Ashlie Miller: Trying to savor those Sandwich Years

Published 12:01 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

Two slices of bread with a mix of creamy peanut butter stirred with globs of grape jelly smeared across the top. The southern staple of white bread spread with Duke’s mayonnaise, the right sprinkling of salt and pepper on juicy, red-ripened tomatoes. Rings of canned pineapple laying on a slice of Sunbeam dressed – again – in Duke’s mayonnaise. I have eaten and made many sandwiches, and pineapple sandwiches were a summertime favorite made for me by my grandmother.

Like a lot of other moms, I am in the season of making a lot of sandwiches. If you ask my family, they will likely tell you I make the best sandwiches in the world. Though most of my children can successfully make a sandwich using the same ingredients I would use, they believe I have a special knack for layering each piece of any sandwich. Still, I suppose that extra element I add — TLC — makes my sandwiches incredibly delicious.

Tender Loving Care is essential to another type of sandwich — those Sandwich Years. I recently mentioned that season of life — caring for children while also caring for aging parents. Studies, research, and many books have been written on the topic. Usually, the term brings about a negative connotation — being stuck or caught in the middle much like a sandwich, something to survive or to manage. Can Sandwich Years be something to savor as well?

I have five children who get to call me “mom.” Kissing boo-boos; helping them to learn; modeling good character; correcting and redirecting behavior; shaping and molding — that is one slice of the figurative bread. Blogs, books, and Instagram reels are filled with the beauty of motherhood amid the messiness.

On the other slice of the Sandwich Years is caring for parents. My father died when I was very young. My mother died more recently, succumbing to a 3-year battle with cancer. I learned to practically care for the one who did so much to care for me. She had made my sandwiches for school, usually wrapped up in an aluminum foil packet made from a single piece of wrapping as I watched in wonder. Months before her death, I watched YouTube videos to figure out how to wash the hair of someone bedridden. Successfully washing her hair while she lay in a chair left my mom in wonder and gratitude — one of many beautiful moments I shared in caring for her. This season involved doing many things I could not do in my own strength. So, I did not do it on my own. God was my strength as I allowed myself to be stretched and challenged beyond my personality type and my own anxieties. Self-sacrifice is part of the TLC that is also needed in caring for parents, yet there is so much to savor in this layer of the sandwich if we look for it.

Sandwiches can be pretty messy. I see it when I make a sandwich and wash the peanut butter off the knife or when the mustard is not properly shaken before squeezing it onto the ham sandwich, ending in a watery mess. I see that as I clean up the items my children “already put away” when they finish making their sandwiches.

Life sandwiches are messy, too, filled with many unexpected, sometimes undesirable layers.

 “Lettuce” avoid the tragic mistake of missing out on the beauty of the Sandwich Years. God is there to be our strength and to fill us with the joy of the Lord!

A time will come when I will not be needed to make sandwiches for small people who can not reach the counter, and my time caring for my parents has ended. If you find yourself in the middle of the Sandwich Years, cherish it and savor each bit – even the unexpected layers.

Ashlie Miller and her husband, pastor of Grace Covenant Church in Charlotte, grew up in China Grove and are raising their family of five children in Concord, where she can often be found making sandwiches.

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