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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Standing at the door of heaven

Five years ago I’m moving among tombstones in a Minnesota cemetery, which circles a white church and is surrounded by cornfields. The wind blows prairie-strong, snapping my pant legs. The sun is both high and hot. My wife knocks on church doors. We just dropped by, she wants to say, can we look?

I’m seeking the stone beneath which lies Thanne’s grandfather, Johann Weiss. She never met him. He died at 34, when her mother, Gertrude, was no older than 6 or 7. I know something of this Johann. It’s why I seek him. In a grief that never left her, my mother-in-law told me the story of her daddy’s dying. I share that grief. And it’s my duty to save the tale alive, for Gertrude died in 2000 just shy of her 95th birthday.

I’m halfway through the cemetery when I glance back. Here comes Thanne, smiling, with another woman beside her. “What a coincidence!” Thanne laughs aloud. “Wally, it’s my cousin Phyllis!”

Well, of course: This is the church where Thanne’s mother was baptized, confirmed, wooed, won and married. “Ah, yes,” Phyllis says softly, “Johann. Right over there.” I stand still. Remembering. These my feet, on an ancient earth ....


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December issue

DECEMBER issue:

Advent: Waiting together

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