Tonight, I am not where I want to be at all. I’d like to be in Texas with my husband as he mourns, there, the death of his sister, Laura Jenkins. I’d like to be there, not because it would be enjoyable, in any sense, but because it would be my honor to get to personally listen to the sweet tribute that will be her memorial service and to personally hug her husband and children and her parents who have meant so much to our family though the years. I’ve known Laura, of course, for as long as I have known my husband—over 40 years—and I have laughed harder with her than almost anyone. We laughed so hard that night I went sprawling across the WalMart parking lot in a mammoth fall, my feet right out from under me, sliding across wet pavement for several feet in a monsoon. (I’m still laughing just writing about it, but her laughter always exacerbated mine, particularly if we were in a place in which we were not supposed to be laughing.) I’ve laughed until I hurt at stories Laura told about ordinary people in her congregation, community or work place, because she could imitate funny people doing outrageous things better than almost anyone I know. I laughed when she wore her Christmas sweater inside-out to an exclusive Christmas event. I laughed when she accidentally gave a very expensive Christmas gift to a friend at a party where she intended to give a pair of socks, because she had wrapped the two gifts (for different people) in identical boxes and placed them in the same closet. She lived, laughed and loved just about as well as anyone I ever knew. I wanted to be there to see her face one more time, hug her neck and say goodbye to her. I wanted to hear that infectious laugh once more, even if it was quieter and softer. But this time, for reasons over which I had no control, it was not to be. I’m glad Glenn made it to Texas in time to converse with her and to see her smile before she won this battle that all the faithful, one day, will win. I want to be faithful and win like she did.
I personally know (with amazing precision) the hurt through which her daughter will battle on her way to be with her. I was 33 years old when I lost my mother to the same wretched disease. I think that’s exactly the age of Laura’s daughter, Amanda. My children were the ages of hers. My husband was a minister, like hers. It will not be easy. But it will be bearable because of Calvary’s sting removal. Jesus took away the sting of death that’s hopelessness. An old rugged cross made all things new for Laura. The pain on that hill took her’s away–for good–in the valley of the shadow of death. An empty tomb rolled away that one big stone for millions to come; those who’ve been buried and raised with Him.
I’m not where I want to be today. But Laura is exactly where she wants to be. I well remember standing beside the grave of her tiny firstborn with Laura and Jeff. Her words have echoed in my heart over and over. She said “But I want to go on to heaven now.”
While, I’m sure that, with the birth of her daughter and later, her second son, she had strong desires to stay and mold and watch as their lives unfolded (and I’m absolutely positive that her inner Lolli was hoping to watch three beautiful and talented grandchildren all the way to adulthood), she never stopped wanting to ultimately go to heaven.
I often thought about my own mother and how that, no matter how much I missed her, how hard the days were when I needed her counsel or her affirmation—affirmation that I was doing okay at things that mattered—I still would never have wished her back. How can anyone wish for the return to life—life with sin and dirt and sickness and pain and tears and sorrow and loneliness—for a loved one who left prepared for the place where nothing’s ever been dirty and no one has ever hurt? ( I sometimes think Lazarus must have been pretty frustrated when Jesus called him back to Bethany.)
Instead of wishing her back, you turn to life again and just start wishing yourself and your spouse and your children to be there, in that sorrow-less place. You start wishing it so much more than you ever did before and you wish it more with every new day than you wished it the day before. Oh, you don’t want to go right now. But you REALLY want to go. You start wishing it so much that every day is a series of decisions that inch you closer and closer to really being there. Friends turn into souls right in front of your eyes. Get-togethers turn into evangelism. Kids’ tournaments and plays and parties turn into golden chances to teach little hearts Matthew 6:33 in myriads of ways. Houses turn into temporary tabernacles and colors and clutter, square footage and styles start to matter less and less as time goes by. Chance meetings and introductions are open service doors and worship assemblies are vestibules of heaven. You see more clearly the median between the narrow lanes of life and the wide way that leads to destruction and your mother-wings are exercised in keeping children out of, not just the broad way, but even off the shoulder of that road. You are intentional about your kids and heaven and the memory of the one who was so intentional with you is a constant affirmation of your life’s work in little hearts.
