Editor's note:

Today we coax Jus­tine Olawsky out of the back­ground at ren​o​vare​.org (where she does much of the work to bring you our dai­ly posts) to share a bit of her own life. As we look towards Mother’s Day, Jus­tine tells the poignant sto­ry of how God moved in her own mom’s life to reveal him­self to moth­er and daugh­ter alike. Though we may each receive con­fir­ma­tion of God’s good­ness in dif­fer­ent ways, Justine’s sto­ry reminds us that God is indeed good, and that his ten­der care for us is cre­ative, per­son­al, and close at hand.

—Renovaré Team

Has this verse always intrigued you as much as it has me? And there are also many oth­er things that Jesus did, which if they were writ­ten one by one, I sup­pose that even the world itself could not con­tain the books that would be writ­ten. Amen (John 21:25). I tend to find myself a bit grouchy with the Beloved Dis­ci­ple at this point, because I want more, more, more of Jesus.

But, what if we look at this tan­ta­liz­ing con­clu­sion in a dif­fer­ent light? Our Redeemer, after all, lives; because he loves us, because he inter­cedes for us, because his Spir­it brings us into per­son­al com­mu­nion with him, then tru­ly, were all the things that Jesus has done ful­ly told, the earth itself could not con­tain the books that would be writ­ten. Bil­lions of Gospels Accord­ing to …” have been inscribed on grate­ful hearts since that glo­ri­ous Sun­day morn­ing out­side the emp­ty tomb. Every believ­er has his own. Here is a chap­ter from mine. 

My moth­er and I had a dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ship, to put it mild­ly. Ever since my par­ents’ divorce when I was nine, there was con­stant ten­sion between us, as I — so obvi­ous­ly my father’s daugh­ter — griev­ed and frus­trat­ed her at every turn. The teenage years were par­tic­u­lar­ly hor­ri­ble, as you may well imag­ine. I ran off to col­lege far, far away at eigh­teen, and that was that. 

Mom had been raised Catholic, but not as a believ­er. In oth­er words, tra­di­tion trumped rela­tion­ship in her view of God. When she mar­ried my dad, they became for a time casu­al Epis­co­palians; by the time I arrived eight years after that, they were pret­ty much cul­tur­al Chris­tians and lit­tle else. I got Christ­mas and East­er — San­ta and that giant rab­bit — and no spir­i­tu­al substance. 

When I was twen­ty-one, my life changed for­ev­er when I came to know my Sav­ior. When I read the Bible for the first time, every­thing just clicked for me. The sud­den under­stand­ing of my con­di­tion and his grace was an intel­lec­tu­al rev­e­la­tion. It led me to try, for the first time, to make in-roads with my mom. Between my embar­rass­ment and her indif­fer­ence, there was not much in the way of progress. I was left with a wary truce and the vague promise of time’s heal­ing touch. 

In late August of 1998, my mother’s breast can­cer, which had been in remis­sion for more than a year, returned. With vora­cious aban­don, it worked its way into her lymph nodes and down into her liv­er. This time, the doc­tors gave her no hope of recov­ery and promised only six months to a year with treat­ment. They were wrong. She would live only anoth­er three months. 

Thanks­giv­ing that year was qui­et. The ladies from Hos­pice had pre­pared us for Mom’s death as much as they could. She had been in a coma for two days, and the care­givers spec­u­lat­ed that the can­cer had entered her brain. There was noth­ing to do but wait. 

Food had always been a big deal for my mom. She was Ital­ian — need I say more? There were sad smiles in rec­ol­lec­tion of this as our small fam­i­ly par­ty gave thanks over a pur­chased meal from the local gro­cery store. I was on auto-pilot, mov­ing dish­es to the table, eat­ing with­out tast­ing, clear­ing every­thing away, and putting the kitchen into the impec­ca­ble order my moth­er cher­ished. The empti­ness once these tasks were fin­ished was over­whelm­ing, but no one felt ready to leave. So, I crept into my mother’s bedroom. 

She was tiny, wast­ed. On her back, her chest rose and fell with excru­ci­at­ing labor, sigh­ing out a faint, rat­tling breath. Oth­er than that, she was far too still for sleep. It seemed to me that, in this coma, she strad­dled the worlds of the liv­ing and the dead. I did not know what to do, so I crawled into bed next to her and prayed. 

What I lament­ed most was the time I had lost. It seemed ter­ri­bly unfair that I had to lose my moth­er when I was twen­ty-four, when oth­er girls got years and years to heal the rifts and soothe the heartache. She would not see my wed­ding. She would nev­er see her grand­chil­dren. We would nev­er have that rela­tion­ship we had both yearned for and nev­er knew how to effect. I felt robbed — not by God, but by our mutu­al sin. I prayed silent­ly and lis­tened to her breath­ing and the damnable stillness. 

All of a sud­den, into that deep still­ness came a noise — choked, gnarled, raspy. I opened my eyes into the dark­ness and knew some­how that I was on holy ground. As sure­ly as I heard that noise in the room, I heard a voice in my heart speak one word: lis­ten. So, I was still. And this is what I heard: 

Jesus,” my mother’s lips formed the word with much effort in a dry, but deter­mined, voice. Jesus,” con­tin­ued this woman in a coma, for­give me. Please for­give me, Jesus.” And over and over and over. Now it was clear­er, now it was soft­er. Now it was coars­er, now it was like a whis­pered breeze. And she con­tin­ued on for I don’t know how long, but it seemed as though we had entered into a span of eter­ni­ty. Time was of no con­se­quence until God’s work was finished. 

When it was over, I left her room with thanks­giv­ing and praise and tears stream­ing down my face. I spent much of that night on my knees. Mom died the next day — secure, I am cer­tain, in his sal­va­tion. In the inter­ven­ing eigh­teen years, I’ve puz­zled out many times that mir­a­cle to which I was witness. 

God could have brought my moth­er home with­out my ever know­ing. He could have made it as per­son­al and pri­vate as the first time I ever prayed a real prayer. But, he is such a good God, so full of lov­ingkind­ness and mer­cy, that he brought me there so that I could know that I had not lost the time, after all. He allowed me to wit­ness his glo­ry so that I could be assured that every­thing I had missed in my rela­tion­ship with Mom in this world would be found in his king­dom. He who con­quered the grave so long ago proved again that in him there is no death. 

How love­ly to have that mem­o­ry of his great love to cher­ish as I approach hol­i­days like Mother’s Day. He took my ash­es of anguish and sor­row and trans­formed them into the beau­ty of his promise. In doing so, he did away for­ev­er with any doubt or qualms I might have ever had when this Chris­t­ian walk becomes hard. What a bless­ing! Ask me how I know that he is true and real and good. I am ever ready to give my defense to every­one who asks me the rea­son for the hope that is in me, with meek­ness and fear. Is it any won­der that I will sing of his mar­velous works and praise the pow­er of his name all the days of my being? Amen. 

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