Last spring, my Mom was diagnosed with untreatable cancer.

In that moment, our family felt a sense of sad apprehension, like storm clouds gathering in the distance on a sunny day. We suddenly had to come to grips with the fact that a part of our story with Mom was coming to an end. We also had to consider that our wise and loving father was likely going to be facing life without our Mom after 67 years of marriage.

Of course, we were thankful that God allowed our parents to live to see 90 and 93-year-old birthday parties, but no matter how thankful we are for these decades, the thought of being without her still remains difficult.

Love is Helping

My mother is a servant. It really is the best way to describe the way she lives her life. She has the gift of hospitality, a gift she offers to her children, to her husband, to her friends, to her family, to her church and to her community. I have so many memories of her creating incredible meals for company. She simply loves to serve. And, she never complains.

My older sisters, my twin brother and I have spent many weeks caring for my parents during the last few months. One weekend in December I took the opportunity to spend a few days with my parents, helping them.

It was a beautiful time for me, for many reasons. One of the most meaningful times was a chance to cook with my father, for my mom. It was a small opportunity to give back to her for the many selfless acts I had experienced in my lifetime. My Dad never cooked at all until my Mom was too weak to cook anymore. And then, he simply learned to cook. Which is a remarkable thing for a 90-year-old, but then my father is a remarkable man.

Love is Serving

My father’s family immigrated to northern Manitoba from Russia shortly before he was born. But he lost both of his parents by age 18. He completed all of high school in one year, sold his share in the family farm, and moved to the west coast with my mom to attend UBC to become a physician.

He’s never been afraid of new things; he’s a lover of knowledge to this day. He knows as much about computers as his kids do and that’s not something many people his age can say!

It didn’t surprise any of us that he learned to cook for my mom and that he goes into near clinical detail explaining his newly discovered techniques. Granted, some of his descriptions at first were proud recollections of dubious culinary victories: “You guys, you gotta try this! First you crack the eggs, then you stir them all up and then you put them in the frying pan. Who would have thought making scrambled eggs was that easy? It’s delicious!” Always tiring quickly of the banal, however, he recently perfected baked salmon (accomplished with a hi-tech thermometer to ensure this perfection), complete with baby potatoes and vegetables. We received proud pictures of the plated experience, millenial-esque, on the family group text.

My father choosing to reverse roles and serve my mother in this practical way is truly a testimony of love for a lifetime and beyond.

Thankfulness is something my mother has instilled in all of us. My dad and I cooked some fresh salmon last week and my mom loved it. Since she can’t remember things very well anymore, (and we were so proud of ourselves for making such a great meal), we enjoyed salmon two nights in a row. Each night, she spent the evening thanking us for serving her. Over and over again, she said, “I’m so thankful to have such a wonderful family, and a husband who loves me.

Love is faithful

My mother’s love for Jesus is a constant theme whenever we reflect on her life. I can’t count the number of times as a child I would come downstairs early in the morning and find her kneeling at her chair, praying out loud, and feeling like I had stumbled into a European cathedral, sensing an atmosphere of divine quietude.

In fact, since the day we were born my mother prayed for her children’s spouses. My wife, Debbie, mentions this often, that even before she knew her, my Mom was praying for her. This is the testimony of a faithful, godly mother.

Love came down

Atul Gawande in his thought-provoking book, Being Mortal, shares, “In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story.” And our story intersects with God’s story in ways that astound us, especially at Christmas.

The God of the universe came to earth as a baby and taught us what love looks like. It looks like selflessness. This Christmas, remember to be gracious, thankful, servant-hearted and kind as we spend time with our families.

These are the people who make our stories meaningful.

Have a wonderful Christmas.


PS —I was in the Advanced Placement English class last Friday and they were doing protocols of each others writing (a systematic review and discussion of each other’s work). It was so insightful that I asked if the class would protocol my blog article on Monday. They did not disappoint. Their insight and ideas were incredibly helpful and their combined ideas informed much of the way this article ended up. It was a real need, involving real work, for a real audience. 

Thank you AP Class for being awesome.  GG

 “A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.”   ― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End