I’ve heard it said that life is the sum of all the choices you make. I get this, but what about the things we don’t choose? Don’t those things still shape our lives and set a course that we may not have “chosen” for ourselves?
Growing up, we all hear phrases like, “You’re in the mistake zone,” referring to young adults between the ages of 18-22, and, “You never know what you have until it’s gone.” Being well out of my 20s now, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard or experienced more accurate phrases. I’ve made a myriad of mistakes along the way, and I try to live each day with no regret, but there’s one choice that still haunts me.
When I was about 19 years old, in the thick of my mistake zone, my mom wanted to take me on a road trip, a girls’ trip to see my aunt in Atlanta. I was not interested. The last thing I wanted to do was hang out with my mom when I could be at home hanging out with my boyfriend and my friends. I mean, couldn’t we go on another girls’ trip when it was convenient for me? I should also tell you that I acted like the complete selfish brat you are already thinking I was on this trip. She tried to make memories, bless her heart, but the only memory I made was the one where I made sure she knew how miserable I was. I know, I know, I’m terrible and so embarrassed.
Though I deserved it, she never scolded me or made me feel guilty. She was patient and constant. Now that I look back on that stage of life compared to where I am now, I chuckle but mostly cringe at how “tough” I thought life was. I had no idea how tough life could be and was about to become. Little did I know, that would be the last time I’d ever have a chance to create a memory with her. That was the last time I’d be able to have a real conversation about life, boyfriends, friends, and my future because soon after this trip she was diagnosed with cancer. Talk about an inconvenience!
After her diagnosis, the next few months were filled with treatments, appointments, and phone calls about how it was affecting her and the rest of the family. I was away at college which served to be good because I’m kind of a “shy away from conflict” kind of gal.
Despite the super dramatic saga of the Atlanta trip, my mom and I had an incredible relationship. She was the kind of mom who wrote notes in my lunch box. Those notes turned into prayers written on cards and mailed to me in college. She was awake and ready to hear every detail of every date night or outing with friends, even if I was a little past curfew. She was the mom who said “no” a lot, but said “yes” a whole lot too. She was a friend to so many and second mom to many of my friends. She was the host, the confidant, the planner, the reminder, the guide, she was a lot of grit and she was a whole lot of grace. I remember being so proud of her going back to school after a 16-year hiatus to stay at home while my sister and I grew up. She graduated from college and started teaching middle school. She taught them English but I’m pretty sure that was just a cover so she could really love them in ways that all kids long for.
Heartbreak to Honor
My mom died during my early 20s, and as you can imagine, I hadn’t figured out the art of simply saying “thank you” yet. I remember how her death jolted my life. I remember growing, changing, maturing, and surrendering. I try to honor and celebrate her now by saying “thank you” through how I live, love, and hope every day. She taught me to tackle difficult times with grit and grace. She taught me that nothing happens that can’t be turned into something beautiful. Watching her take treatments with such valiancy and hearing the hope in her voice shaped me in ways I never knew until I became a mom myself. I vividly remember having the courage and steadiness to speak at her funeral because I felt like everyone there needed to know the legacy of hope and joy she left.
Just like anyone, I often wondered “why” this had to happen. I mean, I had never even lost so much as a pet. So really, my mom? We had to start with her? I was quickened with the realization that she was right. (She is shouting “hallelujah” right now!) While we often make choices that shape our lives, some are mistakes, but God doesn’t make mistakes. We just can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes. It was hard and humbling and I was the most vulnerable I’d ever been. The Lord, in His graciousness, gave me another chance. I didn’t take advantage of the Atlanta trip, but I did take advantage of being there at the end. I took advantage of holding her hand and feeling that light squeeze right before she took her last breath. Oh, the peace I felt that day.
She was right. While we often make choices that shape our lives, some are mistakes, but God doesn’t make mistakes.
However, on the day she died, I wasn’t the only one who lost someone. I looked around her funeral as close to 1,000 people mourned the loss of their friend, family, teacher, sister, mother, and wife. I watched five of her students as they listened to the good news of the Gospel shared that day and how they got hope and life from her death.
As I write this, it’s funny how out of all the wonderful moments, that Atlanta trip sticks out because I so desperately wish I could do it all over again. There is a comforting reassurance that even though I can’t relive those moments with her, the Lord has graciously left me with a dad, sister, a second mom, a husband, in-laws, a sister-in-law, children, friends, cousins, aunts and uncles, students, and more that I can live and truly engage with every single day.
Life Is the Sum of Moments
So, today, I’m a little weepy as I wonder if she’d be proud or how full her heart would be with big love for her grandchildren. I so often find myself rocking my little one to sleep and imagine the advice she might give me. Drew, my eight-year-old, is starting to ask more questions because I talk about her all the time. He calls her “Miss Kim” and I wonder what she would have wanted to be called by him.
Her death helps me teach him when I tell him about how I watched her read her Bible in the mornings; it showed me she needed Jesus, and Diet Coke. Just recently, I explained to him how she wore a wig because she lost her hair and I could see his little mind trying to process it all. I try to explain how I wish I could talk to her and all the fun things she would probably do with them if she was alive. I told him about how she was a teacher and she told her students about Jesus, so they were saved at her funeral.
I do believe life is the sum of the choices we make, and the ones we don’t make. Moments that are beyond our control are going to happen. There will be trials or results that we would never in a million years choose for ourselves, but thankfully we still get to decide how we live every day. Even today, I choose to have peace knowing that if her death brought life, then it’s ok—even worth it.
So, live. Live like it could be your last day, or someone else’s last day. Let’s be honest, if I took that literally, I wouldn’t be at work today. I’d be at home baking and playing games with my husband and kids or on a Disney Cruise. But, I can assure you that I’d choose to take the time to look for moments in which I can engage.
For more stories of strong women, start here:
This Is What I Learned About Life After My Rape and Pregnancy
What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know
Words of Encouragement From a Cancer Survivor
I Never Wanted to Be a Pregnant Widow
On Life and Cancer, From a Pediatric Oncology Nurse
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