Dear Reader: You will find this post to be a slight departure from my usual… It is a deeply personal tribute to my mom on this Mother’s Day weekend. It seemed an especially fitting post since June 8 will mark ten years since her step into eternity. And indeed, other than Christ, I can think of no one who has more profoundly impacted my life than Mom.
© 2018 Lynn Abbott
Scampering into the house for a quick glass of water after school before I took my Kelly green, banana seat bicycle for a spin, I stopped cold in my tracks. Seated in the living room, a man who appeared to be “company” earnestly spoke with both my parents.
I knew it was serious because my father, who had physically collapsed earlier that year, rarely felt well enough to leave bed.
Eight weeks later, following the appearance of a real estate stake in our dichondra lawn, we waved goodbye to the Mayflower Moving Truck and my mother locked the front door for the last time. For me, it was simply an adventure, another of my parents’ fantastic road trips.
When my mother merged from the on-ramp onto the I-5, I smiled and waved at the truckers. It would be years before I understood the depth of my mother’s anxieties and the resulting sacrifices. But her life would shape a portrait of marriage and family that would define my own values forever.
As a 14-year- old, some years hence, I announced my intention of remaining single for life. It was not that I didn’t like “boys.” Or that I failed to appreciate a beautifully written, tragic romance like Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
No, it was simply because I understood too well the commitment that marriage and family require. I had observed my mother’s sacrifices and thus, possessed few storybook notions.
And I was ambitious. I wanted to make a difference in the world–to make my mark, so to speak. From my perspective, marriage and family made the pursuit of such dreams nearly impossible.
In fact, I could point to Scripture, to justify and support my views. After all, the apostle Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 7: 10, “Now to the unmarried and widows I say, it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am.”
Certainly, as a result of my mother’s commitment to the highest good for our entire family, we had successfully navigated a financial and medical tsunami. It had not been easy, and so, in my own limited way, I acknowledged this.
Her life would shape a portrait of marriage and family that would define my own values forever.
Immediately after that fateful move, we lived in government subsidized housing while Mom sought work, and my dad waited for the approval of his government disability retirement.
And even though it would have been a simple solution, Mom declined returning to her chosen scientific profession because that would indirectly place my father in contact with friends and former colleagues who were still able to pursue his scientific passion.
Yet, Mom did not discuss her decision with my father beforehand, nor did she ever allude to it afterward. She simply and quietly refused to rub salt in Dad’s wounds.
Instead, she accepted a position in a totally unrelated field, and applied all her self-discipline and intelligence to acquiring a new set of skills.
Many sacrifices, in fact, would be made. Working more than 40 hours each week, she continued to care for my father’s physical and medical needs, kept up with her home keeping responsibilities, and somehow managed to help her daughter with homework.
She turned what little energy she had left to maintaining as much normalcy in our lives as possible. Of course, Dad treaured Mom, and did everything in his power to help. He repaired all things electronic, and extended the life of appliances well beyond their life-time warranty.
On days when pain was less violent, he even cleaned bathrooms. It was an understood commitment to one another’s well-being that had been made years before when they launched their lifetime “for better or for worse.”
Sometimes, the “worse” could be pretty overwhelming. But most of the time, Mom’s courage and determination carried us through our struggle to simply survive.
I remember the day someone asked Mom, “Why do you stay? You are still young. You could yet make something of your life.”
She certainly had not signed up for this. When she first married Dad, he was a distinguished scientist on the international stage. They circulated with an impressive set of intellectuals.
But Dad’s illness had changed all that.
I looked at her, and waited for her response.
She simply smiled, and shook her head. For her, there was never even a question. Love had staying power, (1 John 3:18).
And despite some of the absurd situations that Dad’s health sometimes produced, Mom responded with grace and kindness.
Sometimes, the “worse” could be pretty overwhelming.
I particularly recall one such circumstance: we loaded our grocery cart with jars of Gerber’s baby food after my father had had a particularly bad spell. Gerber’s chicken and beef were all that his stomach could tolerate at the time.
When we reached the check out, the clerk raised his eyebrows, and flashed a wry smile.
“You must have an awfully hungry baby,” he observed.
Mom’s melodious laughter rang throughout the supermarket.
She simply grinned and said, “Yes.”
I heard no complaint; no self-justification. As always, she protected the dignity of those she loved with her smile, and good-natured laugh.
In my mid-twenties, I put aside my previous objections and married; my husband and I relocated across the country far from Mom and Dad. I missed them, and found comfort in weekly phone calls, a habit my brother would also adopt in later years.
Dad’s health never improved; in fact, it steadily declined.
Then, Mom retired, and until Dad died, she devoted her days to making him comfortable…and to taking him on “Sunday drives” whenever possible. In spite of Dad’s physical suffering, those were happy days for both Mom and Dad.
In her retirement, Mom also spent time with her granddaughters and grandson–always giving of herself as well as of her time and limited resources.
She did have a dream–to buy a luxury car for Sunday drives, but I knew that she would never own an expensive car. After all, she generously gave her dream savings away to those she loved, to those in need and to Gospel ministries.
Again and again.
If it were possible, she loved too much—sacrificing her own dreams for the sake of those she loved. Yet, during her final days with us, as I drove her to her chemotherapy appointments, she and I continued to observe and dream of driving a sleek, cruising car of the Mercedes, BMW, or Audi variety.
Yes, Mom still dreamed of the perfect Sunday drive.
When she died, her bank account was nearly depleted. She had given it all away to those she loved, or to others she found in need.
And she left an old Ford in the garage.
In the ten years since she died, I have often recalled a novel I read as a young teen. Bess Streeter Aldrich’s story, A Lantern in Her Hand, initially seemed to me to be a true tragedy, the tale of both life and talent wasted.
Aldrich’s protagonist, Abbie, chose love and life as a pioneer woman on the prairie instead of fame and fortune as a vocalist in New York City. Later, after confronting years of hardship and sacrifice, she attempted to dissuade her daughter from making a similar choice. But to no avail.
She dreamed of buying a luxury car for Sunday drives, but I knew that she would never own an expensive car.
And in fact, despite life’s gusty winds, Abbie herself repeatedly chose love over her own comfort. Abbie’s love flickered gently like “the lantern in her hand”…illuminating a safe and secure haven for her children.
As a teen, I found the conclusion of the novel extremely dissatisfying. I wanted the heroine’s dreams to come true. I cried my way through the final pages of the novel. Yet, I now cherish the authenticity and raw beauty of the story. You see, my mother carried that same lantern…
She never preached a sermon; she never wrote a book; she did not return to “wow” the scientific world; she never bought that luxury car for Sunday drives. She did not “change” the world at large.
But she left a legacy of love: a son and a daughter who both miss their Mom–that “one-in-a-million” someone who listened for hours at a time, sacrificed for the benefit of others, and loved with every fiber of her being.
Her life shouted a message more powerful than any political speech or religious sermon I have ever heard, and I carry its poetry with me still.
In fact, I wish I could say I were more like Mom. Even so, I am grateful to have admired and loved a truly exceptional woman.
And from her life’s proclamation, I discovered what it means to demonstrate God’s love…
Love stands steadfast through life’s storms–both the thick and thin;
Love says, “You before me;”
Love never fails.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” Philippians 4:2-5