Visits From A Man Named Nobody 65

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 65

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Paul considered the thought. It was good moral premise. It even made him consider the religion for an instant, but that made him think of Bill. The next moment, he was a teenager hearing the man he’d thought of as a father had died. The most exemplary Christian Paul could ever name was ripped away from a family. 

He opened his mouth to ask how his mother could love the same God who took Bill away, but that would only hurt her, and he didn’t want to do that. Instead, he changed the subject.

“I think about you plenty,” he said. “I’ll do a better job visiting and calling more often.”

“I appreciate that,” she replied, “but I understand you’re busy, and you’re building a life for yourself. When you were a child, I had a greater role in your life, and you had fewer influences. Frankly, the size of your world was much smaller.”

She smiled  at him, causing her brown eyes brighten. “I remember when your world was little more than our house and a video arcade. You’re older; your world is bigger; but I know you love me.”

“You’re saying I should let Lidia and Jordan have their space, and that they still love me,” Paul said. “Whether I’m the same size in a bigger world or they’re just with me less, it still feels like a loss.”

His mother shrugged. “Nothing in this world is permanent.” She pointed her fork at him. “And that’s why it’s important to make the most of whatever time you get with anyone. Let the time you have with people be about love and fellowship. That way, when those people aren’t in our lives anymore, for whatever reason, we have all those happy memories to hold on to. Isn’t that better than just being angry and resentful and arguing?” She returned to using her fork to eat rather than emphasize her words.

Paul chuckled at her. “No matter what happens, I love you, mom.”

She looked at him and smiled. “That’s so sweet. Now, eat your food. I figure we could enjoy some nostalgia tonight.”

“Nostalgia?” He cocked his head in confusion.

“I still have our game. It’s saved on the console just where we left it,” she said.

“Does that thing still work?” Hadn’t he thrown it away? Maybe that was an older system. No, he distinctly remembered …

“I started it up and played a second or two,” she said. “Still seems to work.”

“But didn’t I throw it away?” Paul was more certain every second he thought about it.

“I don’t know what anybody else did with it,” she said with a bit too much innocence in her tone,” but I found it, and when I realized it still worked, I put it away for just such an occasion. I suppose I’ll finish it alone if you don’t want to play it with me.”

“I didn’t say that!” The thought of her finishing the game on her own gave him a strange blend of remorse and betrayal. 

“OK then,” she said. “I think it’s been far too long since we’ve finished that game”

“Have you even touched a controller in the last six years?” He couldn’t keep the grin off his face.

“I just said I played a few seconds, so yes. Besides, how many video games have you played in the last six years?”

He stared at her. She had a point. The project had taken up pretty much all of his time and effort, at least when a girl wasn’t involved.

“Let’s do it.” He dug into his food, genuinely excited to play a kids game with his mother.

… The End of Chapter eighteen …

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 64

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 64

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She smiled at him. “Of course I miss you, and, if I’m being honest, sometimes I get a little jealous. I just have to remember that while you are my son, you’re not my property.”

Paul chuckled. It was very similar to the point Nobody had made. But it didn’t answer his question. “But how do you remind yourself that?”

“I think I’m different from you there. You’re supposed to leave me to find a wife,” she gave him another shameless grin.

“Mom, I told you-“

“You’re making up excuses because you don’t think you’re worthy of having a wife.” Her face hardened the moment she said it. She gave him stern look. “That’s a lie! Life is a series of choices. Sometimes people make the wrong ones. A lot of people fail to make the correct ultimate choice. But even if you never make that choice, you don’t have to be like your father, and this nonsense that you’re destined to be like him is only a self-fulfilling prophecy if you focus on that rather than just giving your love to the woman who is lucky enough to choose you.”

“Stacy was a wonderful girl,” Paul frowned as he looked down and picked at his food with his fork. 

“Wonderful girls don’t cheat on their boyfriends,” his mother replied. 

“You’re being inconsiderate,” Paul said flatly. “Yeah, she shouldn’t have cheated, and the most painful part is she apologized for doing it. Meanwhile, I ignored her. I never spoke to her. I pretty much only used her.”

“So learn from that,” she said. “For one, remember to truly invest in whatever partner you choose. Don’t use them to gratify your physical desire. Simply appreciate them and care for them. The thing you should learn from her is something we should learn from anyone who sins against us.”

“What’s that?” Paul asked.

She looked at him. “No amount of wrong someone does to you permits you to do wrong.”

He rolled his eyes. “So you’re saying a guy should let someone steal or assault him and just let it go?”

“Or a guy could lock his house and buy an alarm system and maybe defend himself without attacking, smart guy.” She furrowed her eyebrows, annoyed at his half-hearted witticism.  “It’s not OK to lie just because others lie. It’s not OK to kill just because others kill. It’s not OK to commit adultery just because others commit adultery. If one person hurting another made it OK for people to respond in kind, then the world would devolve into a planet of animals.”

Paul tried to press his lips together. This conversation was a set up, and he knew it, but she’d gotten him bantering, and she knew he could’t resist the debate. Eventually, he caved. “So what are we supposed to do?”

“Forgive.” She said. 

He stared at her as if she just suggested a person learn to sprout wings and fly off. “That’s it.”

She nodded. “The hardest thing to do is learn to forgive, but it’s what I wanted. It’s what I needed. So why, if I’m so hungry to be forgiven, shouldn’t I find it in my heart to forgive?”

“If that’s true why don’t you call-up the bio-dad and tell him you forgive him.” The words flew out of his mouth. They were insensitive. It was a crass, hurtful thing to say, and for no other reason than to win an argument.

“Actually,” she said softly. “I went and visited him in prison to offer my forgiveness.” He stared at her. His mouth opened and closed a few times, but he couldn’t possibly imagine what he would say. 

“I only visited him one time,” she said. “I’m not really sure what else to do, but I didn’t want that resentment anymore. I didn’t want that anger. So I let it go, and the way I did it was remembering all the things I’ve done.”

“You’ve never done anything as bad as what he did.” Some of the words sounded more like an animal’s growl than actual words. It was all Paul could do to keep from shouting.

“Oh if only it were that simple,” she said. She held a hand in front of herself horizontally. “This is all the wrong I’ve done in my life.” She placed her other hand far below the first. “And this is your father. At least as you describe it. Sure, I’ve done wrong, but the things your father did are so much lower and so much more awful.”

She raised her first hand almost like a student in class and pointed upward. “But how does any human look compared to a perfect and holy God? All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Paul flung his hands in the air in frustration. “How perfect and holy can a being be to allow that man to do what he did?”

“Would you rather be a machine?” she asked. “Would you rather have no choice? Would you be human if you didn’t have the capacity to choose? People always get that question wrong. They ask, ‘Why would God allow these things to happen?’ But the better question is, ‘Why do we keep choosing to do the wrong thing when God gave us a way to do the right thing?’ We can’t cry out for freedom to choose and then be shocked when some choose to do evil, especially when we want to use the sins of others to justify our own.”

