Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tea Olives and My Mom

Mom and I
As I walked in my neighborhood last night, I noticed the distinctive fragrance of tea olives. I first remember that smell from fall nine years ago. In the evenings, I used to drop my daughter off for gymnastics practice at a gym located in a park near our home, then I’d walk through the tea-olive- filled park to the nursing home to see my mother. I visited her several times a day. She was so sick, dying of cancer. Each evening, I’d move from the intoxicating smell of the tea olives to the nursing home smell, which was not necessarily bad, but different.

My mother didn’t want to be there. She wanted to be home. Home hadn’t been an option for her in quite a while with so many difficult health issues. I felt helpless in the face of a cruel disease that was slowly stealing her life. I’d just sit by her bedside praying, her moments of lucidness becoming fewer and fewer.

On a Saturday night in early October, as I was preparing to go to bed, I dropped to my knees and asked God to heal her or take her to be with him. Her pain seemed excruciating, her quality of life so diminished. I put her in His hands, and got into an empty bed, because my husband, a pastor, was out of state for a few days preaching at a family camp.

I went in to see Mom early Sunday morning and found her unusually alert. I asked if she wanted some applesauce and was surprised when she nodded her head. She’d eaten so little lately. I fed her the sauce and sat down. Then she did something so bizarre. She began to look up to the ceiling all around the room. I couldn’t understand what she was seeing. I got up to check if there was a spider or bug crawling along the top of the wall. I kept saying, “Mom, what is it? What are you looking at?” Unable to speak because of a stroke, she just continued the wide eyed staring at what I couldn’t understand. A friend came in; we visited a little longer, then my friend and I prepared to leave for church.

“I’ll see you a little later,” I told Mom. Mom briefly acknowledged me with her eyes, and then resumed her intense study of the room’s periphery. What in this world was she looking at? I thought as I walked to my car.

A good friend was filling in for my husband at church that morning and concluded his sermon by saying, “There are some things you can’t fix, but when God fixes them, they stay fixed.”

As his words lingered in my brain, I left with my children after church to have lunch, and almost pulled into the nursing home on the way, but the children were very hungry. We’d just finished lunch when my cell phone rang. It was the hospice representative calling to say my mother had just died.

There were things about my mother most people didn’t know--difficult private battles which she’d fought with great courage. Now all those terrible battles were over. I knew then the last time I’d been in her room, she hadn’t been looking at anything in this world. She’d been staring at angels--a room full of them that’d been sent to accompany her into the presence of the Living God.

Paul wrote in II Timothy 4:18 of his confidence that the Lord “…will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” My experience with my mother on the day she died cemented my confidence in God’s promise of heaven as nothing else ever has.

Today, October seventh, is nine years to the day my mom made that trip to heaven. I’ll go walking again tonight and catch the scent of the tea olives, but I’m just wondering if maybe in some way they are the smell of heaven itself for me. And my friend was right, I couldn’t fix my mother’s situation, but God has fixed it for all eternity.

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