My mom and I made peace 6 days before she passed away in 2002. Here is the story of how God healed my heart after she was gone. As you read, as yourself what chapter you are writing in the story of your own relationship with your mom. May my journey encourage you…
On May 10, 1963, two days before Mother’s Day, the following was written:
Looked all over for a Mother’s Day card. No luck. You know that I love you and think you’re the best mom ever. We get our little girl tomorrow. Hope you love our little one as much as we do. She’s lucky to have you for a grandma. I want something to love me as I do you…Don’t worry about me not being a good mother. I’ve had a wonderful example of how to love and be loved….”
Those words were penned one day before I went to live with my adoptive parents.
On July 1, 2001, I had the privilege of standing before my church family on that patriotic Sunday to describe the events that led to my adoption out of Iran. I explained how my parents, who were stationed with the Army in Tehran, were used by God to bring me, an abandoned orphan, to this country. I had no indication that my father would unexpectedly pass away only two weeks later and my mother would follow him a short eight weeks after that. But the story does not end there. Six days before my mother’s death, God’s providential hand led me to her bedside. Her expectant eyes greeted me. It was as I walked in on her thought process, for as I entered the room, she uttered the words, “You don’t deserve this.” Although I told her it was all right, in reality, I couldn’t have agreed with her more. As she lay covered on her bed, the only thing worse than her impending death was the blanket of superficiality which had covered our relationship the preceding 20 years. In a sense, I was dying too. My mental checklist of what I didn’t deserve and been written one page at a time for many years. I could have walked away from the relationship on a number of occasions and been justified in doing so – even as an adult with a life of my own. But I kept going back. Many times not knowing why. Mostly out of obligation as an only child. Even in the few months prior to my parents’ deaths, without my mother’s knowledge, I discovered lies and had childhood suspicions confirmed.
I was weary, troubled, angry, and even more upset that God had left me with the difficult parent. Now as the last chapter approached, the ink seemed indelible. And here I was…once again…with regrets of my own. Regrets that an ideal mother-daughter relationship would never be mine. My feelings had only been complicated with the onset of Alzheimer’s affecting her short-term memory. There were many times during the last few years that my life would have been much easier if she hadn’t recognized me. But now, as I sat by her bedside, her recognition became God’s gift. On this evening she was more lucid than I had witnessed in two years. There lay a woman, near death, completely burdened by the life she had lived and the choices she had made. She could no longer run from the hurt within her own heart. I needn’t be her judge. Her life had been her judgment. I could see it in her eyes. I took her shriveled hands – something I had not done in years – and in the sacred stillness of the room, the veils of hurt, unkind words, and misunderstanding were torn as she was drawn to Christ. I don’t know what God told her after she prayed, but with her eyes closed with peace replacing burden, all she could say was “Thank you, Jesus.” She had been touched by grace and would never be the same. I beheld God’s glory in her life that night. But sometimes that’s where you behold His glory – in the places you least expect to find it.
Although I had witnessed God’s grace, it was only the first step. Even with her gone, God knew that my peace with her was still needed to bring healing in my life. Only God would know how to accomplish this. On the anniversary of her birthday several months after her death, I prayed at the church alter that I would do whatever it took to have an impact for Christ. Unbeknownst to me, God’s journey took my inward – the crevices of my heart latent, unresolved struggles had found resting places for too many years. He knew what I didn’t – that I, too, could no longer run from the hurt within my own heart. God wanted me to behold His glory for myself. As God cast His mirror in my heart, He knew I would only accept my mother if I saw her doubts, hurts, and misconceptions reflected in my own life.The only difference was that my heart was covered in a veil of morality casting a self-righteous shadow over hers for so many years. While her heart was wrestling with unanswered questions, mine was smothering with all the right answers. A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, refers to the veil in our hearts, the veil of our self-life which must be destroyed by God before we are free. And that is what God did for my mother and me. He ripped away our faulty interpretations of our lives and resurrected our hearts with Him and with each other. The imagery of the cross is where His glory is displayed: vertically and horizontally as our reconciliation and/or peace takes place with God and with others.
What God wants to do in your life will far exceed your expectations. And like me, it may begin with healing a relationship. What are the veils of your self-life that need to be removed before a relationship can be resurrected? Justification? Hurt? Misconceptions? Pride? The answer is found in II Corinthians 3:16: “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Just as the veil was rent when Christ arose, the same power is available to you for the asking. God says it’s never too late.
But perhaps we don’t have an accurate view of what forgiveness really is and what it isn’t. John Ortberg, in his book Everybody’s Normal Til You Get to Know Them, explains what forgiveness is not:
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
Sometimes the hard-wiring of our brains aren’t created to forget. Precisely, I believe God wants us to remember so we can be intentional in our forgiving.
Forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciling.
Forgiveness can be granted even if the other person does not ask for it or deserve it. Reconciliation requires that the offender still be alive and be sincerely repentant of their wrongdoing.
Forgiveness is not excusing.
Forgiveness is not a denial of an offense.
Forgiveness is being aware that damage has been done.
So what IS forgiveness?
Forgiveness is giving up the right to hurt the person who has wronged you. We give up the quest to get even. It means letting God deal with the justice in the situation.
Forgiveness is a new way of seeing and feeling.
It’s a “bigger picture” perspective. While cleaning out papers, letters, post cards, and photos of my mother through her childhood and throughout her life, I came to know a woman who had been deeply hurt. My new way of seeing and feeling allowed God the opportunity to show me the heart of a person who had been hurt, rather than just seeing the hurt within my own heart.
Forgiveness is wishing the person well.
Forgiveness is a PROCESS. Several stages are experienced before the grieving and offended person can truly forgive. It doesn’t happen in a short cut fashion. It is a process that unravels the hurt and takes baby steps to the ultimate goal of letting the offender be released.
How and why should we as believers allow the miracle of forgiveness to occur in our lives? It occurs when we…
Acknowledge that God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it.
We think if we forgive someone it will let them off the hook, but, in reality, it is to let ourselves off the hook.
We think we keep the person in chains if we choose not to forgive. But what really happens is that we are imprisoned by our own bitterness, anger, and resentment that can easily become a stronghold in our lives.
God says it’s never too late.
Could it be that the personal story of God’s redemption in both my mother’s heart and my own had to take place so we would cry out to our Creator, the One who formed our hearts? The irony is that He mended hers while she lay on her deathbed and later mended mine as I worked through the process of forgiveness after her death. He gave us both a heart of flesh – which had replaced hearts of stone – while, at the same time, drawing us not only together, but to Himself.
I will see my mother again in heaven, and she may be the first one to greet me. This time, I will take her perfected hands, and we will walk the streets of gold and share our stories of how God resurrected both of our hearts.
Mom, on this Mother’s Day, I write the following:
I love you, I miss you, and more importantly, I accept you.”I have been touched by grace and will never be the same. And all I can say is “Thank you, Jesus.”