On November 12, 2022 I attended a Going Beyond simulcast conference hosted by Parkway Baptist Church where Priscilla Shirer spoke. Throughout the conference, a lot of emphasis was given to time for prayer. We were given these nice little cards that had checkboxes with things like marriage, finances, and so forth at the top with blank lines at the bottom. We could mark the box or boxes with which our prayer requests best aligned before writing down more specifically what our prayer needs actually were.
So, there I sat. Staring at the card. Trying to think of what to write down.
And do you know what I came up with?
Absolutely and gloriously…NOTHING.
All I could feel in that moment was praise and gratitude and contentment.
I knew life wasn’t perfect. There were things I wanted or wanted to be different. We were (and still are) living in a temporary residence. I had learned to loathe ice trays and really wanted my ice maker on the refrigerator back. Really, really wanted my ice maker back. I also desired with every bit of my first world, spoiled, wet shirt, and soft fingernailed heart to have a dishwasher again so I didn’t have to stand at a sink for longer than was absolutely necessary.
However, generally speaking? As I sat staring at that card, I was content with my life. God had bestowed blessing upon blessing on our family. Let me rephrase that, God HAS bestowed blessing upon blessing on our family, but for the sake of verb tense consistency, we will stick with “had bestowed.” God had gifted me a spouse I absolutely adored in more ways than I can count – even when I want to throttle him. God had gifted me two beautiful and intelligent and talented daughters. God had granted us the opportunity to buy Granny and Papaw’s farm and remodel the house. Things with the house were even moving a little faster than we had thought they would at that time. God had seen fit to place me on a team at work with people I enjoy actually working alongside, and He had given me students who are just genuinely good people.
I felt Paul’s words in my bones.
I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances, I have found the secret to being content – whether well fed or hungry, wheter in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.Philippians 4: 11-13 CSB
Then, Priscilla Shirer said something to the effect of, “Now, I know some of you are sitting here and are so pleased with yourself because you don’t have anything to write on your card. Well…we are happy for you.” There was lighthearted sarcastic laughter before she added, “But, one day it will not be like that. One day, you will be in a position where you need to ask for prayer.”
She was right.
So very right….On. The. Very. Next. Day.
I arrived at church, and during Sunday school, my brother, Kurtis, called me. I muted the call because I was in the middle of teaching our class. Kurtis is in a different time zone, and his church’s service times aren’t the same as ours. As a result, it’s not uncommon for one of us to call while the other is still in church. So, I muted the call and shoved my phone in my bag. I even set my watch to “Do Not Disturb.” Then, I got to our worship service, and Kurtis called again. I sent a reply saying I was in church and asked if I should call.
As the offertory song played, I stepped out into the vestibule of our little church and then outside of the church itself. I called Kurtis with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
While I stood under the stained glass window depicting a scene from the Gospels in colors vibrant and full of life, my brother said words that were anything but vibrant. “They had to call an ambulance. They had to work Mom and take her to the hospital, but…”
“Is she….?” I asked when he paused.
“Yes. Mom is dead.”
Priscilla Shirer was right. The day before, I was so content with my life that I had absolutely nothing to ask for in prayer. Less than 24 hours later, I was hearing those three words that stood in stark opposition to the life depicted in those stained glass windows, “Mom is dead.” I needed prayer more than I knew.
Hard Times Ahead
Now, a little backstory for context is necessary at this point. Yes, I needed prayer because I had just lost my mother, but that entire situation is far more complex than what meets the eye.
Simply put, Mom lived a hard life. She always had. Parts of it were thrust upon her due to circumstances beyond her control. Mom was diagnosed with epilepsy, Bipolar Disorder, and was a breast cancer survivor. The toll each of these took on her physical, mental, and emotional health was tremendous. That was compounded by generational threads of brokenness in the family. Still yet, parts of her hard life were brought upon her due to her own life choices. These hard diagnoses were compounded by the fact she had been a drug addict who had also abused alcohol. She felt her feelings deeply and never shied away from sharing them, regardless of whether or not sharing them hurt the person she was with or whether the feelings were founded or outlandish. If she loved you, she loved you fiercely, and it was usually a jealous sort of love. People today would be quick to use words like “toxic,” but that is unfair and untrue. Mom did the best she could, the best she knew how. It takes generations to break cycles sometimes. We are still wielding sledgehammers where some of those generational issues are concerned.
Our relationship had been strained for well over a decade, for most of my adult life actually. Through sobriety, relapses, and more, our relationship was a roller coaster ride to say the least. I will not place all of the blame on Mom by any means. I am not a talker nor a visitor. I’m a homebody who has to talk myself into interacting with others. I feel my feelings deeply as well, and that depth often pushes people I perceive as prickly or difficult away. That happened with Mom. We still spoke. We still messaged. We still shared. Yet, the mother-daughter relationship a person would like to have was not a reality or even really a possibility with us. Things weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either.
