Lessons To Learn

(I wrote this in 2009 when my precious nephew died. I’m still learning the lessons I describe…probably will for the rest of my days.)

Recently a pop star/icon/music legend died. Perhaps you may have heard about it. Over and over I heard people expressing their grief and insisting that he “died too soon.” I think I understand what they were thinking. Twenty years ago my father died. He was only fifty-three. I knew then that was young-ish. Now that I am fifty-two I know just how young that really was.

Yesterday my nephew died from injuries sustained from a fifty foot fall. He was fifteen. That, my friends, is too young. There are some things about this I am not able to wrap my brain around, but here’s what I have pulled out of this mess.

Most importantly, life is brief. Live it. Don’t wait for something to come along to begin to do what you love. Growing up I heard this from my mom. She would tell us, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” Her use of this phrase typically referred to some unpleasant job, like cleaning our room, that we didn’t want to do. It’s equally good advice for the things we want to do or feel passionate about. Isn’t that how Jake was? At fifteen, he had crammed a lot of living in.

Laugh often. Jake was an imp. I can’t count the many times Julie told me how he made her laugh. There is enough sorrow and pain in this world, but not near enough laughter. It is natural for us to be sad at times, but we don’t have to trade in our laughter and carry around sorrow for forever. Who would be the first person to try and make us laugh at a time like this? Take his cue.

Love Jesus. Julie shared how Jake was feeling that God was calling him to something. At fifteen he was open to do whatever God asked. He didn’t know what it was, but he was going to be ready when the call came. I was told during this week at camp he even had opportunity to lead someone to a personal relationship with the Savior he loved and served. There’s a Christian cliché that says, “Your life may be the only Bible some may ever read.” For me, the page that has Jake on it says, “You can love Jesus. You can trust Him, even when you don’t have all the answers.”

Jake’s life ended while he was doing something he enjoyed, with people he liked, in a setting that was beautiful, aware of the God who created and loved him. Some will ask where God was and is in all of this. God’s voice was in the voice of the counselor who told Jake to be careful and stay on the path. Perhaps he wasn’t listening as closely as he should have. Perhaps he was traveling too close to the edge. We can all relate to that. We’ve all strayed off the path and paid consequences we didn’t count on. I guess that’s the next point. Listen. We need to make sure that we’re tuned in and listening. There’s so much that God wants to say to us if we’ll just quit talking long enough and listen.

Learn. Jake was learning about this magical world of photography. Someone close to Jake felt bad for “teaching” him what he knew. That needs to stop; because if hadn’t been photography, it would have been something else. I remember when Jake was little and into soccer, he had this thing he put around his waist that had a soccer ball attached so he could practice soccer. He always wanted to be better. Learning opens us up to living. So whether we’re fifty or fifteen, or somewhere in between, we need to keep learning—to keep growing, to keep living.

Lean. Sometimes when tragedy hits we have the tendency to pull away and lick our wounds and ask our questions alone. This is not the time for that. It is the time to lean in on each other. When my dad died, he died at home with hospice. Those of us at the house were remembering things about Dad and amid our tears there were funny stories that brought laughter. I noticed that the hospice worker had written in her notes: “Family remembering appropriately.” That night my brother, sister, and I sang together. It was a good time of leaning. As family and friends we have to get better at leaning on one another. I know life can be hectic and full—but let’s not let it crowd out the opportunities to come tighter and draw strength and encouragement from one another.

Yes, he was gone too soon, but he will never really ever be gone, if we learn the lessons from his life. In that way we will keep him alive and let his life make an even greater impact.

Mother’s Day Gifts

(I wrote this as a gift to my mother for her birthday. I didn’t send it then. So it became her Mother’s Day gift instead.)

 

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Dear Mom,

I hope that you don’t mind that instead of sending you a card with someone else’s words I have chosen to write you a letter. I know that are very few things that you “need” and less that you might tell me you want. So rather than a plant you have to fret over as it dies (through no fault of your own), or a geegaw that you have to dust–not even another owl picture or mug, I’m giving my time and my heart.

Much love, T

Gifts from My Mother

I considered flowers, but decided against, knowing they would just die. What do you get a woman who wants for little when her birthday comes again?

This year I opted for time and thoughts. Perhaps I could put pen to paper and express my gratitude for the gifts she has given me.

