I Must Tell Jesus

I came caterwauling into the world in 1951 and exited high school in the spring 1969. For all but four of those years, home for me was Greenfield, Illinois — halfway between St. Louis, MO and Springfield, IL.

Mom delivered me at a hospital in Rolla, Missouri but our family moved from the Ozarks to Greenfield when I was only four. Dad assumed the position as interim pastor for the only Presbyterian Church in town. He held that role for the next 14 years. I think the congregation or Presbytery forgot about the interim part.

Most of the 60 other students in my class lived out in the country. I was a townie and so envied the farm kids. They seemed closer to each other and more connected. And kids in the country always had someone to play with.

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The family home place.  I believe this is where Grandma Thornton and her sister Effe grew up here. 

I felt very alone living in town — like an outsider. Not so long ago I learned our family roots went deep in Greenfield and in Green County. We Thorntons weren’t outsiders at all. My grandmother’s family went as far back as many of the families in the area. The difference is, we hadn’t stayed in the community.

Grandma married Grandpa and they moved away to exotic places like India and Japan and St. Louis.  They returned to Grandma’s home town when Grandpa was dying and just about the time Dad moved his tribe to Greenfield.

I have always felt like I didn’t belong. One summer in the mid-80’s, I was vacationing with my cousin in the Florida Keys. Phil’s mom, my favorite Aunt Elizabeth, was there and spent a great deal of time talking about my childhood. She voiced what I had always felt. “Your parents didn’t mean to, but I think they raised you to be pariahs,” she said. “You had so many rules it was hard to fit in.”

elizabeth
Lovely in person and spirit, my dad’s younger sister Aunt Elizabeth

True that. At least for me. I doubt all of my siblings would agree.  But her words perfectly captured my feelings.

There were good things, certainly, about growing up in our large family in the small town. Wonderful memories of get-togethers with siblings and their spouses and the ever-expanding number of children. Sunday visits with aunts and uncles and cousins from St. Louis. We’d gather at Grandma’s red brick house and eat curried beef or lamb with mint jelly. On holidays Grandma served money pudding with actual coins tucked inside. Grandma prepared the food and her maiden sister, Aunt Effe, would garnish the dishes to make them pretty.  A perfect team of form and function.

We had many happy occasions together. So much laughter and love.  But even then, when those city cousins arrived, I felt out of the loop.

We were different.

WatsonM7
Seven of the 10 children living in Wesco, MO. I was born here and moved to Greenfield in 1955

Dad and Mama held high expectations for their brood.  We were to be separate from the world, examples to every one of what a Christian family looked like, obedient, respectful and perfect. We were taught to avoid making money as that would lead us astray. My parents didn’t care about grades in school. They just wanted children who honored them, loved God and lived godly lives.

I didn’t have it in me to be that kind of child. Couldn’t do it. Didn’t want to do it.  Sure as hell wouldn’t do it.

As I became a teenager, Dad and I fought tooth and nail.  Tempers flared, words were said and punishments doled out almost daily. My anger and resentment only grew stronger.

The battle of the wills came to a head one Saturday afternoon. Watson and I came to blows on the stairs and beautiful, gracious Aunt Elizabeth got caught in the middle. Dad stood at the top of the stairs, my aunt on the landing and I held my place at the bottom of the steps.  I shouted up to Dad, “Why do you hate me?” and he replied, “Why do you hate me?” I responded with all my pent-up anger, “Take your god and go to hell!”

Watson had met his match. I had his temper and had turned it back onto him.

The house grew silent. Aunt Elizabeth continued down the stairs and into another room. Mom ceased her work in the kitchen. I waited for the wrath of the Old Testament Jehovah to descend on me. Punishment came, and it was not as awful as I thought.

I lost my record player for months.  I moved to the front row of church for weeks. And I no longer could teach the little ones in Sunday School.  No belt lashing followed. No hairbrush or fly swatter either.

