Who Are These Special Moms?

As the mother of a son with special needs, I have often had people tell me that they think God gives special children to special moms.  While I realize that this sentiment is meant to be encouraging and kind, I also must say that I think it’s misguided.  A big reason I think this is because I know me.  I know me better than anyone else knows me, except God.  I know that I’m no more special than any other mom out there.  This isn’t fake humility, either.  It’s just the truth.

All moms need God’s grace for each day.  We who are His children need His grace for our own children in so many different ways.  How amazing is God’s grace, too!  He promises this undeserved favor to us over and over, greater grace for greater needs, along with His mercies that are new every morning.  He has all that I need.  He has all that any mom needs.  I asked God many times to give me grace for the challenges that I faced as a mom to all three of our children.

Having said all this, let me also say that I have a great respect for the moms that I know who are walking this life alongside their child or children with special needs.  My heart goes out to them, ones I know and ones I don’t know, as they face demands that they never dreamed they would encounter as a mother.

So as Mother’s Day approaches, and we see the beautiful cards…….heart tugging commercials…….perfect mother and children photos…….and all the lovely images of motherhood through the years – let me give a “special” shout-out to all the “special” moms of special children.

Those dear Moms:

  • Who spend hours researching your child’s diagnosis rather than hours researching what sport for him to play.
  • Who pray for your child’s teacher to be understanding of meltdowns, bluntness, and a zillion other things that have nothing to do with her grasping of educational facts, and yet have everything to do with her ability to learn.
  • Who dread with a passion those IEP meetings.
  • Who dread having to once again explain your child in every new setting.
  • Who dread high school graduation because……then what?
  • Who try to ignore the stares from others in public places instead of basking in admiring glances.
  • Who are learning how to use your child’s feeding tube rather than planning his fun pizza party.
  • Who are searching for the best wheelchair rather than the best bicycle.
  • Who watch their child being marked for radiation rather than getting a cool tattoo.
  • Who are shopping with their daughter for a wig to cover her bald head due to chemo instead of shopping for the perfect new hair products.
  • Who are driving their older child everywhere because he can’t have a driver’s license due to seizures or other medical issues.
  • Who hurt because their child doesn’t have many, or any, friends.
  • Who are signing guardianship papers instead of college admittance papers.
  • Who are scouring the internet for the latest medical treatments instead of scouring for the best college scholarships.
  • Who know more drug names and side effects than they ever wanted to know.
  • Who spend far more time finding caregivers than finding cool vacation spots.
  • Who are adept at rearranging schedules due to unexpected medical issues.
  • Who lay in bed at night with the sound of your husband sleeping on one side, and your adult child breathing heavily in the baby monitor on the other side as you listen for seizures.
  • Who read your adult child the same book every single night of his life.
  • Who keep waterproof mattress pads on your child’s bed – your adult child.
  • Who have a hard time finishing a conversation with your husband without being interrupted over and over.
  • And who, for some, will find themselves looking at a gravestone on Mother’s Day instead of looking into the eyes of their child.

 

So to all of you amazing mothers of special needs children, I give you a huge high five!!  I hope you know that you are loved and that God does have special grace for you every day.

And may you, as my friend Atha would say, be established in your purpose……this God-given purpose……of raising one of His very special children.

 

 

 

The Wonder of Me…..And Aaron…..And Lots of Things

I went to pick Aaron up at his day group on Thursday afternoon. I waited in the van for a couple minutes, then saw Barb coming toward me. I knew before I really knew that this probably wasn’t going to be good news. I was right. She told me that Aaron was inside after having a very rough afternoon and that he was refusing to come outside. I went in and we found Aaron laying on one of the couches, crying and very upset. After some time, and moving to a new couch where he laid down again, he told the story of how he had acted……which often starts with him thinking he’s teasing but turns ugly pretty quickly. One thing led to another and the situation became something it never needed to be.

