The following essay was wrote in November of 2005.
The early morning after Mom died, I began to write “What My Mom Taught Me.” I thought perhaps it would be read at her service. However grief was too raw and I was too tired at that point to finish what I started. Now, 10 months later, just having walked through her birthday, and facing our first holidays without her, I am putting into words what I hope will exemplify the life she lived and what she taught not only me, but my children.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to be her care-giver for the last four years of her life. It wasn’t always what I would have considered as a blessing. Now, looking back I realize it was just that… a wonderful blessing. There were times of great stress and heartache both for her and I because of the illness God had allowed into her life. In saying that, I wouldn’t change the opportunity I had those last four years for anything. Not for myself nor my family. Outside of what she taught me growing up, the principal lessons learned from Mom came in the last four years. These lessons are now foundational in my life.
I am using the same verse we used at her funeral to share what she taught us. “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in orchard-things life affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” (Galatians 5:22-23, MSG)
Lesson One: Living out Love and Affection for others.
Mom loved us kids and her grandkids unconditionally. There were times both because of the illness and the fact we are human, things were said and done which probably hurt her deeply. However, she never begrudged us or stopped loving us. She treasured the times we could spend with her and she could spend with the grandkids. She always had a story to share about something one of the grandchildren did or said. She always put her family first! The kids loved spending time with her because she gave them her undivided attention. No interference, she just sat, listened and loved. I want to be that kind of Mom and Grandma.
Her love and affection for others, outside the family, still astounds me today. I saw Jesus through her when she dealt with others. She was one of the most accepting people I know. When I would prejudge or simply say something unkind. She never jumped in and agreed, more time than not, she would tell me the good she saw in the person. As one of her friends shared during the week of her funeral, “If someone came and stole Paula’s purse, she would have said, “Oh, didn’t they have lovely hands.”
There were two things Mom and I often times did not agreed on; religion and politics. Religion as I have come to realize, more because of my own self-righteous attitude than what I use to think was a “liberal” attitude for her. Her attitude wasn’t liberal at all, it was accepting. She knew what her job was; like Jesus it was to love people wherever they were at. And she did just that! Mom befriended people who “religious” folks tend to view as outcasts. Isn’t that just the kind of people Jesus drew out and love!
Lesson Two: Exuberance for Life.
Mom’s exuberance for life was clear in how she lived with the terrible illness we all came to know as Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious medical illness that causes shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe.
For twenty plus years, she never gave up. There were times of deep depression, which she described as “living in a black hole.” Then the opposite times which brought the mania and actions that were out of control. Mom recognized and knew God’s protective hand was on her life. Even with these polar opposite emotions, she never lost her love for life and her amazing perseverance.
There was her ability to laugh at not only unbearable situation, but at herself as well. I want to develop and strengthen this trait in my life. Isn’t laughter medicine for the soul?
Within the last year, prior to her death, she told me her illness was like Paul’s thorn is his side. But despite that, God had given her a good life! That statement came from a woman who in her 60’s, wasn’t able to drive, was living on Medicaid, had to have someone else handle her finances and medical decisions. Yet she knew she was living the life God had given her and she was still blessed by it! Oh if all of us could learn to live by her example. She was living out what Paul says in Philippians 4:11-12 (MSG) “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty.”
Lesson Three: Serenity!
It is only natural for me to discuss this next. She had found her Serenity. Her serenity and security didn’t come from this world. She lived it out and showed it to those of us who were wise enough to let her. Mom lived out the prayers she had prayed many times, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Lesson Four: Able to direct energies wisely and not force our way in life.
During those last four years of her life, she had some severe times of both side of the illness. Even during those days, she tried with all the strength and perseverance she could must, to not force her way in life. She spent those dark days fighting for her good days and her good days thanking God and being blessed by the life He had given her. She focused those days on the things which were most important to her
- Getting Well
She didn’t waste her energy on things she couldn’t change or on material things she didn’t have. She lived out to me and my children, what life is to really be about, our relationship with God, accepting the life He has chosen for us, and being filled with compassion and love for those people God has blessed you with and put in your path.
I miss you Mom. Merry Christmas,