Breaking the Cycle of Fear – A Book Review

breaking the cycle of fearWhat do we do when we come face to face with our greatest fears? What do we do when those greatest fears actually come true? How do we move past the fears that grip us to a place of trust in the One who we believe holds all things together?

Maria Furlough shares her personal story in her latest book “Breaking the Cycle of Fear.” Furlough shares and gives her readers an intimate portrait of her own fear and loss when, during pregnancy, she was told that her fourth child did not have kidneys or a bladder. She was told by her doctor that her little boy would live through her entire pregnancy and once he was born would only live for a few minutes or hours.

Furlough describes her feelings, “Through my sobbing, I never felt mad at God. I never questioned his goodness or blamed him. But the fear that had gripped me for so long turned into terror, and I literally felt like I was going to die from the burden of sadness, pain, and anxiety.” Then she goes on to name her fears as she realized that if she didn’t kill them, they were going to kill her.

This book is an honest testimony of how God brought Furlough through the fears that she had experienced into a place of peace and trust. She shares so many of the Scripture verses that ministered to her. She shares prayers that she prayed. She shares the difference between pleading and praying, giving examples of both in order to distinguish the difference.

Furlough writes, “we do a vast disservice to God’s Word when we pluck out verses and have them stand alone.” Having been through my own difficulties and had people cherry pick verses to share as encouragement, I resonated with her statement. I know that she experienced the same thing in the loss of her son, which makes the comment that much more poignant to me. She points to the importance of looking at context which is such a vital part of digging into God’s Word.

The material that Furlough shares in this book has come out of her own teaching at her church. She is real. She is raw. She shares from the depths of her heart, not pulling any punches. I love the way that she ends this book, sharing the stories of those who have been impacted by her teaching to move from fear to faith, trust, and peace. She even shares her husband’s story about his own anxiety and fear.

Out of our deepest heartaches and pains can come our greatest insights and lessons if we allow God to use them. Maria Furlough has shared out of her deep heartaches and pains and has shared how God used those to change her and transform her. Every reader can benefit from those insights in order to move from fear to peace.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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God Is Still There

As I drove home from spending the day with good friends yesterday, my phone began buzzing, indicating that there was a message for me. Someone wanted to get in touch with me.

I checked the message to find that tragedy had struck my community in the loss of a young man. A message had gone out from the principal of the school alerting parents of the situation and letting them know that the school would do whatever they could in the midst of this tragedy to accommodate and care for students.

I looked in the rearview mirror at my three kids. These situations always feel close to home when I look into their eyes. My wife and I carried on our conversation, injecting questions and thoughts as we went. It was hard to wrap my head around this kind of news. When tragic news strikes, I’ve always felt like there are more questions than answers. Who? What? Where? Why?

Why?

Three simple letters that seem to be as invasive as the surgeon’s scalpel. They cut deep but unlike the scalpel, they don’t always get to the heart of the issue. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is anger. The emotions run rampant and wild as we wrestle with a new reality as it begins to set in.

Late last night, I got a text from someone struggling with the news. Words of comfort seem trite to me in times like this. Even as a man of deep faith who has experienced his own losses, the freshness and newness of loss demands something so much more than words can offer.

This morning, I was reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” The context is important here. Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, has died. His sisters insist that if Jesus had been there, he would not have died. Jesus comforts Mary and Martha with words. He tells them that their brother will rise again and reminds them that he (Jesus) is the resurrection and the life, that whoever believes in him, even though they die, will live. Then Jesus asks where his friend has been laid. When he reaches the tomb, he is greatly moved by the mourners and by the heartfelt pain of these sisters, and Jesus weeps himself.

Jesus’ response in the midst of this tragedy speaks deeply to me. He knew that he was going to heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead. He knew that death would be averted for a little while. Yet he still wept.

Sure, Jesus pointed them towards truth in the beginning, but then he simply wept with his friends. Jesus didn’t get on his soapbox and begin to preach. He said what he needed to say and then he got onto the task at hand: mourning and weeping.

