Blessed with Zest: A Tribute to My Mom
My mom was laying on her bed, frail and hardly able to speak. In a rare and sacred moment with just the two of us, she leaned over and whispered, “Ali, you articulate yourself so well.” I stared intently back at her, trying to see if I could get a peek into her beautiful soul and said, “Thanks mom…but you do know I get it from you don’t you?” Taking every ounce of effort she had, she smiled and then whispered again, “Don’t ever stop articulating yourself.” And then she drifted off to sleep.
I didn’t know it at the time, but these would be my mom’s last words to me just a few days before she went to be with our Lord on January 2, 2017. As we prepared for the surreal occasion of her memorial service, I realized one tangible way I could honor those last words to me was to attempt to articulate what her life meant to me and so many others that she touched during her 62 years on earth. It was a difficult task, but I pray that as you join me in reflecting upon and remembering her life, lived with such amazing and God-given zest, that you would indeed be blessed…
A tribute to my mom delivered on January 7, 2017 in Bozeman, Montana in loving remembrance of Becky Smith:
As I have reflected on my mom’s life I realize there is so much one could say. She was loving, kind, creative (some might say a bit quirky!), fun, funny, faith-filled, strong, strong-willed…and so much more. But when I think about what I admired most about her and what I will miss the most about her – what kept coming to mind was her “zest for life.” My mom was one of those people who dreamed of living until she was 100 years old – and she often spoke of this. When she found out she had cancer she even told God that it was fine…as long as she still got to live until she was 100! To say my mom was a lover of life is an understatement.
When I Googled the word “zest” some of the definitions that came up were: “great enthusiasm and energy…gusto… liveliness…passion…vitality…dynamism… exuberance… high spirits.” Let those words sink in for a moment. Becky Smith is oozing out of every single one of them….isn’t she?
This word “zest” and all it encompasses, describes almost to a tee the very essence of who Becky Smith was as my mother, but also as a wife, friend and citizen of the world. In fact, as emails and Facebook messages have been pouring in this week, most of them describe how they were touched, and blessed, by her undeniable zest. One old friend of mine bumped into her recently and described the encounter:
She was vibrant with life and energy. Her positive nature drew us in and she told us all about each of you with such pride. She was open and honest about the fight she was in but maintained faith and appreciation for her body in such an inspiring way. It was clear that she had her eyes open and was living her life to the very fullest.
Living life to the very fullest. That was my mom—even and especially as she was diagnosed with cancer. In the three years of having cancer she travelled the world over and back again—from England, Ireland, Paris and Germany, to the Philippines, Hawaii, Maine, California, Florida and Arizona. She continued taking her piano lessons with our lovely musician for today, Tim Bell (something she never quite mastered but hey, she persevered and that’s what counts). She participated in a writer’s group… took flying lessons with my dad…hiked the M…ran the Sweet Pea race…and fielded many daily FaceTime calls from her four grown daughters—a part-time job in itself. All this while she maintained her chemo treatments every other week! Who does that? My mom did and she enjoyed every minute of doing all of it.
This was how my mom lived her life to the fullest; she seized opportunities that came her way, she took on adventures that would enhance her connection with loved ones and the world, and she met challenges with a sense of optimism and positivity that was contagious to all who crossed her path.
But as much as her zest for life expressed itself in the externals—from watching her grandchildren bounce around on FaceTime and travelling around the world to learning new hobbies and reading the latest books—her zest for life on the outside was actually fuelled by her zest for life on the inside. I am referring to her relationship with and devotion to God.
My mom would begin each morning with her journal, her Bible and her coffee in hand—and don’t forget her three little “Shnoodle” dogs surrounding her on every side. Her inner life with God was the soil upon which everything else bloomed. She would begin her conversations with God each morning and ask HIM what was the most important thing for that day. It was from this quiet place that she would gain insight and perspective on whatever she was facing. This was evident in an article she wrote for her write’s group entitled “Why Not Me?” Instead of harboring anger and bitterness towards God for having cancer, though this was part of her journey as well, what she focused on was what He was teaching her through it. She wrote,
I’m a giver and not a great receiver – God is teaching me about receiving, humbling me. It’s not about achievement. Unconsciously, I still think I am earning God’s worthiness because of what I do – instead of sitting in the loving presence of God. My value has been established through Jesus and [I am learning that] spending time [with God] in prayer is more worthy than any endeavor.