This fact in and of itself was a prayer point for me. It’s something I would have added to that card from Going Beyond if I had known what was coming. Time is tricky like that. Since I didn’t know what was coming, I didn’t let those requests come to mind, and soon thereafter new requests replaced them.
Sour Sisters of Grief
Wade climbed in the car to drive me to the hospital to meet Kurtis, and I was trying not to cry. I didn’t feel worthy of those tears of grief. The one thing I said to Wade was that I felt guilty. I had only seen Mom in person two or three times since Christmas, and it was nearly Thanksgiving. I felt guilty because the last time I had spoken to her, just a few days before, she was complaining about how sick she was “like she always did,” and even though I wasn’t hateful or disrespectful, I knew my attitude toward listening to her complaints was less than receptive. I felt ashamed to know how Mom was slipping back into bad habits after meeting someone new to help fill that void left by loneliness that I could have helped abate.
I could feel Guilt gripping at my heart with black, shriveled hands and claws that were tipped in a poison designed to slowly eat at me. I could feel my heart shredding beneath Guilt’s talons in an irreparable way. At the same time, I could hear Shame whisper in my ear. She spoke softly and intently of what a horrible daughter I had been for so long. I could feel the soft rustle of Shame’s words telling me that I had no right to shed tears of grief when I didn’t spend time with Mom like I should have while she was alive. Together, those sisters, Guilt and Shame, were working to tear me down.
Not to be outdone, though, Pride reared her ugly head to push back at them both. She prodded at Guilt so she would unclench those claws because “I had my reasons for distancing myself.” Pride made sure to say that Mom’s death didn’t offset the negative things that had happened that led to me pulling away and keeping her at arm’s length. Not wanting me to shrivel in the poisonous grief created by Guilt and Shame, Pride yelled over Shame to tell her that it was Mom’s own choices that created the situation she was in at the end. Nothing I could have done would have prevented any of it. Pride tried to fight back with her head held high, but all she did was cause the poison of grief inside of me to spread more quickly leaving behind only a cesspool in which my heart wanted to wallow.
This was not a place in which I felt content. This was not a place I wanted to share on a little white card at a church event. This was not a place I felt comfortable sharing with my husband or my brother. This was not a place I even felt comfortable sharing with God. I wanted to escape it. I still have to pull myself out of it at times.
I felt dark inside and unworthy of all the things God had given me. How could He see fit to bestow all of those blessings upon a person who had so much to feel guilty and ashamed about? A person who let her pride fight for her and make things worse? A person who could have those thoughts about her own mother? A person like…me?
I felt like a fraud. I am a Sunday school teacher. I am supposed to help others understand forgiveness, agape love, peace that passes understanding, and contentment. Yet, there I was unable to sit with myself.
God can do immeasurably more than we can imagine…
I’m thankful that God doesn’t give up on us like we are tempted to give up on ourselves. Even though I was praying, I felt too ashamed to pray like I knew I needed to. I was too ashamed to really bare it all to God and ask for forgiveness or for Him to help me work through what I was feeling. Even so, God would have none of that! He reached out and spoke to me in ways He knew I would hear Him even when I wasn’t purposefully listening to or seeking Him.
The first way was by reminding me about our Sunday school lesson on that day when Kurtis called and I hit the mute button. We had been studying in Hebrews and were actually working through Hebrews 10 where we discussed verse 17.
And I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts.Hebrews 10:17
That word translated as “remember” here actually implies a purposeful decision not to remember. It’s not the same way I forget where I left my coffee cup or phone. It is not absent mindedness. It is a decision to not think about those lawless acts anymore. Think about it. We don’t have a forgetful, absent minded God! We do, however, have a God who chooses not to remember our sin.
This verse comes in the section where we are reminded about the new covenant under Jesus. Verses 16-18 actually say, “This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, the Lord says, “I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds, and I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.”
We had been studying for weeks about how the Hebrew people kept trying to turn back to their old ways of handling sin. They were not putting their trust and hope and faith into what they knew about Jesus. However, the author of Hebrews was trying to remind them that Jesus offers something better than they had ever known before.
God made me see my circumstances with Mom in light of these verses. He reminded me that Mom was His. Mom knew God’s laws, and they were most definitely written on her heart. She was proud to be a child of God, and He chose not to remember and dwell on her sins and lawless acts.
Being made in His image, I’m called to do the same.
That may seem small to some, but it was profound to me while God was dealing with my heart. You see, I was warring within myself. Guilt and Shame told me I wasn’t worthy of grieving Mom. They told me that if I cried and mourned her passing, it would appear fake and wouldn’t be genuine. Guilt and Shame shoved my tears back down my throat telling me they were pointless. They told me that when people reached out to express condolences that I should feel even worse because I didn’t really need those condolences from others.
