Having arrived once again at Mother’s Day, my friend Beth (who does the beautiful graphics on this blog) and I each wrote a tribute to our respective mothers. Both are gone from us—mine for decades, hers very recently, only a few short months ago. Both faithfully taught us first and foremost about God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Both loved Him with all their hearts and their deepest desire was to impart that to their children. Both inspired us, their daughters, to model our own parenting in much the same way they had demonstrated their love for God and their children.
“The love that parents show to their children is a reflection of God’s mercy….Children…need to experience their parents’ delight.” –Dan Allender
Susan’s Mother—Gladys Brunn Dreger (1906-1975)
No one has influenced my views and techniques on being a mother more than my own mother. She mothered us with confidence. I never doubted that whatever her views about eating, sleeping, play, education, and God, were anything but correct. I may not have always liked the times when I had to bear what she deemed the proper consequences to my behavior, but as I grew older and began my own family, I often followed her example.
I borrowed what I remembered her saying about babies sleeping through the night, putting them on a schedule as soon as possible, starting them on solids, age-appropriate bedtimes, making sure proper instructions were taught and enforced. I remember her once commenting: “If you don’t succeed in getting your children to listen to what you say when you say it, what’s to stop them from paying attention to you when you tell them to stay out of the road when a car is coming?”
The week I write this I am spending in Ohio visiting my brother and my sister-in-law, not far from where my childhood home was. My brother is my oldest sibling. I am the youngest, and there are over 14 years between us. There is always some conversation, some memory, regarding our mother that is discussed when we are together. Yesterday, that occurred. Although I don’t remember the exact context (this is normal for me and my siblings at our age), I do remember that my brother referred to my mother as a “smart woman” and that she was! Even though she left us at a much earlier age than we would have liked, (69), she lived a full life.
She was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania in 1906—the daughter of a German immigrant and a woman of English descent, whose heritage can be traced back to the Mayflower, and later to those who established the first official American settlement north and west of the Ohio River via Marietta, Ohio. By the time my mother was born, her close relatives had largely settled in Northeast Ohio, and not long after her birth, her parents moved their small family to Freedom Township, Ohio.
From the previous generations of settlers and wandering travelers, genes of curiosity and roaming passed into her bloodline. Education was important to her. Hers began in a one-room schoolhouse about a half mile from her home. She sometimes walked to it or rode the school wagon which was pulled by horses. Eventually she attended Freedom Township school which only had eleven grades at the time. So she attended Hiram High School for her senior year. After that she entered business school, where she learned typing and shorthand and pictured herself settling into some business office as a secretary. She didn’t like that picture however, and determined that teaching school would be a better fit; so she enrolled in Kent Normal School, now Kent State University, graduating from there in 1927.
Teaching was her heart. How she loved teaching children to learn and appreciate reading, to grow in knowledge in any subject, really—largely because she herself never lost her desire to learn and grow. She was a profuse reader right up to her death. It never mattered the subject, she was always interested. She knew the names of birds and wildflowers (flower gardens were her specialty), and history intrigued her. She subscribed to Reader’s Digest and was a book club member.
I remember learning about Mary, Queen of Scots, from a book that had come from that club. And not just from my own perusal of her library, but the fact that books were often the topic of conversation during our dinnertime. She kept up with current events and had opinions about what was happening and shared them with her family. I can’t think of any subject taught in school that she wasn’t well versed in.
I suppose that’s what inspired her to travel. She seemed to choose her friends by how much they like to travel and explore new places. After she became a teacher, weekends were often filled with her friend groups travelling to nearby states, bodies of water, or places of interest to learn and to frolic. She was fun.
Those tendencies had a lot to do with her decision for two consecutive summers, to hitchhike across the country with a girlfriend. She wanted to see America, and she wanted to meet the people in it. People-watching was as much a part of who she was as anything. Befriending them as well. She was a good friend. The first summer she hitchhiked in 1929, she and her girlfriend kept a diary. That is the subject material of my very first book, currently being written (I’ll keep you informed about my progress).
Settling down was not her top priority, and although she seemed to always have male friends interested in spending time with her, she never got close enough to marry them—until she met my father at the age of 29. They were married in 1936, when she was 30 years old. By this time, she’d been teaching for eight years, and had even managed to keep a job all through the Great Depression. After marriage, my parents immediately began a family. My Mom birthed five children during what is now considered “too late” to safely bear children, with me, the last one, being born when my mother was 44 years of age.
Besides all of this, she grew and blossomed as a child of God. She loved Jesus and she taught her children about Him and His Word with as much enthusiasm as anything else she enjoyed. She was an avid student of the Bible who taught her children to be the same. Everything was measured by what the Bible said. She taught Sunday School as far back as I can remember, and she often mentored the young people in our church who were struggling in their faith. Every night she read a Bible story to me at bedtime. At the age of eight I was given my first Bible, and she read it with me every night, answering my questions and discussing it with me. Soon, she made sure I was doing this on my own, and she always made sure prayers were said as well.
When I was quite little, I was sitting at our piano playing the scales she had taught me, and studying the pictures that lined the top of the piano. One small oval frame contained a lovely woman in outdated clothing and an outdated hairstyle. “Who’s this?” I asked my mother.
“That’s my mother,” she answered.
“Why have I never seen her?” I wondered.
“She died long ago before I had any children. She never got to meet you or your brother or sisters. I’ve always been sad about that and I’ve always hoped I would live long enough to meet your children.”
For some reason, that conversation stayed in my young mind and I wondered if her wish would be granted. She did live to see 13 of her 23 grandchildren, although seven of the ten she never met were mine. My children would never know her.