And your daddy. That’s a different story. You want him to be happy so badly that you’ll travel almost any distance to let him put his arms around your kids on any holiday, birthday or any day that ends with “y”. His happiness. You want it, but you can never figure out how to make it happen. Nothing, at least for a while, makes him seem truly content. That’s because His center of contentment has relocated. You keep reminding yourself he’s on his way there, too. And you rehearse the comforting truth constantly that, when we don’t know what to do, we serve a God who always does know what to do. You find yourself giving up and giving to Him more often and with more faith than you ever thought could grow in your soul. You pray harder than you ever prayed before. You give your daddy over and over to the care and providence of a God that knows the end of His story and Who is already holding and protecting half (maybe even the better half) of that great man.
And one day, you wake up and, somehow, you are relieved that some of the hardest pain of life is behind you. You look in little faces and see pretty accurate images of your mother’s characteristics; not necessarily her eyes or her nose or even her expressions, but you start to see her humor, her ingenuity, her selflessness and, most importantly, the faith that made her the silent anchor of so many people all around her. And, in that transfer, your children become the precious commodity that you most want to place in heaven with her.
By and by, your home starts to look more and more like heaven. It becomes an anchoring moor—a haven of stability and faith— for kids, then teens, then young adults, and finally, grandchildren– who desperately need those staples in this crazy world. You think about how proud your mom would have been of her grandchildren who are bringing glory to the One who’s taking care of her. You think about others who’ve known and loved your kids—people who’ve died —who just might be over there telling your mother about her grandchildren—about their faith, about their baptisms, about their first little sermons or the way they are influencing others for Jesus.
She’d be happy to know your home is looking more and more like heaven. But really, heaven is looking more and more like home.
As I am writing it’s Mother’s Day week. This year marks the 27th year since my mother won the battle over cancer and went home. She’s victorious and happy–even blissful, and I would never will her back to the struggling lifestyle that I try to tackle every day. But, still, I miss her like crazy–even now, twenty years hence. The children of the Proverbs 31 woman rose up and called their mother blessed. I know my mother is blessed, especially now–with the Lord, but I don’t know how to call her blessed. As I look back over the chapter, though, I see some things that made the children of Proverbs 31 call their mom blessed. I wonder how, exactly, they called her blessed. Did they tell their friends about the way God worked through the good deeds of their mom? Did other people look at her children and say that those kids were a blessing to the Proverbs 31 woman? Did her children write posts about how blessed their childhoods were because of the mom that made sure they were getting the maternal care they needed both physically and spiritually? If so, where did they post these notes? I do not know exactly how her children called her blessed, but today is my attempt to call my Proverbs 31 mother “blessed”. One thing’s for sure. The ultimate blessings are in the place in which I fully believe my mother is cognizant, rejoicing and awaiting my coming. She is blessed, now, for sure.
The heart of my father trusted my mother, that she would do him good and not evil. I do not remember ever having the first inkling of an idea that my dad ever thought Mother was lying to him, that she might be having an affair or that she was tricking him into getting things her way. In fact, the whole idea of any of those things seems preposterous. My mother never asked me to lie to my father. In fact, she would have spanked me in the “spanking place” if she thought I had lied to him. Not only did he never doubt her honesty, but he trusted her judgment. He trusted my mother to clothe us, to buy Christmas gifts for all of us and the extended family, to buy the groceries and to stock the freezer. He did not have to be a micro-manager. He trusted her.
My mother sought wool and flax and worked willingly with her hands. Her candle did not go out by night. If I close my eyes, I can see her hands. They had a couple of little age spots on them. Her fingers were long and thin and she never had a manicure. They were hard working hands. She had a sign in the little bedroom that doubled as her sewing room that said, “Whoever dies with the most fabric wins.” She won. See, she really did seek wool and flax and polyester and cotton and rayon. She could make anything on that Singer and so she did. I remember coming home from school one day for several weeks in November to a lot of white fur all over the carpets and bedspreads. I wondered if she was having bunnies over to play every day while I was at school. That year on Christmas morning, there were three precious little white fake fur coats for my sisters and me.
