Mother’s Day

While most of the people I know celebrated Mother’s Day on May 11, I waited a week. It was 11 years ago on May 18 that my mother passed away. To be honest May Mom18 has never gotten any easier for me. Time does not seem to heal all wounds. I miss my mom a whole lot. For years people have told me that she is in a better place. On one level I can accept that sentiment, but there is a whole other side of me that completely rejects the idea. It was almost 20 years ago at the Christmas dinner table that my Mom wondered aloud if she would ever become a grandmother. At that point Rita and I had been married for eight years; apparently we needed to produce a grandchild. Without going in to all the details, Christmas dinner the following year included a grandchild and the following year we added a second grandbaby.

My mother loved her grandchildren and my boys adored their grandmother. There are memories I have of my mother and boys that are as strong today as the moment they happened. I can still see the four of them (grandpa included) playing Chutes and Ladders for hours on end in a cabin on Prince Edward Island. There were the summers my parents came to Denver in their motor home and every morning I would watch the boys sneak out the house and into the motorhome for breakfast with grandma and grandpa.

When grandma died, my boys cried a whole lot. Then 11 years went by. The other day I asked one of my boys what he remembered about grandma. He was quiet for a while and then said not much. It almost broke my heart.

Is grandma in a better place? The answer is complicated. I am glad her suffering is over. My mother was never a healthy person and towards the end of her life things became increasingly unbearable. I remember the day when my prayers switched from “God please heal her” to “please take her home to be with you.”

Why is it that God didn’t answer the first prayer but did answer the second? My youngest graduate’s high school this month. For the most part he grew up without grandma Balzer. On this particular week I am not happy with God. My boys are better people for having had my mother in their lives, for that I am thankful. But her time with them was far too short and memories have faded, and that makes me sad and even a little upset with God. Is heaven really a better place for her? She still had work to do here, especially with her grandchildren.

A little over 11 years ago I wrote this as a tribute to my mother:

Today is a day about remembering, with honor and love, the life of my mother, Bertha Balzer. And if I am going to be honest – I have to tell you that this is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

How does a son memorialize his mother? What do I say that will be of encouragement to you - family and friends?

Earlier this month my sister Sharon and I were able to visit with mom about this service and she had her own ideas about how this memorial should be conducted. She did not want this to be an unhappy occasion, but rather a celebration – a celebration of a life well lived.

When I asked mom how she wanted to be remembered without hesitation she said, “As a person who loved people.” For the past three weeks, I have had the opportunity to reflect on this and I would have to agree – my mother was a person who knew how to love.

Just ask my father – for 40 years their love for each other blossomed – in spite of mom’s health. It almost seemed that as mom’s health declined their love for each other grew. As I have struggled with this meditation, I wish I could give some clear-cut reason why my mother had to suffer so, but I cannot. I cannot explain why suffering exists in a universe created by a loving God. But the same God who loved the world enough to give us Jesus also knew my mother’s pains and sorrows.

This sanctuary is full of people who have been touched by my mother’s love.

As a sister, she always spoke well of her siblings and she adored her nieces and nephews. Visiting relatives was always a priority. 

She became a nurse because she wanted to care for people, not just their bodies – but their souls as well.

As a mother, Bertha knew what it was to love so deeply that tears would often well up as she spoke about and prayed for her children. The house was never as important as the people who occupied it. And work never took precedence over family. For Mom family was much more than blood – once you were in there was no way out. 

As a friend Mom knew how to find the best in people. I cannot recall my mother ever saying an unkind word about anybody.

In her role as a “pastor’s wife” Mom knew how to support her husband – not as a tag along, but as an equal partner. For Mom the calling was not just Dad’s, but theirs. She knew the key to ministry, you could see it in her face, feel it in her touch, and experience it in her presence – she loved people - unconditionally. She knew how to put people at ease. When someone needed to talk Mom knew how to listen. When compassion was required Mom knew how to weep. She knew that being a help-mate meant helping others find and experience a loving, caring and compassionate God. It meant helping her husband, children, and grandchildren in the battle for their faith. It meant being a rock to cling to in troubled times. My mother knew that strength was more than muscles – it was an inner spiritual fortitude – nurtured through a life of prayer. Her love was something that strengthened everyone who came in touch with her. 

