Ella stood woodenly, staring at the fresh grave. Dad and her brothers had left right after the service, beginning their long ride home. The thought of their return to the sad, dark house was almost unbearable. Mom, the life and center of the home, taken so suddenly. Gone.
Behind her, Jason spoke softly. “Honey, we need to go. The babysitter has to leave in a few minutes. Cade and Erin will be finished napping, and looking for us. It’s been a hard week for them too.”
Ella nodded, starting down the grassy hill toward their car. The quiet coldness of the little cemetery added to her numbness. Her only feeling seemed to be the crushing weight inside that was more than grief.
At twenty-three, married, and mother of two small children, she struggled with regret and guilt. She tried to shut out the memory of the wall of resistance, which had defined her relationship with her mother.
In one sense, Ella had been her parents’ pride and joy. She was their firstborn, the only girl, bright, capable, and responsible. On the other hand, both parents had held her to extremely high standards and expectations. Mom had always been the most verbal.
Her words coursed through Ella’s mind:
“Be polite and kind.”
“Always do your best (this included everything from dishes to the honor roll.)”
“Memorize your verses.”
“No drugs or alcohol. Be an example.”
“Stand for what’s right, whatever the cost.”
After Ella had quit college, eloping with Jason, Mom’s reminders only became more subtle. She continually urged them to get back in church, especially after Cade and little Erin were born. Ella had just wanted to escape her mother’s narrow, outdated views, which felt like underlying accusations.
Once again, she brushed the past aside, as she hurried home to her children.
Cade and Erin were sitting solemnly in front of the TV, sharing popcorn with Abby, their favorite babysitter. Something about the sight of the two vulnerable little faces stabbed her heart. They would never really know their grandmother, would miss all her pointed advice… For a fleeting moment, Ella regretted that, giving them both a hug.
In the weeks following the funeral, she battled her churning thoughts until she felt she was losing her mind. Neither Jason nor her best friend Cyndi seemed to understand. She longed for someone to talk to.
Finally, one morning, Ella tried to pray. It had been a long time. She cried out to God for help. As she sat for a moment, wondering if He really heard her anymore, the ringing doorbell broke the silence. Reluctantly, she rose to see who was there.
“Ella, I hope I am not intruding. You were on my mind. I came to tell you how sorry I am you’ve lost your mom.”
Ella slowly recognized Pastor Lee. He had aged, but still had the kind twinkle in his eye, and that half-grin that often widened into a radiant smile. He was not smiling now, though. As his tender gaze settled on Ella, she slumped, dissolving into tears.
Sinking onto the sofa, she found herself blurting it all out—the resentment, anger, and guilt.
“Oh, Pastor, I couldn’t live with Mom’s expectations of me. They were too high, and I could never reach them,” Ella choked.
With his big hand covering hers, the gentle man spoke.
“Maybe your mom was too insistent, but sometimes godly mothers get unfair reviews. To me, it sounds as if those guidelines and standards were not “hers” at all, but God’s—in place long before her time. She was simply passing on to you what He expects of all His children.”
Stunned, Ella reacted, “But I can’t live up to all that. I’m not strong like Mom. It’s too hard. “
“Yes,” he replied, “except it doesn’t depend on your strength—or your mom’s—but God’s. In addition, He doesn’t force us, but instead, invites us, into His way. My favorite summation of that is in one Old Testament verse.”
Finding it in his small Bible, he read, “…What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” *
Like a massive breach in a crumbling dam, Ella felt her resistance washing away. She thought about the sweetness of walking with God, understanding at last the source of Mom’s high hopes for her. In her surrender, peace and blessed memories finally came.
*Micah 6:8 (NIV)
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