A little less than four years ago Mom died of pancreatic cancer. In this post I’d like to both honor and remember her by revisiting the thoughts I shared at her memorial. I have many other memories of Mom. She was an amazing woman. However, as I did then, so now, I want to focus on her faith.
Let’s start with a story. A young newlywed joined his buddies for a hunting trip deep into the forest. For the first time since his marriage he was separated from his wife. He began to miss her. As he longed for her he began to dream about their reunion. He thought about the meal he would share with her when he returned home. He began to describe this feast to his buddies. “We’ll have lobster tails dipped in butter, exquisite vegetables cooked to crisp perfection, creams and sauces rich in flavor and for dessert, baked Alaska.” He described this meal again and again and with each telling new delicacies were added. He spoke of roasted duck, beef wellington, caviar and more with such passion that all became hungry. His buddies also began to worry. They knew he was very poor. They knew neither he nor his wife knew much about cooking. They feared that his extravagant dreams would end in disappointment. Our newlywed returned home and shared a bowl of potatoes with his wife. Their poverty allowed nothing more.
The next day his buddies were afraid to approach him. They didn’t know what to say. Finally one of them asked, “So what did you eat last night? How was your wonderful meal?”
“We had potatoes. I’ve never had a greater feast.”
“How can that be? What about all of the rich delicacies for which you longed?”
“It was the most wonderful meal I’ve ever had because it was prepared by my loving bride and I had the joy of eating it with her.”
That old story is a picture of faith. It’s not a picture that tells us everything about faith. Perhaps it’s not even the way we normally think of faith. We don’t see great miracles, great events or great, history changing, accomplishments. It’s more the other side of faith, a faith that knows God in the very ordinary events in life. It’s a faith that finds God even in sadness, a faith that seeks and finds God where most of us see only disappointment and discouragement. That’s a faith that my mother knew.
When I was born I brought a little pain into the world with me. Normally the arrival of a new born is an occasion of joy. That joy is elusive when the new born is an amputee, missing both arms below the elbow and the left leg at the knee. Normally a young mother takes pride in showing her baby to relatives and friends. When friends and relatives saw me for the first time they responded with discomfort and even shock. Imagine Mom taking me for a walk in my stroller. A stranger passes by delighted to see a baby. The stranger smiles and looks into the stroller. The smile leaves or perhaps it remains as a covering of embarrassment and fear. The stranger doesn’t know what to say or what to do. Sometimes Mom would boldly take me out in public. Other times she’d stay home in tears. Of course, no one had anyway of knowing how incredibly good looking I’d turn out to be.
My birth was only the beginning of the difficulties my Mom faced. She had never been around someone with a disability before. She had unsettling questions. How would she raise me? What kind of life would her son be able to live? Would it be a normal life? What skills and hardships would she need to master in order to love this child with so many needs? She had no idea how to find help. She knew no experts.
At a time when Mom was very depressed, a few months after my birth, she was giving me a sponge bath in the sink, her tears mixing with the soap bubbles. She cried and she prayed. A strange warmth filled her heart. She felt the presence of the Lord. She knew she wasn’t alone; God was with her. His presence gave her a calm confidence. She knew that things were going to be alright. Notice that, looked at one way, nothing really changed. My disability didn’t go away. Mom didn’t all of a sudden know what to do. Her questions remained unanswered. Yet God had begun to fill that whole situation. God visited Mom at that moment in her life. After that moment she never looked back. She raised me. She loved me. She fought for me. She taught herself many things and found the resources she needed. I can honestly say that I have never in my entire life felt that I am somehow less because of my disability. That’s a gift from both of my parents, but especially from my mom. It’s a gift she gave in love because of her faith.
Mom had her fears. I remember what a crisis it seemed to be whenever my dad was away on a business trip. Mom would watch the news. She feared that Dad’s plane would crash. I remember one time in particular when there was a crash. I don’t remember the details. I suspect the crash was fairly remote from Dad’s actual flight. Mom, however, seemed certain that Dad was in that crash. She was in a panic. As I grew up, those fears began to subside. Mom got to a point where she was calm when Dad was away. She told me at a later time in life what had happened. When she got married, Dad was everything to her. He was her whole security, her whole meaning in life. When he was gone, even on something like a business trip, it felt like her whole world could be taken away. As she grew in the Lord she realized that no human person should be put in that position. Her confidence moved from being in Dad to being in the Lord. She realized she was under His provision, His protection, His might and His strength. She didn’t love Dad less, she loved him more, but she knew God in a more intimate way than she had early in her marriage.
Mom was a joyful person. She had an enthusiasm for life and for everything that she did. Growing up, it was one adventure after another and they were all exciting. Singing, cooking, sewing, caring for her dogs, exercising, collecting dolls, thinking about politics – Mom never half lived any of these things. Her joy was infectious. She was fun to be around. Joy is complex. I wouldn’t say that all of her joy was because of her faith, but I do think that a large part of it was. She loved life. She loved her family. She knew her Lord. She knew that all of these things were gifts from Him and tokens of His love for her. She knew that deeply.
When Mom got the news that she had pancreatic cancer she quickly realized that she was going to die. That was very difficult for me. I kept thinking we had plenty of time. I saw her in August, sick but still herself, still full of life. In September she lost consciousness and soon died. Mom knew. She also knew that her God was faithful, that He was going to see her through sickness and even through death. She wanted her family and those whom she loved to know that she was going to be OK, that she was going to be safe. It’s a testimony to her faith that in our tears and sadness in saying goodbye, we have never doubted that she is in very good hands – in the hands of our Lord. That’s a gift she gave to us as she went from this world into His hands and embrace.
What makes a faith like that possible? It’s not just a matter of positive thinking. Positive thinking has to hide almost as much as it reveals. Faith isn’t really compatible with that kind of cover up. It’s not just a matter of imagination. Imagination by itself can’t bring us to reality. It can’t bring us to truth. In the face of a bowl of potatoes we can imagine a glorious feast, but apart from faith we can’t eat that feast. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that our imaginations, apart from God, are corrupt and prone to go in wrong directions. What makes Mom’s faith possible? It’s simply this: God has spoken to us in His Son. God’s speech created the universe and He has spoken to us in His Son. In the life of Jesus we see God’s character. We see God’s wisdom. We see God’s power. We see God’s love, compassion and mercy. In the death and resurrection of our Lord we see God’s great victory – victory over everything that would keep us from Him. Victory over our own sin as our Lord Jesus Christ bore that sin and we now bear by His grace His righteousness. Victory over all of the evil in the world. Victory over death. That’s why Paul can say that in the Lord Jesus Christ all the promises of God, however many there are, all of the promises of God are yes. We yearn for that yes every time we look at our world and we say it shouldn’t be this way. We want our lives to be better. We want our lives to be right. We want justice in the world. We want goodness. We want beauty. Paul says all of those things are yes in Christ Jesus. Jesus fills our world and fills those promises, desires, hopes and yearnings. Mom knew this. That’s the kind of faith that she had. I don’t know if she would have put it exactly that way. I suppose she would have had to have gone to seminary in order to make something very simple complicated. Mom was very good at keeping things simple. She would have put it in terms of songs, in terms of joy, in terms of a life lived for her family and in terms of love. As I remember Mom’s faith it calls me to God through His Son.