Her desire to have grandchildren was made crystal clear to Rita and me 10 Christmas’s ago when around the dinner table my mother, my timid mother, lamented that she would die before she became a Gramma – talk about “loving” pressure. In her role as Gramma my mother demonstrated new depths in her ability to love. Kyle, Quinten and Lillie will forever be shaped by Gramma Balzer’s love for them. 

The words of the country music song say, “I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.” My mother, Bertha Balzer, chose well. She chose people over programs, family over work, prayer over business, and love over things. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest is love.” 

This morning through tears we have gathered to say good-bye. It is hard to do this. I don’t know what Christmas without mom is going to be like. But we must say good-bye. And we must keep hold of the many wonderful memories we have of her. We can celebrate the fact that she lived her life well. That she touched so many - so deeply.  

Bertha, a mother, a wife, a sister, an aunt, and a friend is now at peace. She has fought the good fight and has run the race to the finish line. God has now welcomed Bertha into a new heavenly home – a place where pain and poor health are no more. 

Today I am reminded of the biblical story of Enoch a man who was known for two things – he walked with God and never died. Scripture says that God translated him directly from life on earth to being in the presence of God in heaven. 

A young girl was once asked by her Sunday school teacher to tell the story of Enoch in her own words. She said, “Well, Enoch and God were good friends. And they used to take long walks in Enoch’s Garden. One day God said, ‘Enoch, you look tired. Why don’t you come to my place and rest a while?’ And so he did.” In a sense God has said the same thing to my mother: “Bertha you look tired, you have run a good race, you have been faithful to your calling – why don’t you come to my place and stay and rest?” 

So let us rejoice in the life of Bertha Balzer and know that she is at peace! Amen.

 

 

 

Entitlement and the young adult

I have been working with youth and young adults for well over two decades now.  During this time I have also become a parent of two young adult boys (men).  I say this because I am not innocent of the issues I want to raise. 2013-12-27 12.59.34

We live in an era when parents are more involved in the lives of their emerging adult children than ever.  This didn’t just happen. Concerned parents have been there at every step, from planned play dates and selecting the right pre-school to hiring tutors and college prep coaches; we have wanted nothing but the best for our children.  Smart phones and social media have allowed instant and continuous access to literally everything our children do and are engaged in.  It might even be an understatement to say that parents have embraced these tools fully.  The jury is still out as to the benefits and costs of this level of social media.  It is not a stretch to suggest that these instantaneous connections slow down the “letting go” process.

It makes sense that letting go is not easy for either the parents or the young adult children.  What we sometimes fail to recognize is the cost to this extended and intense connection.  A grown child’s dependence on the parent to always be present, always come through, and always be available delays adulthood and creates a level of personal entitlement that stunts social development.

In the last few years I have seen this play out in all kinds of unhealthy ways.  Parents have inserted themselves into the crises and stresses of their young adult’s experiences in our Dwell program.  At DOOR, Dwell is a program that invites young adults to spend a year living in intentional community exploring the call of God on their lives.  During their year all kinds of issues and stresses arise from the mundane, like deciding who will cook dinner and how to keep the house clean, to the serious, like how to deal with health concerns or a co-worker who is acting inappropriate.

In the last few years it has become increasingly common for parents to insert themselves into the “crisis.”  Their reasoning is always good, “I am just looking out for the well-being of my child.”  As a parent I understand these fears and concerns all too well, so I am also speaking to myself. Our young adult children will never become mature functioning adults if we, the parents, keep inserting ourselves in their crises, attempting to be the hero and fix everything.

Deep down all of us know that failure and stress are the things that develop character.  Rescuing only creates dependence and immaturity.  It is a natural impulse for parents to protect their children, but there also comes a time when we need to let our children fight their own battles, even when they beg us to fight on their behalf.

