The day my mother died, I was handed her Bible. The same study Bible she had used for 30 years or so. Before the memorial service, I spent a week going through it, looking at my mother’s notes, handwriting, questions, and answers. I found a lot of smiles there. I also found a lot to think about. My mother could be quite perceptive when it came to spiritual study.
But when it came time to write her eulogy, I spent five days at a loss. I was attending Hedda Gabler performances, but once the show would start, I’d sneak upstairs to a table and attempt to make some notes. But to no avail.
It was the day before, when I took a day off of work, that I looked at her Bible and thought, “Well, I’ll start there.”
And this is what I came up with:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
If I could say anything about my mother’s ultimate goal in life, it would live in that phrase. “The peace of God.” I believe she pursued it her whole life, not only for herself but she also actively prayed for it for others.
This is my mother’s Bible. It is the Life Application Bible (New International Version) and she bought it in 1989 when it was first published. It is a little bit amazing that this Bible has survived intact. Once, in about 1992, she was headed to church, and after loading some things into the trunk of her car (probably the orange rolls she was famous for making), getting into the driver’s seat and heading from Visalia (where we lived) to Dinuba Nazarene, she arrived to find that she had lost her Bible. Which was impossible because she knew she had taken it out of the house. But it was not in the car. She was devastated because she had been making notes in it for three years. When we returned to Visalia, in a last-ditch effort to find the Bible, we drove the route from our house to the edge of town. And on Court Street, at the overpass crossing Highway 198, there in the gutter, was this Bible in this cover, intact. She had placed it on the back bumper, forgotten it, and somehow it made it a mile down the road before falling off.
This is actually a pretty typical “Marsha Maneuver.”
Since that time, this Bible was never very far from her.
It is filled with notes, quotes from sermons, her own thoughts and questions on passage after passage. In the past week or so, I’ve gone through nearly every page of it, and found there a remarkable footprint of my mother’s spiritual life, as well as many references to her life as a mother, as wife, as a friend, as a Christian. I’ll place the Bible in the fellowship hall afterward, if you’d like to look for yourself. It is like a time-capsule to her inner world. I’d like to share for you a few of the features:
Inside the front cover is a mini-post-it note, probably put there about 1992 . It says “Prayers – Heather, Matt, Church, Uncle Ed, Janet. (Janet was her cousin.) For some reason, she never removed that post-it, even though Uncle Ed and Janet passed away in the 90s.
The front pages have thoughts on a variety of topics, including “On Letting Go or Releasing. . .” “Evangelism” . . . “Forgiveness”. . . and “Growing in Wisdom”.
She has marked the passages for The Beatitudes and the Fruits of the Spirit. And she has a quote from St. Augustine: “There is no burden too heavy for the loving heart.”
And my mother knew about burdens. Her life wasn’t the smoothest of rides. She suffered personal heartbreak many times and endured continual pain and physical suffering since the 1990s. But she would always try to release her burdens in prayer and in studying scripture to find insight. And then she would focus on others. Because she also knew about having a loving heart.
She was an extrovert by nature. The woman never knew a stranger and could talk the ear off a fence post. But she had the knack of drawing people out, mostly because she was truly interested in them. She wanted to hear their stories and their troubles. She was open about her feelings, but tried hard to empathize with others. Even if she didn’t like them much. She was a natural in the nursing profession.
Inside her Bible – mostly in the New Testament – there are pivotal passages she’d go back to again and again with her thoughts:
- In Matthew 7’s admonishment towards harsh criticism and judgement, she has written the thought, “One of the easiest ways to cover our sins is to judge others for theirs.”
- At John 14:23 when Jesus speaks of the Lord making a home for those who journey to him, she writes, “Who could mind the journey when the road leads home?”
- At Acts 20:35’s “It is more blessed to give than to receive” she writes: “Unhappiness is found in a mirror. Happiness is found in a window.”
- And in Romans 5, she writes “A perceiving faith is one that finds hope in hopelessness.”
(My friends are now starting to realize where I get my knack for pithy epigrams!)
Over and over again, she writes about discernment, perception, faith, love, acceptance, hope, and having a giving spirit. Anyone who knew my mother knew that she was all of those things and much, much more.
It wasn’t that she was never critical, judgmental, or lacked self-control. She certainly failed from time to time. But she actively practiced joy, peace, patience, love, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness with each of us. Because practice may not always make perfect, but it sure helps a lot!
My mother poured these things into her relationships. I know that I was, and will continue to be, a recipient of these gifts from her. Through her unyielding and unconditional love and acceptance, I have learned how to pursue my own peace, and practice my own fruits of the spirit – even though I have yet to perfect any of them.
Through her, I also learned to find meaning in profound texts, to serve others through performance, and to always, always seek insight. She also allowed me to laugh out loud, to argue my case, and to go my own way.
Because she also said, “I raised my children to fly, not to huddle in the nest.”
My mother held on in this life a long, long time, considering her catastrophic illness. But she was a blessing to those who encountered her. She also spent her whole life learning to be at peace with what life brought her, and to find new hope in every day given to her.
I can only hope I follow her example.