How we wish that Aaron understood that his idea of teasing is often anything but. How we wish he could control himself when he is being redirected. All the talking and lectures and therapy in the world doesn’t seem to sink in. Maybe a little, but not as much as needed. He just doesn’t connect actions and repercussions like you and I do. Reading about the autistic brain……writing about the autistic brain…….saying that I understand the autistic brain as much as I can…….often doesn’t mean as much as it should when I’m staring at my belligerent son, hearing of his actions and trying to control my own embarrassment and anger.

Aaron is often immensely funny, but Aaron is also sometimes immensely frustrating. Thursday fell into the last category.

Aaron is seeing a family therapist every two weeks. This is a new thing for him. I had high hopes that as much as he loves to talk, he would really take to this and love talking to her. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. If she just let him talk about his things, like aliens and movies and games and eating out, then he would probably look forward to it. But he realizes that she wants to talk about his issues……how he’s doing at Paradigm and at home with relationships and anger and attitudes. To Aaron, this is uncomfortable and a waste of time, so he hasn’t been enjoying their sessions like I had hoped.

This past Tuesday she gave him a paper on which she had drawn a large stoplight. The green light means that he is doing good, so keep going. The yellow light means that he is starting to feel some frustration, so he needs to be cautious. The red light means that he is having a meltdown full of anger. At the end of the day, he is to mark what kind of day he has had…..green, yellow, or red.

Aaron didn’t want to take the paper home from her office. Then he told me several times that he thought the paper was stupid. I left it alone on Tuesday night, but on Wednesday night I told him before bed that it was time to mark his stop light with what kind of day he had. I felt like Wednesday had been a green day, so I thought he would be happy to mark the green light. But when I told him to get his paper and mark it, he crossed his arms and told me that he had hidden the paper.

Oh boy.

After some talking, he finally got down on his hands and knees, and pulled the paper out from under his bed. He rolled his eyes as he put a mark on the green light, the mark I thought would make him happy. Then he picked up the paper and as we stood there talking before saying good night, he crumpled that paper some in his hand. He was simmering, I knew it.

So after his meltdown Thursday at Paradigm, and a rather rough evening at home during Skip-Bo as I tried to talk to him, he went upstairs at my direction and brought down the stop light paper so that he could mark it. I knew that he needed to put a mark on the red light, and he knew that, too.

He came down to the kitchen table with his paper, and this was what he laid on the table.

IMAG01748

Well, so much for that idea. How many times I say that when we try something new with Aaron!

So often it’s back to square one with Aaron. We rarely feel like we pass go and collect our $200.00. I know there are times in his life when he needs to pull back and reboot, so on Friday I let him stay at home. He went grocery shopping with me, helping me at the store and helping me carry in the groceries at home. We went to see Jungle Book, run more errands, and get him a sub for supper. We watched a little TV in the evening. It was a pleasant, fun day for both of us.

Aaron found an Elvis CD that he wanted when we were shopping together at the first of the week. He’s been completely fascinated with the songs and with Elvis all week as we’ve listened to the CD while driving. He’s been hilarious with some of the things that he has said about Elvis, like how his voice is “jiggly” and his dancing is “rowdy.”

So on Thursday, meltdown day, Aaron turned on the Elvis CD in the van. The second song that played just left me pretty stunned and with a huge lump in my throat. “The Wonder of You.” Look at the lyrics for the first part of this song:

When no one else can understand me.

              When everything I do is wrong.

              You give me hope and consolation,

              You give me strength to carry on.

 

              And you’re always there to lend a hand

              In everything I do.

              That’s the wonder, the wonder of you.

 

Aaron has decided that he loves this song. It’s uncanny. This song that speaks volumes to me about what kind of mother I need to be with Aaron has become a very special song to him as well. It’s not for the reasons that it’s meaningful to me, either, because I’ve had him tell me why he likes it so much. But he’s played it over and over since Thursday. We even listened to it with Gary at supper last night.

I really do want to be this kind of mother in Aaron’s life. Sometimes he’s certainly hard to understand and he does a lot wrong, but I pray that I will give him hope and consolation, strength and a helping hand.

