My mom recently passed away at age 95. She lived a long and joyful, but also painful, life. She was known for her beautiful smile (even when she was old and had lost several teeth) and shining gray eyes that somehow twinkled. It was certainly not the color of her eyes that gave them their sparkle. Something within her lit her up so intensely that it beamed out of her through welcoming eyes and a generous smile.
In the past seven years I spent a good bit of time with her. She had developed a habit of spending time in prayer before she got out of bed, and then she would come out for breakfast. On her trek to the kitchen with her walker, she would stop and lift her hands up into the air while looking out the nearest window. She would then quote her own version of Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” It actually says, “…let us rejoice…”, but she had made it her own and was reminding herself that she wanted to make a conscious decision to honor the Lord with a joyful attitude throughout her day.
She certainly intended to rejoice. This year I am reading through one of her many devotional journals and in it she routinely acknowledged her inner struggle in regard to rejoicing. She knew she didn’t do it perfectly. She failed at it often. Mom was easily stressed and discouraged. She recalibrated her attitude every day, though. She faithfully sought the Lord each morning and desired to reflect Him…even in her weakness and imperfect ways.
Mom’s trademark or logo was the butterfly. She loved butterflies and had butterfly everything…scarves, jewelry, socks, blouses, pottery, paintings, napkin rings, stationary…you name it, she had it with butterflies on it! The butterfly really is a fascinating creature. We know that it starts out as a caterpillar. It’s not pretty to most people. It ends up spinning a cocoon to hole up in until it has transformed into a graceful, colorful, gentle beauty with wings to carry it lightly into the air, to land in beautiful places and to drink the nectar of exotic plants. It’s a symbol of hope, freedom, renewal and transformation. I understand why she chose this animal to be her personal mascot…the creature she desired to be like.
Mom definitely had her time of being trapped in a cocoon. She was a work in progress, like all of us. Her emotional weakness was in the process of being transformed by her faith after she became a Christian as a 44-year-old woman. It was not instant, but rather was a daily…sometimes moment by moment…struggle to become more like Christ and to have complete reliance on Him. She suffered in many ways, continuously because of illness, aging, and frailty, sometimes because of her own choices, but mostly because of the choices of others. She chose forgiveness of the deepest wounds. Her love for people was so pure. She prayed earnestly for those who had some trial or affliction…enough so that their pain became her pain to some degree, and she would wrestle with the Lord on behalf of their suffering.
In looking at the verse I saw and heard her quote daily with her body, soul, and voice, I have to examine it and understand more about it. For me it’s just too simplistic. I, too, have my own grief and strife, and take on the suffering of others, having been given the spiritual gift of empathy (which often feels heavy when I don’t rightly place responsibility on the Lord to bring comfort, healing, or hope). I went searching for verses that address “rejoicing” and I found one that fits my approach to life better than the one that she chose to fit hers. I found Psalm 31:7 that says “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and know the anguish of my soul.”
This speaks to me in a deeper way. I want to rejoice too, but I want to acknowledge to the Lord each day that the path I have to take to be able to rejoice is to first have Him see my ongoing hurt and anguish that never fully leaves.
I will make the choice to delight in my relationship with the Lord and in the day He has given me, but not without a recognition that there is pain in this world, in this day, and in my own soul. There are hurts that may never go away. There is loss and grief, and I never want to pretend to be joyful by denying the pain, but rather by embracing the pain, giving it directly to God, and discovering joy in knowing He is caring for my soul in the midst of the mess.
In memory of my mother, I decided to do a butterfly attraction garden. In my research for this memorial, I learned that only 2 or 3 out of 100 caterpillars become butterflies. The rest don’t make it because of a hostile environment. So, this seemingly fragile, delicate wonder has actually weathered danger and hostility to come forth as its shining, joyful self. What an encouragement!
When you see a butterfly…whether real or a likeness of one…I hope you will consider what it means to rejoice and be glad in the deepest sense. Reflect on the fact that all does not have to be right in your life for you to experience joy. Remember that you can be in the cocoon of disappointment, grief, or struggle and yet come forth into the light and choose to be transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit to create something beautiful in the midst of a drab and grey confinement.
May the next sunrise you see cause you to stop in your tracks and pause to remember that THIS is the day the Lord has made, and He is calling us to rejoice and be glad in it, even if there is simultaneous pain in your life. Acknowledge the suffering or struggle, give it to Him, and wait for the transformation in your soul. Have a blessed Mother’s Day, everyone. I will be missing my mom this Sunday but rejoicing that she is absent from her cancer-filled body, and present with the Lord.