I remember many summer mornings when I would awaken to find that she was already out in the hot sun. I would look out the back kitchen door and down the hill I would see her bent over in the butter pea patch. I would try and be quiet, because I knew if she saw me, I would either be picking with her or washing breakfast dishes in the kitchen. If I was ever bored, I did not say so. I knew better. No one in that house ate the bread of idleness.
We did eat well, though. My mother gave meat to her household and a portion to her maidens. I cannot remember ever going hungry. My mother knew what day the meat would be in the marked-down bin at the market and she was willing to get up very early to be there. We did not go out to eat often because that was expensive. Our favorite Sunday night place was called “Traveler’s Rest” and it averaged a full six dollars for our family of six to eat burgers there. But there was always plenty of food on the table at home and it was always delicious. My brother was allergic to chicken, so when we had chicken, we had a small dish of some other kind of meat for him. Everyone was considered and everyone counted. My mother did not carry a couple of dishes to the fellowship meal, either. She carried a huge meat casserole or a couple of fried chickens, several side dishes, some cornbread and a big cake or banana pudding. If my mother ever had a maiden, she would have had plenty to eat, too. And I can never remember one meal around that table when we did not bow our heads and thank the Lord for the food.
My mother considered her purchases and used them well. She was frugal. I actually remember her sending us through multiple lanes at the store, so we could each be a customer and take advantage of “one-per-customer” savings. I remember buying fabric from the remnant bins and canned goods from the dented bin. I remember making our own popsicles and culottes. (Does anybody remember those?) She saved and redeemed green stamps. She sold encyclopedias and she taught school in our little Christian school for our tuition and we all went to school together. She saved the remnants of bars of soap and Daddy melted them down and made big new multi-colored bars. Free outings included the library and window shopping trips. Our shoes came from a little hole-in-the-wall place called “Salvage Shoes,” but we loved going there! She made everything fun and there was no place the kids in her Sunday School class had rather be than in our yard. One of them said one day, “I love going to Johnnia’s. She’s got a gallon of kids!”
She stretched out her hand to the poor and reached out her hands to the needy. My mother sent shoes to the prison where a neighbor boy ended up after his mother left home and he turned to drugs. I remember frequent walks up the street to Mrs. Brackin’s house, when she was feeble, to carry food from our kitchen or garden. I remember how Mother cared for Kathleen and Chris and Patrick when their mother went a little crazy and left them. I remember a little girl we picked up for worship services. She lived in the basement of an old upholstery shop on the Pratt Highway. I remember she didn’t smell good, but she loved coming with us. I remember another man who often rode with our family to worship and two older women, too. I remember Mother finding a place in a Christian orphanage for some children up the street when their parents left them destitute. Most of all, I remember the years and tears and fears of her caring for my grandparents. I remember when that small sewing room was converted to a sick room for them. I remember Mother’s sacrifices of travel and time with my dad. I remember the crowded conditions and the worry about their health. I remember my mother’s attendance at their hospital beds and their death beds. I remember the agony she suffered when they left empty spaces after her years of care.
My mother made tapestries and coverings. She used quilting frames suspended from the ceiling. They made walking through the small living room next to impossible. She made at least four quilts and coverings for my babies’ nurseries. As I write, I have company up in my guest room and she is sleeping under one of those quilts. My mother was keenly interested in making all kinds of things. She embroidered and smocked and made dolls and aprons. She made sweatsuits and curtains, stuffed bears and potholders, purses and pajamas. We wore handmade dresses and coats and bonnets. We had the best halloween costumes and great parts in school plays because the teacher knew she could count on our costume designer. Christmas spilled out everywhere in our little house. We, in short, had it made. We had it all made by our mother.
She opened her mouth with wisdom and kindness. Time and space constrain me, but let me just say that profundity is when an adult can think back and still remember phrases and their intonations—phrases that were spoken forty-plus years ago. Things like:
“Cindy, if you read your Bible and find out that I have taught you something that’s not right, you do what the Bible says. Know that doing that is what will make me happy.”
“Cindy, people who make fun of you for doing the right thing are the same people who, really, deep down in their hearts, respect you for it. One day you will learn that.”
“Cindy, you had better be very careful about everything you do, because there are two little sisters who are watching every move you make and they want to be just like you.”
“Cindy, don’t ever let your boyfriend give you money. that’s just not respectable.”