Paul stared at her. It wasn’t blind religion. It wasn’t pseudo philosophy. It was simple reason. 

“Did you plan this?” he asked her.

She chuckled. “I’m not nearly so calculating, but I’m your mother. Anyone who’s talking to you better be very careful with what they say and think. But don’t miss my point, Son. I forgave your father because it was the right thing to do, but more so because that’s what I wanted. I want to be forgiven for how I let him do what he did to you. I want to be forgiven for so much more than that. And if that’s what I want, then that has to be what I’m willing to give. That’s what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.”

… to be continued ..

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 63

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 63

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Eighteen

November 20, 2036, 2:21 p.m. 

14 Years, 13 Days Ago

Paul felt truly excited to be approaching his home. He hadn’t seen his mother in quite a while. He couldn’t help looking out of the car window during each turn. A smile came on his face. He spoke with his mother here and there about life and how things were going, but he hand’t been home since Christmas the year before. He took a short flight to get most of the way, some 200 miles, and sent a message for a ride the rest of the way.

The vehicle he was in turned the corner, and the smile on Paul’s face melted in to shock. A black, four-door car sat in the driveway. Paul’s PID dinged, and he jumped a the noise. It was just the driver connecting with his unit to collect the fair for his ride from the airport. Paul slowly got out of the car in a daze. 

It was the same color, make, and model. Paul reached out and touched the car, scrambling to think about what it meant. Maybe it was just the same type of car. It wasn’t like there was only one black car in all the world.

He tired the rear door, surprised it opened. He leaned in, looking at the center console. There it was: the tiny dent he put in it when he hit it in frustration. It was the exact dent, and this was the exact car Nobody had used to drive Paul home.

“So I guess you like it.”

Paul jerked at the sound and knocked his head against the frame of the car. He spun around even as he rubbed his skull. “Where is he!?”

“Where is who?” His mother stood before him in a long, form-fitting pea coat. Some blue jeans peaked out from under the black overgarment. A few streaks of gray had started to creep into her black hair, which was loose around her head and shoulders. 

“Who’s car is this?” Paul asked.

She laughed. “It’s mine.” She cocked her head at him in confusion. “I’m glad you like it?” Her voice squeaked as if it were more of a question than a statement. 

“You bought this car?” Paul asked.

She nodded. 

“When?” 

She shrugged, “About six months ago.”

The math flew through Paul’s mind. “Did someone come to borrow it from you. He’d be about my height with black hair.”

Her face lit up with a bright smile. “What’s going on?” She reached into her pocked and produced a key. “I had this key made for you, so you could borrow it whenever you wanted.” She walked over and held it out to him. “But no one has come to borrow it. Who would?”

So he did steal it! Well, Nobody borrowed his mom’s car without asking. Sure he returned it, but it was stealing regardless of whether or not he gave it back.

Paul held the key staring at it in thought. Then he looked at his mom. “I don’t visit you enough; do I?”

“Come on inside,” she said. “I have some food ready.”

Paul followed her in, and they both removed their coats. Paul wore a university shirt. He wasn’t exactly all about school spirit, but his mom liked the idea of seeing him in a school shirt. His mother wore a simple blouse. It was black with a series of white specks that made the shirt look like a pattern of stars. 

Sure enough, there was a feast on the table even though it was several days before Thanksgiving.  He chuckled. “Your church friends coming over to eat, too?” He tried to keep his tone even, but he never felt comfortable around her church friends. They weren’t bossy or preachy. They were a lot like Jordan, or even Bill. But it wasn’t exactly easy to sit around a table full of people who seemed determined to talk about God in some way, shape, or form.

“They’ll be here for Thanksgiving, but not today. I wanted my son to myself.” She sat down at the table and offered a silent prayer before making a plate. 

Paul bent over and gave her a side hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad to be home.”

He walked around the table and sat down across from her. 

“So you like the car, huh?” She stabbed her fork at a slice of ham. 

“Yeah.” She offered him the serving dish of meat, and he took it, gratefully plopping a few slices on his own plate before setting it down. 

They traded food as they spoke. 

“So did you notice the mileage change?” Paul asked.

She laughed. “I only pay attention to that stuff when I think it’s getting close to the time I need to change the oil.”

“What about the small dent on the back seat center console?” They’d finished filling their plates, and Paul set to cutting up his food.

“There’s a dent back there?” She took a bite of her own food, completely oblivious to the fact that someone took her car, drove it almost 200 miles,  and returned it.

“Yeah, I saw it when I was checking it out.” He also put it there, but he didn’t intend to say that. 

“The truth is I did buy it hoping you’d use it, which, yes, would mean I’d get to see you more.” She rolled her eyes as if he’d just caught her cheating in a board game. 

Paul let out a breath. “I’ll come visit more, but I wish you’d just say what you want.”

She took a bite, giving him a flat stare as she chewed and swallowed. “What I want is for you to want to come visit me more. I certainly don’t want you to show up on some regular basis just because you think you have to.”

“It’s not that,” Paul said. “I know I should visit more often, and I do want to. I just get caught up on work and other things.”

Her eyes glittered. “Do any of those other things have a name, maybe?”

“No.” This time he gave her the flat stare. 

“So no one since Stacy?” Her tone was as gentle as anyone could make it. She wasn’t trying to bring her up, just see if there was anyone new. 

Paul shook his head, trying to hide his frustration and shame. “Not me, but Jordan just got engaged.”

His mother dropped her knife and fork and clapped excitedly. “Oh that’s wonderful! Do you have a picture? What’s her name? How long have they been dating? What—“ she paused. “What’s wrong?”

She read his expression. Paul offered her a smile and worked at his PID, trying to find a picture of the three of them together.

“It’s OK.” He found a picture and sent it to her PID. 

“Ohhh, she’s beautiful! They look so happy!” She looked at him and narrowed her eyes. “So why does my son have that fake smile he uses when he wants everyone to believe he’s not angry about something.”

“I talked to them about it,” Paul said after swallowing another bite of food. “The truth is I was jealous about their relationship and how much time they were spending together. I felt left out, but we’ve worked it out.”

She stared at him.

“OK, so we don’t hang out like we used to,” Paul admitted. “But things are good in the lab, and I’m still his best man at the wedding.” He took another bite of food. “The truth is none of us really know how to act around each other, so we hang out every now and then, but we haven’t figured it all out yet. Honestly I still have to figure out how to be happy for them instead of thinking about how I’m losing out on two friends.”

“I see.” His mother grabbed a roll and used it to scoop up some mashed potatoes. “It can be challenging when relationships change.”

“How did you do it?” Paul suddenly realized she had experience. One minute, he was living there and hanging out, the next he was at college.

“I have to accept that you’re your own person,” she said. “I have to remind myself that I know you love me, and then I have to appreciate the time I do get with you.”

