I am in the San Francisco Bay area this week visiting my friends Scott and Lynnette Purkey. It is impossible for me to be in this city or this part of the country without thinking of my mom who, as a young single woman, began her ministry in this very region.
As a child I loved to hear the stories of her adventures as a female evangelist, of taking buses and trains and even streetcars to reach her next destination. Of living with pastor’s families or perhaps in a church basement for weeks at a time. Of the variety of people she met and the experiences she had. Some pleasant. Some unpleasant. But all of them blended together to create for her an uncommonly colorful and fulfilling era and a life through which many others were enriched.
Without realizing it, my mom’s decisions and actions as a young woman profoundly impacted the daughter she would one day have.
A talented, spunky young girl, Mom had her eyes set on a future as a professional tap dancer when an encounter with God dramatically changed her plans. Forsaking the sound of applause for the sight of a sinner’s salvation, she became completely immersed in her efforts to bring spiritual remedy to those in need. Without realizing it, my mom’s decisions and actions as a young woman profoundly impacted the daughter she would one day have. Many of the things I learned from her life were from before she even became a wife or mother. Here are five of the many things she taught me to be:
#1. BE PASSIONATE. When my mother had as a goal being the next Ginger Rogers, she practiced dancing for hours every day. She entered competitions, probably watched famous dancer’s moves and most likely practiced steps in her head as she lay on her bed at night. But when she became passionate about things of an eternal nature, matters of the soul and spirit, she gave herself solely and completely to those endeavors.
Prayer and the study of scripture consumed virtually her every waking hour. She was completely and totally passionate about her focus on God. So passionate, in fact, that for many years she refused to date men so she could more fully devote herself to her ministry efforts.
Even later when she had married, had children and was assisting my dad in the pastorate of a church, Mom remained passionate about the things that mattered to her. One of those things was the care and wellbeing of her family. During her years of traveling she had observed some ministers who neglected their families for their professional life. Mom told God that if He ever saw fit to bless her with a family of her own she would never neglect them. And she never did. She was a careful and attentive mother, a devoted wife and was always intentional about promoting and protecting family time.
#2. BE CONTENT. Because we moved a fair amount when I was growing up, we would sometimes jokingly refer to Paul’s statement “I have learned whatsoever state I am in to be content” ( Philippians 4:11) to mean the literal state where we were currently living. Mom was great at modeling contentment no matter which state or which house we lived in.
She never complained about a restricted budget, a cross country move or a neighborhood that was perhaps less than desirable. Instead I remember her grabbing a bucket of paint, washing walls and windows and sewing draperies for the home to which we had just moved time and again. She encapsulated the words of I Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” And by doing so she taught me much.
#3. BE KNOWLEDGEABLE. A perpetual student, I doubt there were a handful of days in her life Mom didn’t read. She read the daily newspaper. She read magazines. She read books. Lots of books. She read commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographies and autobiographies. And, of course, she read the Bible. I don’t even know how many times she read THE BOOK through its entirety!
In her later years she began watching more television but even then wanted to watch something that would give her more knowledge about the world around her. She studied politics, world economy, sports figures and international happenings. I would often rely on her to give me the latest recap of world events. Her thirst for knowledge was insatiable.
#4. BE POLITE. I once heard it said that “Manners are simply the NICE way of doing things.” My mom loved good manners! Table manners were important, “Please”, “Thank you,” and “Excuse me,” were probably some of the first phrases my sister and I learned as children. We were taught proper phone etiquette at a young age as well. I never saw my mom be rude to anyone, even when it was deserved. She was ladylike and refined in her demeanor and was courteous to every single person with whom she came into contact.
She was the favorite at the assisted living facility where she spent the last two years of her life. I have no doubt it was largely because she was so polite and kind to everyone there who served her in any way. Being treated with common courtesies and pleasantries was a refreshing change from the grumpiness and rudeness some of the elderly residents exhibited. For me, her politeness was the epitome of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31) Politeness is, after all, treating someone as you would want to be treated.
#5. BE BRAVE. Hearing my mom’s story of leaving home at an early age to fulfill the destiny she felt God had designed for her made me think she was brave. Remembering her striking out across the Mojave Dessert driving from California to Kansas with her sister, their young children and no air conditioning was also something I considered brave. Seeing her widowed in her mid fifties, left to navigate life alone, battling the giant of loneliness for three consecutive decades provided a whole new definition of brave. But watching her at the end of her life as she was preparing for her own death made me KNOW she was brave.
Calmly and with great dignity she entered the Hospice program, quietly discussing her care, her health options and her end of life requests. At no time did I sense panic, fear, uncertainty, self-pity or regret. Her tone was one of resolve. Her death was not easy. Her body, like her spirit, did not know how to accept defeat. But she faced the unknown in dignity and grace modeling to the three generations gathered around her a capacity for courage which left us in awe.
After Mom’s death I found a book I had given her as a Mother’s Days gift when I was just a newlywed. On the inside cover was a poem I had written for her but had long since forgotten. The title itself epitomizes the importance of her influence on my life.
A pattern from which to mold my life
A standard by which to set my own
A light in the obscureness of “Who am I?”
A light still shining when I am grown
The person I knew before even born
The friend I grew to love best
My sharer of disappointment when I have failed
My partner in pride when I’ve done my best
My first example of being a woman
My finest example of being a wife
My living example of being God’s daughter
My best example of the richness of life
A lamp for my path as I walk the unknown
A burning bush for my hour of doubt
Ten tablets of stone in flesh and bone
Helped me know what life was about
How hard it must be for those who don’t have
A pattern by which to build
Their lives, their thoughts, their innermost selves
Surely that’s not what God willed
No, He gave us His Son, then to comfort and guide
He sent to us Another
But God knew for building a beautiful life
We’d need a pattern called Mother
Two years ago around this time I flew to California to speak at a women’s conference. I had buried my mother only a few weeks before and was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I insisted, however, on fulfilling my obligation in part as a way of honoring the woman who had taught me the value of commitment.
I honor her again today for all she gave, all she taught and all she embodied while she was here. Hopefully my daughter and I will carry on the legacy of strength which we’ve been handed. And hopefully our lives will reflect at least part of what she taught us to be.
I love you Mom.