How Blessed Am I? #MyFaithHeroine

This piece is part of Michelle DeRusha’s blog link-up about #MyFaithHeroine, in connection with the recent launch of her excellent new book, #50Women. 

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A Double Delight rose, my spiritual heroine’s favorite.

Life was hard and uncertain when she was growing up. One of four siblings, barely a year apart, with parents who both worked, a father who drank hard and gambled hard, always losing. Then there were “the aunts,” she told me. The three older cousins who never married and who loved all those kids to bits, providing protection on occasion, but most of all, bringing fun and merriment into their days.

Though their mother had grown up in the church, after she married their dad, neither of them ever darkened a church door again. But they agreed that their kids could go.

So every Sunday, they dropped all four kids at the curb and left them to fend for themselves in downtown Los Angeles at that old brownstone building. For my heroine and her sister, it stuck. For their two brothers, it took a lot longer. The sisters loved to go to that place, where they met friends their own age and were sheltered and loved by lots of adults, as well.

One of those older women saw potential in the bigger of the girls, and when she was in junior high school, almost into high school, she arranged for a scholarship to a nearby training seminar. A Christian leadership seminar. And my heroine bloomed, learning to love the Bible, church music and a wide circle of friends, many of whom remained close to one another throughout their lives.

Eventually, she married one of the church musicians, a talented pianist with a bent for mathematics, and they began to build a home and a family. A girl was born, then two years later, a boy and about ten years after that, another boy.

All during those early years, the family continued to attend the downtown church where the parents had met, and they contributed faithfully, both musically and financially. Eventually, they moved too far out into the suburbs and switched to a larger church closer to home. Within a few years, that old church was razed and a used car lot took its place.

Their new church provided wonderful activities and teaching for her children and some powerful teaching during the adult Sunday morning hour for her and her husband. Professors from a nearby seminary came and built small congregations within the larger one. Once again, this woman bloomed and grew, stretching toward the light, exercising her good mind, asking probing questions, reading widely.

She always worried that she didn’t have a degree from college, but then, she never really needed it. Her own reading regimen (everything C.S. Lewis ever wrote, plus a lot of Paul Tillich, George Ladd, Eldon Trueblood, Peter and Catherine Marshall), her willingness to ask hard questions and her fearlessness about seeking answers provided a priceless education, as well as forming her more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

She taught eleventh grade Sunday school (girls only, in those days) for about a dozen years, providing wisdom, grace and breakfast out for every one of them sometime during the year. Each week, she worked hard on those lessons, getting up before the rest of the family to rough out ideas and read scripture. And to pray. She prayed for each student in her classes, regularly, faithfully.

By God’s grace and her own commitment to growing, both spiritually and psychologically, she overcame the difficulties of her upbringing, remaining close to her entire extended family until they each died. She is the only one left now, and that is hard — for her and for those who love her.

She dealt with a lot of insecurities and fears her whole life, but always, there was a joyful sense of humor, a warm and welcoming hospitality, and an immense reservoir of creativity. She decorated her home, her children and herself on a tight budget, and encouraged each of her children to get a good education and build a good marriage. And she loved her husband fiercely, even when he was old and frail and sometimes demanding.

This woman modeled for me what it means to follow hard after Jesus, to commit yourself to learning, asking questions, reading widely, and serving others. She wasn’t perfect — and she knew it! — but she was good. Even in her old age, she hangs onto her faith with all of her diminishing energies.

I visited her over the weekend, in the dementia unit where she now lives. She was sick, with a very sore throat and a nasty cough, all of which makes the dementia worse and exhausts her. I helped her change her clothes and sit in her recliner chair for an afternoon nap and then went across the room to bring her large, whiteboard calendar up-to-date after several months of neglect.

As I worked in the semi-darkness of her small entry way, I could hear her muttering in her chair. I thought perhaps she had drifted off to sleep and was dreaming. But then I began to pick out a few words, and my heart soared and broke, all at the same moment.

“Oh, Lord,” she said. “Please help Diana to be well, to be strong. She is such a beautiful daughter and I love her so much.”

Before I left I kissed her on the forehead and she smiled up at me and said, “The Lord’s been good. We’ll just keep praying and believing.”

“Yes, Mom,” I said. “That is exactly what we’ll do.”

 

This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. Find out how to participate here. 

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Comments

  1. This brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful tribute to your mother.

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. Brought tears to mine to write it.

  3. This is wonderful. And it resonates with me on multiple levels. What a gift that over-heard prayer was, surely a balm to your soul. A glimpse of what is at the core, although hard to see most of the time.

    Thank you for sharing. And the rose is gorgeous. No wonder it’s a favorite 🙂

    • It was a gift, Susan – one that brought me to tears. That she would be praying for me while in the midst of terrible confusion and lousy viral pain – well, it was humbling and it was lovely.

  4. Heartbreakingly lovely!

    My mother introduced me to the Double Delight rose the month before she died. We looked for it as we travelled together during our last visit.

    • Mom and dad had a couple of those roses in their yard in Mission Viejo – probably the place where they were the happiest ever. (My parents were generally happy – they loved each other very well.) They had 15 great years there before my dad’s health issues just sort of took over. So grateful for those years.

  5. I loved the bit about her taking each 11th grade girl out to breakfast. What a special treat that must have been for the girls to have alone time with their Sunday School teacher.

    You are a beautiful writer and a beautiful daughter, Diana.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

  6. What a lovely, amazing lady, Diana. Your tribute is just beautiful. We’re watching my Dad slowly (oh – really – not so slowly) dementia. It is so difficult to watch. But we have those precious memories and a the gift of a Godly legacy. We are blessed.

  7. Sandy Hay says:

    Tears, Diana.

  8. This is lovely – and what a gift that overheard prayer was! I know she wasn’t perfect, but what a gift to be loved so well.