The Wart and the Casket

Laying her 98-year-old mother on the bed, she felt her go limp.  No pulse.  My most-favorite-mother-in-law had passed from my sister-in-law’s arms into the arms of Jesus.  No drama–she passed peacefully into His presence—at home in the cozy apartment her son-in-law had built especially for her.

The first time I met my wife’s very conservative parents, whose father was a pastor, was a bit of a jolt, not for me, but for them!  I looked like, and actually was, a bit of a “hippie,” with my long hair, torn jeans, flannel shirt, hiking boots, and a large bushy red beard.  They must have thought their conservative daughter had gone off her rocker!

After we were married, and over the years, I fell deeply in love with my wife’s parents and wonderful family.  When guys at the lab would talk about how meddling and annoying their mother-in-laws were, I’d brag about how great my mother-in-law was!  My wife’s parents were special.

Dad told me one time about when he and mother were doing missionary work back the 1940s in the wild backwoods of Kentucky.  It was a tough time for them because the main product in them hills was “Moonshine,” bootleg whisky.  The whisky boys were giving Dad a hard time because they were worried that if folks started giving their lives to Jesus, business would go down.

One day Dad drove up the dry old rocky river bed, which was the only road back then, to visit a family.  After the visitation, a group of rough mountain men came out of the woods and surrounded dad and his car.  Dad said he prayed for safety, didn’t say a word to the men, got in his car, drove through the men back down the river bed.  Later he was told by one of the men that they were so angry and on edge, that if Dad would have said anything to them, they would have stoned him to death.

Mother often told me about those days when in the backwoods how whenever they ran out of food, or milk and diapers for the babies, that the Lord would bring those things to their doorstep.  They didn’t have much money, but she said the Lord always took care of them.

One evening while sitting in the kitchen, long after I’d married into the family, Mother told me about losing her sixteen-year-old son.  He was an athlete who played football in high school.  He had a paper route, and was well-loved by the community.  One day he came home from school complaining about getting a stiff neck during typing class.  A few days later he was gone.

Mother told me his death nearly tore her heart out.  She grieved his loss; she grieved profoundly and for a long time.  Holding her hand to her forehead, she tightly closed her eyes and said to me, “It got so bad, that I was having trouble doing my duties at the church, and I really thought I was starting to lose my mind!”  “Then one night during prayer when I felt I was at the end of myself with grief, Jesus seemed to come to me and touch my mind, and took my grief, and I knew everything would be ok.  The next day I was fine and could function normally–Jesus really had taken my burden.  I still missed my son, but everything was ok from then on.”

Much later when Dad was in the hospital, Jesus again came to Mother and gave her a verse that made her realize that the Lord was going to take Dad home.  The next day, he, too, passed into the arms of Jesus.  And just a few days ago, unknown to my wife, the day before her mother passed away, the Lord also gave her a special verse to bring comfort.  Sitting in a restaurant for breakfast on the other side of the world in South East Asia, my wife who decided to read Ephesians during breakfast, was struck with the verse, “The Lord Himself is our peace.”  Throughout the day, she wondered why the Lord had so impressed this verse on her heart.  Jesus had prepared her for her mother’s death just as Jesus had prepared her mother for her dad’s death.  Both experienced peace straight from the heart of God.

Thinking back over the years, I recalled mother being funny in her own way.  She generally didn’t get jokes, couldn’t hold a tune, and in their younger years when dad started teaching her how to drive, on her first lesson she backed straight up into a chicken coop, sending the chickens and feathers flying everywhere, and that was the end of her driving lessons!  But she was awesome in a thousand other ways—in ways that count!

One time sitting at the large old farm table for dinner with my family and my in-laws that lived on a farm nearby I decided to tell a joke that was, well, a bit on the edge.  I figured mother wouldn’t get it, so I told the joke and watched everyone having a good laugh and my brother-in-law was laughing so hard I’d never seen him turn that red!  I was sitting there kind of proud of myself for launching a really funny joke past mother, when I hear her from the head of the table calling my name.  Mother said, “Can you explain that joke to me please?”  Then it was my turn to turn red!!

Another time we were visiting Mother and had brought along our dog Sassy, a miniature Doberman.  My family and I were sitting with Mother at the table for lunch during one of our many Christmas vacation visits.  Before eating, Mother would often remove her retainer from her mouth and put it in a napkin while she ate.  This time after doing that, she unknowingly knocked it to the floor.  One of my kids noticed and called my attention to it—just as we heard Sassy making some strange noises under the table.

When I looked under the table, I saw that Sassy had her paws tightly wrapped around the retainer licking off the yummy remains.  Sassy looked up at me, and I recognized her look and realized Sassy was getting ready to turn Mother’s retainer into a doggy chew!  I dove under the table and retrieved the retainer—gave it back to mother, who promptly popped it back into her mouth!

Mother was also a bit of word maven, and even in her nineties could, according to a tall and very smart friend of ours, “clean his clock,” in the word game Boggle.  That game along with Skip-bo kept her mind agile.  But more important than the games in keeping her mind agile were all the missionaries and pastors she prayed for every day!  She had a prayer manual that listed thousands of retired and current missionaries and pastors from around the world.  It became so worn and full of notes, you could hardly read it!   In 2006 we bought her a new one.

Now, 2012, as I thumb through that “new” one, it is also worn and tattered; I am simply amazed at the number of people she had prayed for including added notes of additional family members or special needs.  Mother was in the full sense of the phrase, a “Prayer Warrior.”  And oh how she prayed for all of her children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren–we will all miss her prayers profoundly!!  And she knew her Bible well—during evening devotions on our visits she would often finish quoting by memory what we had started reading from the Bible.

By now, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with a wart and a casket.  Well, mother had expressed her wishes that she wanted an open-casket funeral.  A couple years back she had developed a rather unbecoming wart on her nose.   Now, near her death, it had become a very ugly wart.  Not that mother cared much . . .  at 98 she was past being concerned about being fashionable.

On the day of her passing, in the morning during breakfast my sister-in-law was looking at her wart thinking how bad it looked.  At lunchtime, she noticed the wart was gone!  And three hours later, so was mother!  It was as if Jesus came down and performed His own special surgery to prepare her for her open-casket funeral. What a cool final gesture of love from our Lord Jesus to Mother.

Mother will be greatly missed; she will be a tough act to follow, and we will all greatly miss her prayers.  But words cannot express the gratitude we have for the rich spiritual heritage she and Dad have left us.  Mother is now happy in heaven to be with her Jesus who she has been looking forward to seeing since she was a young girl.  And like my other brother-in-law said, “She will be rejoicing in heaven, but she will be walking–No driving, as Dad will see to that!”

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  –Psalm 116:15

Copyright © 2012 by William D. (Nick) Nichols

Written in memory of my Most-Favorite-Mother-in-Law who went to be with Jesus on January 9, 2012.

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