When I think about Christ's life--that His ministry didn't really begin till he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23) and only lasted about 3 years--it humbles and convicts me that I've been granted 39 years and 364 days (hey, I'm not owning up to my new digits till it's official). What have I done and what am I doing that will really matter for eternity? I think that's my "mid-life crisis." I'm not feeling regret about the years past but urgency for the years ahead.
Today I'm going to share about an item in my Memorial Box. It's an item that represents one thing that is significantly shaping the second half of my life. It was my mother's last words to me March 10, 2004 after a long battle with cancer.
I've shared this story with close friends. (I included it in the 2006 Christmas letter and plan to eventually post them all here, but I feel kind of silly sharing December stories in June.) By the way, Memorial Box Monday was started by Linny at A Place Called Simplicity. Click on the bloggy button below to read her precious stories (the one she posted today is one of my favorites) and link to other wonderful stories of God's faithfulness and provision.
Deep breath. Here goes. (There should probably Kleenex warning with this one.)
Few things have impacted my life more than my mother's last words. In her last hours, I curled up in bed with her. I sang to her, read scripture to her, reminisced with her. It was painful to be with her--because she was in such pain and her face was so thin and jaundice that it hardly resembled the woman who had been my mother. Yet it was painful to be away from her knowing every minute could be the last this side of heaven. It had also been only eight weeks since the loss of our son (that story is here) and I needed my mom more than she needed me.
A few days before going to be with the Lord she said something precious to me and my sister. She said, "The best thing I ever did for you girls was to marry your father." This was in the midst of my dad taking care of her. He said it was a privilege to care for her in her last days so she could have her wish of dying at home. What a blessing it was to see their love for each other right to the end.
But it was what she said to just me in those last hours that were life-changing. She was barely able to talk at this point and I knew these golden moments with her were few. I'll never forget she turned to me and--although her voice was barely above a whisper, she spoke as if she was screaming from a mountaintop. Each word its own sentence: "Make. Your. Life. Matter!"
I didn't know what to think. Of course, in my world as a wife and mom I did my best to make my life matter, so why was she telling me this? Then I looked at her withered body and saw a tear spill down the side of her face. Then, I realized why she said it. She never thought her life mattered.
Although she was a talented pianist, she never played at Carnegie Hall. Although she was beautiful, she was never on the cover of a magazine. Although she was a hard worker, she never earned a high-paying salary. Although she spent her life serving others, her passing would not be front page news.
One advantage to losing a loved one to a long illness is that you get the chance to say thanks and I love you. We had already told her so many times what a blessing she was and, although it seemed ridiculously redundant, I knew I needed to tell her one more time how much she mattered. As I searched my heart for the right words, I thought about my Savior. I thought about how His ministry began when He was about 30 which means that most of his life may have been spent as a carpenter, teacher, a son, a friend.
Some might wonder why the Son of God "squandered" so many years doing such everyday things that there's little record of His life between His birth and His baptism. But maybe it's those years of "growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) that make our life matter and prepare us for greater things. And by Christ's example, we should understand that a life of surrender, service, and uncelebrated sacrifices is more important than a life of great achievement and recognition.
Then it occurred to me that my mother had not missed her calling. Her piano concert hall was our church's sanctuary. Her audience of dignitaries was a dozen elderly people at the nursing home calling out their favorite hymns for her to play each week when she visited.
She was never more beautiful than when she was bald--refusing to let her cancer rob her of her radiance--never more triumphant than when she walked down the runway for a breast cancer survivor fashion show. She was the CEO of making others feel special, of making every day feel like a party, of being the first to meet the needs of others and the last to take credit for it.
And so I did my best to articulate to her how much she mattered to me, to others, and to her Heavenly Father. But I knew my words would soon seem trite, for in just hours she would hear her Creator say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." With tears flowing down my face, I ended our last conversation with: "Don't ever forget that there's a difference between a life wasted and a life given."
That was not only the day that my mother told me to make sure that I lived a life that mattered, but it was also the day that I really understood God's definition of what that truly meant.
So I have this in my Memorial Box.
Next to this.
Words spoken by my mother. Defined by my Heavenly Father. Lived beautifully, perfectly, sacrificially by my Savior.
Thank you, Merciful Father, for every day granted. May I use each moment to glorify you.
Thirty-Something for a Few More Hours,