Editor's note:

Today we coax Justine Olawsky out of the background at renovare.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.  

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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