Shayne Looper: Lessons my mother taught me over the years
After a difficult birth, the doctor told the scrappy 26-year-old that she would not be able to have another child. She should be thankful that she had one; that both she and her son were going to be fine. But she was determined to have another child, in spite of the risks. Three years later, she gave birth to her second, and last, child: me.
This Mother’s Day I am remembering my mother, who died nine years ago, and thinking about the things she taught me. My mother was a whiz at science — the science of stretching a meal for four to feed seven. And she was master of the art of making it appear that unexpected company had been anticipated — and desired — all along.
Mother was a capable instructor in many fields. She taught values, taught us that people were more important than things. Our house was a second home for the neighborhood kids — the place to hang out, kick off your shoes and be comfortable. There was always food in the fridge and a place at the table for my friends.
I never thought about all the things she had to do — this woman who worked long hours at the factory and still managed to keep a clean house and fix home-cooked meals. I thought she enjoyed having my friends hang out at our place, and (this impresses me still) she did.
She taught us how to deal with the unexpected. Dad always had something up his sleeve. I remember the day he came home with a new ’63 Olds. He hadn’t consulted my mother; had not even mentioned it to her. He just parked it out back one afternoon and expected her to be pleased.
On more than one occasion he came in from the shop in the middle of the day and announced, “We’re going on vacation.” My mother was expected to have the family packed and ready to leave in a couple of hours. She had to learn to roll with the punches.
There was one punch, however, that almost flattened her: the death of my brother, Kevin. I cannot imagine the pain a mother suffers as she sees her firstborn inching nearer and nearer to death, helpless to do anything about it. But in the midst of that great pain, she never forgot that she had two sons. Even in her grief, her first concern was for her family, not herself.
She didn’t just teach these things; she lived them. We got more than lessons; she gave us a heritage. And when I thought she had taught me all she had to teach, she surprised me with one final lesson. She taught me how to die.
When my mother saw death approaching, she steeled herself like a battle-hardened soldier. She refused to panic or look away. Over the years I have met many people — from little old ladies to truck drivers to war veterans — who couldn’t face death. My mother faced it without flinching. Like the Psalmist she said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
And she walked that valley with rare, good humor. When asked (for about the thousandth time) how she felt, she replied, “With my fingers.”
When her nephew bent down to give her a hug and accidentally knocked a pillow over her face, she joked, “You don’t have to smother me, John. I think I’m going to go another way.”
My mother taught me that death takes away all our props. It takes away the people on whom we depend and the tools we trust. In the end, it robs us even of our senses.
Death is the proverbial “eye of the needle,” a doorway so narrow that we can only pass through it by being stripped of all knowledge, pretense, self-confidence and reputation, until we stand naked “before him with whom we have to do.”
My mother showed me that it’s possible to go through the eye of that needle with grace, confident of the goodness of God even then. For that, and so much more, I honor her.
Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at email@example.com.