One year ago I lost one of the most precious gifts God has ever given me. On August 2, 2014, my mother died. You might say the gift expired.
Is it an odd thing for a grieving daughter to say of her mother, that she expired? Not if you remember that her expiration date on this earth represented her start date in eternity. The dates of the giving and the taking were determined by God before she was born. And, in my mother’s case, the gift keeps on giving even after its expiration date. The model of her life is profoundly beautiful, and the more I think about her, the more beauty I see.
My mother was almost ninety-nine when she died. Thirty-two months earlier, when she was in the hospital with dehydration, a remarkably insensitive doctor said to me, “I don’t think you should take your mother home. She’ll just be back here again. You should think about putting her in a nursing facility. Perhaps hospice would be appropriate.” While I was still trying to absorb this, he continued, “She has reached the upper limits of longevity. I think she is ready to go. I think you and your sister are just not ready to let her go.”
Whoa! What? Three weeks ago my mom was attending Senior Seated Exercise and now she was “ready to go?” Was he trying to tell me, in his clumsy way, that her time was up? That when you live that long you shouldn’t expect to live longer, you don’t really have a right? That he had read the label, and she had reached her expiration date?
We did take her home, which is where she wanted to live until the end of her life. Because she was too weak at that point to travel to see a doctor, she did go on home hospice. When I told her what the doctor had said about her being “ready to go,” she asked, confused, “Go where?”
I told her, “Heaven.”
She said, meaning no irreverence, “I’m not going anywhere. I enjoy life here.”
Totally discrediting the doctor’s “ready to go” talk, for thirty-two more months she expressed delight in the birds and squirrels outside her window, laughed with her grandchildren, held two new great-grandchildren, and gave joy to everyone who visited or tended her needs. She and I continued to share our devotional and prayer life, she supported me through difficult times at work, and counseled and encouraged hurting caregivers. Mind you, this is all while she was flat in bed, too weak to sit in the wheelchair, unable to turn over, in diapers, enduring repeated UTIs and the accompanying hallucinations, and sometimes trying to recall what the rest of the house looked like. One of her caregivers said that in ten years on the job she had never known anyone like my mom. “She is an angel,” she said. No cross words, no demands, no complaints, just smiles and sweet thank you’s for even the tiniest, most routine acts of care.
Trust: A Key to Contentment
I suppose my mom was known for her contentment as much as for anything. It’s what grounded her and gave her that calm steadiness in every circumstance. She was content with who God made her, where God placed her, what God provided, what God withheld. She trusted Him completely. Perhaps complete trust is the secret to complete contentment.
Here is what trust/contentment looked like in my mom’s life, reflected in her favorite songs and verses:
- “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey” (John H. Sammis,1887). If you trust God, it won’t be hard to obey Him.
- “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” (Joseph M. Scriven, 1855). When you have the Best Friend as your best friend, you can trust everything to Him.
- “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5,6). When you don’t know your next step, you do know Who does.
- “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). This wasn’t only or even primarily her celebration of a beautiful day. It was her self-admonition in the face of adverse circumstances.
- “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If you spend it, you won’t be able to give it.
Dated Functional Obsolescence
I just received the appraisal for my mother’s home, which we are preparing to sell. The summary statement caught my attention: “The subject house features dated interior decor, dated kitchen (cabinetry, counters, appliances and flooring), dated bathrooms (plumbing fixtures, flooring, wainscot), dated carpeting and wall coverings. Dated items are considered to be items of functional obsolescence.”
Wow. What an eloquent way to say fixer-upper. “Dated functional obsolescence.” It reminded me of what the doctor said in the hospital about my mom, except he would have left out the word “functional.” Old things, old people are held in low regard in our society.
My mom had lived in this house since 1966. Other than appliances that had to be replaced and periodic freshening up of paint, everything is about the same as it was in 1966. Kitchen and bathroom upgrades, new wall coverings and carpeting became, instead, investments in kingdom work. My mom could “afford” to give generously because she was content with what she had. God gave her the joy of being able to give back to Him with abandon. Her heart was where her treasure was, not in “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Somehow I don’t think the term “dated functional obsolescence” is in heaven’s dictionary. I don’t see anything remotely like that in Scripture. So why are we so caught up in avoiding “dated functional obsolescence”?
Breaking Free from the “Keeping Up” Syndrome
How many times, in fifty years, would the Joneses have redecorated? Five, ten? Why didn’t my mom, not even once?
Well, should she have? Why are we so characterized by dissatisfaction with what we have? Might not the constant upgrade to the newest and latest be the same as repeatedly saying to God, “What you have given to me is not enough?”
My mom did not expose herself to the barrage of images in magazines and on TV to which most of us are accustomed. She had no idea what the Joneses were buying in order to stay in step or in style or to have an adequate sense of self-worth. She didn’t need to know fashion’s latest trend to know what constituted modesty, good fit and classic style. She always looked lovely. Her home expressed warmth and hospitality. People were drawn to her person and weren’t inclined to judge the vintage of her decor.
I think dated functional obsolescence worked out pretty well for my mom as she heard Christ’s words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21). I’m pretty sure there’s not going to be much wood, hay and stubble in her fire (I Corinthians 3:12-15).
These are the questions I’m asking myself. I invite you to think about them, too.
Do I get more pleasure from getting than from giving?
More than spending time with God, do I look forward to browsing the latest women’s or home magazine or TV show?
Do my spending habits communicate a lack of trust in God’s care for me?
What are your thoughts about what your spending might say about you? What drives our desire, even as Christian women, for newer and better and more and more? Would you share those thoughts with us in the comments?
It is Jesus Whom we love, it is Him we serve, it is His “Well done” we long for when we get to heaven.
We don’t even know for sure if the Joneses will be there.