was nothing else that could be said or done. He had said it for all of us. 

- Weslee Edwards Hill, 
daughter of Mark and Susie Edwards

Once Again, the Dust Has Settled

Once again the dust has settled, but wow, what a weekend 'twas! As far as I can tell, the Susie Edwards Memorial Concert was one total success. Again taking cues from Honey in the gratitude department, here are some people and things for which I am thankful tonight (knowing full well I'll miss something important):

  • All the singers and instrumentalists who went the distance rehearsing and performing magnificently. Many of them came from a great distance to participate and celebrate with our family Honey's life. Apparently, the Herd has not disbanded and a bunch of them are fine singers of "the Christian song."
  • My brother, Randy, who put the very meaningful program together and pulled it off with precision and excellence, and for his assistant, Tina McCartney, whose demeanor is much like Honey's. 
  • The staff of First Baptist Church, particularly Joe Fitzpatrick, Laurie Hall, and Wesley Lankford, who hosted the event and tended to the many details that went with it. 
  • Kim Hester who worked two sides of the three-sided table -- Celebrating Grace and FBC Nashville Music Staff as accompanist. 
  • Weslee and Nathan, their families and in-laws who shared the weekend with me and made it even more special. 
  • Friends from near and far who attended the concert or watched the live-stream to remember and celebrate Honey again, more than a year after her death. 
  • Tom McAfee and Celebrating Grace staffers Janet Jarriel, Kim Hester, and Mary Ruth Welch who have worked tirelessly to bring the Notes From Susie book from suggestion to reality. 
  • Don Beehler, book editor and cheerleader
  • Everyone who generously contributed to the Children's Freedom Choir
  • People who cut me slack signing books last night when I couldn't for the life of me think of their names, people I've known for years. I'm still red-faced! 

I told you I'd forget something important. 

Those are day-after objects of gratitude. The thing that kept washing over me last night during the concert was gratitude that Honey and I were allowed to serve as that church in the first place and for almost a whole career. I sat alongside many women and men in seminary who would have enjoyed serving at FBC Nashville just like we did, but we were given the opportunity. There's only one explanation for that -- GIFT! Whoa, I miss that gal and certainly did during last night's wonderful music. But sitting there perusing row after row of current, former, and distant choir singers, seeing/greeting/hugging orchestra players who played for us all those years, looking upward to that cross-shaped support holding that majestic room together, enjoying the room's natural acoustic that fosters glorious congregational singing of timeless hymns, being inspired by long-time friends Cynthia Clawson singing and hubby Ragan Courtney speaking, then capped off hearing/seeing sweet Somerlie -- who grew up in our church -- play forth her heart and soul flawlessly through that oboe on "Susie's Gratitude" -- oh my soul! GIFT! That's it. GIFT! Like salvation. 

My heart is full. How can I keep from singing?

Notes From Susie books will begin shipping tomorrow from our Macon (GA) warehouse. Thanks for your patience. Production didn't move along as quickly as we anticipated. But they are here now and look great. You still may order via this link: http://www.celebrating-grace.com/notes-from-susie-choosing-gratitude-in-life-s-low-places 


Here is a song written by my brother for last night's concert: 

 As we walk the way with Jesus, many challenges we face. 

Fear, despair, and loneliness sometimes impede the race.

So we hope and pray and listen, always seeking the right choice, 

as we follow Jesus' words and listen for His voice. 

In the middle of the journey Christ comes to light our way.

In the midst of our great trials there is peace. 

In the center of the darkest night there's hope and comfort sweet. 

In the middle of the journey there is peace.

Let us then be true and faithful, giving thanks for each new day,  

showing grace in everything, in all we do and say.

For we know that life in Jesus is much more than here and now. 

Soon we'll gather 'round His throne, and there we'll humbly bow. 

In the middle of the journey Christ comes to light our way.

In the midst of our great trials there is peace. 

In the center of the darkest night there's hope and comfort sweet. 

In the middle of the journey there is peace.

In the Middle of the Journey -- Randy Edwards, 2016

Blessings, dear friends. 

Video: The Language of Hymns

Susie and Mark Edwards' children, Weslee and Nathan, explain how hymn texts were used in everyday language in their home. This helps explain the sustaining power of hymn texts during Susie's two year battle with cancer and how she and Mark used them to buoy themselves and others during difficult times.