When someone that you love desperately is stripped from your life, aren’t you supposed to be left with only the sweet memories? I feel like this is what “they” say happens…I know that for me this has not been the case, and I didn’t really realize it until I received a surprise gift from Jesus.
My Mom was a wonderful, beautiful, gifted woman of God, BUT she (like all of us) had her flaws. Like the way she loved food. I can remember being little and getting all “A’s” on my report card. The reward for this feat was being allowed to pick what restaurant the family would go out to for a celebration. I can still see Mom putting on her make-up in front of the bathroom mirror and convincing me that what I REALLY wanted was Red Lobster–just think about those buttery cheese biscuits, she said–and I should run downstairs quick and tell Dad before I changed my mind. There weren’t a whole lot of restaurants to choose from in Dothan at that time, and I think she was worried I would pick Taco Bell. You’d think this little manipulation would have gotten better with age, but she only got more particular. She spent a lot of time in Birmingham between doctor’s check-ups and treatments, and she NEVER left without a sumptuous meal. She might tell me that, “Oh, she didn’t care what we ate. Your pregnant Abby, why don’t you pick.” But as I listed one restaurant after another, that cute little nose of hers would squinch up in utter disdain until I named the place she’d been wanting all along. Never mind that it was the FishMarket and the THOUGHT (much less the smell) of fish at 12 weeks pregnant sent me running for the nearest restroom, it was what she wanted.
Or, more seriously, there were the little jabs she could throw in, under the guise of helping me. There were few times she walked into our house, without a comment like, “Abby, we really need to clean out these closets” or “I don’t know how you can stand to leave those clean clothes piled up without folding them” or “Are you sure you can thaw chicken out in warm water like that?” or “You aren’t really going to spank her for that, are you?”
So, unbeknownst to my conscious self, I was fighting off the pain of not having her, by focusing on the things she did that made me mad. I would feel a jabbing pain at the fear of Pace not remembering her Bebe, but a vision of that disdainfully squinched nose would pop into my head. Or I would ache to talk to her after a disagreement with Jeremiah, and those guilty feelings she used to impose would creep into my heart. In essence, I was losing who she was 99% of the time to the ugliness she displayed 1% of the time, in an effort to cope.
So, on my last night in Dothan, I was foraging through a stack of notes on the kitchen counter. Suddenly, I see what looks like my name scribbled across the top of a sheet of paper in Mom’s handwriting, and I catch my breath. When I realized that it wasn’t really my name, and instead it was Alz. (I want you to realize here that Mom’s faith was so strong that some of the last notes she made were how to prevent Alzheimers 🙂 Here she was distended with cancer but worried about getting Alz. when she was 80), I was overcome with grief. I realized that I didn’t have anything that I could think of where I had my name written in her handwriting.
I tucked the notes away, thankful for the little scraps with her handwriting and everyday notes like, “Roast started 5:33.” Then I headed back to my room to continue the mountain of packing. This is where Jesus jumped in. Besides the fact that He led me, there was no reason for me to walk over to the little tin bucket, tucked away under my nightstand, filled with random books from high school. I started flipping through the titles, and had laid aside a little notebook that I didn’t recognize, when I thought I might better check and just make sure there was nothing written in it. As it fell open in my lap, all I registered was my name peppered across the pages in the handwriting that I’d longed for.
I flipped back to the first page and realized that it was a journal that Mom started in January 2000. I wept…hard as my heart was kindled by the joy of remembering her day-to-day. The errands she ran, movies she watched, chores she’d finished, and meals she’d planned. However, the true gift was even greater than these everyday reminders. That journal had begun as a record of her “mundane,” but it became an in-depth record of the sweet beginning of mine and Jeremiah’s relationship. As I cried and cherished every word, God reminded me who my mom really was. A best friend, who loved me so much that she took the time to chronicle every hand-hold, phone conversation, and kiss between me and my new boyfriend. A mom who didn’t tell me, but instead wrote down, how she and Dad knelt and prayed for us after we walked out the door to go on a date. A mom who listened to her excited 17 year-old daughter so closely that she could even recall in her journal that night the way I’d said Jeremiah put his hands in his pockets while he talked. As the love and memories welled in my heart, the realization of the bitterness I was creating was forced to the surface.
Jesus led me from a place where I was clinging to a scrap of paper with Alz.–that sorta kinda looked like my name in Mom’s handwriting– to a place where I held a journal filled with not only my name, but her recollections on how THE love in my life began. She might have been overly opinionated about things that didn’t matter. She might have made me feel like my house wasn’t clean enough. But more than that, she loved me and celebrated my life fiercely, and I am thankful that Jesus gave me a tangible reminder of that.