My mother feared the Lord. I really believe this was the trump card that made all of the above so evident in her life. She had this amazing way of boiling all of the decisions of daily life down to the question, “What is most pleasing to God?” The question was pervasive and invasive, and we visited it and revisited it on a daily basis. Conviction took us to every service and to run the children’s bus program an hour before each service of the church. Conviction had her sew a gym uniform for me that met all the class standards but had extra length for modesty. Conviction had a class full of middle school girls learning about fearing the Lord. Conviction had her spending time with them outside the classroom in cook-outs in our yard and in flower-picking trips to make bouquets for girls who were leaving for college. Conviction had her opening up that worn-out Bible and showing us passages relevant to some raunchy attitude she was seeing in us or some discourteous remark made. If we weren’t careful, she was assigning us long passages to learn; passages that she deemed appropriate to help adjust our attitudes or demeanor (and we weren’t even home schoolers). The Bible was just like a giant magnet in the middle of the metal of our lives. It was the control, the draw, the reference point.
I cannot remember anyone ever commenting that my mother was charming. But many people of all ages filed by her casket in October of 1992 and commented that she was the best Bible teacher they had ever had. They cited that she had made the Bible come alive or that she had made even the outcast among them feel worthy. That night I was glad for the fulfillment of the prophetic proverb: Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
This has been long. If you only could know how selective I have been, you would appreciate the post for its brevity. My mother was not perfect. She was often weakened by sin, but then strengthened by the power of His might. She struggled with evil, but overcame with prayer. She sometimes fainted, but was renewed by the Spirit. See, though she was larger than life to this little girl, she was only human. I had to grow up to know she wasn’t really perfect. And, just about the time I began to see her human-ness, the possibility that she had flaws, her mortal limitations, she went and put on immortality. My mother really is sinless now. She is perfect, flawless, completely invincible. I can truly call her blessed.
(Sometimes there’s a fun re-run that we like to read again. This time the re-run, for Mother’s Day, is one of the most controversial archival editions. It’s not for fun, but it’s for the children that I want to keep saying (even though I know my voice is a small one) the things that are hard to think about in our world of heightened sensitivities. Children still need all the same things they needed a generation ago or even a hundred generations ago, so we should keep repeating truths that are timeless, but nevertheless, may offend the culture. I never want to purposefully offend. I pray today’s post does not offend, at all, but rather is helpful to someone–maybe someone young, who still has some monumental decisions in front of her. May she make them for His glory! So here:
As I travel around and speak for various ladies seminars, I am extremely blessed to meet moms of all ages who share with me nuggets of wisdom gleaned from years of experience combined with time in the Word. My home and children have been richer as a result of this fellowship and sharing. There have been a few memorable occasions, though, when women have opened their mouths and something really senseless has issued forth. I think these ridiculous observations from mothers have helped me as much or more than the statements of wisdom. When people fail to study His word and make practical applications in their families, spiritual stupidity ensues. In the presence of women who seem to be clueless about spiritual priorities and biblical motherhood, the wisdom of my God and the peace that is mine when I apply his truth in my family is glaring. I am immediately humbled in this situation and thankful that I do not have to rely on my own resourcefulness or wisdom in motherhood. This parent is grateful to have a Parent who is infinitely resourceful and wise and who has revealed His plan for my home. And it’s all in a book I can carry in my purse. What a blessing! I’ve chosen a few real “gems” from my list of The Most Misguided Mom Statements I’ve Ever Heard” to share below. Read them and weep!
“Well, there is that one thing…”
I was speaking at a ladies seminar one afternoon on the topic of “Keeping our Families from Worldliness.” After my presentation, a sixty-something lady came up to the front of the room, expressed her appreciation for the lecture, and then went on to say how very blessed she and her husband had been in their family. Her children had all reached adulthood and they had never caused a single minute’s problem for her and her husband. They were now raising beautiful children of their own, maintaining a close relationship with the grandparents and actively leading in their careers and communities. I told her how proud I was for her and just sort of incidentally asked where those young families live and worship. She told me the communities in which they live and then I pursued the second question, since I had some knowledge of one of those communities. “Which congregation do they attend?” I asked.
