"The realisation that one is to be hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully. "
Isn't it amazing how, when people are faced with their own mortality, the chains that bind them to this world creak and crack and fall away and they are freed? Thank you so much for that post about Ray Charles - I don't read that magazine (Rolling Stone), nor do I listen to his music, but his words were very powerful and moved me incredibly (See: "Ray Charles on Praise" at Carolyn Arends's blog: www.carolynarends.com/cgi-bin/cablog/blogger.cgi).
I had a similar experience with my mother on the day before she died. She had always said that when she died, she would have no regrets. She was not the sort of person who admitted to any kind of weakness easily. She had divorced two husbands and was on the verge of divorcing her third when she found out that her previously-in-remission breast cancer had spread to her liver, and she had about six months to live (in actuality, it was only three months). She did not have contact with two of her three brothers. She and I had recently ended a year of "not talking" and were trying to heal our often turbulent relationship. Even after the diagnosis, she was still her stubborn, hard-as-nails self, making me promise that I would not let either of her two estranged brothers into any memorial service we might plan. She had her death as well organized as her life. Not a thing happened that she hadn't carefully planned for. Every emotion that she had seemed to be well-ordered and accounted for. I felt somewhat foolish every time I broke into tears while talking to her. She seemed to approach death with the same detached impassivity that had left me so cold over the years. I had been a Christian for almost three years when this occured, and I had stumblingly tried to discuss my faith with my mother a few times, but had never felt that we were at the same dinner party, let alone having the same dish. I prayed and prayed for her peace and for God's grace to fall upon her. She never discussed anything with me, other than the practical "stuff of earth."
The night before she died was Thanksgiving. After a bleak and solemn meal with my to-be-husband and aunt and uncle (the one brother she talked to), I crept into my mother's bedroom, just to be still and close to her. The Hospice nurses had told us that she was practically in a coma, that the cancer had spread to her brain, and that she wouldn't be alive much longer. I just wanted to be alone with her, in the dark as we must have spent many an hour when I was a nursing baby or a toddler awakened by a bad dream or a sick child, to try to ponder the mystery that she had always been to me, and to be near her in love as she prepared to leave this world. I lay on the bed next to her, listening to her breathing, occasionally touching her in wonder that this vital woman, who had been to me almost like a force of nature, was now a shrunken shell.
Sometimes, God lets us be witnesses to miracles. He does it every time we bring a new, tiny, yelling baby into this world, and He did it that night for me and my mom. In the stillness, my mother, whom I had been told that I would never hear speak again, starting to call out. Her voice was rough and hoarse (I'm sure she hadn't much saliva available to speak well), but its cry was unmistakable. She was crying over and over, full of raw emotion, "Jesus, forgive me. Please forgive me, Jesus. Jesus...Jesus, forgive me. Jesus...Jesus...Please forgive me..." Over and over the words tumbled out of her, like the floodgates of life pouring out, and I felt His presence there as I never had before, even upon my own conversion. I trembled with awe (and finally understood the real meaning behind this phrase), and the atmosphere in the room suddenly grew lighter and easier somehow, as if the burdens my mother carried and the burden I had carried from years of a really rotten relationship with her were simply lifted. His yoke is easy, His burden is light. And I knew that my mother was closer to experiencing the full reality of life at that hour so close to her death than she had ever been in her busy and immaculately-planned existence.
Aside from the privilege of being mom to Sadie, this night six years ago stands out as the greatest blessing (among countless blessings) that I have ever been given. When my mother took her last earthly breath the following afternoon, I was able to be filled with hope in the midst of my grief. What a gift, not only for my mother to receive the Living Water of the Lord, but for Him to allow me to witness this intimate moment between Him and His child! He knew that I needed this as much as she, and He does not give us stones in lieu of bread. My mom...such a cool, self-sufficient, indomitable presence she had seemed to me her entire life. In the end, in her desperate crying out, when all her defenses were stripped bare, when all the barriers she had built up in this world had crumbled to dust, she found a God Who is so very good - His grace is, well, amazing - His mercy is boundless.
I'm glad that Ray Charles had a little more time than my mother to live with the eternal in sight. I hope that he was able to fall upon the grace of Jesus with a whole heart, knowing that forgiveness is always available. Who knows? Maybe we'll see him in concert soon (I'd like to see Keith Green and Ray Charles jamming on pianos with Rich Mullins on the hammered dulcimer, Carolyn Arends on guitar - and sax too! it is heaven after all - Spencer Capier on violin, with a whole angel choir singing backup - aren't you going to love concerts in His kingdom?). Jesus told us He was coming back quickly (God's version of "quickly" seems a little long, but this clay won't question the Potter), and I want to chime in with John, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" But He really does come so quickly, even in this late age, when you call His name ("When Your love comes down, You take my soul by storm - You take my soul by storm." --Carolyn Arends). I am so grateful that He still stands ready to open eyes and soften hearts.
Rich Mullins wrote such a great song that sums up so beautifully that moment before you know the Lord. I wasn't thinking of this song on the night my mother cried out - I was too deep in grief and regrets to think of anything other than the moment at hand - but I have never listened to this song since without remembering that night. I would like to copy the lyrics out, so you'll see what I mean:
"Verge of a Miracle"
Words and music by Rich Mullins
Copyrighted 1986 by BMG Songs, Inc. (ASCAP)
Clung to a ball that was hung in the sky
Hurled into orbit - there you are
Whether you fall down or whether you fly
Seems you can never get too far
Someone's waiting to put wings
Upon your flightless heart
You're on the verge of a miracle
Standing there - oh -
You're on the verge of a miracle
Just waiting to be believed in
Open your eyes and see
You're on the verge of a miracle
Here in your room where nobody can see
Voices are loud but seldom clear
But beneath the confusion that's running so deep
There is a promise you must hear
The love that seems so far away
Is standing very near
When you've played out your last chance
And your directions have all been lost
When the roads that you look down are all dead ends
Look up - you could see if you just look up
What an incredible talent God housed in that clay vessel, Rich Mullins! The generosity of God is such that He shared him with us for as long as He did.
Peace to all...