“Even if you have to buy a car to try and get me to spend more time with you?” 

She smiled. “It’s completely fair to provide motivation for people to come see you. But that motivation isn’t obligation, and that’s the real trick. I don’t want to guilt trip you into spending time with me. I just want to make sure I give you plenty of reasons.”

Paul nodded. That made a kind of sense. 

… to be continued …

Hand and Foot

Hand and Foot

Hand and Foot is a beautiful game.

It’s beautifully convoluted.

Even to understand the rules, people have to sit together for hours. Then it takes hours to play the game.

We played more than 100 games, more than 400 hours.

I cherish every one.

During those hours, we listened to Patty Page sing about the Doggie in the Window and the Tennessee Waltz, a song about a girl who’s friend stole her loved one. You would always offer the same joke: “I sure am gonna miss my friend.”

During those hours, you’d tell little dirty jokes, just happy to have a new joke to tell, even if it was only new in your memory.

Even the last game we played together, you had a joke.

Even the last time I sat with you on your bed as you waited for help to use the restroom.

Those times were sad, but I have those other times, those 400 hours.

During those hours, you’d tell stories about your time in the Navy, your time serving the president, and your time in the U.S. Marshal service.

Each story was told with a wry smile and a in a matter of fact tone.

Each game was adorable. Your wife would talk, but you couldn’t hear her, so you’d ask her what she said, but she couldn’t hear you. Even though there were plenty of times you couldn’t hear each other, you always understood each other. You’d share knowing looks with each other. You’d offer each other sly, witty comments that were somehow endearing.

We played our last game together last week.

You needed help getting up and down. You were in obvious pain, but you wanted to play just one more time, and I love you for that just as I love you for the others before.

You played this beautiful game the same way you lived, with wit and determination.

However, the object of the game is to run out of cards, and days ago, you ran out of time with us.

I love that game.

I played it with my grandmother until the day she died.

I played it with my mother until the day she died.

Now I’ve played it with you until the day you died.

If I’m lucky, my wife and sons will play with me until the day I die.

There’s sadness. I’ll never hear you curse as you draw a completely useless card. I’ll never again hear another joke of any kind. I’ll never get to watch you and Granny playfully banter back and forth. I’ll never hear you answer the phone with a dry remark.

I’ll miss those things, but I’ll cherish them just the same as I cherished knowing you.

I only knew you for a short time compared to my wife, who you cared for so very much. That short time doesn’t diminish the fierceness with which our bond formed.

We watched football and talked about the games. We talked about the Navy. And we played a lot of cards.

I’ll miss you Pop Pop. We all will.

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 41

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 41

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Finally! Paul wasted no time charging the man. He unleashed a flurry of punches, all of which Nobody dodged as if Paul were moving in slow motion. Nobody didn’t make any effort to retaliate. 

“Fight me!” Paul shouted. 

“Why?” Nobody asked. The jerk wasn’t even out of breath.

“Because if you don’t I’m going to kill you!” Paul meant every word. He wouldn’t hurt so bad if he hadn’t trusted Nobody and let Bill into his life.

“Would you rather have lived a life never knowing Bill?” Nobody asked the question even as he ducked another wild punch from Paul, who fell to the ground sobbing.

“I don’t know.” Paul managed to speak through the tears. “It hurts so much.”

Nobody stood far enough away to dodge in case Paul got up, but he was out of fight. He was out of energy.

“The lives we have on this world are always temporary,” Nobody said softly. “People tend to act as if they’ll live forever, if not a nice long while, but we don’t have any say in it.”

“So God gets his kicks out of ripping the people we love away from us!” Paul rolled over and sat up, but he still didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. It took everything he had to keep from just sitting there and crying forever. 

The anger he felt gave him a distraction, and that’s what it had always been. The rage was a tool to keep the sadness at bay, but none of it ever worked well.

“I believe Bill was a great Christian, loved by God,” Nobody said.

“So what?” Paul sat there covered in road grease and bits of trash from the alley. 

“So what I think is that God called his child home,” Nobody said.

“We were his home!” Paul found a pebble and threw it. Nobody dodged it easily. 

“So we come back to the question of property. You don’t own your mom. You don’t own Bill. The people in our lives are gifts, but they’re not property.” Nobody took a few steps closer as if to test Paul’s willingness to lash out again.

“It’s not the same!” Paul screamed.

“Then what is it?” Nobody asked.

Paul stammered a bit, trying to find a way to explain how he felt without making it seem like Bill was some toy he wanted to keep to himself forever, but he couldn’t think of a way. “Fine,” Paul said. “I wanted Bill. He was supposed to be my dad and my mom’s husband. We were supposed to be a family.”

The words came out more like whimpers than the ones before it. 

“Nobody this side of Heaven understands why we lose the people we love when we do.” Nobody spoke in that soft, gentle whisper he always used. It was hard to hear through Paul’s sobs. He wasn’t even sure he cared enough to listen.

“You loved him.” Nobody said.

“Of course I did!”

“You wanted to make him proud,” Nobody said.

“Yes!”

“Then make him proud,” Nobody said. “Become the man you know he’d want you to be.”

Paul couldn’t shout anymore. He couldn’t even speak. All he could do was curl up into a ball and cry. The temperature swung from normal, to freezing, to hot, to normal again. Just as quickly, less than an eye blink, a light flashed, which meant Nobody had left.

“But how do I do it?” Paul finally managed to say. “He taught me everything. How do I be the man he wanted me to be when he’s not here to tell me what to do anymore?”

Of course Nobody would leave those questions unanswered. He never really said anything. He just pointed at some dumb Bible verse or quoted the Bible and left it there for Paul to think about.

Isn’t that what Bill would do?

The thought came unbidden, and Paul shoved it down. No! I won’t turn to the one who took Bill from me!

Isn’t that exactly what Bill would want?

Paul lost the energy to argue even with himself. Whatever happened, he couldn’t think of what to do.

“I don’t know what to do without him,” he muttered. 

Someone embraced him. For a split second, Paul jerked in surprise, but the slender arms and gentle manner were familiar to him. 

“Neither do I,” his mother whispered. She had to have sat next to him and wrapped him in her arms. 

“Stop!” Paul said, trying to pull away. “That dress of yours is expensive.”

“I don’t care,” she said softly, gripping him tightly even as he tried to stand. The tremble in her voice made it clear she was crying, too.

Suddenly, another pair of arms wrapped around him. Paul glanced to his left to see Jordan there. The moron! He didn’t know what to say or do, so he just held Paul quietly. He was the greatest friend anyone could have. 

“We miss him, too,” his mother whispered. “I’m just doing my best. I’m just trying to do what he’d want, and it’s not because I  don’t miss him; it’s because I miss him. It’s not because I’ve stopped loving him; it’s because I still love him.”

Paul codlin’t even speak. The dam of anger he’d tried to hide his sadness behind had come crashing down, and the tears wouldn’t stop. 

