The envelope looked harmless enougha handwritten address in a long, looping scrawl, a familiar name in the corner, a postmark from my hometown of Lititz, Pennsylvania, 600 miles away.
More than a year had passed since I'd traveled there for my father's funeral. Occasional sympathy cards still appeared from unexpected corners of my childhood. Old neighbors and friends, who'd offered a kind word after my mother's funeral 23 years ago, were thoughtful enough to do so again now that Daddy was gone.
With a pensive sigh, I sliced open the envelope. Ah. Better than a greeting card: a gentle, rambling letter filled with news from home, seen through the eyes of a woman who'd watched 80 springs come and go. She mentioned my father, of course, and offered her condolences.
Near the end she wrote, "While I was cleaning my desk drawers, I found this and thought you might want it. I had no idea she was so young when she died."
A knot of apprehension tightened in my throat as I picked up the discarded envelope. Out fell a small, white card with a gold cross embossed on the front: In Memoriam. I opened the card with trembling hands, certain whose name would be printed inside.
Elizabeth. My mother.
Tears came suddenly, painfully, as though squeezed out of my heart by a rough hand. Too overwhelmed to call out my husband's name, I simply bent in two and gave in to the sorrow, smoothing my fingers over the long-lost funeral home program as though it were my dear mother's hand, fragile and pale.
The message inside the card was brief, stark: Born. Died. Interred. A lifetime reduced to places and dates.
She'd died too soon, in so many ways. Too soon for my father. Too soon for her six children. And especially too soon for meher youngest daughter, her prodigal.
When my mother left this earth, I was immersed in the world of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity. I'd traded a good-girl upbringing for a bad-girl lifestyle.
Four years later, when my life took a dramatic turn for the better, Mom was no longer alive to see that miracle for herself. To see the difference a relationship with Jesus made, even in a heart as hopelessly broken as my own.
Now, two decades later, one question still tugged at my conscience: Did she die thinking she'd failed as a mother, that my poor choices were somehow her fault?
I knew better. It'd been my doing and no one else's. My rebellious nature, honed by feminism and sharpened by selfishness, was fully to blame. Only God's love could have softened my hard heart. Only his Word could have cut through my thick skin, penetrated my innermost thoughts, and changed my life completely.
My father had rejoiced in my transformed life. "Good for you," he'd often say.
No, Daddy. Good for Jesus.
Now their graves are side by side in the cemetery behind the church in Lititz, where every Easter the congregation gathers to herald the risen Savior, following the example of Mary Magdalene so many centuries ago.
I closed my eyes and pressed my mother's memorial service program against my heart. My mother hadn't seen God change my life. But he'd done so just the same. Her years of steering me through the doors of my hometown church hadn't been in vain. However far I'd wandered, our Savior had wooed me home.
He is risen, Mom. He is risen indeed.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 19 books, including Mad Mary (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her family in Louisville, Kentucky.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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