To be honest, I don’t really think that we do that well. I’ve experienced it on both ends of the situation, as the one who is seeking to comfort another and as the one who is seeking to be comforted.

On the day that my father died, I had two friends with me. As I loved on my father and spoke gentle words to him, one of my friends began to weep. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t offer any words. He simply wept.

Sometimes the best thing for us to do is to simply come alongside those who are suffering and experiencing loss and not provide answers, but weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. There will be a time for asking questions and a time for seeking answers.  

The great Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” While we weep, we are not alone. In the pain, in the tragedy, in the heartbreak, God is still there. His voice might not always seem decipherable in the loudness of death, but his presence can be felt as he weeps with us. We are not alone.

 Yes, there will be a time for questions and answers, but in the freshness of loss, the best thing that we can do is to weep alongside those who are weeping. There may be a time when the answers that we’ve arrived at are appropriate to share, but that time is not now. May we practice the presence of Jesus alongside those who are grieving and mourning.

Healing in the Sharing

Over the past few years, I’ve preached an awful lot of sermons. Although I initially went into full-time ministry as a music pastor, my role has changed as I’ve found my voice, my gifting, and my calling. Teaching and communication are among my strengths and I’ve been trying to live into them more each day.

I could probably write a blog series about the process of sermon preparation. For me, it’s never been quite as simple as opening up my Bible and a commentary and hitting the computer. Like any other creative process, if I want it to be worth anything, I need to give it room to live and breathe, to take shape. Part of the beauty of sermon preparation is that in dealing with God’s word, you aren’t dealing with something stagnant and empty, but vibrant and full of life. I do my best to lean into the Holy Spirit as I prepare.

I’ve known that I was going to be preaching on Palm Sunday for a while. I even knew the text and the subject matter. I had been reading through Mark 14 when Jesus goes to the garden with his disciples for the weeks leading up to Palm Sunday. I would jump into the passage for a while and let myself marinate in it, letting it sink deep into me, shaping and forming me as I read it.

At the same time, me and sermon introductions have a love/hate relationship with one another. When I was in seminary, I would rarely write paper introductions last. I would usually let the introduction set the trajectory of the paper for me, guiding my writing and guiding the direction of the paper. With sermons, that’s not quite as simple, at least, not for me.

Going into Palm Sunday, I had a lot of things going on. It was one of those weekends that we all have from time to time, the ones where everything is scheduled and where you expect you will barely have time to catch your breath between events and happenings. I did my best to gear up for it, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Sometimes, no matter how much preparation, you still feel ill-prepared, it just happens.

As much prayer and study that I had put into the sermon, it still just felt incomplete to me. The main place that I saw it was in the introduction. Like the opening moments of a film or the first few pages of a book, the opening minutes of a sermon, in my opinion, are the place where you either grab people’s attention or you give them permission to check out for the next 30 minutes. Sermon intros can make or break a sermon and will define how people respond and zone in on everything that will follow.

Maybe I’m making more of them than I should, but that’s what I’ve been taught through others and through my own experience. So, I do my best to make sure that I take the introduction seriously. It’s not just a throwaway element that means nothing, at least, not to me.

As the sermon crept closer and closer, my discomfort with what I had grew larger and larger. I was leaning towards yet another story about my mom, who died of cancer nearly four years ago. I was apprehensive as I had told countless stories about her to my congregation. I was fearful that one more story might lead to people checking out and feeling as if I were a clanging gong or banging cymbal. I knew how important that it would be that if I shared something to make it different, to make it something that people would feel was worthwhile.

Friday night came and went, Saturday came and went, and in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I woke up with a dread that something was incomplete, not right. I knew what I had to do, I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.