Honestly, many times, I don’t feel like I’m a wonder. I feel more like I’m left wondering…..wondering what to do, wondering what’s going on, wondering how I can stay calm…..

I could go on for a long time about some of the ways that I wonder.

But Aaron needs me to be there for him despite the wondering and the frustrations, the tiredness and the seeming dead ends that we end up taking. He’s taking a nap right now and just had a seizure. He needs me physically, too.

But he needs me the most when, like the first part of the song says, no one else understands him and everything he does is wrong. I know he’s frustrated by those times more than we are.

All moms can relate to what I am saying, and especially moms of special needs kids and adults understand it all too well.

Aaron will probably never look at me and say, “Wow, Mom! You’ve meant so much to me. You’re a wonder!”

Just reading that makes me laugh. I’d faint if he said that and probably get hurt, so it’s just as well that he doesn’t say it, right?

But I will keep striving to BE that in Aaron’s life…..pick him up, understand as best I can, hold his hand (figuratively speaking, because he doesn’t hold hands much ), and give him strength and consolation.

But trust me, I know me, and I know that at the end of some of our days I’ll still be saying, “Yes, I’m a wonder! I’m a-wondering how on earth we both made it to the end of this day alive and in one piece!!”

And tomorrow’s a new day!

             

The Nail Trim

I remember climbing on my Daddy’s lap when I was a little girl.  He was sitting in his chair near the fireplace, with his shelves of books on one side and his end table on the other.  His newspaper was on the end table where he could eventually read it at the end of a busy, tiring day on the railroad.  His Bible was also laying there within easy reach.  He read his Bible often as he sat in his chair. He was always ready and willing to listen to my questions about what the Bible said about this and that, especially as I got older.

 
But when I was little and would climb on his lap, I remember the gentleness that he showed.  In the early years he smelled of pipe tobacco and smoke…..that subtle odor that comforted me.  I can still see him emptying his pipe of the old tobacco and then refilling it with fresh, tapping it gently and pressing the tobacco down just right.  I can hear the sound of the pipe stem on his teeth and see the soft, swirling smoke around his head at the end of the day as he relaxed.

Dad was never too tired to listen to us kids as we talked to him.  He was patient and kind, and so wise.  Sometimes when I would climb up on his lap, he would read me a book.  Sometimes we would just snuggle.  And at other times, he would take my hands and check my nails.  If they were too long, he would ever so carefully trim each nail.  I sat very still, watching him take each of my fingers and cut the nail just right.  Then off I would hop and go on my way, not giving much thought to that simple deed that Dad performed. 

Until years later…..many years later.  The tables had turned, as they so often do, and I and my family had become the caregivers.  Dad was in his last month of life as the cancer he had fought for eight years was winning the battle.  I had been able to go home to help Jan and John as they cared for him and Mom.  It was a month of many cherished memories that fill my heart every day, especially during this Christmas season.  It was December when Dad died.  It was December and Christmas that he and Mom loved so much.

One day I rolled Dad in his wheelchair into the living room so that he could enjoy the pretty Christmas tree.  I helped him get onto the couch, his thin body so frail and weak.  Then I sat beside him and snuggled close to his bony side.  Words were few because it took too much energy for him to lift his head and talk.  But he still smiled….that gentle, kind smile that was his signature. 

As we sat there in the soft glow of the Christmas lights, I looked down at his fragile hands resting on his lap.  Hands that had worked hard, disciplined well, warmly hugged, and folded in prayer.  And I saw that his nails were so long.  How had we let them get in that shape?  So I looked in his tired face and I asked him if he would like me to trim his nails.  He slowly lifted his bowed head and gave me that smile as he said yes ever so softly. 

I got some clippers and a nail file, and I set to work on his nails.  I was afraid of hurting him so I worked very carefully, taking each finger and slowly trimming and filing.  He was very still and quiet as I worked.  Finally I was done.  He looked down at his hands and smiled again, and then slowly looked me in the eyes as he thanked me.  For days afterward, he talked about how good it felt to have his nails trimmed as he thanked me over and over. 

