Friday, September 16, 2011


Two milestone dates are fast approaching within the next week. The two month anniversary of my mom's death is on September 19th and my little boy will turn 3 years old on September 20th. It's a pretty incredible picture to me of the complexity of life: death and life set side by side. The other milestone that is fast approaching is the birth of our daughter. Although the due date is September 25th, there's really no telling exactly when she will come. Both of our boys were a few days early, so we will see whether or not she follows suit.

Throughout the process and journey of my mom's cancer battle and my family's struggle, I was pretty confident of two things. First of all, I knew that God was with us through the storms. He may not have been shouting through it all, but his presence was felt by my entire family. Second of all, I knew that I was incredibly blessed to have had a loving and giving community of faith in which I was a part. Within hours of my mom's diagnosis, people had come alongside me and my family to show their support. In the journey from struggle to death to new life, my family and I have been so incredibly blessed to the point of ultimate humility. Who am I to have deserved the incredible love and support that was showered upon me? What have I done to deserve it?

In many ways, I guess it really speaks to who my mom and dad were and are. We received an incredible amount of support from friends, family, and church family in Connecticut. That was one of the big reasons that my brother organized a memorial service for my mom on her birthday in our hometown. Although my dad was the fairly well-known in their community, no one could deny that my mom was his backbone and support. She was as much responsible for him being who he is and there were many people who knew that. But she was also unique and individual in herself and those who knew her, knew that was the case.

My wife has a friend who lost her mom much earlier than I did. In fact, this friend was married without the privilege of the physical presence of her mom. Throughout the whole process of treatment and decline, my wife quietly served behind the scenes. She watched the boys, informed and updated people, supported me, and just generally held things together. Words can't even begin to express how blessed that I am to have such an incredible and selfless wife.

This friend of my wife understands loss. After Mom died, we received a package in the mail and opened it up to find the plaque shown in these pictures. It arrived before any kind of note, so we were not sure who had sent it to us. A few days after it had arrived, we got the note from Carrie's friend, indicating that it had come from her and her husband. The fact that she had been the one to send it made it that much more meaningful to me.

As I struggled towards the end with the loss of my relationship with Mom, I expressed some of that to my wife. I was feeling somewhat self-conscious of the fact that I was a 38 year old man who considered his mother a best friend. There are many women who would never have been able to handle that. Their own lack of self-confidence would have produced jealousy, anger, or any other array of strong emotions within them. I am incredibly blessed to have been partnered with a wife whose struggles with those things, if they existed at all, do not dominate who she is.

As we talked and I vented some of my emotions to my wife, she gave me words that I will forever cherish, just as I forever cherish her. I asked her if it was weird that I had this kind of relationship with my mom. She said, "Jon, when something good happens in your life, there are two people that you call, your mom and me. The kind of relationship that you have had with your mom is the kind of relationship that I want to have with our boys. You have showed me a model for how to do that." Could I really be so blessed to have such an incredible wife? Was I really hearing these words? Yes. And Yes.

I generally have a good sense about things that are going on around me. At any given time in my life, I probably multi-task way more than any human being ever should. There have definitely been times though, when I have been so out of it or consumed that I have missed some obvious things. I am sure that the last nine months have been among those times.

I am blessed to lead some incredible people at my church. Every week, I have the privilege of getting together with 8-10 people to pull together some of our Sunday services. Their patience and endurance is incredible. I am not always the easiest person to get along with, yet I don't hear a lot of complaints. I have a tendency to accentuate the negative and gloss over the positive. I expect a lot and don't always explicitly communicate those expectations, to my own frustration. In the end, God always works through us and we are blessed to lead people in worship, focusing our congregation on the One whom we worship, not ourselves or our talents.

Last week, I arrived home a little earlier than usual. On days when I have night meetings, I do my best to get home a little earlier so as to preserve time with my family. My wife smiled when I arrived and told me that someone would be coming to the door within the next few minutes. Something had been in the works for me, she said, and the day had finally come for that "something" to actually happen. I scratched my head as I tried to decipher exactly what this riddle meant.

The doorbell rang and a husband and wife from church were there. They had brought with them a gardenia plant. The team that I work most closely with had come together and bought a gardenia plant for us to plant in our yard. Someone who had been to Mom's funeral had made a mental note that gardenias were her favorite flower. Every year, whenever my dad would buy her corsages, they would be made of gardenias. The Sunday after Mom died, my parent's former church in Connecticut handed out gardenias to all of the ladies in honor of the woman who had discipled and mentored so many of them.

Tears had not come in a long time, but as I sat there with the description tag of the gardenia plant in my hand, reading through the card that had been given from my team, they began to flow again. I was speechless. I had no idea why I deserved anything like this, but I realized that I must have made some impact on these people to have received such an incredibly special and meaningful gift. These pictures show both the plaque and the gardenia bush.

As my mom's final days wound down, we had discovered a prayer on her bedside table that I shared in an earlier post. The prayer was based on Isaiah 61, my mom had personalized the passage into a prayer which she could regularly pray. A portion of it says, "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor." I included it within my eulogy at her funeral.

Last week, my brother organized a memorial service on September 11th, my mom's birthday. Since I was not able to be there, he read what I had read at my mom's funeral. In the wake of loss and grief, life passes us by without much notice and we sometimes discover later what it is that we had missed. As my brother read what I had written, the idea of my mom having been a planting of the Lord, especially in her death, stood out to him. In fact, he had missed that altogether during the funeral.

This theme of being a planting has been dominant in the wake of Mom's death. Not only had she had this prayer on her bedside table, but she had quoted those verses to me several times over the last year. My brother held the memorial service in our hometown at a park near where he works. He received permission from the parks and recreation department to plant a tree in memory of my mom. The day before the memorial, he and a childhood friend of mine planted the tree. Later that week, the gardenia bush was planted in my back yard. New life is springing up all over, but it only came through death. Death brings life, much life.

My daughter will arrive shortly, and even in her name, the idea of planting is prevalent. Her name will be Chloe Irene Joy which means "blooming peace and joy." There is birth and there is death. Plants grow and plants die. Throughout the journey, may we rest in the blessings of just having had the experiences. Every day, we all experience blessings, it's just a question of whether or not we stop long enough to see them, notice them, and be thankful for them. I am blessed.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Jon, thanks for sharing. Your parents always mean't a lot to me. You are blessed to have such awesome parent! Your mom was very special to me! No doubt there is not a week that goes buy where I don't think about her.