As the sermon had been taking shape all week long, I was focusing on Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. It was honest and real, it was short and to the point, it was an abandonment of self and an embracing of the Father’s will and glory. There was nothing selfish about it, it was Jesus passing one of his final temptations to embrace the plan that the Father had from eternity past. It was Jesus taking the cup that had been given to him and drinking it although he would have liked nothing more than for the Father to have taken it from him.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Jesus’ arrival at that place and my mom’s arrival at the place where she knew that she wouldn’t live more than a few months. In fact, in wrestling through it all, I realized that my mom was probably the first one of us in the family to have realized and embraced the future. Like I said, I wasn’t sure how much to share as I felt as if I had already shared a lot before. This story was personal and the challenge of anyone who ever tells a story that is personal, who shares a poem that is personal, who sings a song that is personal, is that there is always a fear that the same level of personal connection that is felt by you may not be achieved by everyone who hears.

There is a risk there, a potential for failure and rejection. Any musician or artist knows exactly what I am talking about, anyone who has ever poured their heart out making themselves feel emotionally vulnerable and naked knows exactly what I am talking about. That was the place to which I came at 4:30 in the morning on Sunday, just hours before I was to preach the sermon for which I had prepared all week long.

I ran to my computer and opened up some folders to find the file that I knew was there somewhere. I found the exact file that I was looking for and I opened up our PowerPoint file for that morning, inserting the desired documents into the slides. I had found the missing piece. I needed to share these very personal items to fully convey just how my mom had embraced the “cup” that had been set before her.

The first thing that I had found was what I have come to call “Mom’s Gameplan.” As her health continued to fail, I went to the place where she had gone to find comfort over and over again: her Bible. As I thumbed through the pages, I found two pieces of paper. On the one paper, I found the following in my mom’s handwritten:

  1. Do I really believe God works all things for my good, what does he want to teach me?
  2. Psalm 103:19 – God is in control of all things
  3. Isaiah 55 – have to accept the truth. Won’t always understand all things – don’t lose heart!
  4. Don’t make quick judgments when a crisis comes. Focus on God instead of crisis. Get into Word of God. Avoid focusing on the pain. Recall the past crises and opportunities that followed them. Don’t continue to be angry about crisis. Ask forgiveness. Submit yourself to will of God in my life.
  5. Demonstrate gratitude in the crisis.
  6. Determine in your heart that this is an opportunity for God to work in my life (to get me where he wants me to be).
  7. Refuse to listen to unscriptural interpretations about what God is doing in your life.
  8. Remain in constant prayer listening for God’s instructions.
  9. Refuse to give way to your changing emotions (feelings, etc.)
  10. Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.

Between these words and the prayer in the picture below, it seemed to be the missing piece, the piece that would emphasize just how much my mom had pointed me to Jesus and how much she had come to embrace the will of the Father. In these simple words, she modeled to me that she had learned to pray, “not my will but yours be done.”mom bedside table prayer

The sermon came and I was exhausted. My weekend up to that point had been physically and mentally exhausting. And you know what? When I find myself coming to the end of everything that is in me, it’s usually then that I realize just how much I need to rely less on myself and more on God’s strength. I managed to hold myself together, with God’s help, through the preaching of the sermon. My voice cracked here and there, but I didn’t fall to pieces.

The next day, I was heartbroken to find out that the recording of the sermon had been lost due to a technical failure that had occurred right after I was done preaching. My heart sank as I thought back to how much of my heart I had put into the sermon, but God had some more work to do in me.

As I wrestled through the news that the sermon recording had been lost, I realized that part of my continuing healing process and acceptance of God’s will was connected to all of this. I realized that there just might be something therapeutic and healing about having to preach the sermon again and by writing about the process.

So, here it is; one part of the healing, one part of my own growth. I can’t preach things that I am not willing to follow myself and God rarely lets me forget that important fact.

