My story is not a dramatic one, but it starts in the shadow of pain.
I was born 10 months after the tragic death of a sister, only eight months old.
Pain has a way of shaping you, and my sweet mother was never the same after losing a child. I know. She’s told me.
Momma calls me her “sanity child” because having a new baby to care for helped her to take her focus off her pain and instead, concentrate on keeping this new baby– and a two-year-old little boy safe and healthy.
I can vividly remember when my first son was born. Bringing him home from the hospital was exciting and scary. This precious bundle was fully reliant on me to meet his needs. Sleep was never again the same, always listening for breathing sounds and getting up to check on him often, the two to three hours in between nursing were fitful and exhausting.
I never once regretted bringing this child into the world. Never in a million years would I ever choose to go back to the life of ease that I had taken for granted B.C. (Before children).
I was changed forever in so many ways, and one of the most surprising lessons I learned was gratitude. I appreciated my own mother more than I ever had before. I thought often of her struggles as a young mom and how different her life was because of grief. I understood now why her children gave her a sense of purpose and worth. Being needed brought her comfort. It also brought a sense of responsibility that overshadowed a strong desire to retreat from a world that brought pain.
Mom was not proud. She was a woman of humble circumstance who had married very young. She felt loved, but somewhat neglected. Being in a large family, poverty only added to her feelings of obscurity, and becoming a mother gave her life new meaning. She had been a country girl with little prospects. She worked in the city in her summer off from high school, waiting tables and thriving on the social interaction with customers. She loved people. All of them.
Always kind and always friendly to a stranger, she went against the social norm and never said a word when we brought home friends of other races. Despite an era of race riots and societal clashes–and much to my own father’s chagrin, I had mixed races at my 11th birthday slumber party–a rarity in the late 60’s to early 70’s. Mom never treated our friends differently because of their race or their social status. And I loved her for it.
Mom will tell you that the happiest days of their life were when they were serving the Lord. Our home was full of music and laughter and friends and family. Yes, there were difficulties, even with other family members, but inside our home those relationships were not the focus. Mom tried her best to fill our young lives with the good things in life, while Dad worked hard to provide for us; and we felt loved and protected.
Life changed in our home when death came a second time. Less than three years after that picture was taken, my uncle (Dad’s brother) was only 34 when he died of heart failure. This time death defined us. We had been a church-going family–very religious, I would say–until that moment. When Dad walked away from that funeral, he didn’t just walk away from church, he walked away from God. He gave up. He quit believing and it changed the very core of our family. Life became about existing. Pursuing the things of this world instead of seeing the eternal. What he didn’t see, that I can see so clearly now after decades of this kind of existence, is the stark contrast of the two lives that my family knew. The life before this event and the life after. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the particular type of religious activity we were involved in had been very restrictive, instead of what Christ meant for Christianity to be: freeing.
So while the initial break up with everything spiritual we had known had seemed freeing, the end result was quite the opposite.
The years following this drastic change were empty. While on the outside we looked pretty normal, emotionally we were very disconnected. Going through the motions, there was very little in the way of meaningful conversation. As we grew older, Mom withdrew and just tried to survive. Dad stayed busy but was not happy. Small moments of joy came with grandchildren, but even they could not fill their emptiness and void that was left there by a lack of faith.
I’m not here to judge my parents. I just want to learn from them. This picture is painted very clearly for all to see. Life is full of challenges, hardships and difficulty–even for those who choose to follow Christ. The key lies not in the avoidance of hard days, but in the companionship of the One who can get us through them.
Mom has dementia now from a stroke she had 18 months ago. She struggles to remember important events of the last decade, recalling things far back in her past and forgetting things that happened more recently. While she forgets losing her siblings one by one (she is the only one left of seven), she vividly remembers the grief of losing that little girl. With every conversation that tends to be repeated about that life-changing event, she always adds, “I couldn’t have gotten through it without the Lord.” While her religiosity changed, her faith did not. Her heart still depended upon the One who had saved her at a young age to sustain her in her old age. She is grieving fresh almost every day for her brothers and sisters because she can’t remember them dying and thinks she missed their funerals. And in her grief, she is praying more, not less.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:13-18
We all have a story. I’m learning more and more about my own as I visit with my mother in this new norm. While some days are more difficult than others, the truth is, I am growing. Not only do I see my parents differently, and with renewed compassion–I see myself differently. I understand better who my parents are and what I can learn from the past. Thankful that I committed my life to Christ at a young age, my past doesn’t have to define me–but it can teach me. I want to learn from the good and the bad. I want to take what I know and let it change who I am tomorrow. For the better. For future generations. And for my Savior, who continues to sustain me.
**You might also like reading: I Forgot to Remember