I lost my sweet mother a year ago last week. This post about her life and journey originally appeared on the CompassionThatCompels.org blog in January, 2016. Compassion That Compels is an amazing organization serving women battling cancer, and it is very dear to my heart. Read on for more…
I just love Isaiah 43:19. It offers such beautiful promises in so many Bible versions, of course, but a favorite of mine is the ESV: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
A pathway through the wilderness and rivers in the dry wasteland. Wow! It gives me chills! And He does exactly as He promised. I know this because I’ve seen it happen up close and personal – in my own family.
See, there were times that “wasteland” and “wilderness” could have been descriptors for my family situation. My Mom, while she was an amazing lady – fun, friendly, hilarious, quick to smile, quick to love – suffered and struggled, particularly with her health, both physical and mental. First she began displaying symptoms of bipolar disorder as a young woman in the late ‘60s, a time when it was poorly understood and difficult to treat. Her mental health cost her dearly in relationships with friends and loved ones, with her feelings about herself, and especially within our family. My relationship with her as a child was a struggle, and her life was anything but easy in those days.
But struggles with behavior and mood weren’t her only problems. She and my Dad tried for many years to have children and miscarried three – THREE – times before I was born. By what she called a “miracle,” she at last gave birth during their ninth year of marriage.
As she went through this “miracle” pregnancy, she didn’t know that her health was still failing. Shortly after I was born, Mom learned she had ovarian cancer and underwent a complete hysterectomy followed by cobalt (!) treatments and more.
Instead of enjoying being a new mother, she faced a terrifying fight. Her life was in many ways like hacking through the wilderness, struggling with each step just to survive. I know there were times when she feared she wouldn’t survive and others when she was convinced that she wouldn’t.
Even when doctors declared the cancer was gone, she feared it would return. Each checkup with her oncology team brought new anxieties, but thankfully, even 20 years later she was still cancer-free.
Her fears persisted though, and one could understand why. In the years that followed, she struggled to find restoration in the relationships damaged by her emotional problems, and she continued to battle health problems – first a tumor (benign, thankfully), then hepatitis, kidney problems, heart disease, bypass surgery, diabetes… and so on.
At times she felt plagued. Maybe even picked-on. How could all this strife be God’s plan for her life? She feared her life would be cut short. She feared she wouldn’t even see her daughter grow up. But she knew God’s promise of restoration.
God makes all things new. He makes a pathway through the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Throughout all of this, Mom never lost faith. She trusted God. She praised Him. She believed in His promises and celebrated the promise of life with him.
Even when the physical attacks persisted, she fought with the ferocity of a lioness protecting a cub. She was intent on seeing her cub grow up and on seeing the renewal God promised.
I know she never thought she would see her fiftieth birthday, but she did. And then her fifty-first. And then more…
She persevered. She persisted with an infectiously joyful spirit that never ceased to make everyone around her laugh.
That stood true even in her final days, when her physical heart was failing. Alzheimer’s had taken its best shot to rob her of joy and dignity, and it failed to bring her down as well. She praised God in the midst of every battle, knowing that He and only He could make all things new.
My sweet, sassy mother lived to be 70 years old. When she closed her eyes the last time, she had been free from cancer for over 43 years.
Even in those final weeks, she still celebrated all God had done and was doing in her life. He had healed her physical body of so many problems. He had given her decades of complete freedom from symptoms of bipolar disorder. He’d brought newness and healing to her relationships with family and friends – and even with me. Especially with me. The difficult relationship I had with my Mom as a child was quite simply transformed by a loving and merciful God to become something beautiful, something to be treasured, and I am so grateful. He indeed made all things new for her and for us all.
Recently, when I flipped to Isaiah 43:19 in my Bible, I was again reminded of God’s promises for renewal. A few weeks after Mom passed away last year I began writing down many of my prayers in a journaling Bible. I recorded these words: “God, I know you are doing something new in me… I feel it in my stomach, in the unquiet part of my mind, the part that feels distress… Lord Jesus, please go alongside me. Lead me in every step. May I know and discern your voice and no other with each step I take. Quiet my thoughts and my pride and help me take action… just what you would have me do. I trust you, God… I give you my fears… my selfish wants and desires… Protect me, guide me, and anoint my journey. Praise you!”
He answers this prayer for me every day. In each day and in every moment He cuts through the wilderness for me. He creates rivers through every wasteland. He does indeed make all things new.
Compassion That Compels is a ministry and nonprofit with a simple mission to reach every woman battling cancer with a Compassion Bag, reminding them they are never alone. To donate, or to request a bag for someone you know, visit CompassionThatCompels.org.