Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hospital Corners, Meatloaf, Perseverance and Love

When I try to think of all that I learned from my mom, the first things that come to mind are hospital corners, folding laundry, and making meatloaf.

Honestly, if I am not careful, I could paint a picture of my mom as quite a task master in my growing up years.  My sister and I learned how to clean and cook out of necessity--mom was a single, working mother and needed the help of her two young girls to get things done.  Of course, the baby boy was off the hook! But Jen and I didn't just learn how to do those things...we learned how to do them right!                                                                                                                                     

We made beds with the precision of army generals--crisp, clean hospital corners every time, a quarter bouncing off the made bed.  Folding laundry might have been considered an art, if it were not for the fact that the absolute requirement of doing it "right" diminished the artsmanship of our work.  Jeans were shaken out, ironed with our hands, and folded in 3 careful parts.  An outside seam of a towel was never to show.  And shirts required a full table available to lay it out and fold it properly.  None of that "fold in the air, maybe get it even" method I use now in my later life.  Oh yes, we learned how to do laundry. 

And then there was the cooking.  Again, she was a single mom, working late into the afternoon, so she counted on me and my sister (did I mention we have a brother?) to get dinner started, or more often, get it done, by the time she got home.  And we did.  We learned the art of cooking good, basic meals.  Nothing too fancy, but good, wholesome, "stick to the rib" kind of stuff--meatloaf, chili,  mashed potatoes (mashed by hand, mind you), fish sticks, and burgers. 

What's funny is that I used to think that my mom wasn't great cook.  Not that I ever thought she was a bad cook,  but because she didn't have anything I thought was special in her repertoire, I thought that meant she was not that good.  But then, not too long ago, maybe a couple of years back, I had an epiphany that I got the chance to share with her.  What I realized was that all of the best  meals I make now in my adult life, the ones the family loves and guests ask for as a special treat, all come from her.  No, they may not have been gourmet recipes, but they are really very good, and everyone loves them!  I thanked her for that, and thanked God for helping me have that realization.

So yes, I learned a lot from my mom about good, strong domestic ability.  I didn't even mention the dusting, vacuuming, refrigerator defrosting, bathroom scrubbing, kitchen cleaning tasks we were also skilled in as a result of her tutelage.  She trained us well (that, of course, would be me and Jen), and honestly I am grateful.  I have to admit, though, that there was a time in my life that my zeal to do these things "right" bordered on a bit of OCD that may or may not have been healthy...ok, not so healthy.  If you have a brief opportunity to talk to my best friend, Heather, or my husband, I am sure they will very willingly share with you stories of me refolding their laundry because they didn't do it "right".  Eventually, they both stopped trying.  My bad.  But thank God, I believe I have been delivered from that at this point of my life.  Now my sister, Jennifer...I don't know.  You can check with her husband and see what he says. :)

But as much as the first things that come to mind when considering what I have learned from my mom are related to my domestic expertise, I am very aware that those are hardly the only things I learned from her, or not even close to the most important things.

When my dad died, 11 years ago, I thought long and hard about what I felt I most gained from him.  His was a complicated relationship, not only with me, but with everyone he knew, so it was sometimes a challenge to wade through all the mess to be able to find the treasure underneath.  But it was there.  Despite all the bad, there was good from my dad, and I am thankful for that.  The one word that seemed to best capture the legacy he left for me and for my siblings was passion.  Dad taught us passion.  Dad modeled for us passion.  Dad breathed passion.  And so, as each one of us looks at our own lives and where we have passion, we know that comes from our dad.

So when I was giving the same thought to what I thought best described what Mom taught me, I found it interesting that the one word that came to mind most was actually a portion of Dad's word.  I believe that one of the greatest things my mom taught me and our family is compassion. 

Compassion and love.  My mom had such a big heart.  She was tender and loving, and cared for all people.  Mom loved people the way we all should.  She was not judgemental.  She did not look at what you see on the outside, and judge you for it, like many of us do, if you are different from what others deem "normal".  Mom looked at someone's heart.  She saw their needs.  She saw their potential, and she loved them for it.  She also had an incredible ability to care for others in the same way.  She reached out in love to offer whatever help she could.  Sometimes she could not give much, but she would give what she was able.  What a beautiful legacy for all of us.

In doing so, mom modeled for us what God teaches us in His word.  The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, in I Samuel 16:7 that "the Lord sees not as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."  That is exactly what mom had the ability to do, to see others' hearts. That was true of her children, her friends, even those who hurt her, and of strangers.  She had compassion.  In the Bible, in the New Testament, there are several references to the compassion that Christ had for those he served.  "He had compassion on them." And so did my mom.  She had compassion for others, and I am thankful that she taught me that with her life.

But Mom taught me so much more.  It is hard to try to put it all in words.  It is a lifetime we are talking about.  But I want to be sure to honor the legacy that she leaves behind.  I think the one other most outstanding trait that my mother leaves behind is her perseverance.  She has taught me to continue to push through, no matter what. 

If you know my mom, virtually at any stage of her life, you know that her life has been hard.  There have been challenges--hard challenges, sometimes really bad challenges--all along the way.  Life was not easy for her.  And yes, it took its toll on her, both physically and emotionally.  But despite that, my mom always persevered.  She never gave up.  She never gave in.

