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 for over 35 years of her life. But when I was born, she took 6 full years off from work to stay at home with me full time. My mother was with me 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. She made a deep imprint in my life in those early years.
I learned what it meant to be loved and to love. I learned how to share and play with others. I learned how 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 that everything that we have comes from God. I learned about the importance of humility. I learned that it was more important to be faithful than to be successful.
My mother taught me the most important principles about life in my early years. ’Til this day, I am so grateful that my mother helped instill this wisdom to me in my earliest childhood.
Lesson 2: Be a lover of all children.
Some people ask if I had a “tiger mom.” I respond no. It is not because my mother was not strict with me. My mother had set very high expectations for me, and she sacrificed heavily to insure that I had every opportunity to be successful in this life.
The difference is this. My mother didn’t just invest in my sister and me. She invested in the lives of 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 was a 1st and 2nd grade Sunday school teacher for over 25 years of her life. She started directing children’s musicals at her local church 1-3 times a year for 20 years. Along with a few other people, she helped start an AWANA program which continues to this day to be a key ministry in her local church. Hundreds of children learned about the Bible and the importance of sharing the gospel through my mother.
Children’s memories 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 on the phone with my mother at least twice a week when I first moved away from home to attend college. My relationship with my mother had slowly changed. She was still my mother, but she had also become my good adult friend.
She became an even greater prayer warrior for me when I left the house. She prayed that I would continue on the path that she had helped set in front of me. She prayed that God would provide me with 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 graciously given me.
My mother continued to be intimately involved in my life as an adult. When my mother learned that I was making plans to attend medical school, she worked a second full-time job to earn extra money 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. My parents were best friends. As much as I felt loved from my mother, I also always felt that my mother loved my father deeply.
My father was not always the easiest person to love. My family is 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.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from my mother is understanding 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 husband unconditionally. By loving your spouse each day through God’s grace, 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. I love reading about Hannah (1 Samuel 1). I love reading about Lydia (Acts 16). I love the description of Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5).
In the last 6 months alone, at least a dozen individuals have shared with me the encouragement and impact my mother had on their lives. These are not just grown children from my mother’s Sunday school or my close family members. These are my mother’s high school classmates. These are distant relatives that I didn’t even know I had. These are friends of friends and acquaintances to which my mother decided to reach out.
When dealing with people and friendships, my mother never thought about what she could get out of a relationship. She constantly asked herself what she could offer to help and serve the people that God had placed in her life. My mother taught me in regard to relationships with people, always 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?
“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 weeks. She was excited about finally retiring, 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 gradually 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 lost her opportunity to complete the plans she had hoped for.
It is foolish to make a lot of grandiose plans for your life and assume God will give you a long life. This life is so short and fleeting. This truth is difficult to understand for those of us who are young. 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 faithfully by my mother’s side the final 7 months of her life. He was with my mother day and night in the hospitals and at the inpatient rehab facilities while my mother fought to battle her paralysis and her cancer.
When my mother regained enough strength after intense rehabilitation, my parents went on a final 3 week trip to Asia. On the second to last day of their trip, my mother started vomiting and became dizzy and started losing consciousness. She was brought to a hospital in Hong Kong, and a brain scan showed a massive brain hemorrhage. The hemorrhage was about 8 cm in diameter.
As a physician, I have 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 removed the hemorrhagic 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.
God answered our prayers. 3 weeks later, my mother was strong enough to fly back to the United States on a commercial flight. For 13 years having worked as a physician, I consider this a medical miracle. God was not done with my mother, and He extended my mother’s life so she could spend her final days in the United States.
“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 that she could do was meditate on the Scripture she had memorized, and think of songs and lyrics she had remembered. 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 at least 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 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 side. 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 providence. 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.”