I told my Karen many times, "They're picking it up on seismograph." Her laugh, that is. That infectious, head back, light up the room laugh.
She's been gone since just after Mother's Day 2016. But her laughter still echoes in our hearts. Just ask her children and grandchildren.
But it was more than the laugh. It was the joy behind it. Because her life wasn't one big happy dance. I walked with her through many deep heartaches, wounds and disappointments. Through the seasons of no money. Through medical battles and three medical emergencies where we almost lost her. And too many funerals.
So the laughter came from a much deeper well than her circumstances. She called it joy. Anchored in one of her favorite sentences in the Bible: "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). She had something going with Jesus that sustained an unsinkable joy that came from deep within.
With Mother's Day and the three-year anniversary of her sudden passing approaching, I've been thinking about what it was that made her joy so indelible. About her relationship with her kids that made them grow into such "make a difference" people. And makes us miss her so much now. A few of the many gifts she gave us bubbled up in my heart today. They are gifts I pray every Mom would leave as a legacy.
- Hungry ears - and eyes.
I truly believe the soul of our radiant, others-focused daughter was nurtured in those many nights when I went to sleep alone. Because Karen was listening patiently to her little girl upstairs, asking her questions, hearing her empty her heart. I sometimes thought it was just a girl trying to stay awake longer. I was wrong. It was a life being shaped.
She not only listened to her children - and me. She heard the heart behind the words. Many others felt it, too. Just this week, one of the many Native American young women she touched wrote this:
"She always took the time to listen with her eyes. So many people can pretend to listen. Not your mom. Your mom's love for Jesus manifested in her ability to fix her beautiful eyes into the people she loved and made them feel like they were the most important person in the room. I will never forget her ocean eyes."
Karen's heart-listening - and "ocean eyes" - really changed lives. And though she's in heaven, her joy is still contagious. Through our daughter's strangely familiar laugh. And the joy all three of our children infuse into countless lives.
- Heart radar.
Sometimes I'd come in the door at night with a head of steam because of what I'd heard one of our kids had done that day. And often Karen would meet me with, "There's something you should know before you discipline _________." She would proceed to give me the context that often put the deed in a different light. Not because she was a softie - she wasn't. But because she read the need behind the deed.
She did that with our children. And with hundreds of young people who called her "Mama." If only we all would look for the need behind a person's deed.
- Making kids owners.
Early in our children's lives, I was sometimes gone nearly two-thirds of the year. But Mom had a way of making them feel like owners of "the important work Daddy's doing." Writing love notes to be hidden in my suitcase. Looking at pictures and reading about "where Daddy is today." Involving them in praying for whatever that day held for Daddy.
She was masterful in involving them in planning and preparing for family activities. One of her great gifts to me was to deposit in the next generation a love and appreciation for what I do. It must have worked. Now they're doing it, too.
- The calm in the storm.
When something scary pops up suddenly, kids look at their parent to see how to react. When our kids looked at Mom, they saw that peace. The deep peace she had through her closeness with the Prince of Peace helped her be the calm in the storm. Literally, sometimes. Like the night she was babysitting two young grandchildren, and one of those "shock and awe" thunderstorms erupted. Instinctively, she said, "Whenever there's big thunder and lightning, come over here and I'll give you a thunderhug!" So many times - turbulent times - her "thunderhugs" were the difference.
- A heart-connect with Jesus.
She prayed for her family - oh, how she prayed! Poured out her heart for us. All the burdens, all the battles of our children's and grandchildren's lives - and mine, too - she brought to the One who rules hundreds of millions of galaxies. And who we can call "Father" because He gave His Son to pay for and remove the sin between us. We live today the answers to her prayers. In her prayer journals, she concludes her conversation with her Savior with these words - "Love, Your daughter, Karen."
I just found one of her prayer journals I'd never seen before. In a deeply personal, emotion-filled prayer she told God, "I pray for all my relatives now and in the future to be in Your Heaven with me."
By God's grace, awesome Mom, we will be. And we won't be surprised if we hear your laugh when we get there.