Long Sighs and Deep Breaths

mom and jon 1987Last Friday marked eight years since I lost my mom. As with so many significant dates since her death, the day was marked with long sighs and deep breaths. While I didn’t shed any tears, there was an ache in my being that will remain until I see her again.

On days like that, my mind is running full speed, remembering, wondering, grieving. My mind generally parks on a few memories that make their way to the top of the assortment that’s whirling around in there. That day was no different and I found myself remembering two moments that my mom and I shared in those last six months together.

The first moment was after a doctor’s appointment where a treatment plan was laid out for her. She had already received her bleak diagnosis and was doing her best to break out of her default mode of realism (some would call it pessimism) and find some bright spots and hope in the midst of the darkness.

As we drove in the back of my aunt and uncle’s mini van, I could see the fear and sadness in her eyes. I reached for her hand, grasping it and holding on, as if hope could be transferred in a squeeze or a touch. Somehow I hoped that I could muster up enough of that for the both of us.

I looked at her face and saw the tears rolling down her cheeks. As I looked at her and asked, “What?” she just told me that she was scared. Those words naturally made me clasp on a little harder, squeeze a little tighter.

I honestly don’t know what else I said in that moment, but I remember thinking to myself, “Hell yeah you’re scared! I’m with you.” Words that I would never dare to utter to my squeaky clean mom whom I had never heard swear in my life.

But I admired her honesty. I was grateful for her showing me her vulnerability at that moment. That was a marker of our family though, being transparent and not hiding what was going on inside, something that I’ve prided myself on and desperately seek to pass on to my children as well.

The other moment was after she was released from the hospital for the last time. We all knew that she would be going home to die. Family gathered around in the small living room of their Williamsburg townhouse. Any conversation was a distraction from the reality of the situation, a detour to avoid the inevitable that was staring us in our faces.

I had already begun to write my mom’s eulogy, that was my way of processing things. I needed to mentally and emotionally prepare for my goodbye with words, my own therapeutic means of dealing with what would be the greatest loss in my lifetime to that point.

In my quiet moments of reflection and writing, I had come to the realization that it wasn’t every day that mothers and sons enjoyed the kind of relationship that my mom and I did. Some might poke fun, others might laugh at the awkwardness, but I rested in the fact that what we had was special and significant.

In her weakened state, my mom had simply closed her eyes as she sat up in the loveseat of their living room. I put my face so close to hers that our noses touched and I whispered, “You know, what we have is special, Mom. Not every mother and son has this.” She just replied, “I know.” As our noses met, I rubbed mine against hers in an Eskimo kiss, something that I’ve passed on to my daughter. It’s a moment that I feel like I not only share with my daughter but also that my daughter somehow shares with her grandmother whom she never had the privilege of meeting.

After that night and that moment, very few words were exchanged between my mom and I, not for lack of desire but for lack of strength on the part of my mom.

It’s moments like these that are eternally burned into my brain.They don’t only come to mind on command but can rush in like a torrent when I least expect them. But I welcome them, maybe not as warmly as I would welcome a trusted, old friend, but I welcome them nonetheless.

Long sighs and deep breaths, even as I write. As I push towards the decade marker since her loss, my mom continues to live her legacy through me and my family. She would be proud of where I am and what I am doing. She might not agree with everything, especially some of my brash and forthright ideology and language, but she would love me just the same.

In those moments between sighs and breaths, I choose not to live into moments of “What could have been” but rather “What can be.” I choose not to lament what was missed, but instead embrace what was and press into my own moments with my family, letting what could easily be swallowed in regret be formed into memories that will last a lifetime for me and my children.

Inevitably, when I share thoughts like this, people say the usual, polite things to me. They are sorry for my loss. They are praying for me. While I appreciate all of these things, writing about these does not mean that I still haven’t gotten over this loss (although I don’t think anyone ever completely gets over a loss). Writing about it keeps the memory alive, at least it does to me. Writing about me honors the time that I had and hopes to utilize the lessons learned for the way forward.

Yes, I miss my mom, but honoring her memory is best done in embracing what is before me rather than lamenting what is behind me. One day, when I see her again, I can tell her that and I expect that she’ll just give me that knowing look and say, “That’s my boy!”