Even so, all that she was trickles down through all of us, and she is never forgotten.
Who can measure the effects a mother has on her children? Who can measure the way God uses motherhood to pass on knowledge of Him to her children? Even the mothers whose top priority is to do just that won’t do it perfectly. Yet still our Father God will bring to full bloom in His mysterious way of growing everything, the many seeds mothers plant in tiny hearts.
A mother’s hard work, even the mistakes and poor judgements, will not be what is remembered. Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Beth’s Mother—Kathy M. Humphrey (Josef) 1958-2022
I don’t know if “mama” was the first word I said, but she surely was the first person I turned to whenever I needed something. Anything I needed, wanted, wished for, or was worried about. She was the first person I sought answers from, shared stories with, showed new things to. I used to cry as a child when she would want to take a moment for herself that didn’t include me. I wanted to consume her every moment. To stick to her like cling wrap and to seek her approval. I knew she loved me. And I never wanted to be apart from it.
How strong and secure I must have felt about her love for me as a child! To want to be with my Mama ALL. THE. TIME. How much God wants His children to trust and realize how secure we are in His love for us. How those moments when my own children cling to my every step truly bless me and offer me an opportunity to share with them God’s love and character. Especially as they grow toward independence. What a lesson my Heavenly Father is teaching me through my own little ones. How God uses motherhood. First, my mother’s, now mine.
There was something about Mama’s presence and manner that made her so special. And goodness knows she wasn’t perfect. But I have a hard time remembering her losing her temper, yelling, unfairly disciplining me, or being boring and not fun. There were certainly moments of discipline and I recall a handful of spankings, being sent to my room, or put in a corner to sit and think about what I had done wrong when I disobeyed. But never have those memories or stories eclipsed the happy memories from my childhood.
I often stop and think how I am so different from Mama. My personality, my temper, and my response. I wonder did Mama struggle with the same things I do? Will my children have horrible memories from my supposed failures to parent as lovingly as she did? I find myself praying often that I will not be a stumbling block to my littles. That my struggles and sins of impatience and quick temper will not cause them to trip up and miss the joy and wonder of knowing Jesus from an early age. I am always learning that I can show them more love, more compassion, more gentleness. I wish I could ask her some more questions about what it was like for her.
Even in my teen and young adult years, I don’t recall unkind words or actions from my Mama, just steady rhythms and faithful work on her family’s behalf. Such a beautiful legacy. Such an example to follow. And all because of a Greater Work at work in her. Mama was an earthen vessel that was made beautiful by the Life that was alive inside her. Despite any cracks or imperfections, Jesus made her beautiful. From her warm smile to her gentle hugs, and kind words. I’m learning so much so fast from her life well lived, especially as a wife and mama myself.
And then one day this past year, it just stopped. No warning, no extra time to prepare. And there feels like a big hole left in this space, an anxiety that I haven’t been able to shake and it still doesn’t seem completely real. What do you do? How are you supposed to feel when one of the most important people you depend on is just—gone?
I’ve noticed over the years that the same God of the Old Testament is still truly the same and ever faithful God of the present. He doesn’t change. In the Old Testament when God's people set up Ebeneezer stones, stones of remembrance, every time someone passed by one of them, they remembered what God had done there. So it has happened many times in my life. Times of brokenness, loss, change, redemption, I recall how God met me in each. This past year I recall one such significant occasion. Mama told me several months before the birth of our third child that she would not be able to be there right away. I had really hoped she would as we were having a home birth, but there were obligations my parents just couldn’t break around the same time of our daughter’s birth. The pandemic had already kept us apart for so much time, so many memories were forfeited during those years, that with this news I was both disappointed and angry.
God saw me through even that and our youngest little girl was born in August 2022, and I was able to give birth at home. We made it through those first days and weeks without my parents close by. It was also during the same week as our baby’s birth that Mama received the gut-wrenching news that she had breast cancer. One wave after another, it seemed like these trials just kept breaking upon us again and again. Further testing revealed it was stage I and would be ok to wait for surgery until after we all saw each other for a whole week in October.
Little did we know that would be the week before we would say goodbye to her this side of heaven. And it is here that another Ebeneezer stone has been placed in my life. God knew I needed to have that huge life event—the birth of our third child, be an event that Mama wasn’t going to be right there to help and guide me. It was all part of the preparation I needed for more hard times ahead. And He was working this out for Mama too because with her cancer diagnosis, she needed to know she could trust her Heavenly Father no matter what the outcome would be.
My Heavenly Father, who knows how to gently bring change, refinement and correction to His children, did just that without me even realizing it in the moment. He wanted us both to trust Him even when it was hard, even when it hurt, even when we didn’t know what was coming. He wanted me to know He had me, He had Mama, and He had our plans all in His control.
So, all of these thoughts about my childhood, Mama’s work to love and teach me, questions I have about what it looks like to love and teach my own children, legacies and stones of remembrance—what do they all have to do with each other? Let me close with a prayer from my heart to try to piece it all together:
Lord, I want to thank you for Mama and the life you gave her to live. Thank you for the love and faithfulness you gave her to live, so that I might see You. I ask for help, grace, and change so that when my family and others look back, they see You at work in me, not my striving. I pray that I become a mama worthy of the name and of the love I have been shown. Thank you for never leaving me, for never leaving Mama, and for Your love that will one day wipe away every tear from our eyes as we behold You. Keep my eyes fixed upon Your Cross and give me wisdom, long-suffering, and grace to run this race until I behold You and join Mama in singing Your praises forever. Amen.