Saturday, December 20, 2008

Deathless Prayers: A Mom's Gift

One year ago yesterday (December 19) my mom died, leaving a huge hole in my heart, a gaping space in my world that will never be filled this side of heaven. I am blessed—abundantly blessed—with a fantastic husband, wonderful children, and great friends. But she was my only mom. No one else in the world really knows you like your mother.

I realize that, sadly, this is not always the case. But it was for me. Next to my husband Woody, my mom was my best friend. She listened to me. (I sometimes wonder how many hours she clocked listening to me—probably years, really, considering the chatty child I was right from the beginning.) She loved me. Selflessly. With the kind of love only someone who knows you “warts and all” can truly give. She laughed with me. Such a gift: a sense of humor.

This morning I was suddenly reminded of one of the most fun weekends of my life. Mom, Erika, and I had the great privilege of speaking at a three-generational mother-daughter retreat. I think the attenders were blessed—I hope so. But I know that Mom, Erika, and I had a blast. We laughed more that weekend than I’d ever thought possible. I came home from the retreat thinking, “Wow! My mom and my daughter are just fun people to be with!”

Above all, my mom prayed for me. Not only for me, but for Woody, for all her kids and grandkids by name, and for countless family and friends spread throughout the world. Mom really knew how to pray. In the last days and even weeks with her, I kept asking myself: “How will I ever live without Mom’s prayers?” I just couldn’t imagine not being able to pick up the phone and fire an urgent prayer request her way. I knew she would pray. I knew she would not forget. I knew she would ask me about it and let me “vent” as long as I needed. But she would also point me Godward, lovingly redirecting me and helping me re-establish perspective.

Well, I’ve lived through one year now without those phone calls. Oh, how I miss them! But I’ve come to understand that I do not live without her prayers. For one thing, it seems to me that she must still be praying for me in Heaven. After all, the Bible not only invites us to pray on this earth; it commands it. And we’re told in the Scripture that Jesus prays for us at the right hand of God the Father. Surely His people in the celestial city must also pray. And if there’s prayer going on, you better believe my Mom will be there!

Then there’s the banner that stopped me in my tracks outside the worship center in our church last Sunday. It’s a quote from E. M. Bounds: “God shapes the world by prayers. Prayers are deathless—they outlive the lives of those who utter them.” Deathless prayers. What a thought. My mom’s prayers will continue to live and bear fruit not only in my life, but also in the lives of my children and grandchildren. Even those born after she left us. Even—maybe especially—the one named after her—tiny Gabriella Eyla Cronin. What a gift her prayers are—the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. What a gift every one of us can give our children—and each other!

All day yesterday I kept thinking of an old poem which I believe captures the essence of my mom’s life. Ironically, it is included (with no attribution other than “selected”) in one of my mom’s favorite devotionals, Streams in the Desert, in the reading for December 19, the day of her death. I’ve seen it elsewhere given the title, “Call Back”:
If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back—
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;

And if, perhaps, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,

Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;

Call back, and say He kept you when the forest’s roots were torn;

That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill,

He bore you up and held you where the lofty air was still.

O friend, call back and tell me for I cannot see your face;

They say it glows with triumph and your feet sprint in the race;

But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim

And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,

And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky,

If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back—

It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony path.
In her life, Mom was constantly “calling back” encouragement to others—women in her Bible study groups, moms in her Mom To Mom groups, friends, family. Especially family. And now in her New Life, I believe she still calls back. Not only by the example she left us and her many words so lovingly remembered. But also in her prayers. Deathless prayers.

OK, I still miss the phone calls. I desperately miss them. But I am reminded that, despite the temporary absence of two-way communication, she still calls back. And so, it seems, can we in the lives of those we love. An eternal gift. I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Babies, Mamas . . . and their Mamas

I’m back! After 18 wonderful days (and nights—well, maybe they weren’t always so wonderful!) with Gabriella and her parents, I’m back home. And I’m up way too early. Amazing what jet lag does to you—it is, after all, nearly halfway through the day in Dublin.

In these dark and cold (here on the frozen tundra, our backyard thermometer reads below zero—I’m not sure I want to know how much below) early morning hours, I’m thinking thoughts of babies and mothers—and, of course, also the mothers of those mothers.

I’ve come home from my immersion in new-baby-land with two big impressions.

First, I am newly amazed and awed at the love God gives to a mother for her child. To both parents, really—but I am writing primarily to mothers here. It’s amazing what a mother will go through. Not only to give birth—that’s medal-of-honor material in itself. But how about the absolute and complete re-arrangement of your life when you bring that baby home? Topsy-turvy days and nights—if you can even tell the difference! Painful tenderness in all kinds of body parts you rarely thought about before. The need for a caravan (and household staff) just to get you out the door. I really don’t need to go on—you all remember this!

It was a great privilege to watch my daughter become, seemingly almost instantly, such a wonderful mother. And to see the way both Richie and Erika love this beautiful child beyond words even amidst their sleep-deprived fog of new parenting. I have new admiration for all of you reading this who are doing (and have done) the same thing.

My second big impression is a bit more personal. I just have to say that it is hard—very hard—to leave a daughter and granddaughter and get on a plane and fly 8 or 9 hours in the other direction. I envy any of you nanas who don’t have to do this. But this morning I’ve actually moved beyond my personal little pity party. I find myself thinking differently about the Christmas story.

For the first time ever, I find myself thinking of Mary’s mother. I’ve often thought of what that journey to Bethlehem on a donkey must have been like for just-about-to-deliver Mary. In fact, Erika and I talked often of this as we rocked Gabriella in the middle of the night.

But for some reason, I had never thought about Mary’s mother. The Bible tells us nothing about her, so of course this is all speculation. But what must it have been like to see your daughter set off on such a journey at such a time? And then probably not to see (or possibly even hear from) your child—and grandchild—for most likely several years? This was, after all, way before frequent flyer miles and email and Skype and cheap international phone rates!

I just read, for seemingly the thousandth time, Mary’s words to the angel upon learning of the Child she was to bear. The angel Gabriel has just answered Mary’s very human questions with the reminder that “nothing is impossible with God.” And Mary responds (in Luke 1:38), “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Those words have always astounded me. Stopped me right in my tracks. Made me almost speechless. And this morning I’m wondering whether Mary’s own mother had a similar heart response. And maybe that’s what made it possible for her to let Mary go.

Where did they (both Mary and, maybe—just maybe—her mom, too) get the strength to do this? The answer may just lie in my new granddaughter’s name. Gabriella means, I’ve just learned, “God gives strength.” And He does, doesn’t He? To mamas and their mamas all over the world. Then and now. Thank you Jesus! And may each of your reading this feel His strength this Advent season.

A closing personal note: I can’t resist including a few extra pictures this time—thanks for indulging this “Nana.” And . . . one more bit of exciting news from our family: we’re going to have another granddaughter in May! Lars and Kelly just learned from her ultrasound that Bengt is going to get the baby sister he’s been wanting. Lots to celebrate in our family this year. We give thanks.

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