In the midst of it all, I realized again that there are times when you navigate the waters of a struggle in order that you can be a help to other people. I’m grateful that God has used some of my struggles to help others realize that they are not alone in the midst of their struggles. I’m grateful that God has prompted me to tell my story. I’m not sure who said it, but I once read that God doesn’t waste our pain. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The Shrinking Tomb

Right after my mom died, we all assumed that my dad was going to continue to live on his own. I was still finishing up seminary at the time and flew out to Minnesota just a few days after my mom’s funeral. So, imagine my surprise when midway through my week in St. Paul, I received a phone call from my dad telling me that he was in the hospital. He assured me that everything was okay and that he would be fine, but I should have known better.

Dad had lost a lot in a short time period and it would be difficult for just about anyone to recover from that kind of loss. A career. A home. A wife and partner. The familiar. The convenient. The comfortable.

Dad continued on his own, living in the townhouse that was supposed to have served my parents throughout their retirement for the next four and a half months. Then, well, you know what they say about something hitting the fan?! That Christmas may very well have been the worst Christmas in my forty plus years.

Dad was in the hospital for a few weeks, he recovered enough to leave but not enough to be on his own. We were uncertain what would come next for him. I tried to be as sensitive as possible in the midst of my father’s frailty. He had been pushed into so many things in such a short period of time that I didn’t want to find myself guilty of being one more person pushing him into something that made him uncomfortable or sad. So, we held on to his townhouse, hoping that one day he would be strong enough and well enough to get back there again and live on his own.

That day never came.

When I would go down to visit my dad, we would generally go out to lunch, maybe stop by the cemetery to see my mom’s grave, and then stop by the townhouse. Sitting there in the townhouse at the dining room table, opening up the mail that had come, I think it still gave him a sense of control, a sense of solidarity, and a sense of independence. I’m not exactly sure how it felt for him all of those times, but eventually, it was just me going to the townhouse and to the cemetery.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was visiting two tombs. Although the townhouse still contained most of my parents’ belongings, it was empty, cold, and lifeless. Sure, there were memories there, but it was as if time had stopped and every time that I set foot in there, it was as if I was walking into an alternate universe where time was suspended for however long I chose to stay. Just as Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan had set foot into the wardrobe transporting them to Narnia, so the townhouse had a similar effect on me. The difference was that while the Pevensie children were in the wardrobe time was suspended, the townhouse acted as sort of a time vacuum to me. The time that I spent there seemed to pass quickly without me fully realizing it.

Over time, I realized that visiting the townhouse wasn’t too much different than visiting the cemetery. They were both tombs, of a sort. One was warmer, an larger, and better decorated, but they both contained something that was no longer there, except in my mind. In that townhouse I could find myself reliving memories, getting lost in daydreams, and simply remembering what used to be.

We embraced the difficult task of getting rid of everything that we did not want to hold on to, helped (thankfully) by a friend who ran estate sales. In the months before the townhouse finally sold, it felt more and more like a tomb as there was nothing there anymore, no furniture, no pictures, no clothes, no sign of what used to be, just emptiness. We transported the remaining belongings to a storage unit not far from my house after the townhouse sold.

One afternoon, not long after the townhouse sold, I found myself driving to the storage unit. As I opened the door, the remaining belongings still held that smell, you know, the smell of my parents. Not sure I can explain that in a way that would do it justice with words, but it was the same smell that hit me every time that I walked into the townhouse.

I realized in that moment that the tomb had gotten smaller. It had gone from townhouse size to storage unit size. In some ways, it was a fitting metaphor for my grief. Not to say that my sense of loss over my parents felt any smaller, but it seemed that I was better able to handle it and on some level it had somehow shrunk from the size of a townhouse to the size of a storage unit.

In the absence of the townhouse, I’ve not got many reasons to frequent Williamsburg. There are no trips to the townhouse, nor are there any trips to the cemetery. My trips to the storage unit are limited, but I know that one day, in an effort to eliminate expenses, we will need to eliminate that storage unit as well.

The tomb is shrinking.

