Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To My Girls: A Letter About Legacy.

“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations.”
{George Bernard Shaw}

Dearest Tabbitha and Heather,

You would have loved her.

She was funny and she loved popcorn too and she had this sweet little way of patting my hand just like you do, H.

Her name was Mamaw Cheryl. She was my mommy. She changed my life. 
It's very important that I do my best to introduce you to her legacy.

You both saw me crying on Friday and your sweet little hearts grieved with me, unsure of what had jilted our little basket of fun. I carefully tried to carve out some words that wouldn't confuse or scare you but were also honest. It was, as always, tricky for me to explain. Honestly, it's hard for me to tell big people.

My mommy died. Even five years later, I still get so, so sad. She will be with Jesus forever but I sure do miss her something fierce.

Girls, I want to tell you a most important secret. In one of my favorite movies (you can't see it until you are 35, so don't even ask), the main character says something I want you to always remember.

Every man dies, not every man really lives.

My mama, she did it. She really lived.
She made people feel loved and valued. She let me lick the beaters. She made Uncle Ry-Ry's favorite tomato salad whenever he was in town. She washed, folded, and ironed my laundry every weekend I brought it home from college. (Not going to happen for you. There's too many of you that will be in college at once.) She ran a successful business not because she made a lot of money, but because she made a difference in her community. She was married to the same man for just shy of forty years.
She birthed me at 36, God bless her.

She occasionally colored her words with sentence enhancers and she could get angry if anybody wasn't getting a fair shake or somebody messed with her children. She was not perfect and was a not a good money manager at times. I don't want you to think she was perfect, she would have hated that.
Her discernment could make bad folks uncomfortable and made folks who were poor in spirit feel like the richest man in the room.

I guess you could say she was a heck of a lady.

She had many, many different hairstyles through the years, and when all that hair fell out several times, she encouraged us not to do the supportive thing because, she pointed out irreverently, "Two baldys in the family is enough!" She was making fun of Papaw's bald head.

Under advisement of her nine-year-old, she got her hair whacked off when yours truly told her, "Mom, you should get it cut like Katie Couric!" What a good sport.

She prayed and believed and got to work to change her city. She brought all the churches together in unity to meet the needs of people who didn't have enough to eat and couldn't keep warm in the winter or cool in the summer. 

One time, she marched around a building in the middle of Loogootee seven whole times (just like our Bible buddy Joshua) because some greedy people wanted to make that building into a place that exploited young women and put the town at risk. 

It worked.

She loved high heels, Casual Corner, and cruises to exotic places. She told me of one of her travels where she saw a flower that bloomed, but once it was touched by human hands, it closed, never to bud again. Her life was kind of like that. We all enjoyed the gift of Mamaw Cheryl for a little while, just long enough to truly savor the beauty.

Her girlfriends like Aunt Julie got together and made her a beautiful quilt. It has lots of squares and pictures, and I look forward to telling you all the stories, like why there's a Diet Mountain Dew logo (two words: Uncle CURT) and why my quilt square looks like a junior high boy designed it (long story. I'm not that artistic, you know).  

I sat beside her bed and I watched this awful disease called Cancer make her very, very sick. I know you won't understand this until you get older, but she taught me how to live and die, all for the glory of God. 
She championed the underdog right up until the end, ministering to broken and hurting nurses, encouraging her friends. 

She shaped your life in so many ways.

Uncle Ry Ry had them play "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys at her funeral. It was one of her favorites, and she always went the extra mile so the people around her wouldn't feel anxiety or fear.

Your own mama learned a lot from Mamaw Cheryl. She was one of the best. I have tried to take her parenting strategies, add my own little brand of mama sparkle, and ask for a TON of help from The Big Guy in order to parent you. When I have you say "I Will Be A Mighty Woman of God, AMEN!" every night, it's her face I picture.

Mamaw Cheryl once told my friend Krystal something as Mamaw battled for her life. She told Krystal that she was proud of the woman I was becoming and that she knew I'd do great things.

I say the same to you two, my little women, today. You're a chip off your Mamaw's block and I see her fire for right and true in your green and brown eyes. 

This is your legacy from Mamaw Cheryl: fun, (mostly) fearless female who touched Heaven with her prayers and changed her community by seeing Jesus in every face.

She didn't meet you, but she has shaped little pieces of your life for the better through the power of Christ. She left the generations who follow her a better idea for what on earth as it is in Heaven might really look like.

Speaking of Heaven, you've asked me a lot of questions about what it will be like, what Mamaw Cheryl is doing, if I will have to go to Heaven just like my mommy did and leave you alone, what Jesus DOES UP THERE ALL THE TIME, and so on. I wish I could tell you a lot about it, but I'm not that sure, and some of the best things in life are really mysteries. Daddy always says that there are so few good surprises left in life, so I guess Heaven will be one of them for us. 

But true to form, I remembered a song on Friday, when Mamaw Cheryl had been gone five long years, and I think you should read some of the words, not because it answers your questions, but because when you read them, the questions may not matter as much anymore.

Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts.
And what do I know? What do I know?

Well,I don't know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
And I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of these things.

But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, 
and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good.
Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, 
and from what I know of him, that must be very good.

Here are a few things I want you to remember. Thinking of Mamaw Cheryl reminded me of them. She was always telling me stuff that mattered. I hope I'm doing the same for you, so here goes:

Communicate with God. Talk to Him a lot. He sure loves hearing from you, and it means something to people when you talk to God about them. If you don't know what to do or say, pray for them. You won't feel helpless anymore because you're calling on a God who is so "Powerful" (right Tabbi?) and He always knows how to help. So don't be bashful. Just talk to Him.

Make other people feel important. In this family, we value people. We try to value their stories and their journeys and feel their troubles. Make many people feel like they are the only person in the world while they are talking to you. I'm still working on modeling this for you-but we will keep learning together.

Listen to ABBA. Heaven forbid I would raise a child who do not know the words to Waterloo or cut off the radio when Dancing Queen comes on. Life's too short to take yourselves too seriously.

Take risks. March around a building or two in your lifetime and don't give a Fig Newton if somebody laughs at you. This will only make you more reliant on Christ's opinion of you. If you want to be a mighty woman of God, you'll need to just look for His wink and nobody else's.

Don't put things off. Your Mamaw Cheryl and I always talked about going to Broadway, but we missed our chance. Be careful talking about tomorrow. If I've learned anything, it's that we never have tomorrow. Only today.

Live in crazy love with Jesus. This is how you make it triumphant through a mean old world full of cynicism and dread. You have hope and the world needs to know who is the reason for it. Shine your light wherever He sends you.

I can only hope that I'll be half the mother to you that I had. 

You will change the world, Pickle Pants Squared. Your Mamaw Cheryl did.

Love you like ice cream,


Hedy King said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mother, Lauren. Your girls may have missed knowing her, but they have a mom that was created in her image, I believe. Those girls are blessd and so were you. Lovely, sweet remembrance.

Candace said...

I just read your post and it brought me to tears. I miss seeing you and hearing your stories about your mom! I know she is proud of the woman and mother you have become. Don't forget to let your girls listen to a little Michael Jackson too! And quote him when necessary! Congrats on the new baby! Love ya!