That day of our fight, dad returned to his study.  Mama led me into the music room and told me to sit next to her piano. Then she began to play– hymn after hymn–and I listened, then began to sing. The music soothed me, the familiar words comforted me. When she started in on the first verse of “I Must tell Jesus” however, I began to sob.

I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.

Refrain:
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but ask Him He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.

Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
He all my cares and sorrows will share.

Tension existed between Dad and I until his dying day. I loved him deeply but I never felt I was good enough for him. Not Christian enough.  Not spiritual enough. With Mama, however, I felt nothing but tenderness and love despite not living up to all she had hoped.

P8060977 (2)Now I have a 12-year old daughter who, despite being carried in another woman’s womb, is the spitting image of me. Maybe not in looks but we share a red-hot temper, strong will, intense passion and an independent spirit.

All I want for her to know as she grows is that she is unconditionally loved, celebrated for her uniqueness and encouraged to become whatever she wants.  I also want her to know that, aside from being able to talk with her father and me about anything, she can always tell Jesus. He comletely understands and cares for His own.

 

 

Z: It’s All about Mary/ #a-to-z challenge/ Zee End

We’ve reached zee end of my April posts on Mary Scott Gash Thornton.

For those who have read the daily blogs, thank you, thank you, thank you.  Your responses have made me smile, tear up and thank God for having people in my life like Mary and like you.

Even if you’ve just read one or two, I thank you, too.

For me this exercise has brought back so many wonderful memories of people, places and things that, though centered on Mary, have enriched my life immensely.

Much more can be said about this short, round, rosy-cheeked woman. She had a heart the size of Greenland and brought music and laughter to the lives of so many.

Mary continues to teach  me.  When she was alive and mothering me, I tended not to listen a lot.  Examining her life over the past 30 days I have seen more clearly who she was and what she has meant to me. And to others.

My spirits have improved over the past four weeks. I do believe I’ve fussed less at David, groused fewer times at Katherine, felt less angst, sang more, cried less (except for those of remembrance and love) and generally behaved like a better human being.

Mary continues to have her influence on my life.

My prayer is that one day my daughter will have a fraction of the good things to say or write or remember about me.

Mama will never be remembered in history. Her passing left no mark on our times. But her well-lived life, her laughing spirit, her music-filled days have enriched mine immensely.

Mary Scott Gash Thornton — a woman of exceptional talent, a quiet person who was loud and clear about what she believed and whom she loved, a mom who made every one of her children feel like the most loved person in the world and a wife who loved her husband until her last breath.

I wish you could have known her.  But I suppose by now you do, at least a little.

Thank you again for being with me for the A-to-Z Challenge…It’s All about Mary.

 

X: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ X for Mary’s 10 Children

I will admit that the letter X has been a challenge. But this morning I had an a-ha! moment.  X is Roman numeral for ten. Ten is the number of Mary’s children.  So if you will permit me, I’ll introduce you to the clan she nurtured and raised to the best of her ability.

Ruth Thornton Caldwell: she is older of the twins — by about 10 minutes I think. Again, my memory is rusty and I wasn’t in the room at the time.  I would be along 20 years later. Ruthie is …a character. A woman who has brought into the world (with the help of her husband Paul) five lively boys who have matured into amazing men, husbands and fathers. Grandchildren are now “begetting” their own babies so the Caldwell tribe increases almost monthly.

When I was growing up, Ruth was my go-to sister. I went to live with her most summers. When I was in college, she was home base.  Her children have felt more to me like brothers than nephews.

Ruth follows mom in her ability to play the piano. She has a personality that attracts people. She has warmth that puts people at ease.  Trained as a nurse, I believe Ruth is one of the rare people in the health field who actually has the give of healing. I’ve seen her put her hands on a person suffering and observe the injured person relax, breathe easier and become calmer. Ruth talks fast, jumps from subject to subject mid-sentence. Loves to laugh,read, entertain, play the piano–well she did.  She’s 85 now and slowing down. She along with sister Alice have been the matriarchs since Mary passed away.

