It was not the Valentine’s Day I was expecting. Leanne and I had already made plans to celebrate when the call came from my sister on February 13. Our Mother, my birth Mother, had taken a sudden turn for the worse. An ambulance had rushed her to the hospital that morning. She was losing ground fast.

I took the first flight out the next morning. Once on the ground in Dallas, my sister called again to say all the news from the night before was bad. If Mother was taken off life support, she would not likely survive.

My mind was spinning. How could this be? She attended church just the week before. Everyone thought she was getting better. She always got better.

Over the course of her life, she had beaten breast cancer and Hepatitis C while staring down a host of other maladies. Each was a grueling battle that lasted years, sometimes decades. Yet she bore them with an uncanny grace. Her determination to overcome every obstacle was breath taking. She was the bounce back Queen.

But on Valentine’s Day, a host of medical issues stacked the final straw on her fragile frame. With prayer and tears, we made the decision every family dreads. When the artificial support was removed, she peacefully released her grip on this world and entered her true home in heaven.

While in the room with her that day, I couldn’t help but think about how our relationship started. On November 1st, 58 years ago, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. In a sad twist, my first day of life outside her womb marked an ending, not a beginning.

By the rules, she was not supposed to see me. But my Mother had made friends with one of the nurses, and she smuggled me in for a visit.

In those few moments, my Mother held my hand, pulled me close, and whispered in my ear that she would always love me. After a tear-stained kiss, she gave me away—not knowing if she would ever see me again.

Thirty-five years later, I found her. The joy of finding that missing piece in each of our hearts was indescribable. For a while, we couldn’t catch up fast enough. We had an amazing number of things in common—including the odd fact that we were both pastors. But we were different, too. And it was complicated.

My sudden appearance in her life was not easy to explain. I had been a secret for three and a half decades. A dark one. She wondered, at first, if she should keep it that way.

But before long, her love overcame her fear. After we made contact, she told her siblings, then her other children, then her friends, until the circle grew wider. To her total surprise, the icy shame she’d carried for so long melted a little more each time she told the story. In the end, she found something she least expected—grace. And so did I.

In that hospital room, all the visits, all the phone calls, all the laughter and frustrations and love we shared over the last 23 years came flooding back as she was slipping away. A wave of gratitude and grief washed over me. I owed my life to her. I knew I could never repay her sacrificial love, but what could I do?

On that last day of her life, as she took her final breaths, I held her hand, pulled her close, and whispered in her ear that I would always love her. After a tearful kiss, I gave her away.

There’s just one difference this time. I know I will see her again. Not by virtue of her merits or mine, but because of our common faith in the One who defeated death, Jesus Christ. As painful as it is to say goodbye, it’s just goodbye for now. We do not grieve as those who have no hope.

In that hope, I can say to my very first Valentine…Nancy Carol Secrest Christy, you are and always have been amazing. Thank you for being my Mother—before I knew you, after we met, and all the time in between. I love you. See you in a little while.