This was originally published by & for Irving Bible Church. Just wanted you guys who don’t attend to see it.
It was the spring of 2006 when my mom started in-home hospice care at the much-too-young age of 64. The doctor said her journey would take somewhere between 3 to 6 months, so my younger sister and I made plans to spend as much time as possible with her. This meant my weeks were a blur with work and my weekends were a jumble of stand-by flights.
My mom enjoyed the time, too. She’d tape “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” all week and save them for when we were there so we could play them together. She’d tell us stories we might not have heard about our family. She’d light up telling us stories about falling in love with Dad. She’d crack jokes about how my seminary education would pale in comparison to how much she’d know about Jesus in a few months. Ever the teacher, my mother. And the lesson was how to finish what we call “the race” well.
One of the lessons was that she’d apologize for what she perceived to be poor parenting as certain events would come to mind. One such apology was for letting my dad and his brothers take me and my cousins inner-tubing behind the ski boat after they’d had maybe more than a little beer. “We knew they’d probably had a little more than they should’ve, but the river was really wide and drinking and driving didn’t have the negative stigma in the ‘70’s as it does today.” Funny girl, my mom.
One of the more serious apologies involved not sending me to a counselor after my dad died when I was 13. “I was a widow at 36 with a teenager and an 8-year-old. I’m not sure I was thinking straight during those years. You seemed happy enough. And I’ll be honest, people saw counseling as a sign of weakness back in those days. If I had a big do-over, I think I’d have sent you, and I’m really sorry I didn’t.”
The lesson (and she, of all people, would know) there is that life can get hard sometimes…and we need to be honest enough with ourselves to be authentic and admit we need help. No need for a false face. Our hard seasons might be professional in nature, or parenting (spoiler alert: even the empty nest stage has challenges) issues, marriage/single stuff, tragedy, etc. Enough said. You get it. That needing help lesson is based on solid stuff, too, as believers we know that it’s good to have community to walk alongside us in the stuff, and pros who can help when that’s needed.
For over a decade, I’ve had a group of guys who know me but are not in any way impressed by my theological training or pastoral status. This is largely because my resume doesn’t compare with theirs but also because we’ve lived an awful lot of life together. They, in our vernacular, “speak into my life.” On occasion, as needed, let’s just say that my mom’s words that stayed on my brain’s hard drive have freed me up to call in some pros who know what they’re doing take a look at my brain’s hard drive.
And, you know, I’ve learned a few things from those informal and professional folks who’ve spoken into my life.
Things like, Eugene Peterson was right when he said, “Spiritual formation is a slow business.” I’m a work in progress, and even after some 31 years of getting serious about following Jesus, there are a lot of blind spots that need mirrors and weeds that need Roundup. It really does speed up the process if you have a band of brothers/sisters to sharpen you as you sharpen them…and it’s okay to find professionals if you need to. That stigma my mom mentioned (if was ever there) is long gone.
Things like, I need to accept God’s grace to me and give it to others. Part of that slow business is making sure we aren’t sending a message to those we’re walking worthy with that says something like, “We’re glad you’re here, but maybe clean your act up a little bit first.” That slow business of the spiritual life means letting the Holy Spirit change hearts and minds of others. That’s his job. Ours is to give grace and space in the process…the kind we’d like others to give us.
Things like, the reality that there’s a certain inherent integrity in authenticity. If we stop pretending, we expose the pretentiousness of others. It’s our fears and/or insecurities that cause us to show others only Facebook feed of our lives…and I hope that we’re known for our integrity in our small groups rather than shiny happy people who let fear keep them from growing in him.
So, yeah. I can be a mess…but learning those lessons has helped me be a transforming mess. Some of that messiness goes back to the years my mom unnecessarily apologized for. Some of it is from the brand new ways I chose to goof up this morning. But you know, I’ve got folks I love and love me. I’ve got time to let God work in and through me in ways that you may not like what you see but what you see will be real.
And today, I’m thankful for sermons like Andy preached on Sunday…and I’m thankful that families like IBC exist so we can be reminded that authenticity spurs each one of us on as we walk together.