Alice Thornton Hees has left the planet and moved on to another dimension.  Her passing a few years ago has left Ruth feeling a bit lost. “I miss Alice so much,” Ruth told me the other day during a Skype call.  Alice Jane was the more serious, studious twin. She wanted to be the best, the smartest, the most helpful.  Alice had a huge heart yet she often struggled to know how to show it.  She held no grudges.  Wanted to please and help as much as she could. Like Ruth she was a nurse until she completed her PhD and began teaching at a division of Southern Illinois University. I hear her students loved her.  The nephews knew when Aunt Alice was depressed.  She wore extra more makeup and bling.  She was one of the original wheezers. Ken, her husband, was an accomplished carpenter who was also over the top intelligent. Thanks to their three red-haired, blue-eyed sons the world is all the richer in smart, kind, wise-cracking men.

Charles Gash Thornton, the oldest boy, left home in 1949, two years before I became reality.  Our relationship has been more getting acquainted than catching up during occasional visits. He and wife Janice raised six young ‘uns–three boys and three girls. They’ve traveled the United States, with Chuck pastoring churches in Washington, DC and Kenai, Alaska and parts in between. The twins have many tales to tell of Charles growing up surrounded by girls. He alone with four sisters make up the Japanese half of the family.  He writes his memories down these days, sharing them with siblings and his children.  His recollections brim with images of heat-soaked July days in the Missouri Ozarks, swimming and fishing in the Meremac River, picking blackberries, walking miles along dusty backroads with Elmer somebody or maybe it was Rebus Collier.  I’m not sure. Charles has pastored people for decades, he plays a ukelele, he spins tall tales and cares a lot. I wish I knew him better.  His grandchildren have grandchildren now.  He sounds old but doesn’t look it.  As he’s aged he looks more and more like Watson.

Elsie Lois Thornton Marquess — now here’s a woman who knew how to make people feel good about being themselves.  She went one year to William Jennings Bryan College in Tennessee but got too homesick and opted to stay home after that. “To help mom with the new baby Susan” was her excuse.  Which was partly true, but she had also spied a handsome coach in town which quickly lead to marriage and eight little Marquesses in a row.

Elsie loved her babies, loved all babies.  And all babies loved her. Babies and old people. When at last her youngest left the nest, Elsie turned her attention and lavished her love on people living in nursing homes.  She played songs and sang for them. She involved them in art projects.  She helped them come back to life.

The Marquess home never seemed to be quiet. A whirlwind of activity. Boys playing every sport imaginable. The girls, too, for that matter. As her babies started having babies, the weekends and the house stayed full of the second generation of Marquesses. Elsie and husband Vince made a place in their home for dad the last 10 years or so of his life. Watson was never bored with the steady stream of family and friends who visited him.

Martha Henderson Thornton Miller holds the middle position in the family.  And like many middle children, she is quiet and sometimes out of the loop.  She attended college for a year or two, but ended up joining the twins in nursing school. Early in her career however, she met Don and her life path changed. With a growing family, they moved to Germany for a number of years then back to California. And San Diego is where they have stayed. Four children (Scott, Heidi, Curt and Sara) have added a passel of grandkids from San Diego to North Dakota, Pennsylvania to Switzerland.

Martha carries herself with grace. She is the most quiet of the Thronton women (and has also been one of the most trim.) She missed the fat gene passed on through mama’s side.  I feel she fails to value herself and her gifts.  Martha has opened her home to dozens of people over the decades, offering their extra room to a student or an unemployed worker or a man dealing with a failing marriage or someone who has lost their home. She has the gift of  hospitality in spades. I find myself quieter when I’m around Martha. I want to be gentler. Kinder. Though she was distant geographically as I grew up, she has always been one with whom I felt loved and accepted.  And that is another gift she has.  Martha and I disagree on the biggies in life, from our faith to our politics, yet she is one with whom  I love to sit and gab and share my heart.