And just as when I was a little girl, the significance of that act didn’t hit me until later.  Dad showed me such love in the simple deed of trimming my nails when I was young.  Now it was my turn to show him the same love in the simple deed of doing the same for him in his weakened state.  His strength was mine when I needed him.  My strength was his when he, many years later, needed me.

And it was the love and guidance of Dad’s hands that led me to be there for him at the end of his life.  He raised me and my brother and sisters well.  He loved us deeply, worked hard for us, and led us to know and love the Lord. 

 
It seems like yesterday that I hopped off of his lap after he trimmed my nails, and ended up beside him on his couch trimming his nails beside the Christmas tree.  Now his and Mom’s memorial ornaments hang on my tree, and all I have are memories.  
 
But someday I’ll take his hand again in heaven, and Mom’s as well, and see them both strong and whole once more. 

 

Can I Resign?

I had some nice quiet time as I sat on the couch beside our newly decorated Christmas tree this morning.  I love the early morning quietness, the soft shiny lights on the tree, and my cups of coffee.  Time to think, to remember, and to pray.

Then I heard Aaron getting out of bed.

So the mood changes.  Now it’s time to think of how to deal with whatever mood he has; to remember to be understanding and patient; and to pray for that understanding and patience when I feel it slipping away.

Aaron was sick yesterday with a stomach virus.  He threw up multiple times, but by last night was doing well enough to keep down some applesauce; watch part of the latest movie in which he is totally engrossed; and play a game of Skip-Bo…..beating me, by the way, which made him feel even better.

As he came down the stairs and into the kitchen this morning, I asked him how he was feeling.

“Fine,” he flatly answered.  “Can I have my three cups of coffee now?”

He always includes the number of cups when he asks for his coffee, just in case Mom has forgotten the all-important fact that he always has and always will drink THREE cups of coffee in the morning. 

I then asked him if he wanted to sit for a few minutes by the Christmas tree with me…..and would he also want to drink a cup of coffee as we sat sweetly enjoying the tree.  He informed me, rather reluctantly, that he would sit by the tree but that he did NOT want a cup of coffee to drink there. 

“I want my three cups of coffee in my room,” he informed his ignorant Mom.  Doesn’t she know that coffee, THREE cups of coffee, is only to be gulped down in his room? 

We sat down on the couch, me with my cup of coffee and Aaron with his subtle exasperation that Mom would even suggest that he also have a cup of coffee by the tree.  He was quiet for a minute but of course it wasn’t long before he began with his usual, “Mom?”

I waited.  He says this so often, but he doesn’t really have a plan of what is to follow the familiar, “Mom?”  I waited some more.  “Mom?  Uh……”  So now he was trying to decide what to say, because all this business of sitting sweetly…..and quietly……by the Christmas tree is pretty strange. 

I would love to have heard Aaron say, “Mom?  Do you know why I act so hatefully sometimes at Paradigm?”  Having such a heart to heart with Aaron would have been the best gift ever for me! 

But instead, it was “Mom?  Have you seen pictures of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen on the internet?”  He didn’t even notice my resignation or how I tried to muster a little enthusiasm in order to act even remotely interested in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.  I told him that I didn’t know if I had seen pictures of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen on the internet, because all of these games and these movies and these pictures just jumble together into one blob of sameness for me.  I didn’t tell him that part about a blob of sameness, though, for fear that he would want to talk about The Blob movie that he and I watched a few weeks ago.  That’s not what I wanted to remember on this morning beside the pretty Christmas tree.

Aaron then got up and went up the stairs, monkey style like he does, and soon returned with his Transformers Revenge of the Fallen guide book.  He knew just where to open it in order to show me Demolisher…..the bad guy, I found out after asking because that’s something else I can never remember…..and Bumble Bee and Optimus Prime…..both good guys…..who came in and saved the day.  Aaron was happy to be talking to Mom about these important matters.  He would not have been happy to talk to Mom about such unimportant matters as his behaviors and motives for such. 

