It all began at my mom’s deathbed. I had offered years of prayers before, wanting to be zapped by change. (I mean, Saul became Paul instantly, right?) But that’s not how it works, typically. My mom’s final hours tangibly held God’s undeniable presence. I had only experienced this nearness once before, as a young girl, praying in my bed at night for Jesus to save me.
The space between each of her shallow breaths grew. It was as if I was watching myself, watch her. I was silent and I was amazed. Here was no fear in a woman who had always feared so many things, including death. I remember, as a young child, how uncomfortable she was with the description in Pilgrims Progress when Christian made it to the river before the gate of heaven. As my dad read aloud she visibly squirmed. Her facial communication skills were impressive.
“Now, I further saw, that betwixt them and the gate was a river, but there was no bridge to go over: the river was very deep. At the sight therefore, of this river, the Pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went with them said, ‘You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.’ The Pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate; to which they answered, ‘Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to read that path, since the foundation of the world, nor shall, until the last trumpet shall sound.’ The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them, by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said, ‘No;’ yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, ‘You shall find it deeper or shallower, as you believe the King of the place.’”
And this is what I saw. I saw my mom’s great faith find the gift of shallow waters. I saw Jesus keeping His word to her. I thought she had been a woman always living in fear, but she was really a woman who fiercely battled misplaced fears, in order to fear the only One she should. And that is a crucial difference.
My mom died with her hands open, lifted up, seeing Jesus welcoming her home. I saw in her eyes that she was witnessing the angels and the chariot they brought for her. I saw that she was hearing and believing, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” words that, at times, she greatly doubted would be spoken to her. The waters were shallow, not deep for her. Jesus wasn’t going to make her swim across the river. No, He came to carry her across and celebrate her coming home.
Her fear drove her to Jesus. Her fear rested in her belief that the King was right. I saw it all in the reflection of her eyes, and I have never been the same.
*Image: painting by Thomas Cole from his series, “The Voyage of Life.”