Sitting in the presence of God each day was what filled and fuelled my mom to live fully and fully present each day, knowing and trusting that what she was doing that day was the most important thing. I’ll never forget a time when we were working together on forming Blue Ocean Innovation Center, my mom’s dream of creating one of Bozeman’s first co-working spaces. We had a ton of work to do and we were under the gun for some deadlines. It was a particularly full day and we both felt stressed when an old friend of my parents walked into the office. She had driven from another town to drop something off at my dad’s office and decided to pop in to visit my mom. Well, it turned into more than a pop in and this sweet woman was sharing her entire life update with my mom. It got to the point where I started clearing my throat and (embarrassingly) was even temped to receive a fake “urgent phone call” so my mom could finally cut loose from the conversation. My mom on the other hand seemed totally unphased by this interruption and was completely present and engaged, polite, respectful…and was even laughing intermittently. Meanwhile, I was fuming inside wondering how my mom could possibly be so patient with this intruder of a person while we had so much work to do! But then it hit me: that is who she was. Someone with the uncanny (and some might say supernatural) ability to be completely present to each moment—whatever and whoever it brought.
Whether it was lending a listening ear to others even when inconvenient, talking to her grandchildren on FaceTime, taking a nap, reading, sitting by the river with dad, hula hooping (yes, she liked to do this in our living room), trying something new … Her focus on God each day helped her to keep focused on the most important things around her. And for my mom it was all about relationships. Relating deeply and authentically with the people around her moment by moment. I so admired that about her.
As I think of my mom I am reminded of something Abraham Lincoln once said,
“In the end, it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
My mom may not have made it to 100 years—an issue which I know she is taking up with God as we speak!—but in the nearly 63 years of life she was given on this earth, there is no doubt that she lived each day to the fullest with such gusto and such zest that it couldn’t help but touch other souls in a deep and positive way. Indeed that is one of the most powerful aspects of the legacy she left behind, and the legacy that will live on in us, her four daughters.
Today we mourn a great loss. The loss of a beautiful wife, mother, sister in Christ and friend, whose natural joy, vivacious personality, selfless presence, and boisterous laugh will be deeply missed. But today, we also rejoice in Heaven’s gain, for the great zest my mom had for this life will surely carry over into the next, blessing God Himself and all those who have gone before us. Though it is tempting to be greedy and want to keep her all to ourselves, maybe, just maybe, it is someone else’s turn to enjoy our beloved and oh so zesty Becky now.
Mom, we miss you so much already it hurts. Jenny, Kelli, Courtney and I will miss you in our own unique ways reflecting the special and unique mother-daughter relationship we each had with you. I cannot speak for them, but I in particular will miss our deep talks about our faith in God…tasting “a little of everything” at dessert buffet tables… waking up every morning to your chipper smile on FaceTime…your wild hair in the morning…making jokes and sending weird selfies to each other on What’s App… planning our next travelling adventure…swapping back rubs…sipping coffee together…eating late night bowls of cereal…seeing you play with Kendal, Zoe and Abe…and sitting closely by your side at the peaceful oasis you and dad have created at 208 Farm View Lane.
But thankfully, we are left with much to cherish—memories, unique personality traits and strengths, so much wisdom from a life well-lived and an example that can inspire us all for years and even generations to come. And we are also left with the eternal hope of seeing each other again. I love how the Apostle Paul said it,
“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Though we can no longer see you, we know you are resting peacefully (and probably throwing a party) in our eternal home with our loving Father. Though it doesn’t make this road without you easier, it does bring an eager sense of expectation and excitement at the thought of seeing your smiling face again.
As I myself have become a mother now, I realize that a mother’s love can never be replaced. But it can be shared. So, may all of us here today—who had the privilege of knowing my mom —pledge to do our very best… to carry on her amazing zest.