 
Aaron has had some rough days at Paradigm in the last few weeks.  Not every day, but many days he exhibits anger and aggression there.  It’s like he becomes The Incredible Hulk when he walks in the door.  Gary and I try to get to the bottom of it, but to no avail.  He doesn’t act like that at home.  He has issues at home, certainly, but not to the extent seen at his day group.  It’s discouraging and embarrassing and very frustrating to Gary and me.  If only Aaron would talk about it on a heart level, but even Aaron doesn’t really know why he reacts the way he does.  These autism behaviors are like that.  Unexplainable…..spontaneous……disruptive……sometimes hurtful.

This past Monday, Aaron was in a mood when he woke up.  It was because of the bad day he had at Paradigm on the day before Thanksgiving.  That dark cloud was still hanging over his head.  We worked through his issues on Monday and he decided to go to Paradigm.  On the way there, he was very happy to stop with me at Wal-Mart.  I hoped that Aaron would let me pick something up there for him to eat for lunch at Paradigm, but for some reason Aaron usually refuses to take food to Paradigm.  When he told me that he was eating sandwiches offered to him by others, I became so frustrated.  I tried to reason with him, but he wouldn’t budge.  Finally, with a degree of humor, I told him that I wanted to just resign from my Mom position.  I was tired, so just give me the letter of resignation and let me sign it!

Aaron turned and looked at me, and then started laughing…..thankfully.  It was one of those moments when I wished I hadn’t said those words, even in jest, so I was thankful that he saw the humor. 

“You can’t resign from being my mom,” he slowly said.  “You’ll always be my mom.”

“Yes, Aaron, I’ll always be your mom,” I replied.  But some days…..

So last night, after he had been sick all day, I watched him getting his snake and frog and skunk positioned just right in his bed.  I watched him get his covers the way he wants them.  I watched him write down his time to bed in his bedtime log book.  I kept my distance.  No hugging because of germs, I told him.  He just stood and looked at me, then turned to get in bed with no usual goodnight hug. 

“Mom?  Are you gonna take care of me if I did throw up during the night?” he asked. 

There went the tug on my heart as I assured him that I would take care of him.

“So, like, if I throw up you’ll wash my face?” he hopefully asked.

Yes, dear Aaron.  I’ll wash your face.  I’ll look at pictures of Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.  I’ll see that you have THREE cups of coffee in your room.  I’ll see you through the rough days. 

And I’ll tear up those resignation papers.  Because I do love you, no matter what.  And I’ll always be Mom.

 

Beautiful Hands

This past May our mother passed on to heaven.  We said our final earthly goodbyes to her on May 8, and thus began our year of those firsts.  Many of you know them…….those first special days that you spend without that special person.  Our first “first” came quickly.  Mother’s Day occurred just two days after Mom’s funeral.  Isn’t that just like life?  Life doesn’t wait on us to get ready for the things that are hard.  They happen whether we’re ready or not.

Our next first is tomorrow.  Tomorrow is Mom’s birthday.  She would be 89 if she had lived to see this day.  I know, though, that none of us wish her back.  We had been saying goodbye to her for a long time as the symptoms of Alzheimer’s overtook her brain and body.  What a sad disease it is!  Alzheimer’s takes a person slowly, robbing them of their essence and their personality and their memories.  I’ll never forget going to see Mom last year, in June of 2014.  When Gary and I entered her assisted living apartment with Jan, Mom not only didn’t know us at all, but she didn’t even show any joy that we were there.  She would usually at least act happy to have visitors, but on this visit she was completely devoid of even that.  For the first time, I did indeed feel like a visitor…..and an ignored one, at that. 

Our visit that June was also the one where we gathered around Mom in the kitchen at Jan’s house as we sang hymns. Mom sang with us, surprising us all.  That time was deeply precious to each of us, including Mom.  Her eyes lit up as she sang.  She smiled and she tried to express what she was thinking about each song.  She remembered words very well, and we knew that each song resonated with her deep in her heart and mind. 