Entering into this Lenten season, it seemed fitting for me to come to this realization. After all, the culmination of the Lenten season has to do with the discovery of an empty tomb and, beyond that, all of the implications that come with it.

When faced with the emptiness and loss of what was, it’s easy to linger on it, allowing it to diffuse into our souls and somehow convince us that it’s the end. Facing the emptiness of the townhouse and the condensed memories that take up the storage unit, it’s a reminder to me that there is hope beyond tombs, I can picture in my mind that storage unit being empty one day, and I think it will be symbolic to me, in a way, of the hope that remains in the midst of emptiness.

The tomb was empty, the clothes remained, but the body was gone. Jesus was gone. In much the same way, Mom and Dad are gone, the tomb is empty. Sure, there are still earthly shells of what used to be, but the lifelessness and emptiness that seems so palpable point me to a picture of hope, reminding me that death is not the end.

Some people give up things for Lent, they take part in a fasting of sorts to focus them on the meaning of the season. I’ve never been one to do things simply because everybody else does and I don’t think that I will start now. In fact, maybe my visits to the “tomb” might become more frequent in the midst of this Lenten season. Visiting an occupied grave may serve as a fitting reminder to me that there was an empty tomb that was visited many years ago and the implications of its emptiness are as relevant today as they were back then. In addition, the ramifications of that emptiness ring loud and true today and on into eternity, so if that’s what tombs remind me of, bring it on. Nothing like finding a little hope in the midst of emptiness.

Finding New Meaning

While my mother was struggling through her cancer treatments, she exuded strength. In fact, I remember one trip that we were taking in my aunt and uncle’s minivan in those early weeks after the diagnosis. We were between doctor visits and I sat next to my mom in the back of the van. I just held her hand and did my best to console her. I remember hearing her sobbing softly next to me and feeling so helpless and broken inside, unable to really help her. I asked her what was wrong and she simply said, “I don’t want to be a wimp.

Well, “wimp” is hardly the word that would describe her in the final six months of her life. Her strength seemed to increase and somehow she seemed to hold it together better than the rest of us. When it was clear to us all that her disease would be terminal, it seemed that she willed herself to die. I think that she could have stuck around for longer, but the idea of meeting her granddaughter whose birth was still a few months away was probably heartbreaking to her. Why meet someone who you would have to bid farewell to in no time at all?

After she died, I discovered some Bible verses that she had written down on some scrap papers on her nightstand. They were taken from Isaiah 61:1-3. The verses that always stood out to me, the one that I shared at my mom’s funeral was verses 2 and 3, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

In the time after my mom’s death, that verse came up over and over again. Even now, three years since her passing, it still continues to emerge from the depths every once in a while. The first time it emerged was during a communion service the night before my seminary graduation (you can read about that here). A friend of mine had the verses painted on a canvas for me as well.

Recently, a friend who lost her husband last year shared the verse and I was struck by something that I hadn’t noticed before. As I read these two verses, I kept looking on them as things that my mom was reading to bring her comfort, and I have no doubt that they were, but the people who are spoken of at the end of these verses are not the ones who have gone on. My mom is not mourning, she is not in despair. Those who mourn are left behind and it is them who need to have their garments turned into garments of praise and to have their spirits turned from despair. It is them who will be oaks of righteousness, planted for the Lord’s splendor.

As I read my friend’s post, I looked at these verses from a completely different perspective and realized that part of my journey through grief is the testimony that I have as I struggle, as I despair, as I mourn. As I exchange beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for a spirit of despair, God can use even that to make a difference. In the midst of weakness, I can be an oak of righteousness, displaying not my own strength, but the One who gives me strength.

As my friend reminded me, it was an example of the living and breathing Word of God, continually speaking to us, calling out to us in the darkness, and meeting us where we are, shaping and forming us in the midst of our journey. What a great reminder it served to be for me.

