Stacey rolled over and looked at the alarm clock. It was dated, but had dutifully illuminated the time day and night since she could remember. She’d had the thing since she was a young girl and for reasons she couldn’t explain, she didn’t have the heart to get rid of it. She’d carried it from her childhood room and plugged it in by her bed a year ago. And there it remained. A constant reminder of a good life lived between the red illuminated numbers. It was 2:46 a.m. and she was awake. Again. “Ugh.” She sighed into the darkness. The moon shadows stretched long across her bed and a song began to pass through her mind like the train whistle blowing through town. “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow…” She sang the entire tune in her head as the crickets played a symphony just outside her bedroom window. She thought it unusual to hear the crickets and frogs at night since she was no longer living in the country. No one would call her apartment location “in the city,” although it was within a stone’s throw of the Dollar General. She’d found this place to be a happy compromise from the life she was used to, compared to the life she lived now.
The farm, or home, as she still called it, was a few miles away. This new apartment allowed her to escape the rooster at daybreak and was much closer to her new job at the city water department. She was satisfied with her life choices up to this point. They’d landed her back in her hometown close enough to home to visit often but far enough away to feel independent. Life was going well…until last Mother’s Day.
The whole family had been in town. Her older brother came from Colorado where he, his wife and small daughter lived. Her younger brother flew in from Florida where he was interning at a church, preparing for youth ministry. Stacey had driven the few miles from her place out to the farm to celebrate. She’d opened the back door that led into the mudroom just off the kitchen as quietly as possible only to hear her Mother singing softly “because he lives..” over the steam whisping up from the stove. Her Mom was up early despite Stacey’s best efforts to be in the kitchen before anyone else. The room smelled of bacon and pancakes and Stacey felt her stomach growl in approval. “Mom,” she said with pretend disdain, “we’re supposed to make YOU breakfast, remember?” Her mother’s response was so familiar Stacey could’ve spoken the words right along with her. “I love taking care of all of you. Being a mom was my greatest gift and I want to be doing exactly what I’m doing.” “Yes, ma’am,” Stacey responded and gave her Momma a quick kiss. “Happy Mother’s Day.” She grabbed the apron hung on a hook inside the pantry and went to work.
Stacey remembered it all like it was yesterday.
But that was then.
Today, they would attempt to stumble through their first Mother’s Day without her.
Stacey rolled over and checked the clock again. Sleep was elusive tonight as it was so often these days. She’d told her best friend, Amy, that sleep had left her the same time as her Mother. It was 3:30 a.m. and Stacey was reliving that day in the doctor’s office when her Mother had been told she only had months to live. Stacey had sat in utter shock, completely speechless. But her Mother spoke with resolve and faith to the doctor. “I see. Thank you Dr. Thomas, I know it must’ve been hard for you to tell me that. But, I want you to know that I put my hope in Jesus so this old, frail body may be finishing its days, but heaven will be a new beginning for me. I’m just passing through.” Stacey would’ve bet money on seeing tears in the old doctor’s eyes, but she never said a word. As a matter of fact, she didn’t speak the whole ride home. She couldn’t. Words would try to form in her mind but the fear of the doctor’s prognosis, terminal, kept her from being able to say a single one.
Things progressed quickly after that fateful day. Her Mother began to fail and was soon bedridden. Stacey would go over every day after work and to read to her or help change the sheets or whatever was needed. It gave her much needed time with her beloved Mom and it gave her Father a chance to check on the animals and work in the garden. The changes in her Mother were excruciating to watch and Stacey wondered if she might die right along with her. Day after day she watched her lose motor skills like her ability to stand or move easily, it was the most difficult thing she’d ever endured. And, time and again, her mother would encourage Stacey. “Trust the Lord, my daughter, He knows what’s best.” “Have faith, hon, God knows what he’s doing.” “Does He?” Stacey would say and her Mother would nod her head and smile. “I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but He knows, you can depend on him.” Stacey would cry and hold her Mother’s hand and pray with all of her heart for healing.
But, healing never came.
And, finally, on a cold rainy day in December, when other families were singing Christmas songs and baking sugar cookies, Stacey and her family stood out in the cold, hovered under umbrellas, and said good bye to their beloved Mother. Stacey’s heart burst into a thousand pieces that day. And she’d had sleepless nights ever since.
Will this night never end? Stacey rose from bed and grabbed her robe on the way to the kitchen. She’d promised herself she would go to church this morning even though she knew all the moms would be out in full force, wearing their Sunday best and receiving flowers from the ushers. No one prepares you for these days, she thought as she counted the tablespoons of coffee and poured them into the filter. No one tells you Mother’s Day will feel like a knife to the heart. She didn’t wish ill will on any of the other folks celebrating their Momma’s; on the contrary, she wanted them to celebrate big and appreciate every single living, breathing minute they had together.
She just wished she was one of them.
She waited for the coffee to brew and poured a cup of the black liquid into her favorite mug. She’d gotten if from her Mother a few years ago. You Are Loved was printed on the side in black cursive script. Such a simple gift, but it was a priceless treasure these days. She grabbed her Bible and sat in the green chair she’d gotten from the Goodwill and opened to Psalm 91. This was the Psalm her Mother most requested Stacey to read in their many hours together. Stacey would have so many questions about why God wasn’t healing her and her Mom would always respond that God knew what he was doing and his way was always best. Then she’d sing Because He Lives and Stacey would join in. Her Mother’s voice was faint from the pain in her body, but her spirit had never been stronger. The memory of those times felt like a punch in the gut; it felt cruel to watch someone so frail sing a song of faith when the one she was singing to wasn’t answering any of their prayers. Maybe that’s why Stacey hadn’t been back to church since the day of the funeral. She’d opened her Bible now and then to read Psalm 91, but she never got all the way through the chapter before tears blurred her vision and she’d set it down for another day.