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Three children shy of the full load of Thornton children. Kate, Susan and me were still a twinkle in someone’s eye.

Samuel Watson Thornton II is the middle son and I believe Dad had a special place in his heart for S.W. Thornton the second. Not that he loved others less…but Sam was his namesake and a farmer. Dad said if he hadn’t been a preacher he would have loved to be a dairy farmer.  I wonder if Watson wouldn’t have been happier in the barn than behind a pulpit. But that’s another story.

Sam is the lone Thornton who chose to stay in the hometown and never leave. He lives there still, close to his three grown children (Sam the third, Doug and Susan), grandchildren and even some greats. No longer a farmer, I think he has stepped into the role of helping keep the family connected. Mom would have wanted that. Sam and his wife Susan take off from central Illinois to visit Thornton siblings, from Illinois to California. He keeps up with nephews and nieces via Facebook and often encourages the young ones. He cares about his kin.  A pilot, an inventor of sorts, a story teller, a road commissioner and  retired farmer. He loved to be in the field and to work with his hands. Dad was very proud of Sam.

John William Thornton loved to laugh. He enjoyed so many things and brought joy to a great many people. Nephews and nieces loved Uncle John. He made fun of himself more than he made fun of others. His IQ was quite high but he had a rough time making it through college. He saw no sense in a lot of the assignments. John ultimately got his diploma but he didn’t really need to. His work ethic and way with people would take him far.

His death at age 35 cut deep and brought tremendous sadness to the family. John ended his own life and left Marcia caring for four little boys. Depression runs deep and strong in the Thornton clan and John dealt with it in the only way he knew how.  We still feel the shock and pain three decades later.

While he was with us, John was a blessing. He could light up a room with his wise-cracks. He was my idol when I was growing up. I loved being around him though I get aggravate him as much as I could.

I cried copious tears when he married Marcia, though I loved her, too. My brother was leaving me and I didn’t like it. A number of years after their wedding, I lived with John and Marcia. I witnessed my crazy brother leave the house one day and return home a changed man. Marcia delivered their first son, Jess and now John was a father.  Proud as can be of his first son. A few years later, he adored their twins, Matt and Aaron. And he was equally pleased with boy number four, Ben. Photos of John and his young family show only broad smiles and happy faces. We completely missed his deep grief.  We miss him still.

Mary Catherine Thornton Beebe now goes by Kate. Closest to me in age — four years difference– we really didn’t like each other until we were well into our 20’s.  Too close? Too different?  I don’t know but we saw little eye to eye. One fistfight comes to mind when she was in high school and I was not. She wanted to watch a movie with some short actor whose name I can’t recall but who in known for cop roles and I didn’t like cop shows nor for that matter short actors. I didn’t like him. I didn’t want to watch the movie and I said no. Fisticuffs followed in the basement on Sycamore. I do not remember who won.

Kate is a smart one. Far smarter than me (and really I’m not dumb).  She analyzes things and comes up with ideas.  Her most used phrases is “You should….” or “You could…”  Her mind never goes to sleep. For her entire career she directed airplanes in landing and taking off. Or else she taught people to do the same.  She keeps her cool.  Logic and reason prevail.  She’s retired now and quilts and creates beauty out of bits of fabric. She’s really good.  Her twin boys, Craig and Dwayne, say not to expect grandkids. We’ll see.

Nancy Agnes Thornton Vander Plaats — that’s me.  And by now you know enough about who I am and why.

Susan Wesley Thornton trailed me by 18 months.  I’ve written a separate post about so I will say no more.  Except that her death was the first in our the immediate family and we all profoundly felt her loss.

So there you have it.  Mary’s (and Watson’s) 10 children and where they stand in the order of things. We’re a family big in number, girth and personality. I’d want no other really. Though at times I admit it’s good we have a continent or two between us.

