Friday, May 11, 2007

"Give Me My Flowers While I'm Living"

That's what my mother often says when she attends a funeral and hears all the nice things people say, or witnesses the deep grief of persons who perhaps have loved deeply but not expressed it in various ways. With a resolution born of knowing, she announces in calm tone, almost to herself and to no one in particular, "Give me my flowers while I'm living."

Over the years, it's become for me a lesson in expressing gratitude. I can see the rows of flowers and arrangements adorning the pulpit area and casket at funerals... wonderful colors, arrangements of various sizes, sometimes with ribbons bearing various sentiments. Then my mother's voice, "Give me my flowers while I'm living."

Yet, learning to express gratitude hasn't been easy for me. And I'm certain I've not expressed enough gratitude to God for my mother or for others He has placed as gifts in my life. It's sad really. I do feel grateful, and I am thankful, but I'm lousy at expressing it.

Well, I'm praying and continuing to work on changing that. I want to give flowers to people while they are living, while they can smell and enjoy them, and rejoice in the Lord who created them.

Today, I want to say a word or two about how grateful I am for my mother.

There's no one quite like her. She's strong. Quiet but passionate, and even emotional at times. She left school in the 7th grade to work in the furniture mills of NC making less than a buck an hour. But she is one of the smartest people I know. She gave me a love for books and learning, telling me I could be anyone or anything I wanted to be, even president. I believed her well past the time I perhaps should have known better, and so the Lord has used her to get more out of me than I otherwise would have thought possible.

My mother can look at a person, listen for a moment, and almost give you a life history and current trajectory. She reads people like she does books. I think that comes from a long life filled with experience, usually hard, sometimes disappointing, and occassionally surprising.

I am the youngest of eight children born to my mother. She never married. But neither did she ever complain, run down my father, bail on providing for us, grow too tired to take an interest in our schooling or extra-curriculars, avoid the responsibility of hard work, make excuses, or resign at anything. I'm sure in the long, tired nights of single motherhood she felt like doing some of those things. But she never did. Ever.

When she wept, she showed great humanity. But I've never seen a person work so hard while weeping. And I've never met someone who so consistently saved her tears for things worthy of them. The loss of her mother... and later one of her sons. The day that I was arrested at my first job while in high school. My mother wept. She could see the end of the choices I was making and wept for the loss it would be. I'm grateful for my mother's tears; they literally turned my life around. I guess you could say even her tears were strong.

One of my fondest memories of my mother is a foot race we had down the street bordering the rear of our home. I was probably 7 or so. My mother was in her mid-forties or so. She had had a heart attack and was trying through diet and exercise to take care of herself. She had smoked most of her life up to that point. When I brought home one of those scary pictures of black lungs they give school children to "evangelize" their smoking parents to a non-smoking life, she looked at the picture, looked at me, and with a purse of the lips quit her pack-a-day Pall Mall cigarette habit on the spot! Hasn't smoked one cigarette since. Well, we're walking this last block home and my mother looks at me and says, "Want to race?" I was a little surprised, but said something like, "You can't beat me." She laughed and said, "Well, let's race then."

On your mark... get set... go! Man, my mama shot down that gravel road like an Olympic track star. I can remember churning my legs as fast as possible as she toyed with me running down that street, laughing and taunting all the way!

That's when I gave up my track ambitions and settled for basketball. If I couldn't out-run my mama, there was no way I was going to out-run little speedster friends like Lamont Holt. But I was tall... so basketball seemed a likely sport. My mother rarely missed a game my entire "career." She was there for me. Which is why I could trust her sober advice when recruiters from small DI and DII schools showed up with partial scholarships and big promises. "Son, you're probably not going to go pro. You have an offer of an academic scholarship. Take that. Study. You can be anything you want to be." Man, how she served and loved me so well!

I wish you had time to read a much longer post, and I had words to honor my mother well and express my gratitude. But here's a summary. I am grateful to the Lord for my mother. I am thankful for the way she never let me down. Though a fallen, sinful person like the rest of us, her steadfast love long ago vanquished any doubt that she was a virtuous woman in her own right, interested in me not out of convenience but with sincerity and great hope, full of wisdom and strength.

