Mom’s Last Lesson

My mom can’t talk any more. But she can still teach.

A week ago I got the call I’d been waiting on for the last year. It was time. Mom wasn’t eating and they couldn’t wake her up. It seemed that her 4 year battle was finally about finished.

So I hopped on the first flight out of Montana and made it to my Ohio home the next evening. Just like that I left my busy, messy, hectic life so I could sit and just be a daughter that waits.

My first full day here, Mom perked up. She woke up every hour or so and struggled against her heavy eyelids to have her eyes sparkle hello. For a few minutes we would have our quiet chats. Me with my updates and mom with her loving glances. Eventually she would have to give in to her stubborn eyelids and just lay there next to me.

I don’t know how much she was taking in about the world around her, but I know she was still trying to respond. Even with her eyes closed she would use her few working fingers to squeeze my hand. My morse code is rusty, but based on the effort behind each attempt I interpreted her messages to mean something like “thank you for being here with me” and “I love you very much.”

Every day since, Mom has maintained a puzzling combination of improvement and decline.  She’s more alert and at times still tries to interact with the people around her. But at the same time she’s still not eating anything. And now there are shivers of pain that were not normal before.

Is she getting better or getting worse? No one really knows.

I think Mom just likes messing with us. For all her years of being prim and proper and respecting authority, this woman deserves a few days to break the rules and prove the doctors have no idea what’s going on. At least, that’s what I like to think she’s doing.

In reality, every day we say goodbye to another aspect of Mom. 3 years ago it was her short-term memory, last year it was the ability to walk, this past winter we heard her last words, and now this week we say goodbye to swallowing and even, I think, her precious hand holding.

It’s a terrible thing to see your loved one die in pieces. Every lost ability is mourned and only prompts the reality that more severe losses are to come. We’re at the stage now where I wonder, “what more can she possible loose?” But as soon as I ask it, another new handicap is quick with the reply.

What life is left for my Mom while she waits for death?

There – in that question about the value of a languishing life – is where I’m sitting and learning by my mom’s side.

Every day, every minute, every struggling breath mom is losing more control over her life… and teaching me how to surrender to receiving.

Mom was the woman you couldn’t get to slow down. If she wasn’t doing lesson plans for her students, she was cleaning the house for her family, or cooking meals for a sick friend, or planning a service project for her sunday school class. You could not get her to stop giving to others.

But today, my mom’s contributions are limited to occasional eye contact and an infrequent hand squeeze. Others bathe her, feed her, prop her up in bed. Others change her in the mornings and tuck her in at night. Others read her Bible to her and turn on music for her and choose what Netflix reruns she gets to watch.

It’s hard to see this vibrant woman trapped in a deteriorating body. Her aims in life were so noble and it’s felt like her life’s purpose – showing Christ’s love to others – has been taken too.

Or has it?

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

2 Timothy 1:9

(God) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

When I read these Bible passages I hear a whole lot of receiving. Receiving grace, receiving a holy calling, receiving salvation through God’s Son.

Here from her bed, unable to move or speak, mom is teaching me the art of receiving holy love. She is showing me our humble part in simply accepting the grace of our compassionate Savior. He knows we can’t earn His love or ever come close to repaying His service and yet we get to sit and moment by moment receive His constant gift.

She is still showing Christ’s love to the world around her. She’s showing how much we need His love. How constantly He grants it. How powerfully it sustains us. And how faithfully it will guide us home.

Her body is weak, but her symbol is strong.

And very soon, when we’ve learned all we can from her last lesson, she’ll get to go be with Christ and receive the fullness of His love and healing.

Romans 8:10-11

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

This last lesson has been a hard one to teach. But she’s doing it so well.

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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3 Dollars for My Baby

It was another hectic library day. Library day mostly exists so when I see it written on my calendar I can feel like a good mom. The trip itself leave me far less confident about my parenting skills.

Strangely enough, I arrived early that day. Early is almost as stressful as late when you have a great big library waiting to be explored, 3 wide-eyed little wanderers, and no program to capture all their unbridled excitement. For those pre-Story Time moments, I knew what my mission was: get my rowdy bunch to the kids’ zone ASAP and try to restrain any screaming, fighting, or escape attempts along the way.