The List

It seems that most people that I talk to who have faith in God have a list. Now, I’m not sure whether it’s a real list or if it’s a list that they’ve compiled in their brains, but this list is purported to be made up of all of the questions that they plan to ask God when they come face to face with him. Somehow, I get the feeling that there might be somewhat of an overwhelming feeling when that actually happens, causing them to forget the list if it’s simply stored within their heads. So, I think I’ll write mine down.

My anger with God rises and falls and I have to face it from time to time, acknowledging its presence and coming face to face with the grim reality that although I believe in him, I still struggle with the decisions (or seeming indecisions) that he makes at times. I struggle with his blatant ignoring of requests to intervene in the areas of peace, hunger, cancer, and many other issues and situations that seem to impact us all. Of course, his hand is at work, but I don’t always see it and in the midst of my own selfishness, I struggle.

On the heels of the third anniversary of my mother’s death, I was hit with the news that another saint breathed her last after succumbing to cancer…….and I was angry.

I was angry not so much that God hadn’t healed her but that she got sick in the first place. The same could be said of my mom, my anger stemmed more towards the sickness coming at all and not so much at the “not being healed” part. More importantly, again from a selfish standpoint, I was frustrated not so much by what was gone but by what was left behind. It’s always seemed the case, to me, that those we wish would stick around end up leaving far too soon.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, there might even remain some of those whom we kind of wish had been taken. Don’t gasp in horror! If you are REALLY honest with yourself, you know exactly what I’m talking about, those people who seem to be fueled by piss and spite, those who seem to take vindictiveness, criticism, and bitterness to a new level of super villain proportions. In fact, I’ve often wondered whether scientific experiments had been performed on these individuals to see if all of this spite and bitterness has acted as a kind of preserving agent, like formaldehyde, prolonging their departure from this world while the rest of us suffer.

But the sweet, gentle, loving saints seem to leave us behind, asking questions, scratching our heads, compiling our lists.

The Psalms have often been a solace and resting place for me in my time with God. My mom showed me a method of getting through them all within a month’s time and it has stuck with me for years since. Their raw honesty and forthrightness remind me that God can handle honesty, disappointment, and even anger. The question is what do we do with those things once we discover that they’re there.

While taking a preaching class in seminary, I preached a sermon on Psalm 131. It’s a very short Psalm, only 3 verses, but those 3 verses struck me in a powerful way, particularly the first verse, “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

After listening to his friends ponder what might have brought upon his recent clash with disaster, Job continued to believe in God. When God finally spoke to Job, he asked him where he had been while God was laying the foundations of the world. In many ways, Psalm 131:1 seems to remind me of the same thing, that God is in control and his ways are not my ways, that his knowledge is higher than mine and I just can’t understand. His ways are too wonderful for me, but it doesn’t always stop me from trying to understand them……..and coming up short pretty much every time.

Yes, a saint has left this world and another one of God’s children has entered his eternal kingdom. It doesn’t change my disappointment, but it does help me to keep things in perspective. We continue here on earth with hope of the resurrection. We don’t always like it, we’re not always happy with it, but we know that there are some things that are just too wonderful for us to know. I guess I’ll just have to keep adding to that list.

Mom

I realized irene and jon - carrie and jon weddingthis morning that there are many people who have come to this blog within the last 3 years.  Having done that, they never read all about my mom which had been posted at my previous blog site.  So, as I sat and contemplated this morning, I figured that I would share what I posted over there nearly 3 years ago to help readers to better understand what I am talking about when I mention my mom, how much she meant to me, and the deep hole that I feel in my heart at her absence.

After a nearly 6 month battle with pancreatic cancer, my mother, Irene Gibson, passed away on July 19, 2011. This is what I read at her funeral:

There aren’t many 38 year old men who would stand up in public and say that their mom is one of their best friends. Yet I stand here today and say that without a doubt, my mom has always been one of the most important people in my life and among my best friends. The relationship that we have shared together is unique and special and it’s the same relationship that I wish for my boys to have with their mother.

