My mother was a gifted woman. She had quite a number of talents. Some of which my Sister, my brother and I inherited.
As a carpenter’s kid, (and later a preacher’s kid), she leaned a great deal of the trade. Her father built the buildings of four of the five churches he started. And when Mom wasn’t in school, she was out there with him. Not because she liked the work, but because she loved being around her father.
Looking back, I can remember her making all kinds of useful things around the house, over the years. My favorite was a platform bed she built me so I could put my desk and dresser underneath it. We called Robin’s Roost. She once remodeled a camper because she didn’t like the way the cupboards were arranged. And she did it with nothing but a circular saw and a set of hand tools. My mom was constantly learning new crafts. Everything from knitting, sewing, and macramé to poetry, flower arranging, and painting, just to name few.
I didn’t inherit any of those talents. I can’t drive a nail straight to save my life. Every craft I ever attempted usually ended up looking like a third grade art project. I think those talents went to my brother and sister.
My mom had an eye for perfection and gift of organization to a fault. Some might argue she had a little bit of an Obsessive Compulsion Disorder. I don’t think I ever mowed a lawn or loaded a dishwasher to her satisfaction. My brother got the eye for perfection, my sister got organization, I got the OCD.
My mom was a masterful gardener. She could make anything grow–even where they weren’t supposed to. I remember a cactus I gave her. Somehow she got it to bloom a flower. I didn’t even know it had flowers. I don’t think any of us kids inherited that one. I’m pretty sure I killed that cactus.
My mom was amazing with finances. With the bookkeeping skills she gained in Junior college, she learned to work her magic in the worst of times. We may have grown up poor, but I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have food to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over our heads.
Considering the number of times my mom bailed us kids out, financially, I’d have to say, definitely, none of us learned that skill. It was, in fact, one of her deepest regrets. She did manage to influence some of her grandkids, however.
I don’t think anyone would argue, that my mother was one tough lady. She was the toughest lady I have ever known. She didn’t take flak from anyone. I know because I gave her a lot, growing up.
I’m not sure how exactly what made her such a resilient woman. It could have been from growing up during the Great Depression. It could have been her life as the daughter of a preacher. Maybe it was from singlehandedly caring for us three small children while living on welfare. Or maybe it was from working in a junior high school most of her career.
I do know that beneath all that toughness, was a big heart. I can think of countless times, when I saw her cook meals for and visit sick or grieving friends. She was reluctant to just give money away. But she would give anyone a chance to work for it. I think she felt they would feel better about themselves. I remember when she sold the house we grew up in. She intentionally lowered the price, just so that a young family she met, could afford to buy it. It was their first home. When it comes to toughness, I think all of us kids have been pushovers. But I’d like to think we all inherited at least a little of her compassion.
Above all these, the one trait I admired the most was her courage. That’s not to say she didn’t have her fears. For one thing, she was terrified of water. That might have something to do with her father throwing her out of a boat in the middle of a lake when she was five years old. That was his way of teaching his kids how to swim. It didn’t stick.
Most of her fears were for all of us kids. She feared that we wouldn’t be able to make it on our own, that we might do something that would ruin our lives forever, or that we might get sick and die too young.
It was her fears, I think, that made her courageous. For our sake, she stayed strong and took life on, come what may. She kept it together when I was only one year old when her father passed away, the same day my father was taken away.
She endured with her mother, suffering from cancer, taking care of her in our home, until the ambulance took her to the hospital where she fought her last battle.
She took care of her second husband in his struggle with congestive heart disease until he finally passed peacefully in his sleep. Then she fought her own battle with breast cancer and survived.
Years later, she cared for her third husband who battle with Parkinson’s disease and multiple strokes until he gave up the fight.
Meanwhile, she continued to fight alongside her daughter, my sister, in her battle with cancer. She took her in and, with the help of my brother, she cared for her and comforted her until she went home to be with Jesus.
It was this courage, this ability to face whatever life handed her, that gave me courage I needed to face my own struggles in overcoming my disabilities and to strive to be the best I could. I didn’t find out until just a few years ago, that she always thought I was the brave one. She had no idea that it was because of her, that I was able to face my own fears.
I also discovered something else, when I was just out of high school. I discovered that the source of her strength came from her faith in God. And today, I also rely on my relationship with Jesus.
My mom was always moving; always on the go. For years I would ask her, “Why don’t you just sit down and relax.” But she never stopped. She never stopped in life either.
A couple of years ago, on one of our family visits, I was sitting in the kitchen talking to Mom while she puttered around cleaning things that didn’t look dirty, and organizing things that really didn’t need organizing. When it suddenly dawned on me why she never stopped moving.
“I get it,” I said. “You’re afraid to sit down. Because when you do, you know you’re done, and you’re never getting back up.” I was half joking when I said it. But she stopped and looked right into my eyes with all sincerity and said, “That’s exactly right.”
There is a well-known scripture in Ecclesiastes that I think describes my mother’s life. It goes like this:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak.
I’d like to add one more for my mom: a time to stand and a time to sit down.
After a lifetime of standing up to the challenges that came her way; of standing up for her family and friends, Mom finally decided she’s she has stood as long as she could, and she sat down. She was done. Now, she is sitting where I want to be. Right next to Jesus.