It was a Saturday. We were planning to go to Nashville that day to see her. She’d been hospitalized there for several days and we’d planned for me to finish up the school week and then go see her on Saturday. I had just finished getting ready when my sister and brother-in-law arrived at the house. We were supposed to ride to the hospital together.
But one look at my sister’s bloodshot eyes and I knew that it was too late.
The date was March 26, 1994. It was the day my mother passed away.
In the 20 years since her passing, I’ve written quite a bit about my mother’s impact on my life. I’ve written about her compassionate spirit that compelled her to a 20-year career teaching inner-city students. I wrote about my embarrassment when, as a 15-year-old, a church member told me I looked just like her and how, years later, the same words became a source of pride for me as an adult. I’ve even written about the perpetual grieving process that becomes a part of you when you lose someone of this magnitude.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death, I want to write about hope.
When I think of my mother, I think of hope. She always seemed to me to have an indomitable spirit about her. My sister and I laugh at this cheesy little saying Mom used to throw around: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” The thing is, Mom really believed this was possible. She believed in the power of choice. No matter the circumstances you find yourself in, you always retain the power of choice. You might choose to wallow in your misery, or you might choose to transcend the present adversity but make no mistake: the power of choice is yours. And this power liberates you; it frees you to truly live in hope.
And that’s where all of this goes from bumper sticker pablum to something much deeper and truer. You meet some people who are brimming with hope simply because they’re naive. They haven’t really lived, and by that I mean they haven’t really suffered. That wasn’t the case for my mother. I could recount for you all the adversities my mother faced over the course of her life but her constant legacy to us is her refusal to be defined by them. Instead, she chose a different path, one marked by hope.
My mother chose to believe in a glorious ending, an ending that makes a difference here in the middle, here in the present. It is a present that we all must live by faith, which is a lot harder than it sounds. But by choosing hope, my mother transcended the challenges of her present: malignant melanoma, aggressive treatment, hospitalization and all. Like Abraham, she “hoped against hope” (Romans 4:18) — even when all evidence pointed to the contrary, the indomitable spirit rose up in triumph, believing in the glorious end residing just over the horizon.
Hers was a glorious ending because it was a hopeful one.
On that Saturday, I never made it to the hospital. As I said, all it took was one look at Tara and I knew.
But I was wrong about one thing: it’s never too late.
Not when you have the power of choice.
Not when you hope against hope.
The sun sets for all men. What defines us is our conviction in the dawning of a new day, just beyond the horizon.
And 20 years in, I’m more convinced than ever that the glorious ending is more like a glorious beginning, when all things are made new.
At least that’s what I hope.