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Chris Thompson: Remembering mother, and a childhood raised in faith

Chris Thompson

Mother's Day brings pleasant thoughts of my Christian mother.

Sunday is Mother's Day in the United States. As far as national holiday spending goes, Mother's Day ranks third. There will be many commemorations of mothers in the churches with special presentations, flowers and sermons devoted to the topic. In 2013, Americans spent almost $170 per mother making moms feel wanted, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. This year should be similar.

Lately I've been reminiscing about the impact my mother had in my life, and it was significant. She passed several years ago. I was with her as she died. The many days and nights preceding her painful death gave me an opportunity to reflect on her life and her influence on mine. Though I did not always agree with her, I have to admit, in the final analysis, she was passionate about her religion, religious beliefs and love for her children.

Her mother grew up in a fine Christian home, but having a bit of a wild streak in her, she married a soldier at the start of World War 1. She was 13.

My grandfather was not a religious man initially and did not appreciate my grandmother's -- and later, my mother's -- desire to worship. He continued to resist Christianity until the 1950s, when he finally joined Grandma in affiliating with her faith. His attitudes and behaviors to my grandma changed, making her life much more tolerable.

By this time my mom had married and moved away, but was experiencing somewhat similar circumstances in her marriage and faith practice. My dad ultimately allowed faith to become a dividing wedge between them.

My mom's faith was strong and she raised her four children in it. A sincere follower of Christ, she was a leader in her church, years ahead of her time. All of us were included in her every religious activity, including church music, youth activities, Bible studies and Christian education.

Because she was extremely talented, many local churches competed for her services as choir director and organist. I was expected to sing in her choirs and often pressed into providing special music. I felt as though I was a member of several churches as I grew up.

That proved to be a problem at one point when I began dating a girl from the "other church," and Mom moved swiftly to disrupt the relationship.

Providing a Christian education for her children was automatic, something she worked hard for by earning cash to provide the money to pay for it. It didn't end there. Most of us also attended Christian colleges, gaining a respectable faith-based education. She was intent on having one of her boys become a minister, and it was almost me.

Ultimately, several life changes propelled me away from fulfilling that desire, but I've always wondered about the "what if." This was a bitter disappointment to my mom, but she rarely showed or mentioned it.

Mom's Bible was well-marked but not the only one she had. That last Bible, given to her more than 30 years before she passed, had seen significant use. Of all the books, Revelation was the one most heavily marked. Clearly she looked forward to a better land, free from pain, heartache and death. She had her eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and relied on his promises.

She directed youth choirs and played church organ into her 80s. In her late 80s, she was forced to give up playing for church services due to her arthritis. Hundreds of high school-age youths received their training in art and music through her patient attention.

Mom loved God's creation and was a distinguished horticulturist, experienced in growing perennials and herbs. She always gave the glory to God for his splendid creation. Her passion for growing flowers extended into her art, and her dry brush-technique watercolors were painted by the hundreds. She executed 500 to 600 paintings in her lifetime. Most were sold through galleries or given as exquisite gifts to well-loved friends.

I know she knew how much I loved her, even in those last few trying days. It was a time for reflection, made more bearable knowing I'd tried to see her as often I could, especially over the final 30 years of her life. She shared that wonderful trait of loving her children as did her mother, who preceded her in death by only 15 years.

One night, shortly before my grandmother died, as I was sitting with her in her hospital room, I asked her if I could read to her from her Bible. "Oh no, it's all here," she said, pointing to her head. She then proceeded to quote me Psalms short and long, telling me they were of comfort to her through the long nights.

My mom was like my grandmother regarding Scripture, taking comfort from her faith and having faith in the promises of Jesus. I miss my mom, but I can only commend her way to parents who waver about providing a strong faith basis for their children. It continues to work for me, thanks to Mom and my grandmother. I'm thinking of Mom as Mother's Day approaches.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.