W: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Watson Says Goodbye

17806737_10209216265699263_1132299665_nMary and Watson had their final days on earth well planned out and prearranged. They were to have no caskets. A memorial service would be sufficient. They wanted gifts to be made to their favorite mission organizations in lieu of flowers.

So when mom’s time came one spring night, she was cremated in Carterville, Illinois and the urn holding her ashes was hand delivered to dad a few days later. He placed mom’s remains on top of the cherry tansu in their bedroom. He would take it with him to the second memorial service to be held in our former hometown, Greenfield.

The Thornton family had one remaining plot at the Greenfield Cemetery and I suppose dad planned to place mom’s ashes there. I’m not sure. As the youngest child, and even though I was 35 at the time, I didn’t know much about Dad’s plans. He talked to the older kids about that.

I imagine Watson planned to bury mom’s ashes next to the graves of his parents or else close to my sister Susan’s plot.

Unfortunately, the burial never took place. Watson made the four-hour drive to Greenfield and left mom behind on top of the chest of drawers.

When dad returned to Southern Illinois a few days later, there she was. Exactly where he had left her.  So one clear night dad walked outside into his backyard, opened the urn and threw the ashes into the wind and over a fence to the empty field next door.

What he said into the night, what thoughts he had as he set those ashes free, what words he said in prayer I’ll never know. He’s gone now, too. Besides this was a private  sacred time between lovers of more close to 60 years.

Children don’t need to know their parents’ grieving.

But I do know something took root in that cool spring evening.

Five months later, well into the fall, I returned to Carterville to visit dad. As I drove up to the house I noticed a profusion of color in the field next door. Bright, bold and hearty Black-Eyed Susans — one of mom’s favorite flowers — flooded the the wide open space.download

“I’ve never seen flowers here before, ” I told dad as we stood together in the back yard.

“They’ve never been there before,” he said.

Mom.

She was back to remind dad and me and anyone else who noticed that her she was still with us. I probably made (and make) much more out of that field of color than dad did. But no one will ever convince me that it wasn’t Mary who helped transform that wide-open empty field into one beautiful fall bouquet.

V: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-challenge/ Voracious Appetites

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When she wasn’t in the kitchen, she was often at a piano or in a book.

She started out a little bit of thing and ended her days definitely rounder around the edges.  Giving birth to 11 children in all (one child lived only a matter of days) adds pounds to any woman’s figure.  Add to that a fondness for food, a sedentary life and being a great cook and it’s easy to understand why Mary grew to become almost twice the woman she once was.

On a number of occasions, mama talked to me of her days as a young girl. How she played music for a ballet studio. This was the era before CDs, cassette tapes and mp3s. How one or more boys usually walked her home from school. How she was so limber she could bend over backwards and touch her … head? nose? some body part to the floor. Pictures of mom as a child are rare, but the few I’ve seen show a petite, happy girl with a stylish bob and fashionable round glasses.

My very favorite photo of Mary Scott Gash shows her as a young teen, facing the camera with a big smile and lots of confidence, totally unaware that her slip was showing a good two inches on the left.

Of all the things that mom left behind, this is the one thing I miss. Mom promised it to me but in all the moves and busyness of dividing up things and resettling dad, the sepia-toned portrait vanished.  That photo captured the essence of mama. Confident, happy Mary boldly facing the world while revealing a fashion faux pas.

Mom’s mother, Mattie, was a large woman. Short and very, very round. I’ve heard plenty of stories about Grandma Gash. She lived in the Wesco house when the oldest kids were young, having moved there after mom and dad returned from Japan.

The Thornton family car was either a Model A or a Model T (I have no clue, but definitely a letter of the alphabet). The tale goes that on one occasion Mattie wanted to go for a ride with the family. Dad (as politely as he could) had to help push up and into the back seat from behind, resulting in significant list to grandma’s side of the car.

