Joy in Living Your Whole Life

My mom would turn 90 years old today, “if she had lived her whole life.” She coined that infamous phrase when talking about another relative who died young, and it continues to outlive us all.

I am remembering Mom today and all the funny moments we shared. The day she said, “Auntie Alma would still be taking that medication, if she had lived her whole life,” I had to pull the car to the side of the road, since I couldn’t see with my eyes squinted shut and tears of laughter running down my face. It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, we laughed together like that.

One of the things I am remembering is that she so easily laughed at herself. It took me quite a while to learn that valuable skill. But I’m right there with her now—mostly because I share her physical struggles, hearing loss, and questionable memory. She always said to me, “Wait until you’re my age.” Well, I’m there, and she was right. I’m in trouble.

I am remembering the times we giggled ourselves silly because she repeated what she thought I said, which wasn’t even close. Her good-natured yelling for help because she couldn’t open a jar with her atrophied hands. There were times she would start to ask me something and couldn’t get it out before collapsing in laughter. I’d squeak out, “Come on, Mom, stop it,” while grabbing my laugh-strained obliques. Most of the time, she had just forgotten what she was going to ask me, which tickled her. She did wonders for my core muscles. I’m going to try to remember her laughing as my own disabilities grow.

I want her joy, the kind of joy that laughs at the future (as in Proverbs 31:25 NASB). So, I have been praying for more joy. We pray for the all the other fruits of the Spirit: love, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, and so on. But I think sometimes we feel guilty asking for increased joy. Why? Joy is one of the evidences and outcomes of the Christian life. I think it should be one of the most-used words when describing a Christian.

And I’m not talking about peace or contentment, although they have their part in joy. Biblical joy, the way it is used most-often in the Bible, includes loud instruments, shouting, dancing, singing, and praising. There is almost always some sort of loud noise associated with joy. Nehemiah 12:43 says, “…for God made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” 1 Kings tells us that their joy shook the earth. Do you picture the faces of people experiencing that kind of joy with dower countenances, stoically declaring their joy? No, there had to be smiles, laughing, and dare I say it, happy faces. That’s the kind of joy I want—not dependent on my circumstances but on how great a God I serve.

So, I’m going to let the lesson of my mom’s laughter fill my soul today. I have already been out sledding with my grandchildren today. After all, you never know when you’ve lived your whole life.

Can It Be 20 Years?

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8 NIV

My mom could make us laugh, snorting and all, but she didn’t always mean to. She was mostly deaf and would repeat what she thought we said. Often, what she heard and repeated back, could have landed her a spot on The Tonight Show. The best part was that she would laugh, too.

But it was one phrase that was her legacy. And it wasn’t something she misheard. Although when I repeated it back to her, she laughed like we so often had. Here’s what happened.

I grew up on a quiet street in a small town. Our house was smack dab between my mother’s cousin on one end of the block and an uncle on the other end of the block. Forget the “quiet street” part. There were always family members around. Her cousin, my Auntie Alma, was my favorite relative. She was really nice to me, and I loved everything about her. She was known for talking a lot and laughing more. She was always put together, hair perfectly coiffed, clothes impeccable.

Auntie Alma owned a boutique dress shop on Main Street. I loved it there. It was something I wished I could do, even now. As a twelve-year-old, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. She “hired” me to help her around the store, washing windows, sweeping the floor, learning the art of making customers happy. Auntie Alma knew her customers. She kept a little box with index cards for each one, marked with what style they liked, their sizes, color preferences, upcoming occasions, etc. When a customer came into the store, she would pull out the dresses she bought “just for them.” Her taste was excellent, and her salesmanship even better. As her customers pulled back the curtain on the fitting room, Auntie Alma would ooh and ahh and have them twirl, then she would accessorize them. By the time they left the store, they had bought several dresses, along with matching purses, scarves, and jewelry. Auntie Alma was the master.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have nearly enough time with her. When I was in high school, Auntie Alma was diagnosed with breast cancer. In only a few weeks, she was gone. We all missed her terribly, and like most families, life events were measured by before or after Auntie Alma died.

One day, driving my mother to the pharmacy, after she was prescribed Thyroid medication, the measuring rod of Auntie Alma’s death was pulled out.

Mom said, “You know, Auntie Alma was on this same medication.”

“No, I didn’t know that.” I answered.

“Yes, she was.” Then came the phrase that has become our family’s tag line for anyone who has died. Mom said, “She would still be on it, if she had lived her whole life.”

I looked at her, thinking she was kidding. Yes, Auntie Alma died in her 50s but…I started laughing.

“What? What did I say?” Mom asked, seriously not knowing what was so funny.

“Mom, when someone dies, they did live their whole life.” Her brain took a few seconds to process that before she burst out laughing. Tears rolled down my face from my squinted-shut eyes. I had to pull the car over until I could see again.

And that’s how it happened. Whenever someone talked about a dead relative, it was followed by “if they had lived their whole life.”

“Nana would have turned 90 this year, if she had lived her whole life.”

“Dad would have bought a party boat, if he had lived his whole life.”

“Uncle Joe would have loved this, if he had lived his whole life.”

You get the idea. I told this story at my mom’s funeral. It got a laugh from most of the mourners, lightening the occasion. But when I said that line, “Auntie Alma would still be on it, if she had lived her whole life,” one of my mother’s cousins leaned over to another cousin and said in all seriousness, “That’s true, she would.” It must be genetic.