This story is excerpted from my mom devotional Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God. It recounts a time where I tasted Jesus. I pray this story deeply, wildly blesses you.
Our family laughed and cried around a dining room table last week. The table held a pink cake with forty-six candles. It took a heroic effort to light them all without matches burning flesh or candles waxing the cake. Still, wax dripped white and blue on pink frosting, but none of us seemed to mind. We were celebrating life.The “we” was Patrick and I, our three children and three friends—Denise, Katie, and David Willhite. They’d invited us over for dessert, for an evening of fellowship. We shared our presentation about going overseas to be church planters and answered questions about the upcoming move. We laughed. The kids played on David’s new gaming system. When we pulled away from the Willhite home, Julia said, “I want to go back there, Mommy. That was so much fun.”
Before the pink cake was served, Denise said, “This is our first birthday without Keith. We wanted you to be a part of it.”
The forty-six candles represented the forty-sixth year Keith Willhite would not walk the pavement of earth. His forty-sixth year is spent in a place where time has little consequence and streets are paved with purest gold.
Brain cancer ebbed Keith’s life last year, taking away an excruciatingly missed husband and father. Gathered around the blazing cake, we remembered Keith—his gentle ways, his heart for people, his great mind. David, his son, blew out the candles, and we ate cake—smiling as we remembered, but sad that we had to remember.
As pink frosting mustached Julia’s lip, Denise said, “We have something for you. We decided to take the money we would have used to buy Keith a gift and give it to you—to go overseas. I know Keith would’ve wanted it that way.” She slid an envelope over to Patrick. I caught Sophie’s gaze, our tears welling simultaneously.
My mind flashed to a familiar story. Jesus watched as the crowd placed their offerings into the temple treasury. Rich folks threw in hefty amounts. Yet, Jesus was drawn to a poor widow whose two tiny coins rattled in the offering—a pittance compared to the wealth given earlier. Jesus gathered his disciples and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).
How often I forget that sacrifice means joy, that giving every ounce of myself to Jesus is what he requires. We often live life like hedonists—wanting absence of pain to be the prevalent drive in our lives—when Jesus praises the woman who risked deprivation for his sake. We think the ‘if onlys’:
If only I had more money, then I would be happy.
If only my husband would praise me more, I would be thankful.
If only my children obeyed me the first time I asked them, I would smile.
If only I didn’t have to sacrifice so much, I would be content.
True joy comes in surprising packages—in grief, in poverty, in suffering. It is primarily a hallmark of a soul bent on obeying Jesus no matter what the personal cost. The stories that move us are not “I made a million dollars. Look how great I am,” but “When he proclaimed his faith in Christ, his family disowned him.”
As mothers, true joy peeks its head in while we do the mundane for the glory of God. We may not be offering a missionary our deceased husband’s birthday money, but if we are giving everything we have to serve and follow Jesus, we are doing a similar act of worship. Mothers are often poured out for their children, and the reward seems small sometimes. We may labor in obscurity, without recognition, without fanfare. But if we serve Jesus wholeheartedly and seek to trust him, he will reward us—with joy, with the gift of his presence, with eternal treasures.
Joseph experienced joy and God’s presence as he looked forward to eternal treasures. “He [Joseph] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as a greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26). We, too, must persevere, with hearts bent toward heaven, realizing our time on earth is short.
Keith Willhite is enjoying his reward as I write this. His wife and children are persevering through grief. They are storing up their own treasures as they treasure Jesus’ presence. We, too, can do the same as we mother our children well, give Jesus everything we are, and endeavor to live selfless lives.
How selfish I am, Jesus. How often I think that getting more stuff or eliminating pain from my life is the means to happiness. I want to follow you. I want to give everything I am to you, particularly as I languish in motherhood. I need your holy perspective Lord. Teach me to live for eternity.