“Well, there is that one thing,” she responded. “None of my children are faithful to the Lord.”
So many responses would have been appropriate at this juncture, but I was speechless. I was so amazed at the casual way she interjected that tragic statement about the spiritual depravity of her family that I was at a loss for words. The dropping of my jaw and an “I’m so sorry,” was about all I could manage. I wanted to say, “Lady, that is the only one thing that matters,” or “Ma’am, did you realize that all of your children are living their lives in utter and complete failure?!” Paul talked about one thing that was important. He said “…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind me and reaching forward to those things that are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13,14).”
Jesus told Martha that one thing was needful and that Mary had chosen that one thing (Luke 10:42). Perhaps He said it best, though, when He said, “What doth it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
I wish I didn’t have to work…
I drove up to a fabulous house in a high-end neighborhood where I would be staying while speaking in the area. I walked through beautifully decorated rooms, past an entertainment center and shelves of videos. I said hello to two well-dressed young children and went upstairs to the beautiful guest room where I would be sleeping. The next morning when I awoke, I peered out the window at a fenced, park-like backyard complete with a full-scale playground. I went downstairs for some orange juice and began to converse at the kitchen bar with my hostess. Somehow in the conversation we got on the subject of stressed and busy lifestyles. In this context came the unbelievable statement I hear so often: “I wish I didn’t have to work, so I could stay home and raise my children.”
Now I’ve heard many variations of this statement. Kids have said it to me like this: “My mom would like to stay home with me, but she says if she stays home, we can’t have our pool…or new house…or whatever goes in the blank.”
There is a way to get past this amazingly materialistic mentality. Go on a mission trip to Zambia or Argentina. Listen to children talk about digging in fields for rats to eat or spend a couple of weeks where there are no adequate sewage systems, no hot water and goat head is listed on the entrée list at eating establishments. I could go on, but the point is all too obvious. We are so rich in America that we’ve come to include the “posh” in our lists of basic necessities. Our children are often bringing us shame, because they have grown up in worlds of instant gratification; worlds void of guidance and nurture. “A child left to himself brings his mother shame (Prov.29:15).” We, like that rich young ruler, will continue to reap sorrow when we allow our possessions to own us rather than the other way around.
“He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matt. 19:22)
“We like to save our ‘no’s.”
I was sitting in a close friend’s kitchen when I decided to ask her if she was concerned about some of the entertainment choices her thirteen year old was making. The media choices of this kid were definitely uncharacteristic of the godly values of his parents. The answer: “We don’t like these choices, but we like to save our ‘no’s for the big things. We feel if we say no all the time, then our prohibitions will be less effective when it comes to some big issue like sex or drugs.”
Practicing the ‘no’s with seemingly small matters is the way kids catch on to the fact that “no” means “no”. It’s the way they assimilate the information that Mom and Dad care enough about them to monitor, direct and guard them, even when it requires time and attention to detail. In short, keeping a watch over the small things and demanding compliance in them is the only way to insure respect when it matters most. Saving our ‘no’s as parents will yield a big bunch of saved-up ‘no’s when our kids need them most, but saved-up ‘no’s, like old kitchen spices, have lost their potency. Kids need practice with restrictions. They have to listen when you say “Stay on the sidewalk,” so later they will listen when you say, “Stay away from drugs.” This constant listening practice is essential for ultimate spiritual success. “Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27).
The list goes on. I’d love to have space to comment on the absurdity of statements like “ I wish my thirteen year old would ______________, but I have asked her and she just says ‘no’.” (Is she sleeping under your roof and eating at your table?! ) Another unbelievable one is “Okay, so she is having sex. Let’s get some birth control,” or the frequent “We let our kids go to the dances,” or “see all the movies with their friends,” or “wear the current fashions” (or whatever compromising activity it may be). “After all, we don’t want them to grow up thinking Christianity is a burden.” (Never mind the fact that Jesus called discipleship a yoke and a burden [Matt.11:29,30]).
