Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Impact of a Life Well Lived--A Tribute to My Mother

Her children rise up and call her blessed. . . .
“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

—Proverbs 31:28–29 ESV

Several times over the years, people have asked me, “Who had the most influence on your life?” From the time I was young until today, my answer has never changed—unquestionably, unwaveringly, out of all the godly people I have known during more than a decade of Christian ministry and all the amazing, bestselling authors I have been blessed to work with over the years, the most influential person in my life is my mother--Jan Haney.

My mom gave her heart to Christ as a young girl, and she has consistently lived a life of extraordinary faith through the years, despite incredible challenges. A stay-at-home mother of three girls, Mom was happily married to a godly and widely respected man, sang in the choir, taught Sunday school and Bible studies, volunteered at her children’s schools, and touched the lives of countless friends and neighbors with her faithful prayers and words of encouragement.

And then one cold February night in 1989, Mom went to bed a content stay-at-home mom, and she woke up a widowed, jobless, single mother of three.

The days and weeks after Dad’s unexpected homegoing are still a bit of a blur—I was only fifteen—but I remember that through her grief, Mom’s faith never wavered. “God is faithful, and He will take care of our family,” she assured us, despite the fact that she had no job and hadn’t worked outside the home in more than seventeen years. “We will never go hungry, because God is our Provider. Don’t you ever forget that.”

My younger sister, Heather, who was only nine when Dad died, recalls how much Mom relied on God during those difficult days:

One of my most vivid memories from when I was little was early one morning, it was still dark outside, and I must have been sick or something, because I woke up and was going to find Mom. She wasn't in her room, so I crept out all bleary eyed into the living room. It was dark in the den where I was standing, and she was in the kitchen at the table. Except she was on her knees and she was literally draped over a kitchen chair and she was singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with all her heart. Not that it was loud, just full of emotion. And I remember being a little scared at first, because I had never seen Mom like that before, that emotional, maybe only in the days right after Dad died. But it still overwhelms me to think about it today.
And I think about that day a lot. I've told countless people about it when I tell the story about how my Dad died, because it made such an impact on me how she handled it all. And I feel like I got to witness just how she was able to handle it all. Because she literally gave up and fell onto Christ the way she fell onto that chair. And still to this day I can't sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” without getting a huge lump in my throat that usually results in sobbing.

So when I think of Mom and what she's taught me, I think of the song “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and how incredibly faithful God has been to her, and to us. And I think about how in love with Jesus and desperate for Him she was and is. And the older I get, the more amazing it is. When I got married, it became more amazing. Every time I faced a seemingly overwhelming trial, it became more amazing. And now that I have [my daughter] Emmy, it's more amazing still. How faithful God was to carry her through the loss of her beloved and so much more. And how many people's lives have been impacted for Christ because of her incredible testimony of His faithfulness.

In the years following Dad’s death, when it seemed the foundations of our family could have crumbled beneath us, Mom gave us a sense of continuity and security by making sure we continued our many family traditions, especially the ones Dad had done with us. From the silly (having breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights) to the serious (reading the story of Jesus’ birth by candlelight from the family Bible on Christmas Eve), Mom and the three of us Haney girls have continued our family traditions over the years as a way of reassuring ourselves that we are still a family, still together and for each other, no matter what may come.

My older sister, Beth, is especially grateful for many of the traditions Mom continued in our family:

One tradition I remember fondly is morning devotionals. Growing up, our family would start each morning with Mom reading a devotional over breakfast followed by prayer time. There is something comforting about knowing that you are being prayed over each day, especially on mornings when I was away at college. As a mom myself, I know there are many mornings I covet five more minutes of sleep; reflecting on my Mom’s dedication to our tradition of regular morning devotionals inspires me to do likewise with my children.

Another family tradition Mom celebrates is birthday dinners. I know many moms make birthdays special when children are young, but I am blessed to have a mom who still goes out of her way to make birthdays memorable no matter how old we get. To this day, I still gather with my family at Mom’s house on my birthday to have her prepare my favorite dinner and dessert, which she serves on a “Special Day” plate. As the years go by, I cherish my turn with the special plate more and more.

Out of the many traditions my mom began or continued over the years, my favorite will always be Mom’s Christmas pajamas. Every Christmas Eve, Mom gives each member of her family new pajamas. We sleep in them that night and wear them while opening presents on Christmas morning. Her joy in selecting and giving the pajamas, coupled with her amusement as we all parade around in them, makes this tradition priceless. What's more, after a long day when my husband is out of town and I have had it with the kids, I often put on a pair of pajamas from Mom and it is as if she is giving me a much-needed hug. What a treasured tradition.

The many family traditions Mom established (or continued after Dad’s passing) instilled in me a sense of security, identity, and unconditional love. Her example encourages me to carry on some of her traditions with my own family, in addition to creating traditions of my own. Thank You, God, for an incredible mother.

