Mother’s Day and the Three Women Who Have Shaped Me

May 10, 2014

I’m writing this from an airport in NY, waiting for a plane that is delayed back to Nashville. I’m reminded by my iPhone that Sunday is Mother’s Day. It seems these holidays continue to sneak up on me. In a way, its sad we need Hallmark to remind us to think of the contribution of our mothers. We should do this naturally and more than once a year. But the calendar beckons and so I remember fondly the three women in my life whom God has used to shape me.

I first think of my own mother. Mom, born into to a second-generation Jewish family on the North Shore of Chicago, converted to Christianity in late teens. She fell in love with my father, who grew up in a broken home and became a believer thanks to the ministry of Billy Graham. Mom and Dad built a life together. Dad is a skilled plumber and Mom a homemaker, a teacher, and helped Dad run his business. When I think of her life, I think of how much she has had to endure: multiple miscarriages, a life of mostly being sick, and the hardships of seeing her parents, my grandparents, pass away.

Mom has taught me so many things and shaped me in many ways. For one thing, I think I have her sense of humor, her keen eye for getting a good deal (nobody is better at negotiating, nobody), and most of all, how to love those close to you. Mom taught us kids how to be thankful, to never, ever enjoy a meal, a gift, or a favor without expressing gratitude. To this day this is something we try to instill in our own four children. Most of all, though, Mom, a Jewish girl who found Jesus, led me to Jesus when I was young. She was driving and I was riding in the backseat of our red Chevy Malibu.

I think the reason we need Mother’s Day is because we sometimes forget–us adult children with our own busy lives and families–to thank our parents. And it is precisely when our parents have gotten older that we need to thank them. It seems that after your children are grown is when you begin to doubt yourself, to wonder if you did everything right. You have regrets–some genuine, many mostly made up because the devil loves to sow doubt–about the job you did as a parent. Our parents need us to look back and tell them how well they did. In spite of their mistakes. I had the privilege of growing up in a wonderful, Christ-filled home. But many didn’t. I know some of you reading this grew up in horrific, hard, sad homes. Still I urge you to prevail upon the Lord to help you summon the courage to forgive and to bless your parents. To bring a child in the world, to care for a child, to parent is difficult, hard, challenging work (I’m finding that out now). If you here, breathing, you have at least some kindnesses to send to your mother. So do that.

My wife. The first year I was a father and Angela was a mother, I didn’t realize the significance of Mother’s Day for my wife. I assumed (quite wrongly) that if I took care of my mother and she took care of hers, that I’d be good. Wrong. Guys, don’t do that. I was careless.

The truth is that God has used Angela to sanctify me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. I married Angela because she is beautiful, loves Christ and loves people, but it was motherhood that brought out her finest qualities. The way she thoughtfully cares for each of our children, her blend of discipline and love, grace and truth. She’s thorough, kind, thoughtful, and works harder than any woman I know. A mother has to be so selfless in those early years of raising children. There are so many days and nights of pushing through sickness and fatigue to be there for the little ones. What’s more, Angela has taught me how to love more fully, how to forgive those who have wronged me, and how to care for the poor and marginalized, and forgotten.

The home is the place where the gospel is lived out in living color. Where repentance, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are exercised daily. It is here where God allows us to shape and be shaped. I’m grateful that I go to work every day knowing my children are immersed in the Word of God, are taught the daily, practical things of life, and are challenged to use their gifts for the glory of God. Angela has been at the center of this ongoing endeavor. I’m grateful for her almost 12 years by my side. What a gift.

My mother-in-law. In January of 2012, we lost my mother-in-law, Linda Sullivan. A lot of guys joke (with a hint of truth) about their mother-in-laws, but mine fit none of those stereotypes. Linda was one of the sweetest humans on the planet. A single mom, she raised three children on her own. She was very devout in her Christian faith, faithfully attending church and bringing the kids her whole life. But more importantly, Linda exuded the love of Christ. She was dealt some pretty tough blows and yet never showed a hint of bitterness. She was an encourager, a relentless note-writer, and cheerleader. In fact, she was my biggest fan as my writing and ministry career took off. She’d save every byline and she’d take my books and shove them into the hands of everyone at her church. Mostly, she was always there whenever Angela or I grew discouraged and wanted to quit. I tear up even as I write this, because we miss her so deeply. She leaves a hole in our lives that won’t be filled until we see her again in Heaven. I’m deeply grateful for her investment in my life. (If you are interested, I wrote a tribute here to her after she passed.)