I have honored my father in this space, and now I shall honor my mother. For I do not understand her kind of love.
It is the love that raised two small boys whose father had died too young, with no male Christian relative or friend who could be emulated.
This love forsook its own dreams and built into mine, forsook its own hopes for love and tried to teach me where I should find it and the man I should be when I did. This love was at all of my baseball games, bringing water—for both teams—even when the two-parent tandems of the other players were absent.
This love, its human body broken by decades of excruciating, crippling arthritis (one doctor told her, “you’re tougher’n an ole boot”), taught me not to give up when I was down, not to quit when it hurt or was bleeding, to, in fact, as her hero Winston Churchill so eloquently said, “Never, never, never, never, never give up.”
This love was the iron that held our entire extended family together until strokes and heart attacks beset her and left the rascals to fend for themselves. And fend they did, some of them forsaking her when she could no longer serve them in the way they wished her to do.
This love believed in a son who had to wear corrective orthopedic shoes and was told never to expect to run track. By his senior year, he was named one of the 500 best high school basketball players in the country.
This love believed in another son who hardly ever spoke, and said of him, “still waters run deep.” He grew up to head a fine family with (at latest count) two wonderful children, serve on his church’s world missions committee, and minister to her like Jesus asked the Apostle John to do for His own mother at the cross.
This love taught me to kneel by my bed each night and pray.
It was the love that survived the staggering death of her own dear sister and best friend at age 25 during child birth, the loss of the “the love of her life” when he was 35 and she had a two-year-old son and a six-week-old son, and a second marriage to a man who was repeatedly unfaithful to her and cleaned out most of her life savings before he managed to leave. This love survived them all, and yet the statement I most remember hearing from her all through my life was, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
No, there is one other statement I have heard her say more often. Rather, a thought, finding different forms at different times. “Be kind to those less fortunate than you.”
And so it was that this love, always, my whole life, taught me to stand up for what I believed in when I knew it was right, no matter how much it cost me, and this love that stood up for me and believed in me, even when I was not worthy to be believed in. Which stood up for me when that second “father” crushed my young spirit into powder.
Indeed, it was the love of a middle child who wished silently for the love of her own mother that never came—even as my whole life I remember my mother always being drawn to old people, sick people, and little people. In other words, the people who could not make it without help and who could never pay her back for any of hers.
It was this love that spent a lifetime telling me, without ever once saying it in words, that I would never lack for love and care as she had.
If you see her now, it will be with a cane or wheel chair. Her hair is white, her body battered, and it is hard for her to make it to church—thought without fail she is up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to hear our pastor, Skip Ryan, on WRR radio.
But her countenance is bright, her humor and intellect undimmed, her wisdom still penetrating, and she is never happier than when holding one of her little grandchildren in her arms.
I can think of many lines that might serve as her epitaph. One keeps coming to mind, words she has sometimes said. “I’ll always be happy if I can have the old home movies of my babies with me.”
I don’t understand that kind of love.
Where else can you find her? In the final 22 verses of the Old Testament book of Proverbs.
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is passing: but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”