Appreciating the Gifts of the Present
Sunday, May 8, 2016
You may have seen the little piece of humor that claims to be quotations from the mom’s of famous people. Several of them, I think are rather cute. I like the words of the Mona Lisa’s mom, “After all that money your father and I spent on braces, Mona, is that the biggest smile you can give us?”
Or this, from the mom of Christopher Columbus, “I don’t care what you have discovered Christopher! You could have at least written home once every six months or so!”
Or the sentiments of Napoleon’s Mom, “All right, Napoleon. If you aren’t hiding your report card inside your little jacket, then take your hand out of there and prove it!”
I also love the words from Albert Einstein’s mom: “For Goodness sake Albert, its your senior portrait. Couldn’t you at least do something about your hair or use a little styling gel for once?”
Another favorite is from the mom of Thomas Edison: “Yeah, yeah Tommy, your dad and I are both really thrilled about this electricity deal. Now, turn that light off and go to bed!”
And finally, from the mother of Goldilocks, “Listen, Goldie, I’ve just gotten a bill for a busted chair from the bear family. You might as well tell me now, what exactly do you know about this little incident??” (Collected from humormatters.com)
Of course, all of these quotes remind us that our mom’s are sometimes the voice of reason or the supreme disciplinarian in our homes. Like many of you, I can still hear my mom skipping right over her gentle Rick and going straight to Rickey Alan. I always knew that when she led off a conversation with my full first name and threw in my middle name that she meant business and that things were suddenly more serious that normal.
Like you, I know that there are many things that I do because that is the way that my mom did things. I like the bed made up in the mornings because mom always expected us to do so. I like my clothes ironed because our mom ironed everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything – even dad’s handkerchiefs and dare I say in church our Fruit of the Looms were pressed- although I don’t go quite that far myself. And, I like a neat and tidy house which leads to Callie and Caleb calling me a “neat freak” because that is that type of ship that Deborah Letson ran. Our mom’s so often play this type of shaping role in our lives.
But, without question, our mom’s and the important women in our lives who feel like a mom to us, are far more than the voice of reason, the disciplinarian of children or the one who keeps us all marching to the beat of the right drum or who create the beats to which we now march ourselves.
Our moms and the important women in our life are also the givers of some of the best gifts in our lives and for the vast majority of us the pleasant memories that we have of childhood and home are directly related to them.
I think that is why I like so much our scripture for today from Acts 9. It is the story of a woman who had two names. Evidently some folks called her Dorcas and others Tabitha. Although we don’t know whether she was actually a mom or not, she exhibits for us a tremendous example that feels perfect for this day in which we celebrate the unique contributions of women.
On the surface, the text is about the day that Tabitha died and the fact that her death led to great grief among her friends and to their sending for Peter that he might come and comfort them. They also apparently held out an adventurous hope that he might be able to introduce the power of God into their midst.
In the end, Peter does just that. Through the work of God, Peter brings Tabitha back to life. Without question a miracle takes place which leads to both a deepening of faith for some and a beginning of faith for others.
Yet, the Tabitha story is much more than that. It is also the story of how Tabitha’s death led the women who were her friends to recognize how important that she was to them. Tabitha, you see, had been a force in the community where she lived. Evidently she had a deep passion for the widows in her town. At that time, as most of you know, widows were among those with the least amount of clout or power. Only males had jobs and thus a social standing in the ancient world. Therefore to be a women and without someone to offer you an income or any sense of significance meant to always live on the verge of poverty or disaster unless another male family member took you in or someone else brought you under their wings.
Tabitha had a deep place in her heart for those who fell into this category and who lived near her. Evidently she cared for them in profound ways including providing clothes to them. She was so important, in fact, that when she died, a crises erupted. These widows had no idea who was going to care for them now. They did not know how they were going to live without her. And, so, the sending for Peter was not only a result of their grief over the death of their friend. It was also a cry for help and a grasping at straws because without Tabitha they did not know how life was going to continue.
