Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving [gratefulness], let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Well, it is September and, as you may have noticed, I decided not to blog for the summer. I was looking forward to a summer that I had calendared and planned with great anticipation. As things sometimes go, it didn’t turn out exactly as I had intended.
The summer began with a trip to Chicago to officiate the wedding of my nephew and his fiancée. We stayed in the city and went to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field with close friends and family of the bride and groom. It was a great time of celebrating and bringing the gospel to both those we knew and those we did not. As I remember our time in Chicago, I realize how a wedding presents many spiritual opportunities and offers a glimpse of the wedding feast of the restored Kingdom, a picture of which unbelievers are unaware and many Christians have forgotten. I am so grateful to have had that opportunity to share the gospel and experience a taste of the coming Kingdom!
Our next anticipated “joy bomb” in the early part of summer was a long-awaited trip to San Francisco, where Tannah and I have been many times in our 35 years of marriage. We had planned to join some friends on a three-day supported bicycle ride up the coast, into Sonoma and finishing through Napa. The first day was a long, hard ride up the coast against the wind, but it ended at a picturesque, seaside boutique hotel where we got to celebrate our beautiful and challenging ride together. I was so grateful for this day as I got to watch Tannah achieve this great accomplishment.
At the end of that first day, I got a call from my brother back in Texas, saying our 90-year-old mother was slipping away quickly, and if we wanted to see her lucid, we would need to come immediately. My mother had been doing well in an assisted-living facility near my brothers. We had recently moved her across Texas to this facility for this last brief chapter of her life. She had lived alone for 44 years, working as a self-employed art teacher in the home studio I had built for her when I was 20, shortly after my father died suddenly. We left early the next morning and arrived to hear the last words she spoke, which also included Tannah’s name. After a couple more days, she was gone. It was one of the most holy experiences of my life as so many of our family were gathered around her bed, praying her into the Kingdom. I am so grateful to have been there, as hard as it was at the time.
A few years before this time, my mother had asked me to speak at her memorial, requesting that it be a simple graveside service. I smile and shake my head when I remember her words: “Don’t gawk at my body…just throw me in the ground.” She laughed. “And then go have a party.” My mother was a very strong and independent woman, a survivor through her hard work and her dependence on the grace of her Lord to sustain her. She was also a very talented artist who used that giftedness to support herself after being left with my younger brother still to raise after my father died. Memorializing her was an easy opportunity to bring the Gospel as displayed by her decades of faith, but it was difficult for me as my heart was so vested in the fresh loss of my mother. I thought I had prepared myself the last few years for this time, but when your mother is around that long, her sudden absence still draws an ache in the heart. However, I am so, so grateful for the circumstances of her passing and her wanting it just that way. And we did have that party after the graveside memorial. I look forward to that reunion with her one day!
What I am most grateful for as I reflect on her passing is the much deeper love for her that I experienced in the last three years. About that long ago, three years, I was seeing a counselor when my relationship with my mother came up. Through the skill of the counselor and some prayer time over his counsel, I discovered I had a soul tie to my mother. It was not of her doing, but is was the mix of her strong personality and my brokenness that left me feeling obligated to her care when that is the last thing she would have wanted and it would have broken her heart if she had known. But, nonetheless, it was a real issue. The reality of this unhealthy attachment surfaced when I realized I had a very short fuse after being around her for a half an hour. I was mystified by that and could never figure it out, but when I took that obligation to Christ and broke that tie in prayer, it was like a light switch turned on and the irritation was suddenly gone. For the last three years, I deeply enjoyed the company of my mother for hours when we were around her. I got to love my mother as never before and as she took her last breaths, I thanked God for those three years! I am so grateful!
Again, not the summer I planned, but I am so, so grateful for these experiences and the countless other things the summer brought. What I am learning about gratefulness is that it can be found in both joy and sorrow. More on that to come later….