My mom turned 70 this weekend! After a small celebration with family, I had some time to reflect on what a real celebration it was! Her life, although not easy, has taught me how to choose joy and be blessed in my life. Let me tell you a little about my mom;
Mom grew up in a Christian faith based family which taught her to call upon the Lord’s strength she has needed along her journey. When she was about 19 she came down with mono which led to an acute case of hepatitis. The doctor said she would probably not live. She had to drop out of art school and was bed ridden for a year. She gradually regained her strength and health with the grace of God. God had a plan for her life because several years later she married my father, had me, and later my brother. Things weren’t easy for her as we struggled with my dad’s mental health issues. My parents divorced when I was in college and soon after my mom became very weak and very tired all the time. She saw countless doctors to no avail and began to get very depressed. Finally in 1990 she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. There was no cure but at least an answer.
About this time God brought a man alongside her to take care of her and encourage her. He later became my stepfather. They spent time reading the bible together, going to church, and laughing together. Things were certainly looking up. Then in 1994, at the age of 53 she had a severe stroke. They could not tell me if she would live at first. She was hospitalized for 3 months and had endless rehab appointments until insurance wouldn’t pay anymore. Soon it came apparent that the stroke affected her brain that controls speech. She has aphasia, and although she can think normally she cannot form the words to speak her thoughts. She now has about a 20 spontaneous spoken word vocabulary. The stroke has affected her right side and she is unable to use her right hand at all. She has re-learned to walk but she cannot do steps or drive. She often gets confused and frustrated with herself. She is on numerous medications for many health ailments caused by the stroke. Yet, all along her faith remained strong. Her new husband now read the bible to her, prayed with and for her, took her to church and doctors visits. They still laughed together.
She always finds joy in the little things. In fact it always drove me crazy! For example my mom and stepdad would go for Sunday drives and literally drive 20mph. They would take in the awe of the changing color of the leaves or a cow on the side of the road. My mom would squeal with excitement when she saw a beautiful barn or the sun set. Then they would praise God for all the glorious things they had seen that day! I would feel “ stuck” with them when if I was along for the ride. It was a waste of time for me, I snickered at the pettiness (I thought) of their joy. I sneered at their foolish sense of humor they had together. I would explain away this embarrassing, childlike behavior as a side effect of the stroke or old age!
Then in 2004 my mom’s husband got diagnosed with breast cancer. It took a toll on his health quite fast. He was unable to care for her. Soon home health nurses were taking care of both of them. Still, they prayed together, read the bible together, their pastor would visit, and they laughed together. Now I took them for rides on Sunday. Over the next few years his cancer spread rapidly and my mom never left his side. At the end he was in a nursing home. Mom wanted to be by his side every day. She would read prayers to him out of her prayer book hours on end. She would try to convey ideas about heaven and who he would see there, using her limited language and drawings, to ease his anxiety. He continued to praise the Lord in all his pain as well. When he lost his battle to cancer we thought we would lose my mom soon also from her grief and her continuing health issues. We were wrong, that was three years ago! I am blessed to have her here as she continues on as stubborn as ever. She refuses to go to assisted living or a nursing home. She lives by herself with daily home health visits.
Yet, there is more. She was diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer this past winter. The very same type of cancer she watched my stepdad suffer through. She has fared quite well through months of chemotherapy and just recently a mastectomy. Next week she starts quite intensive daily radiation, which they say could cause lymphodema and impair her “good” arm. I cry out to God in disbelief, “How much more can one woman take, Lord!” and “ Why have you put us through so much!” I grieve for her every day. Her health has taken a toll on our family in many, many ways over the years. I try to help the best that I can, yet my heart hurts tremendously. Yet in the darkness God brings us His light. Only recently have I been learning lessons from her; lessons that are echoed from God.
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-19 : pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.
Mom has always prayed and gave thanks to her Lord. I often get impatient and complain in my own daily life. I get bitter and anger quickly. I always tell my family and friends that if I were in a similar situation to just “let me go.” I certainly don’t thank God in all circumstances. I am quenching HIS Spirit! How sad is it that we do not thank God, pray always, and be blessed by it. I need to do more of that because I want to be blessed. Mom never lost her faith, no matter the circumstance. That is truly incredible!
2. Philippians 4:4-5: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
My mom and stepdad were always rejoicing in the Lord and his creation. I forget to rejoice and then wonder what happened to my joy. Joy becomes a choice. I snickered and sneered at their simple joy. Now I know how important it really is in life. It is not so embarrassing now.
3. Philippians 4:12-13: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.
My mom laughs at herself when she is trying to get out a message that it isn’t quite right. In fact her laughter is contagious. “The poop by the door” might actually translate to “I want popcorn!” She hears herself say it and she laughs time after time. When I take my mom to the doctor’s office I am surprised to hear her laugh as she stumbles out words or fumbles for something. Every task is tedious for her yet she can laugh. She lights up when the nurses joke with her. At places and times I ( and many others )would be crying in hopelessness, my mom is content. She is happy for those little moments that bring her joy. She and WE can do all things through Him who gives US strength.
Lessons of joy might have come through a lot of pain and heartache for me, but they didn’t have to. God’s promises are laid out for us right there in the bible. I am not perfect and joy for me doesn’t always come easily. In fact I need to PRACTICE God’s teachings on joy. I need to remind myself to pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, rejoice in the Lord always, be content, and find joy in the little things God hands over. Then I won’t quench the Spirit of God but be blessed by Him.. I Hope you choose and practice joy and contentment the way my mom does…the way the bible teaches us. Rejoice my friend!
Stacey lives in Watertown with her husband, three children AND a cat and dog too! She loves working with children and truly is a kid at heart. Stacey has been involved in programming for Girl's Ministries off and on over the years and looks to shine the light of Jesus to others, encouraging them to be all they can in Christ.