Jordan gave him another squeeze. He didn’t say a word. But that firm hug said everything. It said, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.”

They were a trio of well dressed idiots from the perspective of anyone who might have seen them. They were all sitting in a filthy alley holding each other and crying as if they’d been beaten or robbed. 

Paul felt that way. Maybe I did think of Bill like mine, but that’s only because I wanted to be his.  

Paul kept thinking as he cried. Even his mother had gone silent. 

Paul wondered what Bill would want. It wasn’t hard to imagine. He’d want Paul to do what his mother had done. He’d want Paul to become a Christian. 

He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t turn to the one who took Bill from him. 

Was there something else? Yes. 

“We’re going back to work on the project tomorrow,” Paul said. 

That was something he knew he could do. 

The End of Chapter 12. To be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 40

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 40

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Apparently, Jordan didn’t mean dinner. Dinner would have been some pizza or burgers, but the place Paul was in demanded a dress jacket. The three of them sat at a small circular table underneath a private chandelier. A waiter came by now and then to check on them using an accent Paul was pretty sure was fake, but not in an obnoxious way.

Paul used an oddly small fork to pick through the meat and vegetables on his plate. “This is a bit more exorbitant than I was thinking.” He smiled, hoping his friend would understand the comment wasn’t a complaint.

“I saved all year for this, but not a ton, just a couple hundred,” Jordan said.

“It’s very kind of you, Jordan,” Mary said. 

“I figured you must have cooked a thousand meals for me over the years.” Jordan smiled. “It’ll be weird being so far away from our parents, so I just wanted to do something to say thank you.” 

His eyes widened as Paul’s mother looked around, probably for Jordan’s family. “I already took my folks out,” he said quickly. “I know it would have been nice for all of us to eat together, but I wanted time with just my folks, and I wanted time with just you two.”

“All of us could never have been together,” Paul muttered. The comment had all the bitterness the words implied. They just fell out of Paul’s mouth, but they were true. He didn’t want to ruin the mood, but he did it just the same.

“I still miss him.” His mother almost whispered the comment.

“I’m sorry.” Jordan spoke as if he were the one who brought Bill up.

“I don’t know what to do.” Again, Paul was only thinking out loud, but the thoughts had been brewing in his head for months. “I can’t think straight. I know I’m supposed to move on. I know I’m supposed to go back to the project. I know life is supposed to keep going, but I don’t know how to do that because all I can think about is the way life was supposed to be.” 

By the time he finished speaking, tears were flowing down his face. How had this happened? Why was he in the middle of some fancy restaurant crying his eyes out like some baby?

Two hands, one from his friend and the other from his mother, gently touched Paul’s back. Paul shot up from his chair and darted out. He had to escape. He didn’t want to deal with it, certainly not in public. It was all Paul could do to resist shouting at them. No matter how stupid the thoughts were, they kept flooding into his mind.

They were over Bill’s death so easily! They all moved on as if Bill never existed! Then they talk about him like a few words would make any difference. 

If Paul hadn’t rushed out of the restaurant, he’d have shouted until he got kicked out. He burst past the waiting area and a confused employee who shouted at him not to run. He flew through the doors and turned into the first place he could find. 

It turned out to be a dead-end alley. Of course … 

Nobody stood there, waiting. 

… to be continued …

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 21

Visits From A Man Named Nobody 21

PT 1 // PT 2 // PT 3 // PT 4 // PT 5 // PT 6 // PT 7 // PT 8 // PT 9 // PT 10 // PT 11 // PT 12 // PT 13 // PT 14 // PT 15 // PT 16 // PT 17 // PT 18 // PT 19 // PT 20 //

Six
March 17, 2027, 6:12 p.m.
19 Years Ago

Paul’s mother laughed as the car sputtered to a stop and died in the middle of a vacant lot. 

Paul glared at the steeling wheel. “I don’t even know why you want me to learn how to drive like this.”

Electric cars first became commonly available and affordable about five years ago, and Paul’s mother just had to be the only person on the planet who still owned a manual transmission, gas-powered vehicle. It was like driving a museum. 

“Well,” she said while still trying to get over her latest round of chuckling, “the first reason is the fact that if you can drive stick, there isn’t a car out there in the world you can’t drive. But that’s not the most important reason.”

“So what is?” Paul used his left foot to press in the clutch and his right hand to put the car into neutral. Then he turned the car on.

“This is the only car we have.” She smiled at him, clearly still trying to hold in more laughter. 

Really, it wasn’t all that funny. Every time he tried to put the car into the next gear, it shook like some sort of giant’s favorite toy. Either that happened, or the car would just lurch once and die. 

“Just focus on what I taught you, Paul,” His mother put a hand on his shoulder. 

She kept encouraging him softly even as he followed the steps she’d given him. 

He put the car into first. He kept his left foot, and therefore the clutch, planted firmly into the floorboard as he slowly used his right foot to press the gas. The engine started to grumble; then it began to hum.

“That’s the sound!” His mother said, confirming what Paul already thought. “Now don’t move that right foot. Just slowly let your left foot up.”

Paul followed the directions. The car started to move. 

“Don’t let go!” She squeezed his shoulder. “Just ease in the gas as you ease up the clutch.” She emphasized the word “ease” each time she said it.

Like his mother had taught him, Paul imagined his feet were sort of connected to a lever. If one went up, the other had to go down. He slowly shifted his feet and the car came to life. He’d actually gotten this part down pretty well. It was the next part that usually made the car act like they were trying to drive through an earthquake.

The car had only moved a few dozen feet before the engine started to roar. Paul’s mother had told him the engine should growl to start, hum to move, but never roar. The trick was all about how he moved his feet. 

He forced himself to lift his foot off the gas completely. The car slowed, but it didn’t jerk. Paul used his left foot to push in the clutch. His right hand grabbed the stick and brought it down, activating second gear. 

“Release clutch, press gas.” His mother’s voice had an excitement in it. 

Paul raised his left foot. He even went so far as to plant it on the floorboard away from the clutch pedal. Then he pressed the gas. The whole process might have taken a second, and the car just kept on moving. He didn’t even feel a single jolt. 

“Keep going!” 

The lot they were in once belonged to a large department store. The empty building sat at the far end of the lot, but no one ever came here, which is what made it safe for Paul to drive around in. 

Paul listened to the engine. It really did sound like an animal in a strange sort of way. Each time the car started to roar, Paul let go of the gas, pressed in the clutch, shifted the gears, let go of the clutch, and pressed in the gas. 

Paul made it to fourth gear. 

“Clutch and break!” Paul obeyed, but the strange yelp his mother used caused him to look up. The building, which only moments ago was on the other end of a huge parking lot, had somehow appeared right in front of Paul. He went from pressing the break to slamming it. 

The car skittered, sputtered, and then died just before they hit the massive building’s red-bricked wall. 

