There may be no more of a life-altering event than losing a parent. I lost my father to divorce when I was five. Now, more than three decades later, my mother is gone from cancer. Rather than losing a person, I feel as if I have lost my homeland — the country from which I sprang, the places I once roamed and the customs and characters that filled it.
I am an exile who can never return home.
Yet, one of the things my mom did really well was to ensure that my brother and I had a larger image of life than the three-person kingdom that comprised our family. She took us travelling, first from our country farm in Oregon to the coast of Maine, then to Israel to tour of the Holy Land, and finally to Australia where we lived for a year while she illustrated books for Aboriginal Australians learning to read and write their own language.
She gave us independence by refusing to limit her life to ours, pursuing her art and friends and activities such as learning to fly small aircraft and earning her pilot’s license while I was in high school. When I left for college, with my brother already gone, she rented out our house and enrolled in seminary to pursue a long-time dream of becoming a linguist and Bible translator.
With no home to return to, I spent the following summer living with a couple from church and later worked as a live-in nanny, making me resourceful and confident. I could take care of myself because I needed to.
Most importantly, Mom put God first, revealing that true faith requires action. From the time we were little, she encouraged us to seek God’s plan for our lives just as she actively pursued his plans for her. This plan, I’ve learned, always involves serving others.
Mom didn’t have time to complete the project on which she’d spent nearly two decades working. Yet she died pursuing something of such great value that it will far outlive her in the changed hearts and lives of those will one day receive it.
Realizing how little time she had – how little time we all have – I am challenged to reexamine my own choices. How am I raising my kids? Am I working to enrich my life or to enrich the lives of others?
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” the missionary Jim Elliot, whose story is told in the movie The End of the Spear, once wrote.
Or as Jesus says in Mark 8:35-36, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
My mom gave all she had in exchange for that which could never be taken away. Now, as I navigate a new land, it’s my turn to consider what I’m pursuing and what legacy I’ll leave behind.