For the most part, the Thornton women folk tend to be hefty.  Dad would refer to his daughters as corpulent, never fat. Mattie passed on the gene to Mary and she did the same. Many of the Thornton girls have fought the battle of the bulge for decades, some with more success than others.

I believe we’ve used food for a number of reasons.  For growth and nutrition, obviously.  To soothe troubled feelings no doubt.  To stuff negative emotions during trouble times. But first and foremost, food has been a source of fellowship, community building, enjoyment and socialization.  Conversations always go better with pie.  Biscuits help bridge any generational differences.

One of my nephews, Mark, runs a large camp outside of Chicago. About 20 years ago our family rented his camp for a week and held a reunion. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and in-laws, babies and old-timers from all across the country spent seven days swimming, hiking, boating, laughing and eating. Mark commented at the final meal of the reunion that our family had consumed twice as much food as the camp usually allotted for a week of guests.

Granted that was two decades ago.  Most tend to eat much healthier now. But I admit I love to see guests enjoy the food I put before them.

Mom did, too.  She served crispy fried chicken with mounds of her fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes.  Comfort food like creamed chipped beef or eggs on toast.  Of course platters heaped with biscuits that we learned to break open with our hands, never to slice with a knife. Mom visited her niece in California and came back with information on tacos and pizza. These exotic foods had not yet made it to our table in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  Mom’s first homemade pizza had cottage cheese as topping not mozzarella. It’s really not bad.

We made doughnuts from scratch and fried them up after Sunday evening church.  Mom taught us how to make taffy — how to cook the candy just so then pull it to the right consistency.  Rich homemade fudge that must be boiled until a drop formed a ball in a cup of water. Who needs a thermometer when you know that skill?

Gooseberry pie and homemade ice cream.  Tapioca pudding — my grandmother made the grape kind.  Hot, savory hurry and rice topped with tart pickle juice.  Grandma Thornton introduced that to the family from their years in India and mom continued the tradition. Chop Suey by the truckload.  In later years, mom and dad added tempura to their offerings.

Food — the making, serving and sharing thereof — was central to the family.  I do believe that is one way mom felt most comfortable in demonstrating her love.

I enjoyed heaping servings of everything she offered.

 

Q: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Quiet

Mom’s mother, Mattie, came from a family of strong, relatively loud women. Out of six or seven girls (vague here because all family information is locked in storage in Dacula, Georgia and I’m going on memory), a number of the girls were outspoken, brash and (as they aged) just plain outrageous.

Grandma Mattie’s sisters were beautiful and strong. Aunt Joie became one of the first women in Louisville Kentucky (I’m sure we could expand that area considerably) to run a car dealership. A pretty amazing feat for a woman in the 50’s. Joie was forceful, pushy and spoke her mind with absolute ease. She knew what she wanted and she usually got it. When driving with us in a crowed car, she insisted on sharing the front seat with no one but John, the driver. That left four of us crammed into the back seat for the hours of driving from central Illinois to Kentucky.

I remember visiting the aunts in their large brick home in Louisville. The family gathered around the kitchen table for breakfast. I  recall wanting to show the best table manners in order to impress my great aunts.

All-Purpose-Biscuits-superJumboOne of the aunts had prepared homemade biscuits. A Thornton favorite. Dad said grace and I prepared to dig in and eat up.  I took a biscuit from the passing platter and used my knife to cut it open. Just as my knife was about to reach the butter dish,  Aunt Joie swooped in over my head and yanked the biscuit from my plate.

With ferocious intensity, she blurted: “In this house we don’t cut biscuits like no damn Yankee.” She tossed the biscuit to the side, grabbed another one from the platter, ripped it apart with her hands and slathered it with a hunk of butter. “Here’s how we do it,”  she said as the closed the halves together and shoved the biscuit into my hand. “Now, eat!”

Stunned silence for a moment of two. Then I began to eat. Conversation resumed and nothing more was said about my northern way of eating.

