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For five years now, I’ve written to you on Mother’s Day. For five years, I’ve lamented the tradition of Mother’s Day–not for some noble reason like protecting the emotions of those who’ve suffered a miscarriage or the countless women longing for children who’ve discovered that traditional motherhood just isn’t in the cards. Nope. It’s been for selfish reasons.
I write because I miss you, Mama.
I miss your laugh and your hair. I miss the way you wrote your Js in cursive and the waking up to the sound of our beagle, Cookie, sprinting up the steps and jumping into my bed to wake me up at your behest. I miss walking through greenhouses and down nursery paths looking at day lilies with you, pointing at the ones with the most vibrant colors. I liked the peach ones, you liked the burgundy ones. One year, we got one of each.
Since I last wrote, so much has happened. In June, I was asked to preach at the Connecticut Conference’s Annual Meeting. Later that month, Greg and I saw DOLLY STINKIN’ PARTON perform (Sorry, Mama. I still get excited about it.). In September, I dressed like a tomato for our local Tomato Festival parade. I know you’re proud!
My church has been in the middle of a giant capital campaign. It’s called Aspire. It’s been more than a decade in the making, but this summer, we had scaffolding installed around the entirety of our 160′ tall steeple, and we had began the restoration process. It was something to see!
This community is so generous. And heading into this restoration effort, we knew that we would need to raise more funding to reach our goal. So we decided, with the help of local radio station WINY 1350AM, to host a HUGE one day event called Steeple Stay. The idea was simple: I would climb the scaffolding around our historic church and not come down until we raised 10% of what we had left to raise in a single day: $32,500. Mama, we blew by that number by Noon. Early that morning, as I was washing my hair, I thought excitedly, “What if we raise $50,000 IN A DAY?!” Then I calmed down and assured myself that raising more than $30k in a day was a steep enough goal.
Mama. We raised more than $55,000. In a single day. It was incredible. It was a tremendous week in the life of our little church that could.
The next Sunday, after we finished our closing hymn, I announced to the church, “We don’t really do this at Westfield, but it strikes me that it’s been an remarkable week for us. Fifteen years ago, this congregation didn’t know if it could make it. But they made hard choices; they persevered. And this week, we did what they thought was next to impossible. Now, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes, we drop the ball. Sometimes, we totally blow it. But we’re sure as hell trying. And if you want to be part of this church that tries its darndest, if you want to be an official part of the Westfield family, then why don’t you come on up. I would love for you to join us now.”
I’ll confess that I knew at least two people would stand up and do it. I didn’t know those two would turn into 18 people.
One of my most lasting memories of you, Mama, is how you’d wake up early every day. You’d make coffee, then sit in your chair with your Bible and the latest Upper Room devotional. You’d flip to whatever scripture was assigned for that day and start to read. In the Spring and Summer, you’d have the sliding glass door open so you could listen to the birds wake.
I remember you telling me about teaching Sunday School for years before I was born. You loved it. Oh, and Vacation Bible School, too. You loved the old, felt board storytelling and the crafts. And the songs. One of my favorites was about Zacchaeus. Do you remember? Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he! He climbed up in a Sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. Mama, I saw the tree. I saw Zacchaeus’ tree.
Last February, Greg and I took a crew from our Quiet Corner of Connecticut (along with a few from Atlanta!) on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land–a journey I have no doubt you would’ve been on if you were still around. We left from JFK and flew straight to Tel Aviv. Then, for ten days, we saw it all–or a least a whole bunch of it. We sailed on the Sea of Galilee (one of my favorites!), touched the waters of the Jordan, and stood on the shores of Capernaum. We walked the Via Dolorosa and touched the rock tradition holds is Calvary. We looked down the Mount of Olives at the Old City and wondered which path Jesus took on Palm Sunday. We saw two (TWO!) places that claim to the tomb of Jesus. Good News! They’re both empty!
One of the most powerful places we visited in the supposed tomb of Lazarus, who Jesus raised. It’s my favorite story in the Bible, and the one I relate to most when it comes to your death. I don’t identify with Jesus (although we have the same initials–JC!), nor do I connect with Lazarus. Mostly, I think of myself as Martha and Mary who, when they hear Jesus has finally decided to show up, defy convention and run out to him. “If only you’d been here,” they rail, “my brother wouldn’t have died.” It was five days between when the doctors told us what was coming and when you finally died. And every one of those days, Mary and Martha’s words were my own: if only you were here, Jesus.
We climbed down an uneven, rock-hewn staircase through centuries of sediment and foundations. And at the bottom, we found a window into what was clearly a tomb–the tomb tradition tells us was Lazarus’. We pulled up John 11 on a phone (yay, technology!), and we read the whole thing–from the first message sent to Jesus about his friend’s illness to Jesus’ final words: “Unbind him and let him go.” As we stood in the cool of that tomb, I thought of Jesus’ call to unbind Lazarus and to let him go. And I couldn’t help but think of how much your death, as unfair and unjust as it is, has bound me.
I think this might be my last letter to you, Mama–at least in this format. For the last five years, I’ve written to you of the goings on in my life–of my job search and marriage and new life in the North. I know you don’t log onto the internet. I’m sure you don’t refresh your browser waiting for me to post this letter every Mother’s Day. But still, it’s brought me comfort to remind myself of who you are to me, of the memories I hold dear because of you. But the truth is that since 2008, I’ve let your death bind me. I’ve defined who I am as someone who lost a parent too soon. I’ve sung sometimes I feel like a motherless child with the tears of a child who has lost his mother.
Over the last 9 years, more and more of my friends have joined this secret club no one thinks they’ll join until it happens to them–the club of kids who’ve lost parents. More and more are facing their own firsts–first meals without ones they love, first holidays. I read their posts on Social Media, and I feel their pain.
And I realize that’s not where I am anymore, that the bonds of your illness and death aren’t as strong as they once were. They say time heals all wounds. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but time sure as hell helps.
Do you remember reading to me? I remember how you’d climb into my bed early each morning, and gently wake me. You’d read to me for a while from Little House on the Prairie or Dinotopia. And when I was little, you’d sing me to sleep. One of my favorite lullabies has this line in it: “God bless Mommy and matchbox cars, God bless Dad and thanks for the stars. God hears amen wherever we are. And I love you.” So often, you sang songs to me. Let me sing this one for you:
You’ve taught me so much, Mama. How to love and how to pray. How to cook and laugh and maybe cuss a little. And that God really does hear Amen wherever we are. I love you, Mama. I hope I make you proud. You know you’ll always be in my heart. And I know I don’t need to write a letter to prove it.
Read the previous letters: