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.




Living Well

This summer I had an 11-week vacation.  Eleven weeks of no planes, conference calls or meetings.  The alarm clock also took a break.  I stayed up late, watched movies, read books or just goofed around with my boys. We spent four of those weeks on a 6,000 mile road trip.  We went to Saskatchewan to celebrate my in-laws 60th wedding anniversary.  The boys learned to drive farm trucks, tractors, a combine or two and jet skis.  We had close encounters with really big bears and swam in cold northern lakes.  Stories were shared around the campfire; we hung out with friends and got reacquainted as a family.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I began to relax.

But eventually, the 11 week vacation came to an end. August 15th to be exact.  And I am glad to be back at work.  What I do has meaning and makes a real difference.

In spite of all this, I still managed to figure out a way to get stressed.  To be honest, I wasn’t even aware how stressed I was until about three weeks into the vacation.  I remember the day I figured it out.  It was a Wednesday morning. I woke up refreshed and without a headache.  It was amazing.

Living with stress and low grade headaches is not fun.  It makes a person (me) grumpy and irritable.

As I have stepped back into the working world, one question in particular keeps haunting me – is it possible to live better and healthier?  I have come to believe that the answer has to be yes.  After all, it was Jesus who talked about the abundant life in John 10:10.

There I was, the director of a national ministry, and somehow, over a period of 16 years, my life had become less about living well and more about doing the job and being political.  I spent less time thinking about ministry and more thinking about management.  None of these changes where bad or wrong individually, but the cumulative effect was devastating.  The slide from abundance to stress happened slowly, almost seductively.

Now, on the other side of an 11-week break, I want to live better; be a better father, friend, husband and boss.

To be honest, I am still trying to figure out what all this means. I am convinced that following Jesus needs to much less about stress and more about living abundantly.  I need to focus less on management and more on caring.

Snow Day

I am writing this entry on March 24, 2010. It is 7 AM and the house is quiet. Denver Public Schools just announced that classes have been canceled because of snow. When I told my boys, they grunted in acknowledgment and rolled over in bed. I will not hear from them until noon. It still amazes me how they can sleep for 14 hours straight. Days like today are a gift. A break from the routine.

It is nice to be reminded that our lives do not have to be defined by how busy we are. It is OK to take a day and just be. No agenda. No rush hour traffic to deal with. Today will be a day to just hang out and see what happens. Maybe watch a family movie and eat popcorn.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus reminded his followers that they did not have to be defined by their busyness either. He said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

If this is true, then why are our lives so defined by how busy we are?

It is not unusual for me to be in a conversation with a pastor or ministry leader and hear about his or her desperate need for a mental health break. Life has become so overwhelming that they just need to escape.

Did Jesus just get it wrong? Is the weariness and the burdens of life just too much for him to handle? Or maybe Jesus was talking about the rest we will get after this life is over. I personally do not think so.

Is it possible that we are too busy because we are unwilling to share the load with Jesus? Could it be our pride that prevents us from resting? I am not sure, but I am going to think about it today!