It may have been the 50’s but, for the Gash sisters, the war between the states was definitely not over. Northerners were still the enemy.

Mom wasn’t known for those kind of outbursts. She certainly wasn’t selfish and would never think of claiming more than her fair share of anything.  She was quiet, respectful and restrained.

Oh, Mary could and would get a tone in her voice when she was displeased, but she wasn’t a shouter. Not like me.

My poor daughter (who is also an extremely strong, independent and outspoken 12-year old) shrinks when my voice goes loud. On those occasions (which I pray are getting fewer and farther between) I think about mom’s aunts and I cringe. I got the gene. My sisters did not.

I fear I’m the only Thornton woman who gets as “het up” as Aunt Joie or Aunt Nannie.

I lose it with one child.  Mom held it together with 10. An amazing feat.  Of course, she played the piano a lot at night and cried.  Maybe that’s how she dealt with the emotions, frustration and craziness of life.

My memories of mom are quiet ones, peaceful and tear- or laughter-filled. A few years ago, my sister Kate asked the family to provide her with their impressions of mom for a quilt she was making.

My brother Sam wrote a lovely tribute to Mary:

Mom possessed the quality of gracefulness and good taste without any need to be fashionable. She was unpretentious: never speaking or acting in such a manner as to create a false appearance of importance or worth.  Mom was meek, of quiet demeanor, gentle, not forceful or demanding. She was reluctant to draw attention to herself. She was beautiful:  blessed with natural beauty that needed no make over.

Yep, that’s Mary. 17857700_10209257443448681_1037136347_n

N: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Never-ceasing love

 

Mary was in a relationship with God before she ever met Watson.

She didn’t just agree to a creed or adhere to a set of beliefs, her faith was deeply personal. She met her Creator and she fell head over heels.  By the time dad came along, she was already knee-deep in her faith.  They made a good team.

I don’t know the story of how mama became a Christian and what prompted her to devote her life to being a follower of Christ. She never talked about that with me. I just knew that pleasing God was her life’s goal and that the hierarchy of love in our house was and always would be God first, Dad second and the kids securely in third.

Today, the word “Christian” has a bad rap. I believe that description is often inappropriately used to describe people and movements that are anything but Christlike. In fact, I’ve come to a point in my life that I choose not to call myself a Christian. A follower of Christ, yes. A person who desires to live as Christ did and taught, certainly. But a Christian? No.

Big difference. Huge.

Mom never reached that point of dissatisfaction or disillusionment. She delighted in being a Christian, reading the Bible, learning more about God and sharing her faith with any one who would listen.

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                              Watson, Mary and the “Japanese” half of the family:                                   Alice and Ruth, Charles, Elsie and Martha

Mom and dad grew up in the early 1900s when the fundamentalist movement spread like wildfire. For them, being a Christian had a lot to do with what you said, did, looked like and participated in. One needed a change of heart as well as a way of living. What you did spoke as loudly as what you say you believed.  Yet, in spite of living with a sense of “oughts”, mom’s faith was full of love, kindness and joy.

Well, most of the time.

Occasionally her legalism got the best of her and I’d hear her criticize a family member or person from church. Her harsh words were rare but when she spoke them, they hurt. I had the ability to let her criticism roll off my back. Other people, not so much.

I saw mom’s heart and felt her passion. She was fiercely loyal to her husband and children. There’s no way on earth she would waiver in her beliefs and commitment to God or kin. That kind of faith makes one strong.

That strength of hers gave me comfort. It gave me strength as well. Throughout my high school years I felt abandoned by friends and lonely as hell. Without fail, when I opened up and talked to mom about my feelings, she’s do three things.

She would play a hymn and encourage me to sing along.

She would read me verses from the Bible, like Lamentations 3:22-23–
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

She’d give me something to eat.

I never felt alone with mama. I feel the presence of God today largely because of her.

Mama’s love never ceased.

Great was her faithfulness.