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It’s a…..baby!

This process of starting a new church that we are in, it feels a lot like waiting for the birth of your first child.

A friend and I spoke the other day and he brought this up to me. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The analogy is so spot on.

When you and your spouse are expecting a baby, you go through the procedures of eating right, caring for yourself, regularly visiting the doctor, and everything else that’s necessary to ensure a healthy baby.

As time marches on and you get closer and closer to the due date, the anticipation, excitement, and terror can be overwhelming. You can’t wait to meet this baby, to see his or her face, to hold them, smell them, cuddle them, just look at them. There is excitement over what it means, this new human being who will charge into your world, disrupting it and making it perfect all at once.

But there is also the terror. Not sure how many first-time expectant parents didn’t think at least once along the way, “Oh my goodness, can I do this? What kind of parent will I be?” If we all waited to have children until we were ready, we may never ever have children.

Waiting for a church to be born has felt similar, but I could never quite find the words to describe it until my friend introduced this to me the other day.

In less than two months, a baby church will be born. We are preparing for it. When it comes, it needs to be nurtured. We wait. We anticipate. We get nervous.

Ultimately, we follow the direction and leading that God gives us through his Holy Spirit. We trust. We pray. We plan.

And to be honest, as much as I thought and planned and hoped along the way before my first child was born, when it came down to it and he was born, most of those things fell away. The only thing that I cared about the most was that he was healthy and growing. The other things were just bonuses.

In much the same way, if things don’t look exactly like I thought they should with this church, I think I will have a similar approach, my number one desire is for a healthy “baby.”

Myself 2.0

I had lunch with a friend yesterday. Nothing unusual about that. Among the things we talked about was the Enneagram, self-awareness, who we are, we were, and who we are becoming. Kind of deep for lunch conversation.

The last few years, for me, has been a journey of self-discovery, figuring out who I am, figuring out what I am good at, figuring out what I’m not so good at, and seeking to become better than I was yesterday. There are certain tools like the Enneagram and StrengthsFinders that have been helpful in that self-discovery.

But, as one who considers himself a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s more than a pursuit, it’s a calling. If Jesus is all that I claim that he is, then I should be changed by him. He isn’t some random stranger that I meet on the street who has no impact on my life. If he is who he says he is and who I believe he is, then like so many of the people who he met throughout the gospels, the collision between my life and him should have an altering effect.

As my friend and I discussed all this, he shared that he was struck by where I was in my overall emotional health. As I thought about it, I said, “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” I mean, the big theological word that people throw around is “sanctification,” the process of becoming holy and set apart, more like Jesus.

Funny thing is, I think that some Christians miss the “more like Jesus” part of that. They’ve got the “set apart” part down pat, but when it comes to being different like Jesus, we don’t often excel. We’re set apart and different but in a way that makes an onlooking world scratch their heads or shake their fists. I have a hard time believing that’s what was meant by being different and set apart.

I have often said to friends and those around me that I don’t want to be the person that I was five years ago. In fact, if I am really in pursuit of being changed, transformed, and different, then I shouldn’t be who I was. As I look back over myself through the years, I see changes. Some of those changes are good, some are not so good. Those not so good changes are the ones where I probably haven’t fully given myself over to the work of sanctification in my life.

It’s like training at the gym. It’s not often pleasant when we are going through it. There may be pain afterwards, but hopefully, what we are becoming is better than who we presently are. I think about Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

I have been blessed by a great cloud of witnesses around me. God has given me a lot of people that I call “rearview mirrors.” They act as aids for me to see those blind spots that I am unable to see on my own. But I’ve got to look at them and then heed what they say, just having them alone is not enough to make me better and to see the flaws that so desperately need to be changed and transformed.

Today is a new day and I am grateful for it. God’s mercies are new every morning. My constant prayer is that I will be just a little more different today than I was yesterday, that John the Baptist’s words can echo from me the way they did him, “I must decrease and he must increase.” It doesn’t mean that I lose myself, it means that I just become a more Christ-like version of myself. That’s what I’m going for.