Monday, September 03, 2012

A Meditation on Mom and I Corinthians 13

It's been a long, long time since I posted at this blog, but I've been thinking about it. Yes, I know that thinking about it doesn't make it so. I'll try to post some thoughts here on a regular basis, but I'd love your input. Feel free to email your ideas for blogs or even a blog or short piece you've written yourself to me at with the subject line "Christians Crawling" or words to that effect. Thank you.

This is a meditation I wrote and read aloud at my mother's funeral service, August 12, 2012.

Mom , Christmas 2011

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, and have not love--I am nothing but a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal.

I wanted to share a few paraphrased passages from I Corinthians 13, also known as "The Love Chapter", today because even though it is often read at weddings, this beautiful piece of scripture is also fitting for funerals--and particularly in regards to celebrating the legacy of my mom, Ann J. Cooper.

Mom, as many of you know, was an excellent wordsmith. Without her expertise in grammar and spelling and her editorial input, I don't believe my father's publications would have been half as successful. Mom was even multilingual for a short period of her life as the young daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to Brazil during the 1930s. I can remember how she use to entertain us with a children's tune about a little birdy, all in fluent Portuguese. But I really feel Mom was the most fluent in the most important of all languages, the language of doing, of serving, the language of the heart, the language we call "love".

As her dear friends, we all saw her demonstrate this language frequently. She volunteered her love and service at Chopin Hall, Lutheran Social Services; at various other charities over the years; through service as a younger woman with both the Boy and Girl Scouts of America; through serving in various capacities at St. John's and other churches she attended;through befriending students at University of Findlay while working in the library--especially the foreign students; by her support of educational opportunities through the American Association of University Women and by supporting her grandchildren in their college careers. 

Mom's grammar was the syntax of doing, of serving others selflessly, of encouragement and support without the need of words. Her actions were her words, and time and cancer could not rob her of the language of love.

She loved continually and showered it frequently on both close confidants and on perfect strangers alike. In the few short months she live at Primrose Retirement Center, she made friends with staff and residents alike. They loved her funny stories and comments--she made them smile and lightened their workload. When they told us, "We love your mother!" I believe it was heartfelt and not mere words. To the end, she was fluent in the language of the heart, this tongue we call "love".

Love is patient and kind; Love is not selfish, nor proud, not jealous or boastful. It doesn't rejoice in wrongs, but rejoices in the right. Perfect love casts out all fear.
I will  never claim that Mom was "perfect"--she struggled with sin just like the rest of us--but I will admit to you that to me she was a "saint". Now comes the good part of the talk: I'll admit to a dirty little secret that only me and mom shared. Not even my family members are fully aware of this: I am brain damaged. Yes, I know what you are thinking, but here I'm using the English term accurately. I suffered a brain injury probably during birth. I was born about three weeks early, and Mom said that she lost almost all her water by the time she arrived at the hospital. I seemed a normal enough baby with good lungs, and I was sent home in time for Easter, but Mom realized when I became a toddler I was not speaking or understanding words like my older siblings.

It was the early 1960s, and the testing we have today wasn't available. Mom told me she didn't know what to do but to love me as I was, and try and help me the best she could. Mom's treatment was through introducing me to the world of literature at a very young age. While my older siblings were at school, and Paul in his cradle,  she would sit me on her lap near her heartbeat--my favorite sound!--and read picture books to me, pointing my fingers over the words and sounding them out while pointing to the objects in the illustrations as well. 

One day it was as if a light bulb popped up in my mind--I could visually put those odd and confusing noises people made into a form my brain could digest and organize into coherent thought! At age two the world was a frightening cacophony of sounds and unintelligible garble, but by age four I came to understand that folks were speaking English--and I could too, but I needed a little more help. I was in speech and hearing classes from first through sixth grade--yes, that long. I loved my speech pathology teachers, but none came close to my mom. Like Helen Keller, one day a loving teacher brought me the gift of language to me and suddenly the world became a brighter, less frightening place that I could relate to and communicate with. Mom was my "Annie Sullivan", my savior from an existence that would have only been hell on earth. And the language she first taught me was the language of love.

For now we see through a mirror dimly; then we shall see Him face to face. We will come to understand all, even as we are now fully understood.

Mom was a "mirror"--not a perfect one, but a mirror of God's love in the world through her actions. Actions do speak louder than words! And here's one last example of her doing, her serving, her language of love: Mom would pray for all her family members and  friends every night after she read her daily devotional. She would pray for each according to his/her need--and she loved each and every one uniquely and special she told me. She said her prayers right up to the end. I was tucking her in at Primrose one night and I asked if she wanted me to turn out her light and call the nurse for her pain medication, but she said, "No, not yet. I need to say my prayers first."

If there's one reason I wish Mom were here today it's this: I wish she were here so her grandchildren and others, whom she hadn't met yet, could get to know her better and experience her language of the heart. But she's gone to be with her Savior--and yours, too--Jesus Christ. Wednesday last week was a happy day for her. She departed a world filled with garbled noises and strange sounds called "sin" and went to a place where everyone speaks the same tongue--the language of love. You can see why I am particularly glad that she's there now with her Savior in heaven, as she helped to save me (and others) from hell and gave us a sweet foretaste of that world to come with our Lord.

