A Teacher’s Legacy

Teacher legacy   Time heals, they say. And it’s true, but there are some things that don’t fade over the years. Like the memory of someone’s laugh or the deep reservoirs carved by words spoken again and again.

It’s been two years this weekend since my mom’s battle with cancer ended and she stepped, whole and healed, into eternity. Tears don’t come as frequently as they did for a while, but there are still days the ache to hear her voice is visceral and overwhelming. Sometimes I still reach for the phone without thinking to call and ask for a recipe or to tell her about something funny one of the kids did. Oh, how I wish Heaven had cell phone reception.

She was only five feet tall, but my mom made a big impact on anyone she met. I love it when people know me as “Jo’s daughter”, because it identifies me with the legacy she left.

    And what a legacy it is.

Her passion was teaching, and although she spoke eloquently and could make words come alive, most of what she taught was simply passed on through the way she spent her days. She left tracks of grace and wisdom through the lives of countless students and friends, and those of us who knew her best – her family – absorbed from her truths that shaped the way we see the world.

Today I’ve been given the gift of some quiet time to be alone and spend a while remembering the woman who gave me life and taught me things she didn’t even know she was teaching.

Things like this…

~ People are just people, no matter who they are.
My mom was never intimidated by people with power, influence, or money, and she was never put off by people who had nothing and smelled like they hadn’t bathed in a month. As a kid I was always embarrassed by how she would start a conversation with anybody anywhere. Nobody was off-limits: wealthy business men and grocery store clerks, celebrities and rough-looking teenage boys. To her, they were all the same.

~ Laughter puts people at ease.
A room would change when my mom walked in. She was a one-woman portable party. She trailed laughter in her wake, giggling like a little girl and making friends wherever she went. When she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, she did grieve, but laughter was still her default. She made so many crazy jokes about her surgeries and rounds of chemo that we started calling them “tumor humor”. Even the day she came home from the hospital to be placed under hospice care, we could see the EMTs laughing as they rolled her gurney out of the ambulance and into the house. “She’s one special lady,” they told us. We knew that already.

~ Life is meant to be celebrated.
Every birthday, every holiday, every milestone was a big deal to my mom. She would wake us up by singing and dancing into our rooms while we begged her to stop, and then she’d make pancakes or biscuits and gravy, and she’d treat us like royalty all day long. She loved giving presents so much that most of the time she couldn’t wait until the actual party. Her excitement over the little things made those days magical.

~ Music is the language of the heart.
Some of my earliest memories are of twirling myself dizzy in the living room while my mom sang and strummed her guitar. Her voice was low and sweet, and it flowed like honey over my young soul. When I was older, she would play the piano and let me carry the melody while she sang harmony, our voices blending so closely that it was hard to tell where hers ended and mine began. The last day I saw her, she told me, “Never stop singing.” I haven’t, and sometimes I can almost hear her singing along.

~ Be a safe place to land.
My sister, brother, and I grew up knowing we were loved. We had soft hands tucking us in at night, a soft voice praying over us. My mom spoke grace, telling us often, “You can never do anything to make me love you less.” We knew that if life ever turned stormy, we had a safe place to land.

We weren’t the only ones who knew the shelter of her love. She had people all over the world who called her “Mom” – young missionaries, former students, childhood friends of ours. Even people who hardly spoke English. They knew they were welcome, that she loved them without condition.

At her memorial service, a young Asian man I barely knew wiped tears as he told me, “I loved your mom so much. I wouldn’t know Jesus if it wasn’t for her.” I’ve heard these same words from many others since then.

~ Trust in the Healer, not the healing.
My mom completely believed God could heal her cancer, and she prayed with everything in her that he would. We all did.

But as the cancer spread, slowly stealing life from her fragile body, her faith was not shaken. “Don’t be angry at God,” she said. “He knows what he’s doing. He might heal me, or he might not. Either way, I’m trusting in the Healer, not the healing.” Because her spirit rested in God’s goodness, she lived her final days well, laughing and singing and praying with a passion we had never seen in her before.

People who knew her say they can see her in me. I hope it’s more than just my expressions or the shape of my hands. I hope they see her legacy in the way I love, hear it in my laughter, recognize it in the way I’m learning to trust her Healer and mine.

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