Sunday morning, December 5, 1999, was a day I will never forget. At 3am that morning, the lady who ran the missionary boarding house in
where Debbie and I were living pounded on our bedroom door, “Dave, your dad is on the phone!” That call changed my life. As I went to take the call, I vaguely remembered that dad said he was taking Mom back to the Mayo Clinic in Manila , for more medical tests. On the way, they decided to stop and visit my younger brother, Tom, and his family. Dad’s troubled voice pierced my sleep addled mind, “Dave, Mom has had a stroke. The doctors don’t expect her to live.” Nine agonizing hours later he called back to say that she had gone to be with Jesus, and we flew home for the funeral. Rochester, Minnesota
Eleven years have passed and the grieving process, while much easier, continues. Since Mom died during the holiday season, this time of year provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on her legacy. My mom taught me a lot about God and life.
By her example, she taught me to love God above all else. Mom loved God, her husband, her children, her church, and her fellow man, in that order. The Psalms were her favorite part of the Bible, and I learned to cherish them as well. Mom taught me that the greatest truth I could ever learn was that “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” She played the piano by ear and loved the great hymns of the church. Her piano still sits in my dad and stepmother’s house, a now mostly mute but beautiful memorial of her. Her love for playing the piano never caught hold with any of us kids, but the hymns resonate deeply in my spirit today.
She was a devoted wife and mother, working hard daily in the home to care for us. Mom taught me to respect my father and to see his working to provide for our needs as an expression of love for us. She also taught us to respect others, especially our elders. The little things in life were important to mom. She constantly reminded us to say please and thank you and to wipe our feet off on the doormat when entering the house. She also made me button my shirt, comb my hair, and brush my teeth, which was never important until I discovered girls! She also taught me to love my brothers, Steve, who was older, and Tom, the youngest of the clan. It seems that I needed to be reminded often because whenever there was a fight between us, I was almost always involved and usually the instigator! She insisted that I share the rocking horse with Steve, and that I be nice to Tom. Apparently I wasn’t perfect!
Mom also taught me to love reading, a real asset when I entered Bible college and then seminary. I am a passionate reader and this has contributed to my commitment to being a lifelong learner. In this regard, I will always be in school!
Like Dad, Mom believed that sparing the rod would only spoil the child. In our house, the line between right and wrong was clearly drawn, and I crossed it often! On the other hand, she modeled the idea that the rod of judgment could occasionally be meted out with mercy and sometimes not meted out at all. Once in awhile we could even get away with bribing her with promises to behave better the next time in order to escape the impending doom of imminent judgment!
But life was hardly perfect. Mom also dealt with a bi-polar disorder known today as manic-depressive and was hospitalized for it at least fifty times, from anywhere from two weeks to ten months at a stretch. The unintended effect was that it destabilized our family—although Dad’s faithfulness and heroic efforts went a long way towards mitigating the loss. We dealt with it as best we could, although, while I’m not sure I was totally conscious aware of it at that time, I had to deal with feelings of abandonment—which have had consequences in my own search for significance and contributed to my own battle with depression. Like Mom, I, too, have found grace and healing in Christ—a healing that is still in process to this day.
The positive fruit of her struggle was that Mom learned to care deeply for others and touched many lives in a way that perhaps not many others could have done. During her hospitalizations, she met several women who became lifelong friends—and they knew that she loved them dearly. During this time, she learned the powerful value of a kind or encouraging word, and she used that lesson to minister to others who were hurting. Throughout the course of her life, she sent hundreds, if not thousands, of cards to people when she thought they needed an emotional lift or to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or for no particular reason at all. Hallmark loved my mom! In short, she taught me that people matter.
In reflecting on my mother’s legacy, I have learned many lessons. But the greatest lesson I have learned is that unconditional loving with all of one’s heart is what truly matters in life. I can only hope that I have learned that lesson well.
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