Hebrews 10:17, however, gave me the freedom to feel sorrow at losing Mom. That verse told me that my relationship with Christ freed me from the guilt and shame I was feeling. The Truth really will set you free!
I prayed in earnest, laying my heart out to God, confessing my selfish ways with Mom, confessing my unforgiveness and harbored anger, asking for forgiveness, and leaving it there for my Savior. In that time spent with God, He freed me to feel what I felt without the shackles of Guilt and Shame.
After dealing with Guilt and Shame, though, there was still Pride to contend with. Pride that told me not to grieve because it was silly to do so. And that I had those thoughts is hard to admit. It was Pride I was allowing to harden my heart. I’m grateful to God for softening it back again.
Pride was telling me Mom brought so much on herself that to grieve her like my heart wanted to was ridiculous. Why should I grieve like that for someone who lived like that and caused me hurt and trouble and difficulty? I had already grieved the Mom I thought I deserved a long time ago, and that was why I distanced myself. Grieving now was pointless and wouldn’t even be seen as real. God, however, knocked Pride back when He made me remember Hebrews 10:17. If God can forgive Mom and choose not to remember all of her wrongdoings, so could I. But, that verse alone wasn’t enough to assuage the havoc that Pride was wreaking inside of me.
Music frees your soul from the dungeons of your mind.Wiss Auguste
Now, you may think I found solace in songs like “Victory in Jesus” or “It is Well.” While those songs are great and did have a place in my grief, they are not the songs that brought me peace.
Nope, it was Linkin’ Park.
Go figure. It was the secular stylings of Linkin Park that God allowed to speak peace to my heart.
I never was much of a Linkin Park fan. Their particular style of rock never did much for me. I didn’t dislike it all, but it was not something I typically gravitated toward when choosing music. Still yet, there is this one song of theirs that I have loved – and I say this in all the sheepishness of someone admitting their embarrassing guilty pleasure – since the movie Twilight was released. I obsessed over that movie and those books when they initially were popular, so much so that I bought the soundtrack (and I still listen to it to this day). On that soundtrack is a song titled “Leave Out All the Rest.” It became a favorite of mine. (See the music video here)
I was driving one day leading up to Mom’s funeral when that song played from my playlist. It’s one I’ve listened to closely hundreds of times before. I’ve always loved the lyrics. However, listening to them in the midst of feeling those bouts of Pride was a balm for my weary soul and a cold splash of water to the face of Pride.
When my time comes
Forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some
reasons to be missed
And don’t resent me
And when you’re feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest
Leave out all the rest
All the hurt inside you’ve learned to hide so well
Someone else can come and save me from myself
I can’t be who you are
I can’t be who you areLinkin Park
Tears still spring to my eyes when I listen to this song because now I just picture Mom’s face.
I picture her taking us to church when we were younger.
I picture her painstakingly copying the words to a picture book onto lined paper when I was four teaching me to read sight words.
I picture her face excitedly reading to us at Christmas from “The Baby Born in a Stable” and “A Christmas Carol.”
I picture her singing songs from church and songs she’d written while we were at home just around the house.
I picture her face aglow when she beheld the tiny fingers and toes of her grandchildren.
I picture her.
Not all the wrong she had done.
I’m not quite sure how a Linkin Park song makes the meaning of Hebrews 10:17 even more clear, but for me it did. I heard that song, and it was like God was telling me to forget the wrong that Mom had done and keep her, the best of her, in my memory. To leave out all the rest.
After all, that’s what God does for us. That’s what God did for her.
Then, just before Christmas, my Sunday School class gave me a gift in memory of Mom. One of the pieces of the mom I grew up with that I’ve always held on to and appreciated and revered was her gift of words. Mom wrote songs and poetry when I was younger. One of those songs is one we would sing at church and nursing homes. My class had one of our members put the words on a sign I can display in our home when it is finished. The song is titled “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus.” In those verses, Mom reminds to “Keep your eyes on Jesus though dark may be the way. Lift your heart toward heaven though everything seems gray. Storms may blow around you, but do not be afraid. Just keep your eyes on Jesus and praise His holy name.”
Losing Mom – regardless of the state of our relationship, regardless of her wrongs, regardless of my wrongs – is dark and gray. It is still a storm that blows around me, harder sometimes than others. Yet, all will be fine if I keep my eyes on Jesus and praise His holy name.
In the end, God brought my mind back to sitting in Parkway Baptist Church. He reminded me that even in the midst of losing Mom, if I leaned on Him to help bring me peace, I could still feel the same contentment I felt on November 12 because “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”