Parenting is not for the weak. Giving birth, changing diapers, feeding and clothing are all the easy parts. The real challenge is to consistently place the ammunition of respect for the Will of God into the hearts of little people who will soon face the Goliaths of worldliness and corruption that plague our society. We cannot raise our children on permissive fences in which we give the nod to Christianity while we let them enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Heb.11:25). They will inevitably fall on the wrong side of that fence and the short season of pleasure will turn to years of the wretched heartache of sin. God empowers us through His Providence and His Word. But we must be diligent parents (Deut.6:6,7), attending to the details of the day to day obstacles the devil places in our paths. Successful parenting is never an accident.
We traveled yesterday to Jasper, Alabama, a place that evokes fond memories for us. It’s the little town in which Glenn filled the pulpit at the Sixth Avenue church for about five years while my children made life-long friendships and learned some of their first lessons about politics, ethics, and social skills. It’s the place where Caleb put on the Lord in baptism and it’s the place where I lost my mother to cancer. It’s the place where Hannah owned both a fairy closet in her bedroom and an elf wonderland in the backyard. It’s the place where Caleb developed his first little neighborhood “company” at age eleven and where Hannah peddled homemade bread from her little red wagon all up and down our street, coming home with pockets full of change. They were good days. One of the best things about those days was exposure, for our children, to some of God’s most faithful children; children of God who were busy getting ready for their transport to glory.
When we drove past our old house on Wildwood Drive yesterday, recognizing the sheer rapidity of the passage of the days of our lives made me want to be sure I really live in every waking moment of every single day. I remembered our very first evening in that house and hearing the doorbell ring. I remembered Glenn’s eyes meeting mine and his saying “Who could that be?” I remembered looking around at stacks of half-opened boxes through which we’d been searching for bedding. I remembered looking down at myself and thinking that I was a bit embarrassed to be answering the door to this home, for the first time, in this bedraggled condition.
We answered the door, though, and there stood our brother Flavil Nichols and sweet sister Mary. As he always did for every visit, he had on his tie and sister Nichols had on her freshly pressed blouse and skirt and her freshly baked pie (I think it was chess) in hand. We could not even find chairs for them! We looked around and there was our couch, but there were no couch pillows to be found. It sat only about eight inches off the floor without its soft topper pillows, but Flavil and Mary Nichols had a seat there on that hard wooden couch and made themselves the kindest welcoming committee that Jasper, Alabama had ever proffered.
And through the years, Brother Flavil came over many times. He would come over when the youth devotionals were in our home and do the most amazing magic tricks with nine magazines and an old curtain rod on our living room floor. Sometimes he would do them with dollar bills, or with string or with the bathroom mirror. There are two or three faithful gospel preachers that have emerged from that youth group. You see, Brother Nichols knew that he was really about a whole lot more than entertaining young people.
He came over to make a speech about our great nation when we hosted the annual fourth of July parade in our neighborhood. There were watermelon seed-spitting contests, tug of war contests, a fire-truck to lead our parade and Glenn was Uncle Sam, the Grand Marshal. But the climax of the day was the little speech by Brother Nichols. He was, once again, doing more than talking about our country. He was doing his best to make the church look good in our community. He was, as always, about that better country (Hebrews 11:16).
I’m really glad that my children got to know the man we memorialized yesterday. His and sister Mary’s influence was so direct and positive in every way in their little lives. But yesterday, I started to think about all of the people who surely are still being indirectly influenced by the Nichols family in churches all over the world. I would daresay that most Christians today in Alabama, should they be able to explore the history behind their conversions to the Lord, would not go very far into that history without the events intersecting in some way with brother Gus Nichols or one of his sons. They literally taught and baptized hundreds of people in and around Walker County, Alabama. The sons of brother Gus traveled and settled in other states, too, and the influence broadened. There is no way to accurately count the number of gospel preachers who got their starts at the feet of brother Gus or brother Flavil. And the gospel moved on. Missionaries were converted by those who were converted by those who sat at the feet of the Nichols preachers. And the swelling around the eternal throne of God is incalculable.
So it was an honor for Glenn to get to speak to an audience yesterday that was largely preachers at the funeral service of a great man of God.
