Dedicated to my mother, who died 48 hours ago. I reflect on 8 lessons Mom taught me that have shaped my life.
Lesson 1: Invest Heavily in the Early Years
My mother worked outside the home for over 35 years. But when I was born, she took 6 years off from work to stay home with me full time. My mother was with me 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. She made a deep impact in my life in those early years.
I learned how to share and play with others. I learned to work hard. I learned to love music and sing happy songs. I learned to be hospitable. I learned about the Bible and about God and Jesus. I learned humility. I learned what it meant to be loved and to love. I learned that it was more important to be faithful than to be successful.
My mother taught me the most important life lessons in my early years. ’Til this day, I am grateful that my mother instill wisdom in me during my earliest childhood.
Lesson 2: Be a Lover of All Children.
Some people ask if I had a “tiger mom.” My answer is no. My mother was strict. She set high expectations, and she sacrificed to insure that I had every opportunity to be successful.
However, mother didn’t just invest in my sister and me. She invested in hundreds of children. She didn’t start serving other children when she became an empty nester. She started investing in other children while my sister and I were still young.
My mother taught Sunday school for 25 years. She directed children’s musicals at her church two or three times a year for 20 years. With a few other people, she started an AWANA program which continues to be a key ministry in her church today. Hundreds of children learned about the Bible and the gospel through my mother.
Children’s brains are like sponges in their first 8-10 years of life. My mother filled their memories with Bible songs, Bible verses and Bible stories that provided a backbone grammar for them later in life.
Be a lover of all children, not just your own children. God’s kingdom is more than just your immediate family.
Lesson 3: Parenting Is a Lifelong Commitment.
I talked with my mother on the phone at least twice a week when I first moved away to attend college. My relationship with my mother slowly changed. She was still my mother, but she also became my good adult friend.
She became my prayer warrior when I left the house. She prayed that I would continue on the path that she had helped set. She prayed that God would provide me a loving, godly wife. She prayed that I will serve God and serve others and not just serve myself. She prayed that I will be faithful with the spiritual gifts that God had given me.
My mother remained involved in my life as an adult. When my mother learned that I was planning to attend medical school, she worked a second full-time job so I would not need to take out as much student loans. My mother constantly gave me advice, yet she understood that I needed to make my own decisions and accept the consequences.
I gave my mother more heartache as an adult than as a child. You never stop being a parent. As a parent of three young children, I need to remind myself that changing diapers is only the beginning.
Lesson 4: Love Your Husband (Spouse) More Than Your Children.
My parents talked constantly. They were best friends. As much as I felt loved from my mother, I also felt that my mother loved my father deeply.
My father was not always the easiest person to love. My family was not perfect, and each member of our family had a lot of sin and shortcomings. But my mother never stopped loving my father even when it was hard.
An important lesson I learned from my mother is seeing what unconditional love looks like.
Some women tell me it’s easy for them to love their children but hard to love their husbands. The biggest impact you can make to your children is to love your spouse unconditionally. By loving your spouse each day, you will impact your children more deeply than any verbal lesson you can give them.
Lesson 5: Don’t Underestimate the Legacy You Are Leaving Behind.
I love reading about Ruth, Hannah (1 Samuel 1), Lydia (Acts 16), Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). Each of them left a meaningful legacy.
In the last 6 months alone, at least a dozen individuals shared with me the encouragement and impact my mother had on their lives. These were not just grown children from my mother’s Sunday school. They were Mom’s high school classmates. They were distant relatives that I didn’t even know I had. They were acquaintances to which my mother decided to reach out.
When dealing with friends, my mother never thought about what she could get out of a relationship. Rather, she asked herself what she could offer to serve the people that God had placed in her life. My mother taught me to think about what you can give to a relationship, not what you can receive.
The most important legacy that you will leave behind is the imprint you make on people. No other legacy matters. What will be your legacy?
Lesson 6: “Do Not Boast About Tomorrow, for You Do Not Know What a Day May Bring.”
My mother retired from full-time work when she was 67 years old. She worked at her final company for over 25 years, working 50-60 hour work weeks. She was eager to retire, and she had a long list of things she wanted to do when she retired. Her retirement date was set over a year ago.
Unfortunately, 4 hours after she left her office on her last day of work, she suddenly became ill and was brought to the emergency room. She became paralyzed from the chest down due to a condition called Guillian Barre syndrome. That same week, she found a new breast lump, and she was later diagnosed with breast cancer.
My mother was in good health up until the day of her retirement, but she did not have a single healthy day of life after she stopped working. She was never able to fulfill the dreams she had hoped for.
It is foolish to make grandiose plans for your life and assume God will give you a long life. This life is short and fleeting. This is difficult to understand for young people. Redeem the time. This life God has given us is a precious gift. Don’t waste it.
Lesson 7: My God Is a God of Miracles.
My father was by my mother’s side during her final 7 months of life. He stayed with my mother in the hospitals and inpatient rehabilitation facilities while my mother fought to battle her paralysis and her cancer.
When my mother regained enough strength, my parents went on a final 3 week trip to Asia. On the second to last day of their trip, my mother abruptly vomited after dinner and became dizzy and started losing consciousness. She was brought to a hospital in Hong Kong, and a brain scan revealed a massive brain hemorrhage.
As a physician, I had never seen a patient survive such a large brain hemorrhage. A neurosurgeon rushed my mother to the operating room less than 2 hours after she had arrived at the hospital. They evacuated the bleed, and miraculously one day later my mother woke up. My mother wanted so much to come back to the United States. She did not want to die in Hong Kong.
3 weeks later, my mother was strong enough to fly back to the United States on a commercial flight. Working 13 years as a physician, I believe this was a medical miracle. God extended my mother’s life so she could spend her final days in the United States.
Lesson 8: “Only One Life, ’Twill Soon Be Past. Only What’s Done for Christ Will Last.”
When my mother was in the ICU in Hong Kong the day after she was extubated, she couldn’t move. She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t see. The only thing she could do was meditate on song lyrics and Bible verses she had memorized. She was constantly reciting Psalm 121 and Psalm 23, and she wanted me to play a song on my iPhone called “God’s Way Is the Best Way.”
We learned that the reason my mother had the brain hemorrhage was that her breast cancer had spread to her brain. Her brain, lungs, and right kidney were full of cancer. The cancer spread all over her body. There were a dozen nodules on the skin of her back and abdomen ranging in size from marbles to ping pong balls.
After she had returned to the United States, about 25 of her close friends came to California from all over the United States, Canada and Asia. They gathered together for a final dinner celebration to say good-bye to my mother. My mother wanted to give a speech, and in a brief 5 minutes, she pleaded with her best friends to trust in our Lord Jesus. I had never ever heard my mother share the gospel in public to a banquet room full of adults. I had never seen my mother show so much courage about sharing the gospel.
I spent most of mom’s last 72 hours at her bedside. I told mom everything I wanted to say. Mom was not perfect, but God gave the perfect mom for me.
Until her final breath, she trusted in God. She never questioned God’s purposes. She finished the race. With God’s enablement, she finished strong.
I thought about CT Studd’s poem.
The final lesson my mother taught me is this: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
“Mom, I will miss you greatly. But I praise God because of His love and forgiveness through Christ’s finished work on the cross, I will see you again soon.”
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