You see, this amazing woman has a tendency to blame herself for all the bad that happens in our lives. She will say things like, “Oh, I guess you got that (bad habit or problem) from me.” Or, “That’s my fault, isn’t it?” She’s quick to assume the blame, but I’m not sure she’s aware of how gifted we are because of her.

I have two siblings. They will have to share their perspective on their own time because this is just about what I am thank-full to have received from my mother.

From a very young age, I knew my mother wanted me to succeed. She wouldn’t let met settle for less than my best. Okay the downside is that I became a bit of a procrastinating perfectionist, but I am getting better. She would groan when I waited to the last minute to start whatever project was being required of me, but knowing how to use that last minute burst of creative energy has saved my butt on more than one occasion.

Whenever kwe moved to a new town, Mom always sought out the church with what seemed to have the best choir. From this I received the awareness of the importance of praise and worship. Church never seemed to be about the dogma, theology, tradition, or practice. We were in church to praise God by lifting our voices in song.

Additionally, these churches also had strong programs for children and teens. Looking back, I can see that this was also a gift. Mom was surrounding us with godly teaching and wise mentors, without cramming spiritual nurture down our throats. It was like placing all the food on a buffet and allowing us to choose what we wanted…and when.

Mom was involved in community theater and at one point got me involved in a production. I never felt the bug bite, but I was hooked. Being on stage became very natural to me. As I grew and realized my call to preaching and teaching ministry and I was well-prepared to feel comfortable in front groups of people. Add to this: my husband and I met and fell in love during a drama production in college, and you might begin to see why I truly appreciate this gift.

There was always a crossword puzzle to be worked when cooking and cleaning was done. It became the obvious gift as we were growing up and each one brought many expression of thanks. Mom was always working with words and hungering after knowledge. She had her personal research library right beside her chair and she seemed to delight with each opportunity to dig for some answer. My love for learning seems to be a direct result of this. One time in Sunday School a teacher asked one of my daughters what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her reply, “A student like Mommy.” I could say the same.

But her love for words didn’t stop there. Many nights my siblings and I would be shuffled off to bed just as the Scrabble board was being set for a game between her and Dad. She tells the story that she started playing while I was in her belly–I was pre-ordained to love the game. I’m not so sure about that, but I know that I have a love for words, and also the strategy that goes with winning that game. One of the greatest joys in my life these days is the times Mom and I spend stretching our brains for hours and days playing Scrabble and laughing together. Honestly, I don’t think I get enough.

Growing up I didn’t appreciate my mother’s organized and patterned lifestyle. I often complained that it cramped my style. Truth be told, She held up a standard that I never felt I could measure up to. Her house was always clean. Our clothes were laundered and pressed. We were well fed. Like many, we may have wished for more, but we always had what we needed. Being able to distinguish between wants and needs may not sound like much of a gift, but it has carried me through some sparse times with a deeper appreciation for what I have, which has resulted in deeper peace, trust, and ultimately joy.

I was recently asked to lead a Bible study for widows. I agreed, but wondered how I could identify with them. What could I bring? Though clearly not the same, I have known grief and loss, and I have seen the amazing example of courage and perseverance in my mom. I watched her draw from resources I didn’t know she had as she walked with my dad through his battle with cancer. I was amazed by her strength when he died. When she struck out on her own and moved to Arizona, traveled around the world, and then bought a house, I wondered briefly if perhaps aliens had abducted the woman who raised me. In the back of my mind I could hear the refrain of the song from the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” I ain’t down yet! In my life I’ve only had a few opportunities to unpack parts of this gift, but I know that this courageous and strong woman’s example will serve me well long into my future.

I could go on and on, but perhaps I’ll save some things for the next time I need to send a gift. As I was trying to figure out how to close this, I remembered a time as a teenager when I was exasperated by something Mom wanted me to do or some opinion she held–the specifics elude me, but they aren’t the crux of the story. What I remember clearly is how I stomped away with a sigh and a slam of the garage door. I went out to where my dad was working. I rolled my eyes and questioned quite dramatically, “How do you put up with her?”

My dad laid down his tools and calmly, but sternly replied, “That woman is your mother and you will show her respect.”

I didn’t get it, but I did it–or at least I tried. Years have come and gone since that scene in the garage. Respect may have started out because of position/role, but it has clearly transitioned into a deep appreciation for who this woman is and how much she has gifted my life.

And this I know with every fiber of my being, I love her more and more each day.

Thank you for blessing my life in so many, many ways.

xo, T.

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