There was yelling to slow down hallways and begging to speed up stairs, but eventually we made it to our happy place. The toddler area is the one spot where noise is begrudgingly permitted – not coincidentally it’s also the only area of library where I feel comfortable looking other patrons in the eye.

My girls immediately darted to one of the new science exhibits. You know the type: “hands on” displays perfect for families that have a 1:1 parent/child ratio and a nightmare to moms of multiples who can’t keep track of all the hands that are “on” and throwing and squishing and trying to tear apart said educational display. I think the exhibit was supposed to be teaching us how molecules were made up of individual atoms. I think my girls had learned that foam atoms were very fun to throw and baby Henry had correctly deduced that they are delicious.

All of two minutes in, I was starting to worry we might be breaking the bounds even of library toddler haven. This was also the moment that a disheveled, middle-aged man walked up to me.

I don’t have much experience with his type. Most middle-aged men are afraid of young moms with chaotic offspring. They tend to avoid us. Unless of course they are annoyed by us to the point of confrontation – which is what I assumed was his purpose.

He was direct to say the least. Right off the bat it was: “Is he yours? That baby. Do you own him?”

Immediately I recognized that English wasn’t his first language. I also recognized that he was not smiling.

Bracing for whatever rebuke he had for me, I held Henry a bit closer and tried to muster the friendliest smile I could manage while nonchalantly prying the library display out of little man’s mouth.

“Umm… this little guy I’m holding here on my hip? The boy gumming a foam atom? Yes, this is my son. Why do you ask?”

All the man had to say was “OK.” Then he went to rummaging through his pockets.

We shared an awkward pause as he searched for God knows what in his coat, while I regained awareness of my surroundings and threw a mom-glare at my girls still ransacking the display.

Eventually, he pulled out two dollar bills.

“Here. For your baby.”

Well, this was new territory. The way he said it made me think he was trying to actually make a trade. Then came more rummaging.

“No. Here. Three dollars.”

“I, um, don’t understand sir. What is this for?”

I’m starting to notice that some social cues are a bit off. Now I’m sensing he’s not “all there.” Outwardly, I kept a consistently pleasant demeanor. Inwardly I’d just gone from timid, please don’t yell at me for being a mess of a mom to warrior mode. This weirdo wasn’t getting anywhere near my kiddos. What the heck is he getting at about my son? He’d better back up now!

He was struggling to find the right words. But very firmly, he tells me: “For your baby. Only your baby. You have baby. You take this for your baby. Only for your baby. Not you.”

And it hit me. This man was trying to make a donation. He wanted to give money to help. Well, that’s a totally different story. I softened my stance and gave my automatic American response.

“Oh. Well, thank you sir. But he doesn’t need any money. That is so nice, but we have money to take care of him. You keep that for yourself.”

“No, baby is good. Here is three dollars.”

From there he mumbled something about a bad ruler back at his home. I didn’t know how that related, but what I did understand was his fervor. In our confused dialogue his message was becoming clear.

It is good you have a baby. I want to help your baby.

Thankfully, God gave me the presence of mind to quickly push aside my pride and accept this act of kindness towards my young son.

“You are trying to be generous aren’t you, sir? We love our baby very much. Thank you for being generous towards him. I’ll use this money to help take care of Henry.”

As soon as I took his money he nodded approval and walked away. I on the other hand, was frozen for moment taking in the abrupt beauty of the previous 2 minutes. I don’t fully grasp what motivated him to give Henry three dollars. Maybe he’d had people give him a few spare dollars and he was reenacting the gesture he didn’t fully comprehend.

He gave me more than three dollars though.

With his broken words and awkward actions he confronted my misplaced priorities. I’d been focused on my failed attempt to appear put-together, but here was a man moved by a far greater image he observed. New life – rowdy, messy, unpredictable little life.. is life that still reflects the mysterious and astounding value of his Creator. How could I have forgotten the glory of the gift in my arms? The sanctity of the little lives meandering around me…

It was absolutely riveting to have someone point out my son’s astonishing worth when all day I’d been mostly preoccupied by the yogurt stains on his shirt.

For whatever reason, this man was motivated to care about and contribute to the well-being of my baby boy. And this mama will cherish the high compliment that came with those three dollars.

Next time I go out with my unruly bunch, I plan to look more strangers in the eye. I want to notice them and their value just like someone did for my Henry-boy.

And for the record, Henry got about 20 diapers out of the deal.