His mother chuckled. 

“What’s so funny about that?!” Paul asked. He was so frighted he couldn’t rip his eyes off his hands, which strangled the steering wheel. “We could have died.”

His mother laughed harder. “When you live through a scare like that, I think a little joy is appropriate. Good job.”

She wrapped her arms around him, still laughing. Maybe she was just scared witless. “Nothing to do but take this chance to learn how to back up. Come on.” She let him go and sat back in her seat. 

He’d nearly killed them both, and she just laughed about it. No, she not only laughed about it, but she also wanted him to start the car again.

“This is child endangerment!” Paul said.

“You’re sixteen,” his mother replied. “And the only endangered children would be the ones on the street if I let you drive without teaching you how a car really works.”

“This is the only car that works this way.”

His mother shook her head. “Every car has a transmission. Even these new fancy electric ones still operate on the same principle. You’re taking all those additional science classes, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So think of this like a science class.” Her face scrunched up in confusion. “There has to be some sort of applied physics or engineering here.”

“None of my classrooms are likely to plow into something if I make a mistake,” Paul muttered even as he set up the car to start it again. 

His mother let the comment go with just a teasing smile. The joke would be on her if the car leapt out of its spot and hit the building. Maybe then she’d finally buy a real car. The clunker they were in had 162,927 miles on it. Then again, it still ran. The only time it died was when Paul failed to operate it correctly. 

Paul still wouldn’t be caught dead driving the car alone. He’d borrow Jordan’s car. His family had bought him one for his birthday. It was electric. It had an engine that wouldn’t try to kick someone like a bull in a rodeo. 

Of course, Paul couldn’t drive anything until he got a license, which meant he had to drive his mother’s car.

… to be continued …

Sonnets for My Savior 5

Sonnets for My Savior 5

A Family Under God

Let husbands love their wives with a sacrificial love;

let husbands love their wives as they love themselves.

Let wives respect their husbands as heads just as the Lord is head above;

let your scripture be the source for guidance into which the family delves.

Let children be obedient and honor their parents;

let them be raised in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.

Let Your word and Your teachings be parents’ primary arguments

to guide them to a life free from the evil one’s seduction.

Let family members bear with each other and forgive

just as the Lord has forgiven us.

Let their worship for You outlive

any personal distrusts.

Let families live only in accordance to Your will,

so that love and blessings from their hearts overfill.


 

Appreciation

Let us give thanks to the Lord with all of our hearts

and proclaim all of His wonderful deeds.

We owe all we have to Him who gives all one needs;

We know that once You have one’s soul, from You it never departs.

He is our rock and our salvation,

so let us always keep him near.

His presence means we need not fear

the curse of eternal damnation.

He grants us our strength and makes us strong,

and to His people He gives peace.

We give thanks to the God from whom all things flow.

He has passed over the sins we have committed, indeed every wrong.

Through him we receive a release

and await the new lives he will, eventually, bestow.


 

An End to Suffering

We pray for Your day to come fast,

for that day, You will wipe the tears from our eyes,

and death will no longer last.

Mourning, crying, and pain will cease on the day You arise.

Even if we suffer for a time,

we rejoice despite the pain

because the age to come will be sublime.

Therefore our endurance is not in vain.

From the character endurance breeds comes hope,

and hope does not put us to shame.

Even if we feel we can’t cope,

we will put our trust in Your holy name

We await Your return eagerly,

for on that day, from suffering we will be free.


 

Faithful

Oh gracious God, You keep Your ears open for our supplications.

Your love is steadfast with those who love You and keep Your commandments.

You are faithful and provide ways to escape our temptations.

You provide for us and heal us from our ailments.

When we seek You with all our hearts, we find you.

When we come and pray to You, You hear.

Let us hold fast to our hope, for when You make a promise, You always come through.

We exalt You, Lord, for to us You are dear.

In times of temptation, we take heart in Your son.

Even if some are unfaithful, your faithfulness remains.

Even when we suffer, we trust in your will, which will always be done.

We were trapped in sin, and You have broken our chains.

Thank you for being merciful and true

and we give thanks for all the glorious things you do.


 

Trust in Your Wisdom

Your Wisdom is pure;

Your judgements are unsearchable.

Though we may doubt, you are always sure.

The depths of your knowledge are unmeasurable.

Fear of You is the beginning of knowledge;

to shun evil is understanding.

In times of sadness, let us pledge

to offer You praise that is abounding.

Should we encounter disappointment,

let us see it as an opportunity

to glorify your sovereign judgement

and conduct ourselves with dignity.

Any one can praise You in times of gladness,

but blessed are those who praise You even in times of sadness.


 

Doers

We know it isn’t enough to know.

Our fathers and ceremonies are not what count.

With all we do, we are held to account,

and we will reap what we sow.

You, Lord, measure our heart,

so the rule of law is not where our salvation lies.

Any person who relies on himself dies,

but those who put their faith in Christ are held apart.

Those who do the law are justified;

righteousness doesn’t come from listening.

Even those who haven’t heard it can be a law to themselves if they do what is required.

Those who know the law but break it show themselves falsified.

The disobedient will find the obedient condemning.

For those who receive grace through faith are the ones who are desired.


 

Call Me

Here I sit in my iniquity;

call me please, so with You I may sit.

To claim not to need You is fatuity.

I am a sinner, so to You I submit.

I am sick;

You are the only physician who can heal me.

Rebuild me, Lord, brick by brick,

and leave my transgressions in the debris.

I listen for Your call,

for I can not escape my sin.

Let me hear You before I fall,

for there is nothing good in my skin.

The table of tax collectors and sinners is where I should be,

so please sit with us and share the truth that sets us free.

s

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 30 (The final part)

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 30 (The final part)

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

See Part 24 here.

See Part 25 here.

See part 26 here.

See part 27 here.

See Part 28 here.

See Part 29 here.

A Changing Life

As I type this, it’s been nearly two months since my mother died.

I think the first week back at work was the hardest. I ran into a number of people who only wanted me to know they were there for me, but the hard part was the number of reminders. “How are you doing?” (You know, ’cause your mom died).  “How are you holding up?” (You know, ’cause you’re mom died).  I was stuck in this weird place where I was trying to show my appreciation for their concern while balancing the desire to explain to them that the questions were just more constant reminders. I mention it now only because I’m trying to explain my mindset at that time. I have so many people who love me so much. They want to be sure I’m OK and know they are there for me.  I’ll always love them for that, but it was a struggle at that point.

It’s been nine Fridays since my mother died. I use to call her just to talk and see how things were. My first Friday back at work, I caught myself picking up the phone. It was Friday. I’ve always talked about what a creature of habit I am. If something becomes a part of my routine, it’s trained into me like an athlete.

