In autumn 2021, I was invited to participate in the Wonderfully Made event at Rolling Hills Baptist Church, Verona, Pa. The day was geared toward tween and teen girls with the goal of debunking the world’s lies regarding what a (young) woman should look, think and act like, replacing them with the soul-soothing, life-giving Truth of God’s Word. With the vision securely laid on the heart of Nicole Drayer, wife of Pastor Greg Drayer, she and her team executed it beautifully as led by the Holy Spirit, aptly choosing Psalm 139:14 as the focus verse, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful; I know that full well.”
From the podium, one of the guest speakers challenged the girls to “disregard the ‘you do you’ mentality of pop culture, and instead pursue the beauty of unselfishness.” The moment she spoke the phrase my heart was pricked. A barrage of self-centered memories played as if on a movie screen in my mind—all in HD and Technicolor. I was convicted. How could I be a saved sinner at age 27 and still struggle with “Me first!” moments at age 61? From that time on, I added this petition to my daily prayers: Lord, please help me to acquire the beauty of unselfishness.
As is the Lord’s way, nothing He does is one-dimensional. Each of us who have served in His army has experienced this: He designates a target audience for a ministry opportunity. He utilizes us as the vessels. And while we’re diligently focusing on the task at hand, He simultaneously is at work on us. That day last autumn was no exception. Wasting no time, the Lord began to work. Within weeks of the Wonderfully Made event, I received news that my 95-year-old mother-in-law, who lived 400 miles away, was nearing the end of life. With the news came a request from my brothers-in-law to spend a week with her once she was released from rehab to assess her long-term needs. I immediately dispatched, thankful for the opportunity to minister.
Mom was prepared to die even before I arrived. She felt as though her sons were pressuring her to rebound. They simply didn’t want to lose their mother. She feared I was coming on the scene to push her as well. I explained that my sole purpose was to walk alongside her wherever she was in the dying process. And what a sweet walk it turned out to be.
God granted me the honor of ministering to Mom through the final week of her earthly life. With her daily decline, I found myself relying more and more on His strength, and full disclosure, wishing I had a nursing degree. He sent support in the form of a compassionate nurse and aide at the facility where Mom resided, caring brothers-in-law who had been in the trenches long before I arrived, the prayers of my warrior church family and friends back home, and a loving, appreciative husband who called every evening at six o’clock sharp to encourage me and listen while I processed the day. Despite the demands that her physical deterioration brought to bear, Mom and I shared the most beautiful mother-daughter time imaginable.
The week progressed with waves of mental, emotional and physical fatigue washing over me, and always my Abba’s presence to standing me back on my feet. That being said, what I experienced was trivial compared to what Mom was enduring. It’s an understatement to say I felt ill-equipped to keep her safe and meet her ever-growing needs. I’m omitting the details to preserve her dignity, but anyone who’s been a caregiver understands the breadth of it. God’s grace was manifested in a thousand incredible ways. In the midst of it, He revealed that my recent petition for the beauty of unselfishness was an integral piece of the plan. That exhausting, glorious, heart-wrenching marathon was all a part of God’s design for Mom and me. He was using me in her final days. He was using her circumstances, in which it would’ve been impossible (and inappropriate) for me to be self-centered, in mine.
The day before she left us, my unbelieving mother-in-law took my hand and asked me to pray for her. When I finished, she also prayed. She’d never done that. My heart rejoiced! I smiled knowing that Christ now held her other hand. She passed away during the night with her granddaughter, Abby (a nurse—yet another gift), and I by her side. It’s a privilege to be present when a loved one takes their final breath. It produces an intimacy like no other. I was consumed with gratitude for the blessings that God, Mom and I’d shared. In the days following the funeral, my brothers-in-law expressed their thanks to me for “doing for Mom what they couldn’t.” I wept knowing that our Lord and only He deserved the gratitude, and that no one but Christ comprehends the cherished gift that Mom and I’d been given. The whispered exchanges never to be shared, sweet laughter laced with mutual unspoken sadness, and woman-to-woman/mother-to-daughter understanding perfectly cemented our love.
You may wonder why I’m sharing this page from my story. It’s to remind you–because we all need reminded now and again–that we have a Father who hears our prayers, and even before we ask, is setting the stage for the perfect scenario to bring us closer to Christlikeness. He never hesitates to place us in mission and minefields that are oceans away from our comfort zones, in places unimpressed by our skillsets or high-brow degrees, our intellect and life experience. All of that is stripped away. The only thing we bring into those spaces is our heart for Christ. So, before you lay a petition at His feet, be prepared for Him to rock your world. The target audience He next presents will most assuredly include you, and you’ll be transformed and made all the more “beautiful.”
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:24-27)