I first learned about God through my mom—listening to her and watching her. She was a woman of faith for sure. She loved both God and the Church. And she struggled with them both. I believed in God and God’s love for me, because she did. I believe God reached out to me through her and then I reached back to God. Mom also feared God in ways that caused us both some problems. I emerged from childhood with the uncomfortable sense that God, not unlike Santa Claus, was keeping a list and checking it far more than twice. God loved me—but if I screwed up… well, that’s where faith seemed to get dicey, and my experience of God and God’s love for me felt pretty conditional.
Fast forward a couple decades. I’m married with children. Still a believer. Still praying and still going to church. I had decided along the way that God, while still loving, was occupied with the big issues—war, famine, poverty—and I was expected to be responsible for myself, my life, my loved ones, etc.
At some point my then-husband and I embarked on a new-church search that ultimately landed us in a Presbyterian congregation up in Bel Air. It was there that I heard about Grace. What a revelation! What a relief! God used the pastor, his sermons and our conversations, and even the sanctuary itself—to reveal a whole new understanding of God and how God operates. It was as if God popped the lid off my spirit. The List faded. God was big enough to handle all the wars and pestilences AND STILL have time and passion for me and my small life.
At that same time, my mom was aging and relying increasingly on me both emotionally and financially. As she declined, she leaned on me such that I thought I would suffocate. Her need had an overwhelming depth. It seemed I could not possibly meet my responsibility to her. I found myself back in that place where I feared God was checking God’s list—and I wasn’t measuring up.
By then, I was meeting regularly with my pastor for what I now understand was spiritual direction. Each time, we talked about God and prayer and faith and life… and each time my angst around my mom worked its way into the conversation. Then two things happened.
First, my pastor offered me an image of the artist’s Canvas as a metaphor for my relationship with my mom. Before painting on a canvas, the artist decides its size and dimensions. Then she paints the finest picture she can on that particular canvas. Likewise with relationships. I might discern in conversation with God, what the size and dimension of my relationship with my mother would be. Another revelation! More Grace!
The second thing: Around that time I had a dream. It’s the only one of its kind I ever had. I feel awkward telling you about it. On the couch one evening, I was thinking/praying about all this—my mom, her aging, her unquenchable need, the Canvas—and wondering where God was in it all. What did God want of me in this? I dozed off. And I was in my mom’s house in Cape May, standing in her kitchen looking into the living room where she lay asleep on the couch (as she often did in the evenings). Through the front door came Jesus—the childhood storybook Jesus with white skin, blue eyes, long hair, and a long white robe (silly really). He walked to my mom and bent over and kissed her on the forehead. As he did, he turned his head and looked straight into me. The Message: “I’m taking care of her.”
That’s it. I awoke dumbfounded. Of course! Of course, God loved her and was taking care of her! God was not wanting me to be God for her. God wanted me to get in on what God was ALREADY doing with and in and for my mother. God wanted me to get to work on my new Canvas—to HELP care for her AND to experience God’s love and amazing grace in the process.
Some years later, I sat with my mom, as she took her last breath in the early hours of that day. She had lived her worst nightmare—dementia and ultimately nursing-home care. She had been in a coma for 10 long days—tenacious to the last. A nurse came in. “She’s gone!” I said, while both laughing and crying. I know she thought I was nuts! But I knew I was not. I was just basking in the knowledge that God was there in that room with us—had been in the thick of it with us all along. And Mom now knew it too. It was all pure Grace. Amen.