Before we left that evening to go on our separate ways once again, Mary Beth wanted us to all put our hands on the table together, and take a picture.  I’m so glad we did that.  Something about that picture is so personal…..so tender.  There is our mother’s hand, nestled among her children’s.  Her hand shows the effects of age….of hard work….of arthritis.  But her hand is beautiful.  And us….our hands also show the signs of age that are creeping upon us.  You can see some spots…..some lumps on our joints…..and several of us have that funny little finger that Mom had. 

 
I look at that picture and I think of how Mom’s hand was always in our lives.  From an early age her hands were ever busy with caring for us five children, and for Dad.  I remember her hands cooking and baking, sewing and cleaning, caring for sick children and looking after busy children.  She used her hands to show us how to make little troll doll clothes out of felt while she sewed real clothes for us to wear.  She used her hands to let us turn the handle on the food chopper as she made Cranberry Salad for Thanksgiving.  She used her hands to fill our table with huge baking sheets of homemade rolls while she pinched off little pieces of dough for us to happily eat.  She used her hands to teach us how to set a table and how to wash dirty dishes after loading the sink just right.

Her hands wiped our tears…..and sometimes caused our tears as she spanked us for disobedience.  Her hands worked to grow beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables, which she froze and canned and cooked and shared with others.  Her hands taught us how to do the laundry and to fold the clothes correctly.  Her hands taught us to iron whatever she had placed in our four baskets, each basket bearing the name of one of us girls.  Where was John’s?  J  Her hands taught us how to clean a house, how to hem a dress, how to play some of her favorite card games, how to make a bed the RIGHT way, how to take care of our varied pets, and how to plan the many practical jokes for which she was famous. 

Perhaps the most important use of her hands was when she would open her Bible in the early mornings as we all sat around the breakfast table.  Dad would have already gone to work, so before we left for school, Mom would be sure that we all opened our Bibles as she did.  She would read from the Our Daily Bread devotional book, reading the selected Bible passage first and then reading the devotion before we prayed.  Her commitment to God and to us was never more evident than during that precious time together every morning. 

Her hands made each of our wedding dresses and bridesmaids dresses.  Her hands cared for us after each of our children was born.  Her hands loved and doted on her grandchildren and great-grands.  Her hands knit literally countless numbers of Christmas stockings for family, friends, friends of friends, friends of family, pets……you get the idea.  Her hands quilted each of us a totally handmade quilt after she retired.  Then those always busy hands made, again, an untold number of quilts for others to enjoy.  Her hands took meals to shut-ins.  Her hands stuffed envelopes for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, for missionaries, and for church. 

Her hands cared for Dad for eight years as he fought cancer.  And it was her hands that he wanted to scramble his eggs that he loved during the final few weeks of his life.  Only her hands would do, and I understood that totally as I stepped aside and let her do this thing that she loved so much.  It was in their little kitchen that I noticed her hands doing things differently than she had ever done…..and I knew that the Alzheimer’s was lurking, waiting to overcome her in the following years. 

Her hands worked hard to care for Dad during that final month that he lived.  He preferred her hands above all others, but he knew that she was struggling, and so he allowed Jan and I to help as well.  But it was Mom’s hand that he reached for as they sat on the couch.  It was Mom’s touch that comforted him when he was so sick.  It was Mom’s hand that he held as he lay in his hospital bed…..her hand reaching through the bed rails as she lay alone in their bed beside his hospital bed. 

Jan took one last picture of Mom’s hands as she lay dying this past May.  There they were, crossed on her lap, still and unmoving.  She was nearing the end of her time on earth.  Her hands, though, spoke volumes to all of us.  I’m again so thankful for the picture that Jan took.  Her hands showed the evidence of years of love and work.  Now her hand’s work was done.  It was time for her to rest.

 
But the work of her hands will never be done.  Her work in our lives does indeed live on.  So much of who we are and what we are is because of her beautiful hands in our lives.  None of us King children would be who we are today without the influence of her godly, kind hands.  Then our children, and their children, show the impact of Mom’s hands.  What a treasure is to be seen in those soft, wrinkled hands! 