I think that my mom always secretly wished that she had at least had one little girl. It was just my brother and me, I don’t think she ever wanted anymore than us two. God knows that we were probably more than enough for her to have to deal with as well. In some ways, I guess I became the daughter that she never had as we formed a relationship between mother and son that probably better resembled the relationship that some mothers have with their daughters.

Whenever something significant happened in my life, whether it was good or bad, exciting or depressing, there were always two people that I would call: my wife and my mother. My mom always listened, interjecting where she felt necessary. She shared in my joy or in my sorrow. When I would shed tears, so would she. When I would laugh, so would she. I always knew that whenever I made a phone call to her, she would join me and come alongside me, wherever I was. My love of the Psalms, reliance on prayer, and knowledge of Scripture are a result of my Mom’s fervent prayer and instruction.

I always knew what silence on the other end of the phone meant as well. Our family has always been honest with each other, no exceptions. My mom learned this from her family and it’s a trait that all of my aunts and uncles share. Honesty has been our best policy, speaking truth to each other, regardless of how difficult it is, has always helped our family survive. When my mom didn’t agree with something that I said, I would know pretty quickly that was the case.

My mom grew up with a stern father and a mother who was a rock, sweet and loving, but resilient. My uncle was a marine, another uncle a pastor. My mom’s two sisters, one older and one younger, also learned the strength and resiliency that my mom learned. Her sister, Marge, learned resiliency through life experience in the loss of her first husband. My grandfather, after being abusive with his wife and children, finally gave his life to Christ and became a different person, enjoyable and fun.

Mom has been the epitome of servanthood and unconditional love to me, my brother, my dad, and our family. She has always sacrificed herself for whatever would be best for her husband and sons. She might not have always been happy about it, but it never really showed. She would silently forge on, continuing to love and serve in the way that Christ instructed us to love and serve, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength.

Wherever she went, whatever she did, Mom exuded the love of Christ. She worked in the Darien Public School system for over 20 years as a teacher’s aide. All of the teachers that she worked with were thrilled to have her as their aide. She went above and beyond what they expected and was always an incredible encouragement and support to them. I would hear of many of them whenever we talked on the phone, hearing about the things that were happening in their lives and the ways that my mom was praying for them, in hopes that they too would know the life-changing love of Jesus Christ. In fact, one of the last people to see Mom alive was a teacher that she had worked with in Darien who had just had a baby last month. Mom had been praying for both mother and child and was so excited for this baby’s arrival.

In November of 2010, my parents left Calvary Baptist Church in Darien, CT after serving there for more than 36 years. They left a sense of security and familiarity to step out into the unknown. They moved down to Williamsburg, VA to be close to my mom’s sister, Audrey, and brother-in-law, Roy, as well as me, my wife, and their grandsons. Life changed dramatically on January 31, 2011 when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

In the six months that followed, we journeyed through cancer’s roller coaster ride, the ups and downs of hope and dread. As we waited on God to direct us in next steps, it still seemed that Mom was willing to pursue whatever everybody else might have wanted her to pursue. Every step we took, Mom would walk in resiliency and faith. While she expressed her fears now and then, we also shared together the hope in Jesus Christ that believers share together. Mom’s body had been breaking down for years, she always looked forward to the day when all things would be made new again.

Mom’s desire throughout her journey through cancer was that she not be a “wimp.” Just like her Marine brother who battled cancer before her, she wouldn’t let it get the best of her, and if it did, she wouldn’t let anyone but those close to her see. When she was a little girl, whenever she would get hit with the belt, she would defiantly tell her parents, “That didn’t hurt” and would stand strong, willing herself to not cry. She faced this cancer with the same defiance. In fact, the night before she went into the hospital for the last time, although she was tired and not feeling good, she went to her sister and brother-in-law’s to celebrate their anniversary, followed by a big bowl of frozen yogurt over at Sweet FROG’s in New Town.

