As Mother’s Day approaches, pastors are always searching the horizon for what they might possibly say to their flocks that weekend. I don’t especially enjoy preaching on Mother’s Day, mainly because I’m not a mother. Oh, I had one. The best! But even though we men should appreciate and hold our own moms and the moms of our kids in a state of holy reverence—I just think it a bit audacious for a man to pretend to know or attempt to say much of anything about mothering, or how it should be done. The only area where we might possibly be qualified is if we ourselves had a fine mother, and we remember her impact in our own lives. That I did, and that I do.
My Mom and I perhaps bonded in a special way because I was the youngest, and, as she often said, “…so much like her in many ways.” That was not necessarily a compliment–more of a fact, really–that made her much too gifted at knowing what I was doing and even thinking about doing a lot of the time in my teenage years. She told me, more than once, that she understood what it was like to be a rebel, to flirt with danger and color outside the lines. Although I really couldn’t at the time (and barely even now) imagine or acknowledge that her teenage indiscretions could have even approached some of my own, I do remember feeling at least the comfort that she was more empathetic toward my rebel inclinations than she was judgmental or condemning. She would say, “I’ve been in this or that position myself… be very careful who you spend time with and what choices you make. Try to live your today in such a way that you don’t have to be ashamed of it or regret it tomorrow.”
I remember so well her work ethic; it was passed down so obviously from her own mother and father, formidable and noteworthy people in their own rights. I remember Mom never sitting still (another way in which we are alike). I think it helped her not completely obliterate either me or that tree out behind the church she was always pulling limbs off of to thrash me with, because, truth be known, she was probably having as hard of a time sitting through the church service as I was! So many things to do and places to be—and sitting was not getting any of them done, and thus not high on the list of priorities. She was a doer in all ways, even when it came to worshipping, serving, loving, teaching, living out her faith. Of the physical possessions I have that belonged to my mom, two that I treasure dearly are her work gloves, small and feminine and well-worn—and her power drill. Strange, I know, but those two objects sum up a lot of who she was, and her independent, can-do-anything-self-sufficient approach to life. When I pull the trigger on that small gray metal power drill, I’m instantly a six-year-old again, standing and watching her work in the garage, expertly making lamps out of driftwood.
I learned to love nature and soil through her eyes and our backyard activities; one of my earliest memories was of her letting me sow tomato seeds into little peat cups. We watered them, they sprouted, we planted, we tended, we harvested, we shared and we enjoyed, literally, the fruits of our labor. There were so many lessons in that simple exercise. I have from that time had a love for the soil and growing things; it’s a blessing and curse both—that affords me many hours in the back yard, fighting against West Texas to create a bit of Eden—and also cutting severely into what would have been my kids inheritance every time I stop at the greenhouse or garden center! To Mom the yard was therapy; for me, it is as well, a life-saving refuge. In my book $100 spent on peat moss and vermiculite and manure (and the hours to use them) beats any day $100 spent on one hour with a therapist. She and I are again alike in that we “work things out” while we’re digging in the dirt and making our few square feet of earth a little prettier. Mom was always teaching us about nature by pointing out sunsets and lightning storms and rainbows and butterflies and birds and perfect windless evenings, or smelling the joy of freshly cut grass or new aspen pads in the swamp cooler. She marveled at what most people missed, and taught me how to see that as well. I remember her reading to me, over and over again, what we called “Billy Books”—because the kid in the books was named Billy. One of them I can still quote, about nature: “Red and yellow, blue and green, orange and purple all are seen in the rainbow fair; I’m so glad God put them there.” I’m glad, too, Billy. And I still to this day stop and stare anytime a rainbow paints the sky.
Mom was extremely demonstrative in her love, believed in copious hugs/actions/words to back it up. Mom was also a huge believer in discipline, that judgment and sentencing and punishment need not hang over one’s head long. She carried, I think, on her person a half-inch wide three-foot-long leather strap. The time between judgment and the sentence being executed was about 2.5 seconds. There was no appeal! She believed a “good whipping” and a “good boy” were related ideas, and she was not bashful about proving it. She would have NOT fit in well with modern permissive ideas about sparing the rod. The best thing, though, is that while she did not shy away from administering justice—immediately following the punishment she was on her knees with open arms and forgiveness to welcome back the penitent transgressor. I learned a lot about consequences, punishment, mercy—and especially grace—from Mom. She was the picture of absolute acceptance, even when the child might be behaving unacceptably. She had no tolerance for telling lies or taking things that weren’t yours. I bore the strap (and on other occasions a fly swatter) for getting caught in a fib; one time when I purloined a piece of penny gum from Jack Bell’s candy counter, she made me go back in, confess my sins to the clerk, give back the still un-enjoyed gum, and pay for it anyway. That made an impression….
This has gotten long and I could write a book, but I won’t. While having a Dad like we did was a huge factor in our views on ministry and church life and what a pastor is supposed to be and do, I suspect, at least in my case, that Mom had more to do with who I am today, how I think today, what thrills me today, what shames me today, what I worry about and what I laugh at today, who and how and what I love today, my inability to sit still today—than any other factor or person in my life. Her picture from the early 60’s is on my desk right now, one of the few things I’ve unpacked from an office relocation as of yet. I’m not sure why her picture came to the surface amidst so much flotsam in the torrent of moving items, but I’m glad it did. And I’m glad to be able to look up and see her watching over me. I like to think in some way she does that still. She’s been gone now for a long time. But she’s always here. Moms are that way. Especially my Mom….
If you still have a mom on earth, give her a call or a hug. That’s the perfect gift. Or maybe take her to Weinerschnitzel or Outback. If your mom is long gone, or recently gone, spend the time to remember and honor who she was and all she did for you and taught you. And forgive her imperfections. If you live with someone who’s a mom, let them know how much their role matters and help them bear that sacred burden. If you are a mom, and it seems such a hard and thankless job—look up and you’ll see your Father looking down with pride on you and the children he’s given you to mold further into His image. He will tell you, if you listen, “Mom…your work matters! I’m trusting YOU with life itself, and so much responsibility for what those lives become. You’re not forgotten, you’re not alone!”