I’m pretty sure that her hand is now holding Dad’s hand in heaven.  I doubt that they’ve let each other go since she’s joined him there.  Unless there’s work for her to do, and then I can totally see her using those hands to make something or to keep things straight.  I wonder how many quilts she’s made by now? 

The Proverbs 31 woman was described as one who works with willing hands.  Our mother did just that, and for the rest of our lives we will benefit from her wonderful, willing hands in our lives. 

Happy Birthday, Mom.  Thank you for your beautiful hands in our lives.  You will always be loved.

The Pieces of a Beautiful Life

 

Two weeks ago, Gary and I were finishing the last leg of our drive to West Virginia as we traveled home for my mother’s funeral.  Has it just been barely over two weeks ago that she breathed her last breath?  So much has been packed into this short time that it seems like she left us much longer ago.  That’s how my mother lived her life, though.  Like my brother said at her funeral, Mom squeezed every bit of opportunity out of each day that she lived.  So much was packed into her life…..so much that will impact so many for eternity.

 

As Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, planned Mom’s funeral, they incorporated two very sweet and personal elements into the service.  Jeanie asked each of the grandchildren to write down their memories of their grandmother.  At her funeral, Jimmy read every word that had been written.  It was a very moving and sometimes humorous part of the service.  Then Jan asked each of us to bring our quilts that Mom had made us.  Each hand stitched quilt that we brought was hung over the railings at the front of the church, adding a beautiful background as we remembered our mother.

 

 
Something really stood out to me as I listened to the grandchildren’s memories being read.  It’s the same thing that I noticed during her visitation at the funeral home the night before her funeral.  That night, we stood in line for nearly three hours as person after person hugged us and told us of what our mother had meant to them.  Most of their stories were fairly simple.  It wasn’t that Mom had done earth shattering acts of great note.  She wasn’t interviewed by the newspapers, seen on television, or given big awards for her acts of kindness.

 

So what did people talk to us about as they shared my mother’s impact on their lives?  It was her service to them, her love, expressed in so many ways.  It was meals she cooked, her home she opened to so many, stockings she knitted, clothes she sewed, miniature roses she delivered in Cracker Barrel syrup bottles, boiled custard that she cooked because a friend loved it, sending out missionary prayer letters, making dozens of quilts for others, and so much more.

 

It was her great sense of humor….her ability to lighten any situation with an attitude of light heartedness that was often amazing.  It was her word fitly spoken to so many, especially to those who had messed up and made poor decisions.  She comforted without judging, and extended help where others might have looked the other way.  Story after story we have heard since Mom died.  What a balm to our hurting hearts!

 

The grandchildren’s memories were more of the same, on a more personal level.  Again, what is striking is that no one mentioned my mother’s education or her job.  Not that this isn’t important, because it certainly was a great accomplishment for her to have a Master’s degree and to have a supervisory position with the State Board of Education.  Yet with all of her educational goals that she met and with her very responsible job, my mother maintained our home and our family in an incredible way.

 

It was, again, the seemingly small acts that all the grandchildren remembered the most.  Guess what was mentioned most often by her grandchildren?  It was the Cheerios that she kept in the coffee table drawer in the living room.  So many of them talked about that memory and of how much fun it was to go to their house, pull out that drawer as a little child, and eat as many Cheerios as they wanted.  Other memories were of the toys, the laughter, sitting on the front porch, all the play time in the yard, her cooking, gardening, sewing, and her unconditional love.  It was how she filled her home with joy and filled their lives with personal touches for each grandchild.

 

In her memories of her grandmother, Andrea wrote, “I remember how she patiently showed me how she pinned her fabric together in preparation to sew her gorgeous quilts by hand.”  As I sat in the church during mother’s funeral service, I looked at the quilts that we had hung on those railings.  Each one is full of hundreds of fabric pieces, placed together in way that makes a gorgeous design.  When you step back and look at the finished project, you see how each piece combines to make a perfectly beautiful work of art.

