Sometimes people make well-meaning statements when they are trying to comfort others about things which they have no personal experience. Fortunately, and somehow, as a young pastor I knew not to say, “I know how you feel” unless I had been through what the other person was going through. It’s Pastoring 101.
I now know how you feel if you’re someone who has lost their momma.
My mom, Melba Ruth Graham, went home to be with the Lord on Aug. 21 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and related illnesses. Even though our family knew her home going was inevitable, it knocked my world off its axis when it actually happened. I’m still adjusting. I’m sure I’ll be adjusting for some time to come.
My mom was incredible. She was strong, and strong-willed, and my brother, sister and I needed her to be. She was driven, successful, sarcastic, engaging, plainspoken, loving, loved beautiful sunsets, and so much more. My mom wasn’t perfect, but she was authentic in every way.
Those first hours after her passing were surreal, experiencing for the first time what it is like to be without my mom. We were at mom’s house and I was walking my little sister and brother-in-law to their car. “I feel like I’ve landed in a strange country not knowing the language,” I said. A dear pastor friend described it best when he said it really doesn’t matter how old you really are, “You’re just 9 years old when your mother dies.” It’s devastating.
That is just how I feel.
Yes, I am thankful for the truth that, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Mom is indeed walking streets of gold, no longer bound by a broken body. Only one problem, my heart isn’t ready for what my mind knows and believes. It’s hurting. She is in “the sweet by and by.” We are still coping with the “nasty here and now.” This strange land has a name: “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.”
At the receiving of friends prior to mom’s funeral, Tennessee Baptist Convention staff and pastors from Tennessee who recently lost their moms passed by. Without them saying a word, I knew they knew what my family was feeling which leads me to another Pastoring 101 lesson: The Power of Presence.
Nothing says, “I care” more loudly than just being there. While I learned that lesson early on, I think I first heard Bobby Welch use the phrase. Some things are impossible to verbalize or explain. The mere presence of a friend in times of mourning shouts volumes of compassion. Nothing needs to be said. Explanations and platitudes are unnecessary. The sight of you says it all.
The Psalmist didn’t write, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you’ll talk me through it.” He said, “Thou art with me.” In the Great Commission Jesus says, “I am with you always.” God’s promise to Joshua was, “As I was with Moses, so I’ll be with you.” In our failures, He is with us. In the hardest assignments, He is with us. In loneliness, He is with us. In life’s deepest valleys, He is with us. In great joy or overwhelming grief, God is with us.
We have this immovable anchor for our souls: The Man of Sorrows, Jesus, completely acquainted with grief. He knows perfectly well how we feel and He Himself is present with us. And because of that, despite sorrows and difficulties, it is a joy to be on this journey with you, even through the valley.
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