Whenever we lose someone we truly love, the simple fact is we’re never going to be the same. This is because love is sacrifice. We train our bodies to behave a certain way around our loved ones. We deny our instincts to the point to where we change our habits. Maybe you stopped smoking because your husband or wife didn’t like it. Maybe you started working out to shape your body for that girlfriend or boyfriend. Maybe you stopped biting your nails because it annoyed a friend. Those changes are sacrifices we make. Sacrifice is the greatest show of love anyone can offer. God sacrificed his only son for us, and Jesus willingly obeyed, sacrificing himself for us. This was so that the price for our sins could be paid, which would grant us a way to be with them.

For us mere mortals, that sacrifice becomes most apparent when the one for whom we’ve sacrificed is no longer there. So we have this choice to make. The temptation is to let go of those sacrifices. Some see it even as freedom after a time. But if we let go of those sacrifices, I’m of the opinion that we also then let go of the person we were, thus changing from that person who loved us.

Anyone can sacrifice for someone for a short time. Even I can clean my condo if I know I’m having a visitor. Any guy courting any woman can put the toilet seat down the first time he visits his girlfriend’s house. But it’s only sacrifice if we truly give it up. And it’s only sacrifice if we let it go even after we lose the reason for which we’ve sacrificed it. Otherwise the sacrifice was only tolerance. Tolerance isn’t the wonderful mindset I think people make it out to be. The word tolerate means to allow the existence or practice of something one doesn’t necessarily agree with, without interference. Merriam Webster adds this short alternative, “to put up with.” But if we only tolerate, the more we’re forced to tolerate, the more we want to resent. Resentment then leads to frustration, which leads to anger. I’ve even seen that anger build into genuine hatred.

No, readers, I feel that tolerance is only a delay tactic that ultimately leads to even more hostility. Sacrifice yourself for those you love, or don’t. You have that right to choose. But if you only tolerate, you’re setting up that relationship for utter failure.

So now I’m looking at my life, and I find it odd sometimes.  I can’t say my life is completely different. At this point, things are running just about how they used to run. The differences are in the little things, and those little things (when they come), hit hard.

Now for the part some might not like to hear.

Did the death matter?

That sound’s like a cold question doesn’t it? But we always talk about how “we’ll never be the same” or “this death had such an impact on my life.”

But if you go right back to the life you had after a nice “show” of remorse at a funeral, did it really matter? If two weeks after that death you’re right back to who you were, did the death matter?  Looking at my life, I would say no. It doesn’t remove the emotions. My point is that if I go right back to the man I was before my mom got sick, her life, her suffering, and her death become meaningless, and I refuse to disgrace her in that way.

I choose to show my endless love, a love not bound by existence, by changing because of that love. I want to be better because in doing those things, I prove to myself that the lessons my mother taught me matter.

Wasn’t it the same for the Apostles after Christ died? Shouldn’t it be the same for all who are saved? The Apostles mourned. They had the honor of seeing Christ risen, but he didn’t stay with them in the flesh. I have to think they missed him after he ascended. I can’t think that Peter was perfect after the ascension. I wonder if he was ever tempted. I think he was to a degree. In Galatians 2, Peter pulled away from a meal with gentiles because they wouldn’t be circumcised.  Paul rebuked him.

But there were other displays where Peter showed he’d changed for having known Christ. Peter, for those who are unfamiliar with scripture, is (in my opinion) the greatest example of change. Greater even than Paul.

I suppose this tangent is coming.

You see, Peter’s given name is Simon. Jesus called him Peter as a sort of nickname. That nickname was a form of positive encouragement for Peter to act like the man Jesus wanted him to be.  Yes, Paul did terrible things, and then stopped, but the terrible things he did, he did out of misguided zeal. He thought Jesus wasn’t resurrected. He thought the Apostles were wrong. When Jesus revealed himself and called Paul to be an Apostle, yes he changed his actions, but that zealous heart and manic drive to do what he believed was God’s will was still the core of his personality (Acts).  Paul changed his actions. Peter changed his ways.

Both were great men, and Paul is more of a favorite of mine (personally) than Peter. (Andrew, who I’m the least like, is my favorite because I’d like to be more like him so that I could then be more like Christ.)

We therefore change who we are for the people we love, and I am changed for having known my mother and, through this trial, better known Jesus. Before my mom got sick, I watched sermons on my lap top and read the Bible. But I was stagnate. The more I studied and the more I fed my spirit, the more I came to understand Jesus. It also helped me understand my mom and the example she provided.

Love is sacrifice.

I can’t imagine the number of things Mom wanted to do in life from selling her house and taking trips to I don’t know what else. But she constantly denied herself things I know she wanted simply to provide for those she loved.

Christ humbled himself, then allowed himself to be punished for our sins just so that we could be saved by his blood.

So who are we then if we continue to be who we were? (Romans 7)

This is the question that drives me every day.

I loved my mom. No, that’s wrong. Her death does not mean the end of my love. That’s stupid. If that love is gone my remorse and desire to change should be. I could consider myself free from the willing sacrifices I made for her because she’s not on Earth any more. I don’t have to get along with my sisters because she’s not here to be saddened by it. Her mortal death would make me free from her rules. But I still love her. Her presence on this Earth doesn’t remove that love, so I’ll honor her memory because I still love her now.

This is how we should act for Christ, if indeed we love him too.

Christ wasn’t there to rebuke Peter, playfully calling him Simon as a gentle reminder of the man he used to be. But Peter still remained the man Christ had helped him become.

I believe (because my mother had proclaimed Jesus her savior when I was a child and had been baptized) Mom is in Heaven with Jesus.

Jesus certainly knows what I’m up to. I’m not sure what scripture says about those who’ve left this world or not, but I still like the idea of mom watching from above.

So let me be changed. Let the death of my mom and, more importantly, the death of Jesus Christ change me. Let me be the man that honors my love for them. Let me let go of the man I was. Let that show my love, and let that be what gives meaning to my mother’s death.

Can I claim to be changed? No.  Foolish, selfish, and (if I may quote Paul) wretched man that I am, I still act far more like the man I was than the man I want to be (Romans 7). But I will claim to be changing. This evolution of my body to align with my spirt isn’t going as quickly as I’d like. I constantly ask myself if I’m any better, especially days when I find myself resentful at work or even with one of my siblings. That’s the old me. I shouldn’t be that man anymore. Am I really any different?

Yes. At the very least I now instantly realize I’m not acting the right way and re-focus my thoughts to be in line with how I’m supposed to act.

There are changes in my life I do recognize. I fear to lay claim to them because I have this odd habit. Every time I proclaim, “I’ve changed!” I amazingly do the very thing I so proudly claimed to have stopped. It’s silly how it goes. “I don’t cause anymore!” “What the #### are you doing!?” “I’m not so prideful anymore!” he said proudly.

So please simply accept this claim that I’ve greatly reduced the number of sins in my life from “too many to count per day” to “I’m sometimes discouraged by how many I count.” But this is a blessing. When God reveals our sins to us, we have the chance to feel remorse, repent and change. I think I need a bit of humbling realization here and there. To me it shows that I’m changing. I’d rather not keep seeing the exact same sin.  I’m struggling most with my pride and selfishness at the moment.