 

So it is with the life that Mom lived.  Each act of love that was remembered and many that have been forgotten, have all fit together to produce a beautiful life.  It’s the handiwork of God in our mother’s life that has blessed and profited so many of us over the 88 years that she lived.  Her life was a pattern that I want to follow.  A pattern of service and kindness that means more to people that any public acclaim ever will or could produce.

 

 

Like she so often sang:

 

          I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause.

 

          I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause.

 

          I’d rather have Jesus than world wide things

 

          I’d rather be true to His holy name.

 

 

 

I’ll be learning lessons from the design of my mother’s life for the rest of mine, I’m sure.

 

 

 

Keeps Me Singing

It was probably over 55 years ago that a soloist with a beautiful voice went to sing in a revival service in the little town of Oakvale, West Virginia.  She sang the hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and then she sat down to listen to the sermon preached by Jimmie Jones.  Her heart was disturbed as she listened to the gospel being preached that night.  She thought of the song she had just sung, and of the words that came out of her mouth in such a perfect performance…..words that she knew she didn’t really mean.  For it was just that – a performance.  She sang beautifully, but she sang a lie.  She knew that she didn’t really know Jesus, and that she didn’t really mean it when she sang about wanting Jesus more than anything this world affords. 
 

This woman was my mother, and that night changed her life and the life of our family.  She went home and urged my dad to go with her to listen to Jimmie Jones preach.  Mom didn’t know that my dad had already trusted Christ as his Savior.  It wasn’t long before my mother made the same decision.  She bowed her head and confessed her sin, and asked Jesus to be Lord of her life.  God changed my parents tremendously.  They raised their five children to know and serve the Lord, and they left us a spiritual heritage that has more value than anything this world affords.  And “I’d Rather Have Jesus” became my mother’s signature song…..one we heard her sing many, many times over the years.  One she sang with honesty for the rest of her life because of the work that God had done in her heart.

Last week we said goodbye to my mother for the final time on this earth.  We had really lost her a long time ago to the horrible ravages of Alzheimer’s.  She no longer had her memories, her personality, or any of her other faculties.  But even Alzheimer’s cannot take the Lord away.  He has promised to always be with us, and He always keeps His promises.  We saw evidences of His presence with Mom as she struggled in various ways.  What sweet comfort it brought to know that deep in her heart and her mind, God was ministering to her in ways that we could not. 

Two weeks ago, on the day before the call went out to family that mother was dying, we saw a profound picture of God’s grace in her little body and in her heart.  Jan and her daughter, Bethany, had gone to spend some time with Mom in the care home where she lived.  Mom was sitting in the commons area, her head down and her eyes closed, unresponsive to the voices and the noises around her.  Suddenly, on the television that was playing, a man started singing “Amazing Grace.”  Bethany looked down at her grandmother and saw that her lips were moving.  Surprised at this, she and Jan leaned down and put their ears to Mom’s moving lips.  Here is what they heard coming from my unresponsive mother:

          Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,

          Sweetest Name I know.

          Fills my every longing,

          Keeps me singing as I go.

My mother was singing!  Jan and Bethany wouldn’t have believed it had they not heard it for themselves.  She was clearly singing this beautiful old hymn.  She was singing about Jesus, whom she was soon to meet.  God’s prompting, God’s presence, was there with Mom in that room.  Jan and Bethany joined her in singing, and then Bethany said, “I love you.”  Mom clearly said, “I love you” to Bethany, her eyes still closed.  Then Jan said, “I love you, Mom.”  And Mom said, “I love you” to Jan as well. 

Those were the last words that my mother spoke.  The next day the family got the call that she was dying, and on Monday, May 4, my mother met Jesus.  Jesus, the sweetest name she knew.  Jesus, who filled her every longing.  Jesus, who kept her “singing as I go.”  Singing as she got ready to go to heaven. 

Like my brother, John, said at her funeral…..how appropriate that Mom’s walk with the Lord began with a song many years ago.  And her life with the Lord ended with a song…..a song that surprised us all, but was such a gift of grace and hope from God. 

A gift and an example that we will always, always cherish.