Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Five Years

Today marks five years since my mom left this world and journeyed to be with Jesus. The time has passed so quickly. It really feels weird to think about how much my life and the life of my family has changed since she went home to be with Jesus. I wish she could have been around to see it all, and that she was still here with us, but she has gone on to a far better place. She no longer suffers the challenges of high blood pressure, type two diabetes, congestive heart failure or metastatic invasive carcinoma breast cancer. And when I list out all of those challenges she faced daily, it makes it even more impressive she stayed with us for as long as she did. 

In 2007, I cut a significant amount of my hair in honor of my mom, and in 2008, I cut the remainder of my locks in honor of her, and to mourn her loss as per our Shawnee tradition. I’ve not grown it back since. My brothers, Chuck and Willie, both made sacrifices of their locks as well. Chuck even shaved his mustache—a permanent fixture on his face since the 80s. Even Willie’s son Christian shaved his head in honor of my mom. Willie also wrote this beautiful song to honor and remember her upon her passing. It still brings tears to my eyes as the memories come flooding back of her courageous last days on this earth.

I started my first garden the year my mom died. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot through my dabblings in local agriculture, but more than anything, I’ve been reminded of lessons she and Dad taught me about planting, growing, harvesting, and hard work. Of course like any kid, I didn’t enjoy the discipline at the time, but I can look back with immense gratitude now.

And within a month of mom saying goodbye, I began to have serious conversations about global poverty and international development withmy longtime friends Jake Harriman and John Hancox. These conversations along with extensive reading and research on the subject, and much prayer, fasting, and wrestling, led me to a significant career change as I joined my friends as they started Nuru International. I’m grateful that I have been able to deepen my service to others, and invite more people to confront the crisis of extreme poverty in our world. I really wish mom could have been here to see what we have been able to accomplish in the five years since she died, but I am incredibly grateful my dad has been here cheering us on in this work.

And a little over a year ago, I got married. I wish my mom could have spent more time with Jamie. She’s absolutely incredible, and I think they would have absolutely loved each other. They are two of the best examples I know when it comes to compassion and caring for people around them.

And then there’s my sister. She left a ten year job at a doctor’s office to start a new career this year. Not only that, but my sister has become quite the runner. It seems like every weekend she is getting a new trophy or award for her running exploits. Since the year my mom went to be with Jesus, Becky has led our family in participation with the Wood County Relay For Life. Mom was never able to attend—the first year, she was in ICU. Little did we know she would be leaving so soon. And Becky had her own bout with cancer in 2007 too. Just a month after mom’s parting, she had a malignant melanoma removed. She’s a survivor.

Dad was walking twelve miles a day, and riding his bike 20-30 miles 2-3 times per week after mom died. And then in 2009, he had a massive heart attack. It was utterly unexpected. Dad has always been healthier than most people half his age. Since that attack he doesn’t walk twelve miles a day anymore, but he is probably in better shape and eating better than ever before. As much as we kids miss mom, Dad lost his best friend of 43 years. Dad continues to be an example of generosity and compassion to others too. He supports Becky at virtually every race she runs, and he maintains his garden the way he has done for years and gives away significant portions of its bounty.

My brother, well he is still working in the same job, but his level of responsibility keeps increasing. He’s an extremely talented engineer. And he lives and loves sacrificially with his time. He’s up at 430AM virtually every day to drive himself and several coworkers to work and stays up late to make sure dogs are walked and chores are done. And further, his son has graduated high school and is a student at Notre Dame (not WVU, but still not a bad education).

And in the last five years, each one of us has grown in our faith as well as in our service to others. My dad just recently took the steps to join his church and was baptized the same day.

On Mom's last trip to the hospital, my sister, dad, and I spent the day with her, and I left the hospital to drive to Morgantown to receive my MA in English. I leaned down to hug her and told her, “I’ll try to make you proud tomorrow mom.” As I stood up, she looked at me with her eyes filled of compassion, as she breathed deeply from the oxygen tube running under her nose. She smiled and said, “Every day you make me proud.” Those words echo in my mind every time I think of her. She loved each one of us well, and she showed us by example, even during her last days, how to love the people who cross our paths in seemingly random ways.

I wish mom was still with us, but one day we will reunite with much rejoicing. And until that day, we will labor, and dedicate the remainder of our days to love God and love others well, and to work to serve our neighbors both locally and globally. I know that if she were here, she would continue to be so proud of each of us. I know she would be cheering us on alongside Dad, and she would be cheering Dad on as he maintains his health and faith so well.

Wherever and whoever you are, you have an opportunity today to make a choice. You and I have an opportunity each day to pour out a legacy of hope and compassion, to wisely steward the gifts we have been given, to love well, and to live well. And I pray we may live as an example worth imitating as we walk this earth, just like Mom.


Kim Reaser said...

Billy, Your Mom sounds like she wanted to make others lives better, to give of herself, and to make a positive difference. I wish I could have met her... Thank you for sharing!
Much Love, Kim

Debbie said...

Billy, Your mom continues to live and make a difference in this world through you and your siblings. On behalf of me as a mom and other moms, we thank you for remembering her and honoring her through your words.