Words of Comfort

I remember the first funeral I officiated at like it was yesterday.  She had passed away quietly of old age.  In an effort figure out what to say at the service I arranged to meet with the family a couple of days before the service, my goal was to get to “know” this lady.  I would weave what I learned into the meditation.  Imagine my surprise when the entire family agreed that they were glad that she had finally died.  Apparently she was mean, angry and insufferable for as far back as anyone could remember.  It was not an easy first funeral, but I must have done OK because afterwards a deacon came and thanked me for “finding just the right words” for such a difficult situation. That was over 20 years ago.  I have officiated at many funerals since and figuring out what to say has not gotten any easier.

What do you say to the grieving parents who have just suffered to loss of a newborn baby?

How do you comfort a grieving newlywed whose husband has just died of leukemia?

Where do you find words of comfort for others who are mourning the death of your mother?

What do you say when a loving husband of 50+ years finally slips into eternity?

How do you tell your children that grandpa isn’t coming back?

Finding words of comfort is never easy.  Death is scary.  Sometimes in the rush to be pastoral and comforting it is easy to say all the wrong things for all the right reasons.  The twelve words at the top of this list are: “If given the opportunity to come back, they would choose to stay.”

Really, is this the kind of God we serve?  A God who intentionally keeps loved ones apart from each other?

My mother died 8 years ago.  I cannot imagine a scenario where my boys are better off because she has gone to a “better place.”  If I tell my boys that grandma doesn’t want to come back, how are they supposed to understand that?  That grandma doesn’t love them anymore?  Telling grieving families that loved ones would choose not to come back makes God seem mean, self-centered and small.

As Christians our faith does talk about the hope of life beyond death, this hope should be talked about at funerals.  Turning the hope of heaven and reunion into “I don’t love you anymore” is wrong.

Funeral

My friend Steve did a funeral last week.  The man was well into his 80’s.  He died alone in his apartment and he was not discovered until the smell became overwhelming for nearby tenants.  Other than Steve and some leaders from his church, no one else showed up for the service.  As far as could be determined he had no friends or family. I live in Denver, it’s a big city and there are lots of people.  How does a person end up completely alone?

This is the season of Easter.  Jesus came to bring us life.  Living and dying alone hardly sounds like life.  It sounds more like a living hell.

I remember as a kid hearing a poem about footprints in the sand.  It talks about Jesus walking with us through all the ups and downs of life.  It ends with Jesus saying, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”  I have always been moved by the idea of Jesus being present – no matter what.

Did this man sense Jesus’ presence when he died?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that Christians have been called to be Jesus’ representatives right here, right now.  There is no evidence that any of Jesus’ representatives were present as this man died.

I am still struggling with what all this means.

I am convinced that no one should have to die alone.

Better Mistakes

I turn 45 this month. Generally I try to ignore my birthday.  For reasons I do not fully understand, this birthday seems different. I have crossed a line. I am no longer referred to as “young.”  My hair color can best be described as “grey.”  And later this year, my wife and I will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary.  Spun more positively, I am gaining experience. Aging does have benefits. The other day someone told me that I now have the opportunity to make “better mistakes.”  My resume is full of lousy mistakes.  I have hurt people by talking first and thinking second.  More than once I have chosen second or third best because I lacked the patience to consider all the options.  The word, “Sorry,” has not been used nearly enough in my conversations with others.  I have misjudged people too often for superficial reasons.

I doubt any of us will arrive at a “mistake free” existence anytime soon.  We all blow it from time-to-time.

My hope for my next 45 years is that I will make better mistakes. I want to do more thinking and less talking.  I want stop and think before rushing in and choosing the easiest option.  I want to spend more time apologizing and less time defending. I want to hear a person’s story before I jump to conclusions.

I want to better live out the Apostle Paul’s more excellent way. I want to choose to love first and make better mistakes.