But Mom’s resilience was not something that came simply from within herself. Her reliance was on Christ Jesus, the One who had suffered and died for the redemption of the world. As I spent hours with her in her last days, I looked on her nightstand to find this prayer, based on Isaiah 61, written out in her own hand:

Lord, anoint me with the oil of gladness instead of mourning, bestow on me a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. May I be a planting of the Lord for the display of Your splendor.

Mom was truly what she had prayed, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The seed of my mother has died, but what remains is in the life that was planted in others and the example of faith that she shared with all those around her. She was truly one who gave her life for others as an example of Jesus Christ and she is now experiencing eternal life with him.

In some ways, my mom’s wish to have a girl was fulfilled when my brother and I got married. She was always thrilled to have two daughters-in-love, as she would call them, who have supported, encouraged, and loved her sons. Mom welcomed both Karen and Carrie into her family the way that she would welcome two daughters of her own. A few weeks before my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my wife, Carrie, and I found out that we were expecting a third child. Already having two boys, we decided to not let this baby be a surprise, in the off chance that it actually might be a girl. Sure enough, the ultrasound confirmed that it’s a girl.

Mom had a bucket list of things that she would be able to experience. One of those was to see her first granddaughter and hold her. The girl that she had longed for would finally come through her son. When this little girl finally arrives, she will be named Chloe Irene Joy Gibson, in honor of her grandmother. Carrie and I pray that she might grow up in the legacy that her grandmother left, loving and serving Jesus, her family, and everyone that she comes into contact with.

One of the other things Mom wanted to see was me finally graduate from seminary with my Master’s of Divinity degree. She knew how hard I had been working and always told me how proud of me she was. I laughed at the fact that my preaching magically improved in her eyes as soon as I entered seminary. Whenever I would call her and update her on my grades and progress, she would always say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I have always been able to do it because of the example that she set for me, never relying completely on myself, but relying on the strength that I am given from the One who saves me.

Not only did Mom have a list of things that she wanted to experience herself but she had a list of things that she wanted others to do as well, particularly me and my brother. My wife and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and from the day that we were married until a week ago, I grew my hair long. Having already had to endure long hair with my brother, my mom was none too happy about me growing my hair. So every chance that she got to ask me when I was cutting my hair, she would do it.

This past Saturday, after I left my house in Mechanicsville, I went right to the hair salon and told them to cut it all off. I wanted Mom to see her little boy with the haircut that she had been wanting him to have before she passed from this life.

For my brother it was different. Mom was a fervent prayer warrior and she prayed for years and years that my brother would return to the faith that had been instilled in him early in his life. Although others might have given up on him, Mom prayed continuously. She would often quote 3 John 1:4 to me, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Her greatest desire was that she would be united with her children when we all stand before Jesus, face to face. Thankfully, Mom was able to see this and experience this in the last months that she had even before she was diagnosed. As usual, Mom’s persistence had the last word.

For my dad, she wanted him to be okay and to make it. He’s had a rough time since he retired in November, dealing with more life transitions and change than someone half his age could deal with. In the last week, my father has stepped up to the plate and risen to the occasion in the midst of adversity. As difficult as it has been, he’s held himself high and done what he needed to do for Mom. I am proud of him, Steve is proud of him, and I am sure Mom would have been proud of him too.

I have a frame on my desk that my mom made for me. She wrote out Luke 1:14, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” She would quote that verse to me often, especially after I became a pastor. She always wanted me to know how proud she was of me. Mom has left a legacy in her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and every single person whose life she has touched.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 says, ” 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” These words of Paul, that he spoke to Timothy as his life came to an end are the same words that I encouraged Mom with as she neared the end of her life. Mom taught us how to live, love, and laugh, but she also taught us how to die. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be for her a crown of righteousness. She has fought the good fight, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith. Her legacy will live on and I know we will meet again, in a place where cancer can no longer ravage the body, where tears are wiped away, and where we will worship Jesus, the One who gave himself up for us, forever. I love you, Mom.