It’s important for us moms to realize, though, that Flavil Nichols was once a little boy. His mom washed his hands before supper, she mended his overall bib, she rehearsed his memory verses with him and she kissed his skinned knees. At his supper table, every child had to recite a new memory verse each night before turning over his plate for serving up the beans and meat. This little boy sometimes heard his Bible story and was put to bed before his father arrived home from his preaching appointment. And sometimes his father would arrive home asleep on the back of the horse he’d ridden to that preaching appointment. That faithful horse knew the way home. The gospel was the centerpiece of the life of that little boy, who held his first debate about the scriptures while still a teen and began preaching at the tender age of 15.
That kind of rearing renders greatness for the cause. Little snippets from a life of greatness (Mark 10:43), made me want to do the things that Flavil’s mother, Matilda Nichols, did for her children as they grew. Flavil told stories of accepting chickens in exchange for preaching the gospel. Once, at the end of a gospel meeting, he graciously thanked a farmer at a non-paying church, for the gift of a small pig. He just strapped it in a little crate on the bumper of his car and drove home. On another occasion, he went around a small town to which he had moved to preach and paid the debts of the former preacher who had left town owing money to the merchants. He once walked several miles to purchase the unleavened bread and grape juice for the Lord’s Supper for a church that explained that they could not afford those things. (That same church told brother Nichols that they would just pay him whatever the total contribution was that Sunday. When they paid him, he sadly realized that he, himself had contributed more than the amount they had paid him.) No ill-treatment or discouragement even slowed down his proclamation of the gospel. The power that is in that gospel is still emanating from him today. The reunion with those who reached the saving blood because of His work must be very sweet right now. I want my children to be like brother Flavil.
I hope I get to sit down with brother Flavil and sister Mary again one day soon because of that great gospel. I hope you’ll be there, too.
As this series concludes, please remember that I understand there are those moms who’d like to do this oikouoros thing, but can’t. We should help such women in any way that we can to get to the goal. Some readers may say that I cannot understand, because I lived in a world in which my husband prioritized my staying at home or because I was able to have many luxuries and still be at home with my children during those formative years. I know that I have been very blessed and there is some truth to those objections. I have to work every day to honor Him with blessings and to be sure I am not taking them for granted as if He owes me something. At the same time, I hope we‘ve picked up on the fact that the injunction to be oikouros is an inspired teaching conveyed in a word in Titus 2 and multiple times in concept form throughout Scripture. We will always suffer spiritually when we look to the world’s decision-making standards rather than the expressed will of our Creator.
One afternoon, I was driven up to a fabulous house in a high-end neighborhood where I would be staying while speaking in the area. I walked through beautifully decorated rooms, past a well-stocked entertainment center. I said hello to two very well-dressed young children and their dad, who was taking off his tie from a busy workday. I went upstairs to the beautiful guest bed and bath where I would be sleeping. The next morning, when I awoke, I peered out the window at a fenced, park-like backyard complete with a full playground with all the bells and whistles. I went downstairs for some orange juice and began to converse across the granite kitchen bar with my hostess.
Somehow in that conversation, we moved to the topic of stress and the busy world in which we live. In this context, came the words that still make me sad when I remember that morning. I’ve heard the words many times since then. Sometimes the words are truth and that is sad. But sometimes they are words spoken, not of conviction of conscience, but more for a hurting conscience’s comfort. Her words were “I wish I did not have to work, so I could just stay home and raise my children.”
One day a child said the words to me this way: “ My mom would like to stay home with me, but she says that if she stays home, we can’t have our pool.” A variety of amenities have completed the sentence in different situations: “our new house” or “my private education” or “our trips to Disney”.
There is a way to get past this amazing perspective. Go on a mission trip to Zambia or Argentina or Columbia or Tanzania or Haiti or any of the hundreds of poverty-stricken places in our world. Listen to children tell you about digging for rats to eat. Take cold showers and realize the hard way that there are no adequate sewage systems. Notice that goat head or turkey tail is a coveted entree, depending on your location.
I could go on, but the point is all too obvious. We are so rich in these United States that we have come to include luxuries in our lists of necessities. Our children are sometimes bringing shame on our families because they have grown up in worlds of instant gratification; worlds void of guidance, nurture, family Bible times, and deep family prayer. “A child left to himself brings his mother shame” (Proverbs 29:15). We, like the rich young ruler, have a lot going on materially, but we will continue to reap sorrow when we allow our possessions to own us rather than the other way around.
“He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mt. 19:22).