The point is, I’m working toward being better every day, and I wasn’t doing that before Mom died. I was content. I was satisfied with my state as it is.

The greatest change I’ve seen, the one I feel is the best tribute to the memory of my mother, is that I’m trying again. I’m trying to be better.

I’m sure there will be those who say, “See, doesn’t work.  This guy prayed and testified and trusted God, and his mom still died.”

News flash.  My mom was always going to die. She could have been hit by a bus or struck by lightning.

That person might argue, “But she died of cancer, and you had faith God would heal her.”

He did. He healed her so well she’s in Heaven with him. And when his son returns to earth, all those who were saved will return also, in perfect, sinless, cancer-free bodies. I just have to keep my faith and be patient. Sure, I have to be far more patient than I wanted to be, but how much patience has God needed just to see me reach this still wholly unacceptable state I’m in now?

If I were to have stopped this testimony the moment my mother died, did I ever believe in the first place?

But by this loss, I’m granted the wonderful opportunity to proclaim my faith (which He has given me) remains because my faith in him is not based on what he does for me any more than my love for my mother was based on her presence on this Earth.

And there, again, is another example of God’s unknowable judgements and inscrutable ways (Romans 11:33). If God had granted my supplication, sure I would have been happy. I’d have testified. I’d have sung in joy and praise of his name. But then what lesson do I have to teach the world?

Pray to God and he’ll give you want you want?

That’s not the lesson. And how many people would have been lost for the misconception that faith and trust in God will get you what you want rather than what you need.

Instead, the lesson I am blessed to teach is that faith and trust in God remain. Even if we don’t receive those things for which we ask, we always get what we need. The things we receive are always for our good. My love and praise of him is no more based on what he does for me (in giving what I want when I want) than my salvation is based on what I do for him (Romans 1-3).

Faith is the lesson. Faith in God. Faith in love. Faith that my mother and I will indeed be reunited. Faith that no matter what, my salvation is assured because of God’s love and grace and for no other reason.

I didn’t want my mom to die any more than Job wanted to lose all he had (Job 1). But the Lord gives, and he takes (Job 1:21). It is his sovereign right.

I used to think it was like a kid playing with a cat and a string. Yanking away the string just as the cat snatches it.  Horrible isn’t it?

But the thing is, I’ve come to understand that he gave them to us to begin with. They were never really ours. Instead, we receive (by His grace) these wonderful gifts, but any mortal gift is temporary. Nothing we gain here on Earth can come with us after we die. Even atheists will admit this.

So rather than lament what God’s taken, I praise Him because I had them to begin with, because I’m going to lose them sooner or later. My own mortality testifies to this. I wasn’t ready. I miss her, and it’s not sinful at all to morn her death.

But, I have now an even greater gift in that I’m changing. My relationship with God is closer. I have a better understanding of salvation. I have a greater awareness of my sin so I can turn from it (even if it’s with great struggle and effort).

This lesson is far more valuable than the selfish one I originally started working from.

Yes, my life is missing something for the lack of my mom’s presence in it, but I have so much more because she was in it to begin with.

Yes, my heart is sad because someone I love is gone, but it’s so much more filled because God’s love has been poured into me through the Holy Spirit who has been given to me (Romans 5:5).

I pray for you reader. I pray you’ve been inspired by this testimony. I pray your faith is encouraged or that God has worked through this memoir to call you to him. I pray this gives you comfort if you face a similar challenge in your life. I pray you don’t make the mistakes I made when I was facing this trial.

Mostly, I pray you be filled with love. I pray you remember that love is sacrifice. I pray you sacrifice the person you were for God first, and those you love. Husbands, I pray you love your wives as Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Let love be the way in which you live your life. May you have love in abundance from those around you, but may you first receive the love of God Almighty whose love for you was demonstrated by the most difficult sacrifice one could ever make. Amen!

Thanks for reading

Matt

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 28

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 28

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

See Part 18 here.

See Part 19 here.

See Part 20 here.

See Part 21 here.

See Part 22 here.

See Part 23 here.

See Part 24 here.

See Part 25 here.

See part 26 here.

See part 27 here.

The Pieces

It would be a week before we had an informal service for Mom.

That first weekend was mostly an opportunity to see each other. If one were to ask me how many siblings I have, I tend to stop and count. My childhood to my adulthood has seen a sort of core group of siblings. That group consists of five of us (the five youngest).  There are more, but the divorce, distance, and time have estranged us in some ways. I keep in contact with a few of them via social media, but I’m honestly terrible at things like that.  Even among those five, I tend to interact the most with my immediate two siblings (the children of both my mother and biodad).  Why? Simply because I see them the most. I’m positive I don’t call or message any of them as much as they’d like.

However, those of us in that core five were all there. I’m stunned because I simply can’t remember the last time we were all under the same roof at the same time.

We’re all extremely isolated individuals, me more so than the rest. But we had time together to talk. This isn’t the part where we all huddled together and held each other. We’re a family of task oriented people. We see a thing to do, and do that thing. The closest “group hug” we came to was the one I spoke about in the last segment. We spent the bulk of that week seeing more and more family and arranging for the service.

We went to the funeral home the following Monday. We were all pretty much still angry and hesitant at that point. We didn’t bicker with one another at all (which is frankly evidence of God’s grace in and of itself). We didn’t even snap or bark at anyone.  I could feel the tension, but we all focused on respect and making sure we had Mom’s final arrangements at heart. Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not claiming we were all ready to lash out (although I was).  I’m simply stating it’s hard to let go emotionally when it’s so darn hard to let go physically.  I had no idea how long it takes to arrange a cremation.

We picked an urn. My aunts needed a smaller necklace because Mom wanted at least some of her ashes spread with her parents. Some of us wanted death certificates.  I was one of those. I don’t have any idea what I would need it for. I think I just wanted something. I certainly didn’t want any of the ashes. I don’t begrudge those in my family who do, but I personally wouldn’t be able to function if I had a constant reminder of the wound that exists in my life right now.

The rest of the week was mostly spending time together. We played cards. I’ve played cards with my mom for 38 years. Playing a game without her felt like trying to shuffle with one hand. All of us kept having those moments where we found ourselves looking for her.

One sister kept walking to the living room expecting to say hi to Mom.

Dad wouldn’t go into the bedroom.  He and I both slept in the living room. I haven’t spoken to him about it yet, but I have to admit, I simply couldn’t sleep.  Something happened to my back during the trip, and I’m just not used to having people around. I think there were perhaps seven people in the house at any given time, and there were times where there were perhaps 15-20. Neither my dad nor I do well around large groups. I’d discussed getting a hotel room, but it became pretty obvious that we all just needed each other, even if we just had to be around one another.  Thanks be to God, my back eased up after a few days. I think having Dad around, sleeping in a chair or couch next to the couch on which I slept was more of a comfort than I realized even in that moment.