As the apostle Paul summed it up at the end of his "Love Chapter": 

Faith, hope, love--abide these three, but the greatest of these is love.

Continue Ann's legacy of love--do, serve, act, encourage, teach, and above all else know that our perfect Savior is watching over you every step along the way. Always.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wherever you go...

God will be with you wherever you go. --from the book of Numbers

Some people have great and intricate plans for their lives. They work through these plans step by step, goal by goal, year by year. They cross off things on their to-do lists and ocassionally reward themselves for a job well done by taking a trip, buying a new car, or simply going out to eat or to see a movie. At the end of the day, week, month, year or lifetime these intelligent and well-organized folks sit down, settle back, put their feet up, smile and say to themselves, "Well done!"

Then there are the rest of us.

I do believe the "rest of us" are in the majority. We may dabble with being organized from time to time, but we quickly revert to our inherently sloppy, live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ways. We act spontaneously and rashly, then later chide ourselves over and over again for the mistakes we've made. We berate ourselves for choosing the wrong path in life. We curse and condemn ourselves for the sheer stupidity of our choices. We loathe our lack of decision-making abilities.

Frankly, we teach ourselves to hate ourselves.

"Why did I do that?" has been my mantra for most of my life. The apostle Paul in his letters to the early church repeatedly exclaimed, "I am the worst of all sinners!" If I had been there, I'd have chimed in with, "Me too!"

Beating myself up for my "crimes" against myself became a hobby.

It's not a pasttime I recommend. Unfortunately, it's an all too common one. Being human (as opposed to Vulcan, Galifreyan or your generic little green man from Mars) I fell prey to this epidemic of self-loathing early on, perhaps even earlier than I give myself credit. To be a citizen of Planet Earth means no one--no one can ever become fully immune from this "sin sickness".

What escape is there from this dreaded disease? None. A person can't simply walk away from their troubles. A person cannot time travel (as much as I'd like to) and go back and fix mistakes and poor decisions from years past. "Emotional baggage" will be packed along with your winter sweaters or heirloom china or even your bobble-head baseball figurine collection and taken to wherever you go... No matter how far or how long or how fast you run your problems tag along for the ride.

So, I can't get away from my dysfunctional hobby of beating myself up. I feel hopeless in my helplessness, a horrible feeling for a control freak like myself. I want to take charge of the situation and fix things all by myself, but the more I try to fix things, the worse things become. It's a vicious cycle. What can I do?

Then God enters the picture.

No matter how far I've gone (all the way to the wilds of West Texas) or how much I've tried to hide from the Creator of the Universe (pretending to be someone I'm not), God has been there. Like the passage from the book of Numbers says, there is no place I have visited or will visit that God isn't already there. Even more intriguing, God recognizes me in all my false disguises.

I can't elude him in the chase. He's after me--I sense his pursuit in the drive he has given me to share my story with others. It is my hope it will help you see how God has a plan for your life as well, even when you're living by the seat of your pants.

Prayer: You are with me wherever I go, God. Thanks for all the help and protection you have afforded me thus far. Continue to watch over me and guide my steps in this journey called life. Amen.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Another month has come and gone—and I didn’t get hardly anything I wanted to get done in March, done. For some reason, I just can’t give up sleeping, eating or taking daily showers. Those sorts of things really cut into your free time, you know—especially the sleeping.

I’m not getting any creative writing projects I’ve started finished. I’d had hoped to do so during my week off, but I just didn’t have the will to write more than a few pages on my work-in-progress. I’ll admit it, too—my heart simply isn’t into writing fiction lately. E-publishers are folding right and left it seems, taking some of my books along with them. I can’t afford to go to writing conferences and schmooze with the agents and editors from the big houses, so I can’t get a foot in the door by making a personal connection. And having a foot in the door seems to be the only way to gain the big guys’ attention these days.

Everyone with a computer seems to have written a book this past year. The submissions are flooding the slushpiles. You have to do something outrageous or illegal—or both—to get an editor’s attention. Just look at former governor Rod Blagojevich. He’s done both—and now he’s got his own radio talk show. You really wonder if becoming a criminal is where it’s at for becoming a best-selling author.

Oh, well. I can sit around and mope and groan, or I can crawl back into the saddle and get going again. Since I like horses, I’ll go the saddle route.

I think I’ll put the novel writing on hiatus until I’m unemployed at the end of May. Between trying to find another job and keeping the work I have currently, I don’t have energy to write creatively. I can write a short piece here or there (like my blogs), but the stamina to keep my concentration focused for 50,000 words or more isn’t there. I have to spend my free time sending out resumes and dealing with the rejection emails/snail mails. You think an editor’s rejection of your manuscript is bad? “Sorry, but we don’t want you to work for us,” is a lot worse, especially when your bills are due.

Lots of writers tell me this phase will pass, but I’m not so sure. It just feels like that if I give up writing fiction for a short while I’ll never return to it, and that’s tantamount to cutting out my heart. The good news is that my heart is in good hands. April may bring showers, but I’m hoping to have plenty of flowers by May when my fiancĂ© arrives in the US. Then I’ll have another excuse for not writing—but it will be a much happier one!