Last week I took my mom to lunch to celebrate her 65th birthday. We marked her birthday with the usual gifts and cards, but instead of counting candles, we counted miracles. My Mom is unexplainably beating her second brain tumor. Four summers ago she was re-diagnosed with the same kind of cancer she battled when she was forty-seven. Over the last two decades she has had four brain surgeries, countless MRIs, and rounds of radiation and chemo. Now, her tumor is lying listless. It is taking up space, but for the most part, she is asymptomatic. Each year, each day she is with us, is a reason to celebrate.
While we rejoice, she feels responsibility. She wonders what she is meant to do with this gift of time. She prays about it often, wants to do God’s will with her extended life. But she’s a changed person. Cancer has stolen a bit of her capacities, her energy, her vim for taking on big things. Mostly she feels the need to say yes to her daughters when they ask if they can drop their children off for an hour or two, let her daughter-in-law stay for months at a time in between international moves, simply be there for her family.
Last Christmas, how ever, she took on a pretty big project. She spent hours putting together a book for each of her children. Not a genealogical history or a scrapbook of her life. No. It was a collection of the stories of Jesus.
Unable to find a children’s book that met her standard for text and image, she decided she would make her own. She began with Jesus’ birth in the manger and concluded with his appearance in the Sacred Grove. She selected artwork from her favorite painters and next to that art, retold each depicted story in her own words, quoting verses and listing a complete harmony of references at the bottom. I can’t imagine the time she must have spent gathering the right pictures and piecing together the right words.
In a letter to her children and grandchildren that acts as a foreword to the book, she quoted Elder Neil A. Anderson:
“The Stories of Jesus can be like a rushing wind across the embers of faith in the hearts of our children. The stories of Jesus shared over and over bring faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strength to the foundation of testimony… Can you think of a more valuable gift for our children?”
So we’ve been reading my Mom’s book. Each day at lunchtime I pull out the binder and share a story with my children. It’s become such a habit, if I get distracted and forget, one of my children will dutifully remember. “It’s time for scripture story, Mom!”
I know these stories. But I am coming to love them in new ways as I read my Mom’s paragraphs, glean her insights and perspective. The other day I was telling my children that just as Jesus calmed the storm on the sea, he can calm the storm in our hearts – the worry, the anger, our most heavy concerns. And when I repeated His command, “Peace, Be Still,” I realized the stories of Jesus are as much for me as they are for my children.
My Mother and I shared hummus and pita, halved our sandwiches with each other, laughed over this and that, and talked about what kind of journeys might be ahead of her with this new bout of time she’s been afforded. As I dropped her off I said, “Oh Mom! I’ve been meaning to tell you. We’ve been reading your book. Every day we read a story. And my kids are loving it. It’s been very special to us. Thank you.”
I saw water in her eyes. “That means a lot to me Cath. I’m so glad you told me.” Up to that point, none of her children (myself included) had mentioned to her we’d been using her book. She figured it was sitting somewhere, closed on a shelf, gathering dust in a drawer. What a shame that would be. Her book is a treasure of treasures.
In the later years of her life, it has helped me see what really matters to her. It’s not her photography club, her gardening, or cooking the perfect family meal. More than anything, she wants her children and grandchildren to know the stories of Jesus and have a relationship with Him.
She knows our lives are happiest when we are tethered to Him. She knows the scriptures can help us access His divine strength and peace. And I know, when we hear or tell His stories, the Spirit does act like a rushing wind across our embers of faith, confirming to us that Christ’s life was no fictitious legend, but a true display of the most elevated love.
Catherine Keddington Arveseth is a full-time mother of five, including two sets of twins. She blogs at wildnprecious.com , writes for Power of Moms, and is on the prose editorial board for Segullah.