She had no idea why she’d promised herself she’d go to church on Mother’s Day. Any other Sunday would’ve been easier and made more sense. But, somehow in her heart she knew this would honor her Mom in a way nothing else could. For her one and only daughter to walk into the church building and sing songs of praise and hear the Word of God preached in the midst of her greatest suffering would be a testament of her belief in her Momma’s words.
“God knows what he’s doing, so we don’t have to know, Stacey.”
Stacey wanted to believe this, she wanted to trust, but the pain and fear of life without her Mother had stolen her childlike naivety. And, perhaps, for the first time, she understood that life was complicated and you won’t always understand why things happen.
How do you trust when everything seems so uncertain?
Stacey put the car in park and unbuckled her seatbelt. She sat and stared out the window, unable to make herself move another inch. The church steeple loomed especially large this morning and the flood of people walking in the door were all smiles and dressed to the nines, just as she’d suspected. She was ready to crank the car and flee when Amy spotted her and ran over. “Stacey, please come in with me. We can sit in the back.”
The songs were familiar and the sermon a declaration of appreciation to mothers of all kinds, those with children and without. We all have an influence over someone, after all, the pastor reminded the crowd. Stacey didn’t remember much of it, she kept her eyes fixed on the white carnation in her lap. Just like she thought, the ushers handed her a flower when she walked in the door. She’d dodged most people after the service ended, and she noticed a few avoided her. People didn’t know what to say and she didn’t have the energy to try and make them feel okay about it. Before she knew it, she was back in her car heading down the country road to the farm. She stopped by the grocery on her way and picked up a few things for lunch, she knew her dad would be hungry.
“Hey there, youngin’” her dad spoke with strength she knew he didn’t feel. “Hey, dad, you hungry? I brought some food.” Before she could finish her sentence her dad spoke, “come with me.” He took her by the hand and led her back behind the house to the edge of the field where an old oak tree offered a canopy for anyone who needed it. There was a wooden cross with the name Ruth Carnley carved into it where her beloved Mother was laid to rest; underneath a shade tree, just as she’d requested. Dad had hung a porch swing from one of the trees’ strong limbs, and Stacey had spent countless hours there talking to her Mom and crying until tears would no longer come. “What’s the rush to get out here, Dad? Aren’t you hungry?” “I’ve been waiting long enough to give this to you.” Her Dad responded and handed her a plain white sealed envelope. Stacey looked at him confused, “what is this?” “Read it, your momma wanted you to have it today,” her Dad said as he walked back toward the house.
Stacey sat in the swing and gently opened the envelope. She pulled out a piece of typing paper and unfolded it carefully. She gasped and put her hand over her mouth as tears immediately filled her eyes.
My one and only daughter.
I know you don’t want to hear this, but everything is going to be okay. I can promise you that based on God’s Word. The greatest hardship of life is learning to let go and trust him in all things. It won’t be hard to trust when things are going your way, but when you’re faced with something you don’t agree with or don’t understand, your temptation will be to run away from God. You’ll want to be angry because that will help you cope with the disappointment. But, don’t stay angry long. God has great things he wants to do in your life and your anger over things you really don’t understand will only slow your progress. I’m not gone forever, you will see me again. I will be waiting for you. The moment you cross over into heaven I will be right there ready for a long awaited embrace.
Stacey laid the letter on her lap for the moment. She couldn’t see through the tears. Oh, how she missed her Mother. If only she could touch her, talk to her, see her, her life would be so much easier. She wiped her eyes and continued to read.
Take care of your Father. He will act like he’s fine, but he’ll need your support and love as he faces lonely days and nights. Tell you brothers I love them and remind them to be good men and to take care of their families. And tell sweet little Gracie that Grandma loves her and will always live in her heart. Take care, Stacey, forgive God, forgive yourself, you did the best you could. No one is to blame. I will always be with you, I am easily found in your fond memories. Don’t be afraid to trust again, one day it will all make sense. But that day may not come until you reach heaven.
Trust the Lord, honey, he knows best.
Stacey thought her heart might explode. A million emotions came crashing in on her soul and she cried in deep groans of sorrow. She had no idea how long she cried, but she knew she was a mess. When she’d gathered her composure somewhat, she got up from the swing and walked over the wooden cross and knelt before it. “I love you, Mom. I will always love you. I will take care of Dad and I will talk to the boys and never let Gracie or any grandchildren forget you. I miss you so much, I don’t know if I can take it. You were so brave, but I am not; and thank you for the letter, I will cherish it forever.”
She laid down on the grass beside the cross and wiped more tears.
When she finished talking to the wooden marker, she pulled out her phone and opened the Bible app. Psalm 91. She read it out loud to the green grass and the chirping crickets and the birds perched in the trees. She read it for her mom and mostly she read it for herself.
She wasn’t sure how long it had been, but the sun was lower in the sky. It was definitely past noon and her stomach growled in complaint. Stacey slowly rose from the ground and brushed the grass from her clothes. The pain was still great, but something had shifted in her heart. Her Mother knew her so well, she knew Stacey would need to hear from her. “Thank you, Momma,” she whispered as she headed to the house.
There was no one but the birds to testify to what happened next…it was vulnerable and beautiful and just what her Mom would’ve wanted…
Stacey stopped threw her hands in the air and began to sing with abandon…
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know, I know he holds the future,
And life is worth the living, just because he lives.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms!
To those of us whose Moms are in heaven, may we celebrate the lives they lived. I’ve learned so much about grief over the years since mine went to heaven and one thing is certain, we all grieve in our own way and in our own time. Be patient with yourself, and take Ruth’s advice, trust God, he really does know what is best.