It’s been 35 years since my mother passed away. She had serious, lingering medical problems from cancer and chemo from age 42 until her last and 70th year. I often think most thankfully about her roles in my life, and five phrases paint my picture of her influence.
“Mother superior” – Her strong character qualities
She was honest and truthful, yet with tact. Her sense of humor was razor sharp, yet not unkind. Racial prejudice grieved her mightily; her love of baseball was fueled by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson (first to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues) and his courageous, tenacious style of play. She had convictions. She had personality.
“Hi Mom!” – Her proudest moments of me
My mother would never see a son greet her through the lens of a sideline TV camera after scoring a touchdown. But she witnessed my multiple graduations, a wedding, baptisms and family portraits to know that her parenting investment of work and love were worth it. She said that her proudest moment was seeing me on the first day of my first ministry position standing behind the Communion table leading the congregation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Gosh! Hi Mom, and PTL!
“Mama sang tenor” – Lasting images of her
Foremost, I’d hear her play the piano with fingers of emotion. Gershwin’s “Summertime” and George Shearing-like jazz would come out of our den’s Steinway grand. She would take lessons from local Pittsburgh jazz pianist Johnny Costa. Up until her chemo-ruined right arm/hand took away her ability, the piano was her outlet. I think that for her and me both, it was an inlet. And then there was the 1955 World Series. I watched her kneeling in front of the black & white TV screen in our living room tearfully shouting for the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson to beat those darn Yankees. No wonder I love music and baseball today.
“Mother Knows Best” – My best experiences at her initiative
During my 8th or 9th summer, she took me to several Tuesday afternoon Ladies Day Pirate games at Forbes Field. When I was 13 the two of us flew (my first plane ride) to New York City for three days of walking around Manhattan, seeing and ‘hearing’ the sights. I love New York! I was 14 when Mom splurged for two seats at Syria Mosque to hear Ella Fitzgerald and the Oscar Peterson jazz trio. Front row! And best and most life-changing, she sent me to First Presbyterian Church Camp, now called Ligonier Camp & Conference Center, for two weeks(!) the summer I was 13 (she said it sounded “just like the camp she went to up in Cedar Run”, wherever that was). Well, that experience, and the 11 summers that followed as camper, kitchen boy, counselor and senior staff member set the course of my life. God called me into and prepared me for ministry.
“Mama said there’d be days like this” – Her realistic, somewhat stoic view of life
My mother suffered through cancer-debilitating years, divorce, and her two good sons, born eight years apart, who moved away into careers, feeling their single independence from parents and home and requisite family attention. She hardly got to enjoy her grandchildren. She sacrificed for me especially, being the far youngest, through the only job she ever had, working at Easter Seals Society (for the ‘handicapped’) downtown as a newspaper ad ‘sifter’. That sacrifice paid for half of my seven years of post-high school tuition/living expense bills. Her ‘stiff upper lip’ was admirable, though also emotionally confining.
If you’re still with me here reading of my family remembrances, let me pivot to 2 Timothy 1:5-7, where the
Apostle Paul encourages his young mentee in the Faith. “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Timothy’s mother, and her mother, were endorsements of his character and commitment to God. The nurturing of the boy/man Timothy was at the knees of the mothers in his life. God used them in shaping their ‘boy’ for the Lord’s service before Paul ever got his hands on him.
What character qualities, what lasting images, what best experiences have come to you at the hands and knees of your mom? And, how many proud moments have you given her? If she is still living, why not make your next serious conversation with her address these last two questions? Fulfill her years of prayer and quiet sacrifice for you with more personal expression of loving gratitude. Recount to her those life-shaping memories that she gave you, planned and unplanned. After all, who are you because of her? And, if your mother has passed, do the recounting anyway. Then, thank God over and over for the faith, the power, the love, and the discipline He set for the course of your life through her, your Mom.