Now that we are grown with children of our own, my sisters and I are more grateful than ever for Mom’s consistent example of faithfulness and love for the Lord and her family. Like Beth, on mornings when I want to roll over and get just five more minutes of sleep, I think of my mom, who still gets up at 4 30 a.m. to meet with her Lord and study His Word before beginning her day. And when I am tempted to selfishly gripe about how difficult it is to work and also raise three kids, I think about my mom, who—just a few years older than I am now—suddenly found herself the sole breadwinner for her own three children, with no husband to turn to when she was overwhelmed, tired, and needed some “me time.”

All these years, Mom has faithfully served her Lord; taken care of hundreds of children as Argyle Elementary’s beloved “Nurse Haney”; taught dozens of women in her Thursday night Precept Bible studies; and supported, encouraged, and prayed for her three daughters as we all graduated high school, received university degrees, got stable jobs, met and married godly men, became involved in various church ministries and even full-time pastoral ministry, and now are raising the next generation of children who will, Lord willing, will also grow up to be faithful men and women of God, like their grandmother.

Thank you, Mom, for such an amazing legacy!

Respect and serve the Lord!
Your reward will be wealth, a long life, and honor.

—Proverbs 22:4 CEV

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Song for the Summer

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. —Colossians 3:16 NASB

I was eager for my family to meet Brett. We had only been dating a few weeks, but I could already tell this guy was really special. Something about his enthusiastic love for the Lord, his charming personality, the way he was dependable yet fun, and of course, those dancing blue eyes . . . I had a hunch he might the “The One.” But there was one thing I had to do before I would know for sure—the litmus test for all new boyfriends in our family.

I had to bring him home for dinner.

Although my mom had visited me at seminary and had briefly met Brett there, this would be his first official family dinner with the entire clan. If Brett could hold his own with my mom, two sisters, and their significant others, then I knew he would fit in well with our boisterous, lively family.

Somewhere between “Please pass the rolls” and “Anyone want seconds?” my sister Heather leaned over and commented (rather loudly) to my other sister, Beth, “You’re right—he does break out into random song!”

What? I glanced over at Brett, who had polished off his meal and—sure enough—was happily singing a few lyrics of a praise song during a lull in the conversation. When he realized what was going on, he joined in the laughter around the table as Beth told us how she had observed Brett humming or singing a few other times that evening. Yes, Brett admitted, he loved to sing, and sometimes he couldn’t help but, as Beth called it, “break out into random song.”

Fast-forward eleven years. Brett obviously passed muster at dinner that night; we’ve been happily married for more than a decade. His tendency to “break out into random song” has become a well-told part of our family story, as well as something we’ve all simply gotten used to over the years.

Last week, as I was unloading the dishwasher and getting things ready to fix dinner, with our daughters playing outside in the backyard, I was amused to hear our two-year-old son—the spitting image of his father, with his dark hair and dancing blue eyes—wander into the kitchen, singing a happy little tune to himself.

I couldn’t help laughing. Like his daddy, our son apparently had a song in his heart, and he, too, couldn’t help but break out into random song!

As I chuckled over how all three of our children have inherited their daddy’s tendency to sing around the house, it got me thinking . . .

When was the last time I caught myself singing?

Now, I’m not a singer or songwriter like Brett is. You’d never catch me singing for an audience or under a spotlight. But I used to sing a lot more often than I do now—humming to myself while doing housework, singing worship songs in the car, singing happy little tunes with the kids around the house, just for fun.

But somewhere, in the midst of the day-to-day busyness of child rearing, ministry, book editing, homemaking, and seemingly endless other responsibilities, I apparently lost my song. I’ve been so wrapped up in a hurry-up-and-get-it-done mentality that I’m no longer enjoying the process by “singing and making melody with [my] heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19 NASB).

What about you? When is the last time you caught yourself singing? Not singing because you’re supposed to, like belting out the “Star Spangled Banner” at a ball game or joining with the congregation at church. But when was the last time you simply sang out of the overflow of your heart—whether crooning a happy song around the house, praising along to the radio in the car, belting out your own tune in the shower, or humming in the hallway at work?

Perhaps, like me, you need to recapture your song. Come on, don’t be shy! You don’t have to perform in front of a crowd, or even in front of your kids. But if your heart has become so full of to-dos that there’s no room for tunes, maybe it’s time to find your song this summer.

In these uncertain times, when far too many people are focusing on what’s wrong with the world, I encourage you to reflect instead on the many ways God has blessed you. As the psalmist said, “Sing to God a brand-new song. He's made a world of wonders! . . . Shout your praises to God, everybody! Let loose and sing!” (Psalm 98:1, 4 MSG).

Think about your family, your friends, the clear blue Texas sky, the sizzle of a steak on the grill, the laughter of kids at the pool, the lazy days of summer. And then, as you begin to thank God for all of the wonderful things He has provided for you, see if you, too, catch yourself breaking out into random song.

(This article appears in the May/June issue of Haslet Style)