“Offer it up to Jesus.”
That’s what my Mom always said to us when we were growing up and met with any sorrow or disappointment or suffering or defeat. And Mom’s seemingly trite saying never made any sense to me. What would Jesus want with my mess anyway?
When I told my Mom and Dad that I’d been arrested with a baggy of marijuana on campus at college where I was a freshman while living at home with them and my little sister, Kathy, after some five years of “doing my own thing” all though high school, going out when I wanted to, with whomever I wanted to, doing whatever I had wanted to do, and coming home whenever I wanted, often at four in the morning just before the dawn, all my Dad said was, “We KNEW it!”
My Mom clutched her chest like I had just stabbed her in the heart.
I wonder now . . . did she offer THAT pain and grief and shock up to her Jesus? She almost certainly did.
It would be another two years of anxious prayers prayed mostly by our Mom but by others too, no doubt, including our Dad, before I dropped out of college, moved out on my own, then traveled clear across the country to try and earn enough money to buy a motorcycle, a handgun, and planned a move to California to make my living selling pot, but then came back home instead a changed man, now a “born again” believer in the Jesus Christ who my mother had told me about from my infancy but who I had pushed out of my life as a teen to pursue sinful dissolution.
When I came in the door of our family’s home, I saw my Mom at the end of the long hallway . . . and she RAN to me.
This was a new season in our lives. A time when the prodigal returned, or should I say prodigals, because all five of us kids were prodigal children each in our own ways, and each one of us finally found our way back to the faith and way of living that our parents had taught us, albeit imperfectly, to just love one another and to live through the tough times.
Our Mom prayed for each of her children every day of her life from the darkest of places to the highest of heights.
Do you think that might have had something to do with things?
Not that everything from then on went wonderfully. There were sorrows mingled with joys. For instance, though I was now following Jesus as best I could, going back to school, finding and marrying a beautiful young woman, and starting our own small family, the bad example that I had been in my youth took many painful years to work its way out of my little sister’s life.
But eventually, every one of us either graduated from college or pursued a useful trade, and all of us got married and brought home grandchildren for our Mom to now become “Grammy” and our Dad to become “Pappy,” the names we kids had called our own grandparents when we were growing up.
But even a loving extended family has its own share of problems.
For instance, when my Dad offered me an opportunity to move my family of soon to be four in with him and our Mom now that their house was finally empty of all their children so that I could go to law school and soon better support my own little household, I was so grateful, and envisioned something like the old television program “The Waltons” which had portrayed three generations living under one roof, loving one another and working together for their common good and joy.
But neither my Dad nor I had asked our wives what they thought about this plan that my Dad had thought of and then proposed to me right before I could work up the nerve to ask him if we could do something like that!
And we also didn’t ask my siblings who didn’t really like having another family ALWAYS there at Mom’s and Dad’s house and in the way when they wanted to visit our parents and have them all to themselves.
Add to that mix a brand new baby in our family and my Mom who always wanted to tend a crying baby instead of doing what all the doctors say and let the child cry itself to sleep if the baby has been changed and fed and is safe so that the infant can learn to regulate it’s own emotions and develop a structured sleep routine. My Mom would also get up at four every morning to open and not so softly close kitchen cabinet doors and drawers while getting hers and my Dad’s day going just after my light sleeping bride finally got back to sleep after finally soothing and coaxing to sleep her newborn, slightly colicky daughter and who was married to a man who was now completely stressed out from the first year of law school and our new living arrangments as he’d ever been in all our first five years of marriage which had been so wonderful and now weren’t.
It’s a wonder that we made it through that first year at all before I got a good-paying law clerking job that enabled us to move out into our own small apartment while I finished law school, then took and re-took the bar exam because I had never gone to class my second and third years while working to keep us in our own place but finally somehow earned my license to practice law anyway. This wasn’t the play that my Dad and me had originally drawn up. It actually turned into a crazy broken play scramble . . . but in the end the home team scored.
But I remember two things from before that time and shortly thereafter that paint my mother for the beautiful woman that I remember her to be.
When Karen and I had only been married for two years and we came over to my parents’ house for a dinner of Mom’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs, the talk around the table that night was about my big brother’s and his wife’s newborn son, Matthew, the second grandchild after my big sister and her husband had had their son Jeremy about five years before.
I casually asked my parents, “So how many grandkids do you two have now.”
“Two,” they each said and looked at me like I was either an idiot or not very attentive.
“No,” I said. “You have three.”
And Karen smiled slightly.
“What are you talking about?” my Dad asked. “We have two, Jeremy and now Matthew.”
“No,” I insisted. “You guys have three grandchildren.”
Now Karen’s eyes sparkled and her faced beamed beautifully.
“WHAT!” my Dad exclaimed. “You mean . . . ”
But before he could finish his sentence, my Mom suddenly leapt from the dinner table and was already on the kitchen phone calling everyone she knew to spread the wonderful news that “Karen’s PREGNANT!”
There would eventually be seven grandchildren from us five kids that their Grammie got to hold and care for and LOVE so unconditionally like she had always loved her own five children and her sometimes hollering but still handsome husband.
About ten year later, after our Dad had died at work from a ruptured aortic aneurism, I was in that same kitchen dining room and my widowed Mom was complaining to me about something about my wife. I stopped her and asked simply, “Mom, don’t you remember how it felt when we lived with Grammie and she and Aunt Tootie and Aunt Doris would always talk about you and us kids?”
My Mom immediately shut up and was quiet for a long time.
Then she said, “You’re right, Mark. I’m sorry. That was wrong for me to do to Karen. Please forgive me. I’ll never do that again.”
And she didn’t.
My Mom later told me that she had never been more proud of me as her son in her life than when I had stuck up for my wife, and whatever else I’d ever accomplished while she was alive, I do believe that this one time of me defending my own bride before my own mother was the thing that my Mom was most proud of in all the things I ever did.
About ten or fifteen years after that, I sang the song “Jesus” to my now 87 year old mother the night that I spent with her in ICU before she died of pneumonia after telling her doctor two days before to remove the ventilator from her throat after every medical intervention had been exhausted because she was going home . . . one way or another.
The male nurse had protested that her children should make that decision. But my mother’s lady doctor cut him short. She told him to do what her patient had just requested! That doctor knew what my mother was doing for her children by making that awful decision for . . . and by . . . herself.
At my mother’s funeral mass, I gave the brief eulogy and recounted how my mother was the first person to tell me and each of her children about Jesus and that all our lives she had never steered any of us wrong. I recounted how the nurses in ICU had shown me that night how to put lotion on my mother’s tired, old feet that had walked so long with Jesus and how while I did this simple thing for my Mom all I could think of was how once a woman had washed the feet of Jesus with her tears just like I was now doing with mine for the woman who had been Jesus to me all my life.
I closed Mom’s eulogy with this true truth . . .
“And in that night we were neither Catholic nor Protestant, but only mother and son, two believers in Jesus, both children of The King, both praying only, ‘Lord, remember me when You come in Your Kingdom.’”
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