February 18, 2008

roots and wings

It was two months ago on this day when my mom passed away. Since that day, I've had an increasing sense of how much my mom's life meant to me. Fortunately, I was able to tell her before she died that she had shaped much of who I am (I was able to tell my dad as well before he died how he shaped much of who I am).

It was this fact that dominated my thoughts about her during the months leading up to her death. For this reason, at her funeral I chose to share about how she shaped me . . . 

My mom's sayings were one of the things that stood out most about her. I remember as a child I would always ask her how long it would be until supper was ready. She would tell me that it would be ready in "two shakes of a lamb's tail." For some reason, I never questioned exactly how long that meant. I also remember we would run late a lot anytime we were going somewhere with my mom. She would take her time no matter how late she was. When we complained about it she would simply say, "better late than never." Again, we never really argued with that saying because at some level it was true. Of course, my dad's face would get beet red and steam would blow out of his ears while my mom just took her own sweet time. 

There are so many more sayings I could recall here, but there was one saying that stuck with me the most as a child and now as an adult.

"There are two lasting things you can give your children; roots and wings."

My mom shaped much of who I am by giving me roots and wings. 

She gave me roots during my early years with her that shaped me at the core. The roots were given to me by her as I watched her daily life. I watched her through the course of my life die to herself and live for others. It makes me think about the passage in Philippians 2:1-11.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete; be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death - 
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name 
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. 

My mom did not look to her own interests. I would have to ask her what her interests were when it came time to get her a birthday or Christmas present. She put her own interests aside and gave herself to the interests and needs of her family. You could hear her hollering at our ballgames, "get him off my son" or "that was a foul, he's hurting him." She spent a lot of her years caring for her mom. She also cared for my dad during his long battle with cancer.

At the very core of the Christian faith is the act of giving one's self to another. Jesus emptied himself and became human. My mom had the core of the Christian faith rooted deeply in her so that she reflected the image of our kind and giving God. 

At her dad's funeral (D.L. Childers), it was said of him that he was "a very unpretentious man of strong convictions and faith. He never said much about his religion; he never prayed in public nor spoke in public about his faith - he simply lived it. To know D.L. was to know a Christian." I believe that the very same thing should be said about my mom. She simply lived her faith and to know Mary Ann was to know a Christian. 

My mom also gave me wings during my later years with her that gave me direction to face the future. The wings were given to me by her at moments when I saw how she responded to her own suffering.

She used to tell me about how bitter she was after her dad died at such a young age. She explained that she was bitter toward God until she reconciled with God about the matter years later. A few months ago, I asked her how she was able to reconcile with her dad's death. She said that she simply decided one day that she would rather be filled with love than bitterness. She had her own family to love. My mom's death has put a bitter taste in my mouth, but her words will be a guide in the days and years to come as I struggle to choose love over bitterness.

I also remember when my dad was diagnosed with cancer nearly 14 years ago. She told me about a co-worker of hers expressing his sympathies to her and how she told him in response, "well, if it all ends here we've had a good life." I was 15 years old. My mom and dad were 45 years old. If it all ends here? I reminded my mom just a few weeks ago of how much that impacted me. I told her that our family has had a good life together and that Daniel and I would carry forward to our children the values that she and my dad worked so hard to instill in us. 

The good thing is that this is not the end. Although I am closing a chapter in my life, this is not the end of the story! When we tell my two-year old son, Jonah, that Posh and Mimi went to be with Jesus, he immediately says, "Jesus coming back." What a great reminder from my son. In the Christian faith, we believe that Jesus is coming back to make all things new. 

There is a picture of my mom and dad when they were 19 years old (see attached). They are sitting on my grandmother's porch dressed in their formal attire. There is much life ahead of them to live. I don't exactly know what heaven is going to be like, but I imagine that when Jesus comes back and I am able to see my mom and dad again they will be waiting for me like that and my mom will have that young beautiful smile on her face saying, "Welcome home."

My parent's home is no longer 1285 Gatewood Drive (in Lawrenceville). My mom gave me a Bible when I graduated from seminary and she wrote in the front of it, "always follow your heart and don't forget the way home." Well, the way home lies ahead as I take the wings my mom gave me and move forward one step at a time toward heaven.

A few months ago, as my mom and I were talking about her sickness she said that she believed you can find beauty in everything. I think the beauty here is that my mom spent her favorite time of year (Christmas) with her Maker.  

February 16, 2008

grace and suffering

It was two years ago on this day when my dad passed away. Since that day, I have deeply felt his absence in my life. I have especially needed his fatherly words of wisdom to guide me through these tragic last two years. In moments where I intensely feel a need for his presence, his words of wisdom from the past come into sharp focus.

"I experienced grace in the midst of suffering."

He was interpreting the events of his life that covered a span of 12 years, yet little did he know these words would guide me through events that were not foreseen at that time.

It was a typical phone conversation that we were having one Sunday afternoon in October 2005. He felt inclined to share with me about how he was able to see things differently because of all he had been through. He explained that he would not change the suffering he had been through for the grace that he received in the midst of it.

He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was healthy as a horse at 45 years old. He went through numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a stem cell transplant, lots of blood transfusions, hospitalizations for pneumonia, neuropathy, (years of) catherizing himself, constant feelings of exhaustion, and much more. In addition, he was approaching his second stem cell transplant. His sickness made him completely weak and vulnerable. It had slowly worn him down over 12 years.

He wouldn't change all this to enjoy living a healthy life again? Apparently, what he experienced was better than the promise of health again in this life. He experienced grace in a way that I do not understand.

I tried to make sense of it when I spoke at his funeral. I asked the burning question I had at the time (and still have), namely, "how was my dad able to say this?" I clung to what I knew of the Scriptures in an attempt for an answer. I explained that he could say this because of what he knew here and what he knew about there (heaven).

Here, my dad knew that Jesus shared in our suffering and death. Jesus even wept over it. In John 11, Jesus wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus before he raises him from the dead. Jesus is not just weepy over the loss of his friend here, he was also deeply upset and angry with death itself. Jesus claimed, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and . . . shall never die." In the very next chapter (John 12), Jesus said, "the hour has come" for him to face his own suffering and death. My dad knew that Jesus had entered our world to share in our suffering and death so that we might have true life.

There (heaven), my dad knew that he would share in Jesus' victory over death. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul proclaimed, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?" Paul explains that our perishable and mortal bodies will put on the imperishable and the immortal. Paul described all this about the resurrection after he claimed (earlier in the chapter), "by the grace of God I am what I am." My dad identified with Paul's experience of grace and looked forward to being changed from the perishable to the imperishable.

At my dad's funeral, my family also decided to play a song called "Peace in the Valley". My dad sang it at his own funeral (he had recorded it before he died). It was his favorite spiritual song that summed up the latter part of his life and echoed his words of wisdom that have stuck so close to me. Here are the lyrics:

Oh well, I'm tired and so weary
But I must go alone
Till the Lord comes and calls, calls me away, oh yes
Well, the morning's so bright
And the lamp is alight
And the night, night is as black as the sea, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me
Well the bear will be gentle
And the wolves will be tame
And the lion shall lay down by the lamb, oh yes
And the beasts from the wild
Shall be lit by a child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me

Peace in the valley. Grace in the midst of suffering. These words are an anchor for me during the storm and a light in the darkness as I navigate through my journey to grieve with hope.