I had to speak clearly as she hung on every word. Having someone read to her was the only choice since she could no longer see. She had been diagnosed with a disease that ravaged her body and left her with only her mind and what she could hear.
Her days were spent lying in a hospital bed, it was rolled into the living room so she could be close to the window. Although this window wasn’t for seeing, her sight being gone and all, it was to allow the sun to press in on her face on late summer afternoons.
A little bit of life shining down on her, warming her soul.
She’d been fighting this devil of an illness for two years and her body just wasn’t able to fight anymore. So, she laid. Nurses would come in and change her sheets and make her comfortable and her lifelong companion made sure she had the best of care.
He rarely left her side.
She knew in her heart she wasn’t long for this world, she knew heaven was near.
It was at this exact time she managed to communicate to me through lip reading, she wanted me to read to her. I began to pick out books and call out their title. She would respond by shaking her head slightly yes or no.
How about this one, momma, “Costly Grace?”
Her head moved slightly and I knew she approved.
And so I began.
I stretched out on the couch directly under the big living room window, the same one that allowed the sunlight to stream through, lighting her gray strands of hair. She wouldn’t want anyone to see her with gray hair, she’d colored it red since the first strand showed up years earlier. She didn’t feel like a gray haired woman, she’d told me. She loved her red and wanted to keep it, even if it was from a box.
I cleared my throat and began to read, my mind not absorbing a single word. My thoughts drifted back to an earlier time, back when life was simpler and momma was well; days of chatter and trips to Lowe’s, countless phone calls about everything and nothing, coffee dates and Sunday morning church.
I missed those days.
“Can you hear me okay, Momma?” A slight movement of her head told me she could. I continued to read. Chapter after chapter of the cost of following Jesus. I’ve heard it preached accepting Jesus is the easiest decision you’ll ever make. I’d say I agree with that, but following Him as a true believer has got to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
There’s a cost.
Momma always believed in paying the price for something worthwhile. Her faith in Jesus meant more to her than anything else. She would argue you to the floor for something she believed in. Momma knew God could part the seas and cause the sun to set, she never wavered, not once in my whole life do I ever remember her doubting. It was a simple faith, but a powerful one. Now, she lay on her death bed still believing in the One who could speak a word and change everything. Oh, she’d asked him to, we all had.
Healing, sweet healing was our deepest desire. But, it wasn’t meant to be and now here we were, the pair of us, sitting under the window on a summer afternoon reading a book about the cost of following Christ.
Both of us knowing it was near the end, but neither of us willing to acknowledge it.
It’s interesting she would choose that book, the one hardest to digest. The one that made you want to eat a bowl of ice cream just to make the words go down easier. She knew all about “costly,” she was living it.
Sometimes I wonder if she picked it for me.
Maybe she understood how much I would need to understand the cost of following the Creator, how painful it could be. Maybe she knew I would need to know that she understood the cost, and she was willing to pay it, and, as she told me countless times before she lost her ability to speak, “It was worth it all if she could be used by Jesus.”
She lay there listening, occasionally nodding her head silently in agreement now and then, meanwhile I was replaying every encounter we’d had over the last days before she’d been sentenced to this bed. Oh, how I wanted to live those days again, I wanted another chance to drive the country roads and spend an afternoon sipping tea and swapping stories.
I read on.
“Chapter 4- Becoming Like Jesus in Suffering.” I knew from the title this was not going to be my favorite chapter.
“Jesus said every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each one must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“This is what suffering looks like, isn’t it, Lord?” I thought. I know it can take on many forms, but I KNOW this fits into the category of “enduring a cross.” I was angry and sad and overwhelmed all at once.
I read “Jesus’ objective—To teach us that suffering develops in us an obedient trust in God, where we understand God always has our best in mind even when we cannot see what he is doing. Suffering forces us into other-centered thinking of the kingdom of heaven and pushes us into the very heart of God.”*
I love the sound of that last line. “pushes us into the very heart of God.” That’s where Momma was, being pushed into the heart of God. This sentence is the ONLY thing that explains how she could live in such a state of suffering and still attempt to raise her hands to heaven when we talked about eternity.
This is the only theology I can accept for all she endured.
Day after day, chapter after chapter, she listened intently until I turned the final page.
It wasn’t too much longer until, early on a Monday morning, slipped into eternity.
She was finally in the heart of God.
If I could pour a glass of iced tea, walk out to the yard and sit next to her in the cool shade on the wooden swing one last time, I’m sure I’d say something like…
Thank you, Mom, for helping me to understand any relationship worth having involves give and take. Thank you, that even in your last days, you wanted me to know that having a relationship with Jesus is worth whatever the cost, because what we receive in return is worth immeasurably more. I get it.
It took me a long time, but I realize now, she didn’t want to read “Costly Grace” because she needed it, she wanted to read it because she knew I needed it. Her faith meant everything to her and in the end…
It cost her something.
*Costly Grace, pg. 59