The days were harder I think. There were things to do, and that required going through my mom’s stuff. I am firmly convinced that my mom stalked her children. She had copies of things I’d thought lost long ago. She had pictures from events I didn’t remember taking a camera to. She had every baby picture of every one of her kids in multiple sizes. She kept random letters from old teachers of mine. She had this for all five of her natural born children.

We each kept what we felt meant the most to us. I honestly don’t have a clue how one of my sisters managed it. She plowed through all of that paperwork to find what we needed for all the administrative things people have to have in times like this. I helped when I thought I could be helpful. We eventually got everything compiled into whatever group it needed to be in.

One thing remained: the obituary.

At first, I thought there was a form to fill out and that someone else would write it.  That wasn’t the case. Someone had to write it. A lot of people had thoughts on what needed to be said. Then I volunteered. I’ve written more than five books, and each of them are more than 30,000 words. Some of them are more than 60,000. I’ve written hundreds of news stories, dozens of features and thousands of captions. Mom’s obituary is 337 words, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

I waited until everyone else had gone to bed (or at least started that way). One of my sisters talked to me about the important things to note. The problem was, there were so many people who mattered. I did the math, and realized my mother is directly connected to at least 50 children (three generations).

After I finished researching and talking to my sister, I opened this very lap top on which I’m typing now, and prayed.

I don’t remember all of the exact words, but I was horrified. I wanted to pay tribute to my Mom, and I wanted any who read the obituary to understand why she was so special. If she knew you, she loved you. It was like the greatest disease you could wish for. All she had to do was meet you and know one of us loved you, and she loved you. She loved you and forgave transgressions for which other parents would cast you out of the house. She provided for you no matter what debt that put her in. She was meticulous in identifying birthdays, anniversaries, school days, and anything else that mattered.

I’ve prayed many times. I’ve seen many of those prayers answered. But in a moment, a flash of realization, God answered. He didn’t answer with audible words; he answered with inspiration.

To tell of everyone my mother loved or cared for would take too much space, and to list just some of them would raise them above the others, when my mom would never want that feeling. In these ways, my mother was so very much like our savior Jesus Christ.

I typed out the words in moments, but my eyes were flooding with tears before I finished the third paragraph. Then, as I teach my students, I had to revise and edit. I’d just finished shattering my heart describing a woman I loved so very much, and I had to stomp on the shards over, and over again to make sure that the skill of the writing matched the emotion of its content. I read it at least five times.

I tell you all, whoever reads this, I’ve often been described as dogged and driven. People sometimes speak of amazement with how able I am to focus on a task. This isn’t my strength. It never was. It was only ever the strength and faith God gave me, not one he placed in me as my nature, but one he loans me through his own. I’m weeping now, this very moment as I type this recollection. But I endure because of the strength He has given me.

When it was done, it all came rushing out.  I made it outside, sat on the step of the porch and let it all go. I don’t have a clue how long I balled. Amidst gulps of breath and sniffs of snot, I quoted every verse of scripture I could bring to mind.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew Chapter 5:4)

“We rejoice in our suffering, for suffering builds endurance, and endurance builds character, and character builds hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God has filled us with love through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).

“‘For I know the plans I have for  you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I thanked God for the strength he gave me. Eventually, the tears ceased. I went back inside, and went to sleep.

The next day, the family was happy with the obituary. We sent it off, and I created a program for the service, so people would have something if they wanted it.

My adopted sister and brother (I honestly couldn’t explain with a million words how my head works, so just know that if I think of you as family, you are) stopped by for a day. They brought their youngest daughter.  We talked, and they provided me company and comfort. I showed them all the stupid stuff my mom kept just because I had it once. She kept this photo copy of a random comic I bought. I didn’t even buy another issue, but there it was.

Students in my class would recognize what’s called a phase card. It’s a card that indicates what privileges a military student has.  My mom kept it. I don’t even know how she got it, but there it was. If some random person took a random photo of me, she found it, printed it, and put it in a book.  She did this for every one of us.

Dear God, almighty Father, praise you for giving me a mother who loved us so much.

One of my nieces, a talented stage performer, recorded hymns. Not only were they beautiful, but they were so comforting because these were hymns my mother requested. They were hymns of praise and worship. As I’d grown in my faith, I realized how estranged my family had become with Christ. Those requests, and hearing someone we love sing them, comforted me because they demonstrated that though we struggled with (at best) misguided churches, my mother’s faith remained all the days of her life.

All that was left, was to say goodbye during the service.

 

 


Questions and Revelations

Did the verses help?

They didn’t help. They filled me. They gave me strength. They weren’t like some bit of fresh air from a stuffy office; they were the source of any effort I could offer. They still are. If one were to ask me to prove God exists, I can’t really point to anything specific. I don’t think that’s how it works. Instead I invite them to seek Christ. Read God’s word. Let it be what you turn to in times of need. If you do this with an earnest heart, you’ll get it, and if you never do, there isn’t anything I’ll be able to say or do that will convince you. Since I’ve began this journey, I’m certain that my ability to get through it is based primarily on God’s word and the ability he gave me to seek it to find the right verse for the right occasion.

What did the obituary say:

I thought about where to put this, and it just seems this is the right spot. One can read it if he or she wishes, but he or she can also move on.

These are the words God wrote through me to pay respect to my mother:

Marietta Zavala

June 23, 1949-July 26, 2018

Marietta Zavala, 69, passed away July 26, 2018, in Yuma, Arizona.

She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 23, 1949, to Dale and Corinne Starbuck.

She moved to Yuma in 1984, where she began working at Yuma Proving Ground until she retired Dec. 1, 2010.

She is survived by her husband Rafael Zavala, and her sisters, Gladys, Dawn, and Michelle.

She is also survived by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but to offer names would require more space and time than a simple column can provide, for what made her special, was her endless love, compassion, and generosity to anyone she met.

She managed birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and holidays for more than 50 people, a number which only reflects those she was related to by blood or marriage, but she loved and cared for so many others who think of her as Mom, Grandma, or Great Grandma. She never let a single child she ever met go without presents or, more importantly, a phone call to tell them how much she loved them. This is the legacy she leaves on this earth. It is one of a woman who would always welcome those who needed somewhere to stay; it is one of a mother who cared for children as if they were her own regardless of their relationship. That boundless affection was reflected in her constant desire to prepare her home to be a place of welcome for those for whom she cared.

When someone needed anyone, she was always the first to be called and the first to be there. She will be missed by all those who are now unsure of who to call because the one who was always there has been called to Heaven.

The family is scheduled to host an open house memorial from 4-7 p.m. Aug. 3 at 7584 E. Olive Ann Lane, Yuma, Arizona, 85366. Flowers and letters of condolence may be sent to the same address. 


If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt