This is the third week of our new blog series called, “The Wisdom Series: Sharing the Deep Truths of an Elder.” I got this idea from a recent book that my publisher, Loyola Press, released called Sharing the Wisdom of Time, a beautiful book celebrating the wisdom of our elders. This series is in honor of my grandfather, whose wisdom was featured here. We continue the series with a guest post written by my friend Missy sharing the wisdom of her mother Peggy, who was also a dear friend of mine and a part of the reason I do what I do. Peggy had a major influence on me and her wisdom about the Two Rails is in my book! Many of you have probably heard me mention Peggy at a retreat or workshop! Read my full introduction to the series here and then follow all the stories at #SharingWisdom.
My mom, Peggy LeBlanc, shared her wisdom in many ways. She was able to articulate her legacy 3 days before she left this earth. She summed it up in the acronym “LALA”: Live and Love Abundantly. Mom coined the phrase from Sacred Scripture in John 10:10, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” When I asked her what it meant to live abundantly, she, sharp as a tack to her last moments, quickly shared these 4 things:
- Be Grateful
- Love Unconditionally
- See the best in everyone
- Live Joyfully in the Present Moment.
Mom lived a life of gratitude. This gratitude was poignantly evident in her final 2 years. Gratitude for what, you may ask. One day after a doctor’s visit, we stopped to get gas. Mom said, ‘let me do it’. I have a picture of her smiling her beautiful smile and giving me a thumbs up as she filled the tank with gas! She was so grateful and giddy that she felt good enough to do this simple task. Who knew one could be so excited to put gas in the car?! Imagine grocery shopping! What joy there was on mom’s face when she was able to ‘drive the buggy’ around the store. She enjoyed being able to see the fresh fruit and flowers, the unique packaging and all the items made ‘naturally’. She smiled and made friends with the cashier, as usual. Her gratitude was in the average, in the mundane, in the simple acts of our daily life – it was a gratitude nurtured by a heart that saw God in all things.
During mom’s cancer journey, she was grateful for each doctor and nurse that cared for her and each person that visited, called or wrote to her. Grateful for their time and care, she made sure we had a bucket of peppermints in her hospital room to share with each person who walked in. I watched many people apprehensively walk in mom’s hospital room, but leave with joy from their encounter with her. Mom was committed to gratitude, and sometimes we had to really put on the “gratitude goggles” to locate the grace moments. Mom, in her living and in her dying, was teaching me the discipline of gratitude. Mom often referred to Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s phrase “take what God gives and give what God takes, with a smile”. It was this spiritual disposition that Mom adopted, a disposition of trust and gratitude and hope in our God.
Mom taught me to “Love Unconditionally!” Go figure, unconditional love is hard and exhausting. Sometimes it would seem that St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 is only looking at the world with rose-colored glasses. But Mom, in her wisdom, recognized that the difficulties are overshadowed by the joy of the encounter with God’s people. Mom had this unique way of loving people. Our home was always full of people! Everyone became family. We had so many aunts and uncles (relatives and friends). It wasn’t until I was older that I learned there were titles of family members such as in laws and a ‘mom’ side and a ‘dad’ side of a family. For my brothers and I, there was just one big family. My dad’s sisters were like my ‘big sisters’ growing up. My dad lost his mom when he was 15 years old and he was one of 7 children. When my parents were first married, they were also the caregivers of my dad’s siblings. They welcomed my aunts into their home, chaperoned proms and planned weddings as they were figuring out the newness of their own marriage. Mom unconditionally loved my dad and his family and opened her heart and home from the beginning. My brothers and I were witnesses to mom’s unconditional love; to be honest, we didn’t recognize the abundance of it until mom’s final journey. It was during mom’s chemo treatments when we had some of our greatest conversations. I remember her saying over and over “I knew I loved all these people, I just didn’t know they loved me so much.” At her funeral, over a thousand people signed the book of visitors. I met her childhood friends, classmates, work friends…so many people! Her heart, her big heart, encompassed the hurtings of those who came into her presence. Her love, her big love, enveloped anyone she met or who ever sat on her special blue couch to discuss the overwhelming things of their world. It wasn’t only that she took what people offered and rarely expected anything in return. It was that she, like all of us are called by the Gospel, was ‘present’- offering a safe place to ‘be’ and be heard. . She helped to look at people and, as Father Greg Boyle, S.J. puts it, would “hand them back to themselves.” That is to say, she would reflect God’s love for them in her big, beautiful, blue eyes. She had the gaze of a little child, one full of questions and hope and joy. To sit in her presence, as her friends would say, was an encounter with the big love of Jesus.
After mom left this earth, I searched for and cherished every book and notebook that had her handwriting in it. I missed my connection with her, those big blue eyes that looked on me with love, and I wanted to touch that joy again. I found her bible that was literally falling apart, with highlights, words, names of people. There was a treasure trove of notebooks and spiritual books where she wrote the names of people she was praying for. Oh how she must have prayed! I knew of some of her prayer time, but had no idea how much time she spent with her friend “Jesus” as she referred to him. This must have been what she was doing those nights after I fell asleep as a child! It made me wonder- is this where her joy came from? Is this how she made loving look so easy? Is this how she developed her faith, her relationship with Jesus? This woman who I love, did she learn to love and be grateful and listen from the One who first loved? It must have been. Her prayer life was a necessity to her unconditional love because it drew her out of herself and into relationship with Jesus, whose heart is big enough to hold all of our hurts. Making sure she never left anyone out or forgot to pray for someone she said she would pray for, she would end her prayers saying, pray for those we said we would pray for and for those who pray for us! I can see clearly that this is one of the ways mom loved unconditionally and it teaches me that part of loving unconditionally is praying for others as mom did.
Mom taught me to “See the Best in Everyone.” – I think people felt mom’s unconditional love because she had a gift to see the best in everyone. She taught me to greet the cashier by name, thank the janitor by name, and recognize the strengths of another person. It was important for Mom to call people by their name. She always wanted others to feel valued; how like her friend Jesus, who called by name the Apostles, the Saints, and you and me. Mom saw 1 Corinthians 12:12 “There is one body with many parts” in everyone around her; she saw, as St. Theresa of Avila would say, the eyes and hands and feet of Christ in this world (all those around Mom). She was able to see the good in people and often help others see the good in themselves.
Mom worked for the diocese of Baton Rouge for over 20 years. For most of her career, she was in youth ministry. While she worked for the diocese, I was in college, getting married and having children. Mom included my family in her work. I witnessed her ‘ministering’ to young people, watching them walk away from her feeling better about themselves and wondering how is this person so joyful and loving. Not all these moments were done through face to face talks (although her Blue couch at home and her office couches were certainly well used. If the ‘cushions’ could talk, what stories they would tell?), but often through mom helping us all discover gifts we had and then giving us ‘jobs or opportunities’ to put that gift to work. My grandma folded t-shirts and made sure everyone had a name tag for the Diocesan Youth Conferences, my dad and husband built a 20 foot cross for World Youth Day, my boys had jobs of carrying whatever mom needed from one place to the other and keeping us young at heart. Mom helped to foster an environment of acceptance, of one’s self and of one another. I learned to look for and recognize the best in everyone – a joy and a challenge!
Mom taught me to “Live Joyfully in the Present Moment” – When I first got married, mom gave my brothers and I each a present, The Present by Spencer Johnson. It’s a short story about the ‘gift of the present’. We often preoccupy ourselves with the past, or the future and in doing so miss out on the gift of the ‘present moment’. The idea of living in the present moment is connected to our faith in so many ways. God’s grace is abundant in the ‘present moment’ not before or after we need it, but in the instant we need it. While walking mom’s cancer journey, looking back made me sad, looking forward scared me, so I practiced living in the present moment, daily. Mom and I often found that daily was too hard so we began to support each other by saying one minute, one hour, one day. This ‘mantra’ helps me through the waves of grief and reminds me of God’s presence in the “present moment”. It also reminds me that I only have to do this minute and then the next, this idea can be freeing during times of uncertainty. This freedom has given me the ability to choose Joy in the moment more easily, because I only have to choose it for this minute. And the choice will come again in 60 seconds, but I will have grace for that choice when the moment comes. Grace for each moment. Grace to choose joy.
Mom demonstrated the ability to find Joy by one of her go-to decision making processes, The Greater Yes, an idea by Stephen Covey. Covey states “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.” Once you have your priorities set, you can more easily make decisions. Mom’s priorities were faith and family. Her decisions and life choices reflected her Greater Yes. By recognizing the greater yes and responding to where that decision led, she was able to be more fully present. Being Present, where Jesus and the Holy Spirit reside, brings Joy.
What wisdom did mom leave? A burning idea of Abundance – of life and Love, found only through faith. Be Grateful, love unconditionally, see the best in people and live joyfully in the present moment. May we all embrace this idea and LALA!
- We want to hear your memories and stories! Tell us about your elder and their wisdom or share your wisdom with us. To submit your own story to be featured on social media /or my blog during the “Wisdom Series: Sharing the Death Truths of an Elder,” click here to access the Google Form.
- Loyola Press is offering 25% off Sharing the Wisdom of Time through 3/15/19 when you use promo code 5041.
- Follow #SharingWisdom on social media and read these blogs that are also celebrating Sharing Wisdom: IgnatianSpirituality.com and The Catechist’s Journey.