I love this story. And, quite honestly I find myself using it on a regular basis primarily at funerals. I do so for two reasons. On the one hand, I do so because it captures so well how so many of us feel about the unique contribution that women like Tabitha make to our lives. They are the glue that holds us together. They do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves and quite frankly we cannot imagine life without them. Today, we celebrate moms and other women in our midst who play this role because you make our lives better because of your presence.
But, I also love this story because it really illustrates a fatal mistake that we are all prone to make when it comes to the special people in our midst. When do the widows in this story celebrate Tabitha? They do so, after she has died. It is only when she is no longer a part of their lives that they realize how important she had always been to their lives.
This is a danger that we always live with. We are all prone to only truly appreciate how important others are to us after they are gone and are no longer there. In the moment, it is easy to take people for granted and to see their roles in our lives as a given. And yet, if we only recognize how valuable they were when they are gone, we miss the chance to celebrate and thank them while we can.
I have been enjoying recently the historian David McCullough’s look at the lives of Orville and Wilber Wright. An interesting part of the story that McCullough tells is that much of the Wright Brothers mechanical aptitude came from their mother Susan and not from their father who was named Milton. She is the one who had grown up the daughter of a carriage mechanic and thus she had spent time with her father in his shop. In turn, the boy’s mom never suppressed their interest in making contraptions and she always gently put their creations away on a shelf while never destroying or throwing away anything they had made. She was also much more the parent that the boys consulted on such projects.
Unfortunately, Susan Wright died at an early age and well before the boy’s famous flight. And, so, without question it was likely only retrospectively and long after she had exited their lives that the boys realized just how important that the atmosphere she had fostered and created had been for them and who they became. (The Wright Brothers, David McCullough, 2016)
This is the hard side of Mother’s Day. Some of our moms are gone. Their lives have passed and at least on this side of eternity we no longer have the chance to say “thank you” or to celebrate them. Our Christian hope is that one day this opportunity will be ours again. But, until then we wait, we grieve and we remember what we once enjoyed.
Yet for others of us, our moms are still with us. Or, for all most all of us, there remain special women in our lives whom we could not do without – be it the mother of our children, a sister who has helped us raise our kids, a special person who has become a second mom to us over the years or a female friend who feels more like family than anything else. If you can name one woman today that remains a part of your life that fits this category I want to remind and encourage you not to take her or her role for granted. Instead make sure that you let her know how important she is. Share with her what it is that she adds to your life that no one else can do. And recognize, recognize, that nothing will last forever. Instead, celebrate today and in the days ahead the gift of God that has been placed in your midst while you can.
This of course must lead us to one last thing to remember. As people of faith, the human deficiency which causes us to so often take people for granted is not simply what happens in the story of Tabitha or what we are prone to do with the essential people in our lives but it is also what we do regularly in our relationship with God.
We simply trust that God is there and that God will do what God does – take care of us, give us gentle guidance, forgive us, meet our needs, calm our fears and be there to greet us when this live is over and gives way to the next. And yet, how rarely do we stop and recognize how fortunate and blessed we are. Likewise, how rarely do we take time to ponder how much different our lives would be without our Lord.
God, however, is never to be taken for granted. The gift of God which is salvation through Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit to walk with us every day is a gift that we should give thanks for daily because none of us deserve it and absolutely none of us have done one thing to merit it anymore than we did anything to merit the families that most of us were fortunate to be born into.
I still remember the day that my mom alone, dropped me off to begin college. I remember that in verbal and in unspoken ways she let it be know that now that I was being set free to live some of life on my own that I had better make decisions in light of how I had been raised. This was now the arena in which I would either make her proud or disappoint and there was no mistaking this.
I sense that God, our heavenly parent does the same. Each day, we are dropped of for another day – to make decisions, to chart our course and to make a difference in this world. So, let us not doubt that the way we will show that we have not taken our raising in the house of God for granted is by what we do in those moments when we too are set free to make our parent proud. Amen.