Like a Mother with Her Children

Mother's Day, 2018

This Mother’s Day I’m looking at motherhood up close but from a different perspective and new appreciation. Some of this likely has to do with the fact that nowadays I’m doing more mother-associated tasks like taking the lead cooking, grocery shopping, laundering, and hauling boys around (today I’m going to the zoo with the 2nd graders). It has more to do with watching Weslee skillfully and sacrificially mother her three boys. I’m amazed though not surprised one whit.

Her circumstances are not unlike many in the world today. She is a single mom with a full-time job twelve rush-hour miles from our house. More than a year ago she made a very hard decision -- the hardest of her life -- one no one on either side of the equation planned or preferred, but I’m convinced was necessary nonetheless for the long-term well-being of everyone involved.  Gutsy, but good though tough for all involved. Plan B it is and God’s grace is sufficient and abundant for everyone’s new normal.

Weslee leaves before the boys get on the school bus and gets home after they get off. She’s tired, but more times than not is upbeat and over dinner wants to hear the boys’ accounts of their respective days even though many times she will have engaged and managed heavily emotional situations in her job as patient advocate at a cancer treatment facility. Between dinner and the boys’ bedtime, she dedicates her time solely to them because she likes it. At bedtime, she spends “five” minutes in each of the boys’ beds with them but occasionally has absolutely run out of gas and fallen fast asleep right there. One recent Friday night -- a non-school night -- she had been down in the boys’ basement barracks an extra long time so I ventured down to check on them. All four were piled up on one bed in the dark singing and laughing at juvenile made-up lyrics to some song they all knew. It was hilarious and they were having the best time.

“Her time” typically comes in spirts usually in the form of a very early weekday morning several-mile run and on weekends. She treasures a Sunday afternoon nap and an occasional retreat to her “happy place” -- the upper deck that opens into her bedroom.

Far from a push-over (for years I’ve likened her to a junkyard dog), she herds those guys with tender firmness.  Even three sweet boys -- 8, 10, and 13 -- can (and do) create a fair amount of household chaos, but she presides effectively over such and bears by far most of the discipline role allowing me to stay in the Papa role. She’s the disciplinarian, I’m only the enforcer.

She loves spending time and doing things with those boys.  I had an out-of-town Saturday/Sunday engagement a couple of weeks ago. That Saturday I received a phone photo of them all playing in a trickling creek that she explained as a spur-of-the-moment side trip following Thomas’ (8) baseball game. The next day another photo showed up of a Sabbath creek after church during which Andrew (10) had helped two others lead a special song for the early service. The next Sunday afternoon she loaded up their four bicycles and went for a multi-mile ride. She loves hanging out with those growing boys.

Weslee is also a gatherer of people, a budding note-writer, and care-giver leading those efforts in her Sunday School class. She brought awareness, designed and jumped through company hoops to get a T-shirt approved for a run in the St. Jude Music City Marathon two weeks ago.  She’s amazing.

I’ve told many people that as time goes on, Weslee reminds me more and more of Honey. It occurred to me yesterday mowing the yard that Honey quietly showed us how to do many good things well, then “took off” and let us do them. Mothering was one of the best things she showed us. In many ways Weslee is not anything like Honey, but when it comes to the stuff of mothering, she’s the spitting image. (Oh wait, Honey wouldn’t spit!)

Here’s the perfect Celebrating Grace hymn for today:

Like a mother with her children You will comfort us each day,
     giving guidance on our journey, as we seek to find our way.
When we walk through fiery trials, You will help us take a stand; when we pass through
     troubled waters, You hold out Your tender hand.

In Your image You have made us, calling each of us by name,
     giving strength for every challenge as our gifts we fully claim.
We can hear you gently saying, “Do not worry, do not fear;
     for I’ll always go beside you; every moment I am near.”

With Your vision You inspire us, giving each a holy call;
     we will open doors of freedom by Your power in us all.
Life abundant spread before us as with eagle’s wings we soar,
     joining in Your new creation, we rejoice forevermore.

Like a Mother with Her Children – words Jann Aldredge-Clanton, 2000 © 2010, Celebrating Grace, Inc.

Not to Sing, but to Say and Live

The Alleluias were plenteous Sunday – Easter and the first anniversary of Honey’s memorial service.  It seemed as though every other phrase was punctuated with a joyous “Alleluia” and rightly so.  Congregations at both Easter services I attended began by singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  Toward the end of the third stanza of that hymn is the phrase “where’s thy victory, O grave?” It has appeared that way in every hymnal from which I have sung and led all my life.  But the Methodist Hymnal version is “where’s thy victory, boasting grave?”  I like that – an extra hint of resurrection trash talk!  And choirs in both churches ended the service singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  I could hardly contain myself when the Sanctuary Choir at First Baptist Church, Nashville sang it.  Wow – that majestic room, those wonderful singers, that magnificent organ!  Admittedly, the fact that I directed that choir thirty Easters in a row had something to do with how I heard it Sunday.

Christ is risen! 
He is risen, indeed! 

In the past couple months, I have received calls from two other ministers of music whose wives have also died of cancer – Greg’s wife Gail died January 6 and Larry’s Sandy only a month ago.  With both I have been able to say with surety that I do know what they are going through.  Both asked some form of the same question – “how did you do it?”  Still stumbling around for answers, neither conversation went far until I mentioned to each the sustaining power that hymns provided for our journey during Honey’s illness and for me since her death about this time last year.  I had to admit to learning that knowing a hymn or being able to sing or lead it was not the same thing as living it, or better said, living into it. For too many of us, hymns have become so familiar that we don’t “hear” them anymore. But through Honey’s illness/death, the experience helping build a hymnal, and the undeniable grace of God, hymns have ministered to me as never before and I am grateful.  I pointed Greg and Larry to some of my favorites:

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Sometimes a Light Surprises
All the Way My Savior Leads Me
Like a Mother with Her Children
O Worship the King
We Walk by Faith
Like a River Glorious
How Lovely, God, How Lovely
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
If You Will Only Let God Guide You
How Can I Keep from Singing
In Deepest Night

Spending time in a good hymnal is not unlike discovering a new Book of Psalms (the Hebrew hymnal). Hymns, like the psalms, have multi-stanzas, speak the many moods of Christian life, and are strong enough to be studied.  For almost a decade I have enjoyed memorizing hymns, not to sing, but to say and live.  I have discovered that in saying them, new riches reveal themselves in lines sung mostly mindlessly through the years.  They become good food for the soul and balm for the aching heart. 

If you have a hymnal I encourage you to spend some focused time in it.  If you don’t have hymnal or need a fresh version, I certainly recommend the Celebrating Grace Hymnal –   It has been interesting to see people order a Hymnal when they order a copy of the Notes From Susie book.  Most of the hymns quoted in the latter are included in the former.  Many of those hymns were in the “God, the Sustainer” section of the Hymnal, where Honey and I camped a good bit during our two-year journey.

Here is one of those stanzas I sang past countless times –

“Thy bountiful care what tongue can recite?

It breathes in the air, it shines in the light,

   it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,

 and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.” 

                        O Worship the King – Robert Grant, 1833

The mental image of God’s bountiful care washing over all His creation and individually over me calls forth yet another “Alleluia!”


P.S. You could never convince me that it was coincidental that Larry and I ran into one another at breakfast at a Collierville hotel the Sunday morning after Christmas 2015.  I hadn’t seen him in nearly ten years.