She worked hard as a single mom to provide for her family.  She endured the painful challenges of an abusive relationship.  She managed the rebellious teen years of her kids on her own (thank God, at least one of her children made things easy for her, but I won't mention who...).  She went back to school in her early 40's to earn a Bachelor's degree, and almost completed her Masters.  She has fought passed illnesses and injuries that could have incapacitated her permanently, but they did not.  She kept pressing on.  Even up to the very end of her life, when she fought her last battle, she hung on with everything she had as long as she could, until at last she had no choice but to finally give in.  Mom taught me, and taught us, perseverance.

Just ask my children what it takes for me to allow them to stay home from school when they are not feeling well!  A simple fever or stomach illness just isn't going to do it. They pretty much have to be bleeding from their eyeballs or have severed a limb, and even that's questionable.  They too are learning to persevere, a legacy from their grandmother.

In that perseverance, however, there is even a greater message that we can take away from her life.  That message is that she didn't do it on her own.  She had Christ. Do I want to give mom credit for all she accomplished and all she has taught us?  Yes, of course.  But the lesson would not be complete if we do not recognize the source of her strength, and the source of her love, and that is Christ alone. 

It is mom's greatest legacy that at about 30 years of age, she gave her heart and her life to Christ, and it was His love and His strength that carried her through those next 37 years.  And it is because of Him that despite our sadness in her passing, that we have joy in knowing she is with Him.  Her life is no longer a struggle.  She no longer has any pain.  She does not have to persevere any longer, she has arrived.  And she is completely surrounded by the true source of all love and compassion.  Her heart is full.

There is no greater lesson for me, and for all of us, to learn.  Thank you, Mom.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Losing My Mom

As I write this today, my 67 year young mother is lying in a bed in her home in New York, slowly fading away.  She has been in hospice care for all of two weeks now, but is already in the final stages of dying.  I sit here in Florida, one thousand miles away, waiting and dreading the phone call that will inevitably come to let me know she is gone.  I am told by hospice that it can be any time now. My heart is heavy with the weight of that reality.  I am losing my mom.

The funny thing is (not that there is anything particularly funny in a situation like this) that I thought this would be much easier.  I know that must sound crazy, but in all honesty, I had always imagined that when this time came, it would not be too hard for me.  Now don't get me wrong, I love my mom, and always have.  It's just that I have always been so independent of both of my parents, from the time I was very young, that I thought their loss wouldn't change much for me.  I would continue on, sad that they are no longer here on this earth, but my life would not be deeply impacted.

Well, I was completely wrong, and I guess it has taken this process of watching my mom fade away to make me realize that.  I am devastated to lose my mom. My heart physically aches each day as we walk through this.  My life is already deeply impacted by her loss.  She is not gone completely yet, but it has been several weeks now that because of severe dementia that I have not been able to have a conversation with her, to talk to her and connect with her like we always have done.  So I am already grieving her loss.

I am grateful, however, for the time just over a week ago that I had with her.  I thank God so much for making that possible.  My family and I were able to be in New York for about a week to spend time with her, and ultimately to say our goodbyes.  I am grateful for the "conversations" we had, even though from her side of it they didn't make much sense, but we talked to each other.  I am grateful for the songs we sang together.  Yes, one day we sang.  We sang "Joy to the World" and "Not By Might, Not By Power, But By My Spirit Says the Lord", one of her all time favorite songs.  Now her words didn't exactly match mine or the words of the song, but she sang her heart out for just those few moments.  I am grateful that there was one really, really good day when she completely recognized me and even introduced me as her middle daughter.  That was some real, specific detail for her at that point.  It was awesome!  I am even grateful that when she referred to my brother, Christopher, as her "favorite son," and I asked her who her favorite daughter was, she readily said the name of my sister, Jennifer!  That's okay, I know it was the dementia talking.  But I am grateful that she knew who we all were, and she was loving us.

I am grateful that my kids got to see their Grandma while she was still alive and mostly alert, and that she recognized each of them and got to speak to them.  And I am grateful for my husband getting to tell her that he loved her and that he promised to take care of me and her grandkids when she was gone.  There is so much to be grateful for.  Even as the week went on and there were periods of time when she was severely agitated and confused, I am grateful that I could be there to try to calm her; even though it didn't really work, I was glad to be there.  And then, even when she was sleeping more than she was awake, I am grateful that I got to sit by her side, holding her hand and stroking her hair.  What precious time it was to be with her.

There is no one who can ever truly understand the mysteries of God's plan for life and death.  It is so far beyond us.  When people die, why people die...there are rarely answers.  But what I do know is that God has plan.  He is sovereign.  Every day of our lives are written in His book before any one of them comes to be (Psalm 139:16), so although I never expected to be in this place, at this time, losing my mom, I know that God foreknew it from the beginning of time, and most importantly, that she is in His hands.  And soon, when God, in His divine providence, calls her home, she will be in His presence.  Praise God!

That is the best part of all of this.  My mom is going home to be with Jesus!  Does it hurt for me and all of us who are left down here without her? Yes.  Am I learning the hard way that losing my mom has a greater impact on my life than I expected? Yes.  Does it feel too soon and too quick?  Yes.  Yes, BUT...I have such complete joy and peace in knowing that she is going to a place where she will never hurt again.  She will be healed and completely whole, inside and out!  She will be filled with more love and joy and peace that she has ever known on this earth.  She will be in the presence of our Savior, and in Him there is no lack!  Glory to God!  My mom is going to heaven, and there is going to be one great, big awesome party for her when she gets there!

I am losing my mom, and it hurts.  But I am so happy for her, and I can't wait to see her when I get there! Love you, Mom!