Several weeks ago I found myself in a situation I did not anticipate experiencing at least for another twenty years or so. My mom and dad made a trip to Houston from their home nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and at the base of Pisgah National Forrest in Brevard, North Carolina. The visit was anything but a pleasure trip. This time the excitement of seeing the grandchildren paled in comparison to the ominous task for the days a head.
We made the forty-five minute commute from my house to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on a Monday morning. Our purpose was to receive a clear diagnosis on a suspected brain tumor in the thalamic region of mom’s brain. At fifty-nine years old, I wheeled my mother (a woman who only three months earlier regularly hiked miles in the forest and told stories to preschoolers at the public library) in for what would be the doctor’s appointment of her lifetime. I watched her face as one of the most respected neuro-oncologist in the country explained that she had an aggressive, high-grade, glioblastoma on her thalamus and brainstem that would be the catalyst for her death.
The plan to begin radiation and chemo to gain a few short months of life shifted into gear. We drove back to my house that night, somber, but hopeful the radiation treatment would buy some precious time. We never made it to the treatment phase.
Over the next three days the tumor surged in its intensity causing traumatic physical events for my mom that forced us to admit her to M.D. Anderson through the emergency room. In a comatose state and fading quickly, I thought I had certainly conversed with my mom for the last time. After a surgery to drain fluid off of her brain, she popped back into reality affording us (my Dad, brother, and me) with the great opportunity to have all of the conversations you would want to have with your spouse or your mom before she passes away. Though emotionally draining and physically intense, I count the days in conversation with my mom as a gift. In a way it opened my eyes to the greater importance of The Legacy Project.
My brother Andy and I sat in the dark hospital room by her bed intent on saying goodbye in a way that would matter. Providentially we are both pastors and have each walked people through these kinds of circumstances before. It is quite another thing when it is your own mom. Instituting a “no regrets” policy we began to pour out our hearts to mom. We talked about everything from our love of her homemade popsicles when we were kids to the deep spiritual blessing she is to us. We thanked her for her guidance, discipline, love, and prayers over the years. We attempted to bless her. Instead, she blessed us. Rather biblical I suppose.
When we were done talking, Mom asked a question to both of us. “What was the last Scripture you taught your kids?” she asked in a gentle but expectant voice. Andy went first describing something he taught Micah and Mia the week before. I honestly do not remember what he said. I was too busy trying to stifle my sobbing. After Andy finished I told Mom about teaching the girls about God in pictures this summer. We talked about shade, refuge, rock, living water, etc. Later I realized she was testing her own effectiveness. Were her sons actually teaching her grandchildren the Scripture? Did the importance of parent to child faith training make it to the next generation in the Haynes family?
Mom told us how proud she was of each of us. She told us she wanted those grandkids to become godly men and women. Somewhere in there she mentioned the Shema that I talk about so much. I remember it because she said it in her best North Carolina accent under the influence of narcotics. It came out like “Sheeeeema.” It made me laugh in the midst of my tears but it also caused me to have a light bulb moment.
My mom thought about the importance of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 before I could even read. She and Dad did their best to impress the commands of God on their children. At the end of her life she wanted to know that her life in Christ made a difference in the lives of her grandchildren. At the end of the day what mattered to my mom was Godly legacy. She had completed a legacy project of her own. Nothing fancy. Just faithful. I am forever grateful and I pray that her attentiveness to Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78 in the life of her son has now somehow penetrated your life, your home, and your church.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. –Deuteronomy 7:9