I am thankful for all the extra long hours of work she put in at that furniture mill. Hours she translated into food on the table, clothes on my back (how ashamed I am for the small tantrums I threw over the latest trendy clothes "I had to have"), books to read, frivolous treats and surprises, money for college, doctors visits, and on and on.

How grateful I am for the example of industry and prudence she left. How she raised eight children on essentially minimum wages I'll never know. But was she ever an example of diligent, responsible, self-less behavior.

I'm thankful for every tear, every secret prayer, every word of encouragement (there were so many), every "idle" moment spent dreaming with me about what I'd be when I grew up (Pastor was never on the list, but now she tells me she is proud of me), every visit to the school to meet with a teacher, every reprimand, and every tender moment.

And in these later years, I am thankful to the Lord for her faith and hope in Him! As grateful as I am for my mother, I'm more grateful to the Savior who first placed me in her care and who has taken care of her soul.

So much to be grateful for. Words so feeble. But I think I'll call my mama today and give her some flowers while she is living.


LouLove said...

Hey Thabiti:
Been thinking about my mom a lot these days. She is with the Lord now and I miss her very much.

When she finally told us she had breast cancer, she was in her last month of life here. My entire family and I went down to Arkansas to visit with her and allow her to see my first two grandsons. Man she really loved boys. She held Louis IV and changed his diaper on her lap (she did not need a changing table, old school).

She drove herself to her radiation treatment on a Tuesday morning and by Thursday of that same week she was bedridden until she died the next Wednesday.

My wife (the Mother of my children)cared for my mother on her last days and it was something to behold. The two women in the world who I love so dearly in such a sweet relationship, it was really something to see, brother.

When we were driving down to Arkansas, we were listening to a message by John Piper called "How to Help Someone Die". As I was listening I knew that I was going to Arkansas to help my dear Mother die and by God's matchless grace, He allowed to me to read the Scriptures to my Mom. When she started to really study the Word (in her fifties), she loved to read the Bible and anything about the Bible. Well, in those final days, she had problems staying awake and concentrating (the pain), so I read to her. She would dose in and out and when I finished, she apologized for sleeping through some of it and thanked me for reading to her.

We had to leave coming home on the next Tuesday and as my wife and daughter stood next to her bed and prayed with Mom, I knew that I would not see her again on this side. I cried and kissed my Mom for the last time, we got in the car and drove back to Illinois.

The next day early Wednesday, my father called and left us a message on the voice mail, "Louie, she's gone, call me when you get home". That was June 25, 2003, brother and I preached her funeral July 3, 2003.

Well, I really don't know why I went into all that, but just felt like using your blog as a journal today.

Indeed, "give them their flowers while they live, so that they can see the beauty that they bring."

I thank God, for my mother and I thank Him for choosing her before the foundations of the world to be adopted as one of His children. What a great gift, what a great salvation, what a great God.

MsJones said...

Hello Pastor Thabiti,
I too enjoyed reading your blog, one it reminds me of the things that mothers go through, me being a single mother and the things that I can implant on my childrens heart just by being there. I came across your blog by searching the web for a poem or something that will give me a reading on Give me my flowers while I yet live, and if you click on my blog you will see I started one because I think its a great way to get things off your mind and on to paper and allow others to help you along the way.
But as I was saying I was looking for something, because I want to present flowers to some church members who showed their labor of love and also start a ministry called "Give me my Flowers".
Well I enjoyed reading your blog so much, I decided to click on another tab on your page and see that you are a Pastor, and that was nice to see as well so I ended up reading some more items on your page. Thank you.
I want to reach the youth at my church and you have a video on your page (116 Clique) that caught my attention and I think I will intorduce that to the youth. Its just so much that I want to talk about, I didnt realize until I started writing, but I will end basically I just wanted to say I liked your blog ans also your sermon on Matthew (Unclean hands) that was great.