I am not sentimental about Mother’s Day. I’ve never made a big deal out of Mother’s Day and don’t care for the hype and commercialism (an estimated $26.3 billion this year) of this holiday that has roots in the Methodist Church. After Anna Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in honor of her mother’s service to the church as well as her work for peace and reconciliation during and after the Civil War.
In 1908, Anna petitioned the superintendent of the church where her mother had spent over twenty years teaching Sunday School. On May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. By 1909, forty-six states were holding Mother’s Day services, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day to be a national observance.
My own Mother’s Day tradition began many years ago when I decided to write letters to both my mother and mother-in-law on Mother’ Day, thanking them for the positive influence they were in my life. Yesterday was the sixth Mother’s Day since my Mom died on November 30, 2011. I’d been thinking about my mother all week and finally decided it was time to write another letter.
Here I am, five and a half years after you died, and I still miss you! Over the past week, I have been reminded of you in so many ways. And then, when the hotel I was staying in had a bowl of your favorite candy on the counter, Mary Jane, I knew it was time to write you again. I suspect you already know that you continue to shape and form who I am.
First, I want to thank you for telling me about the love of Jesus and raising me in a Christian home. Among my earliest memories are you reading to me from Little Visits with God. Thank you for taking the time to read to me. You always were a lover of books, Mom, and it was a joy to exchange book lists with you when I became an adult. You were the church librarian at our Mennonite Church for fifty years and oversaw the library at a time when it was the only public library in Souderton, PA.
When Zion Mennonite Church built a new facility on the outskirts of town because we had run out of room, a large, new library was located right outside the sanctuary where it was easily accessible to all. You may not have realized it, but that library was in great part a tribute to your love for reading, for learning, and for God.
Thank you for your faithfulness in marching us four kids to one of the front pews of the sanctuary every single Sunday and making sure we didn’t act out too much while Dad sang in the choir. Thank you and Dad for teaching the senior high Sunday school class for many years. And thank you for taking us to church even when we went on our annual summer vacation to the New Jersey shore. It was a wonderful witness to your faith.
Second, I want to thank you for becoming a living and walking imitation of Christ.
It did not escape me that when the teenage son of a church family was sentenced to prison for a time, you wrote a letter to him every single week until he was released. Joe is a wonderful Christian man today, who more than once thanked you for never giving up on him.
It did not escape me that you hosted children in our home through the Fresh Air Fund when I was growing up. This program enabled disadvantaged children in Philadelphia to visit families outside the city and enjoy summer in the country. It did not escape my attention that our family hosted an exchange student from Argentina for a year when I was in high school. It did not escape my notice that you volunteered in numerous church and community organizations and were always a strong advocate for being in ministry with those who needed a boost, a helping hand, or someone to believe in them.
Third, I want to thank you for encouraging me to become the person God created me to be. You allowed me the freedom to discover my gifts and passions, even when you did not understand where I was headed. You were forbearing when my “lefty” handwriting was never as elegant and beautiful as yours and I eventually gave up cursive writing in favor of printing.
You were patient when I did not choose a college until a month before my high school graduation. You were faithful in writing me every week for a year when I studied in Germany. And you were perplexed as well as supportive when I completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in music and then decided to go to seminary. In response to your persistent question, “Why do you want to keep going to school?” I could only reply, “It’s what God is calling me to do.”
Finally, Mom, I want to thank you for your willingness to keep growing and learning all through your life. In many ways, you were raised in a very sheltered environment. You did graduate from Juniata College as an English major and gave me a love for writing and grammar, but you were also willing to spread your wings and try new things later in life.
You were not naturally athletic, but you learned how to ski and play tennis and golf so that you were able to keep up with the rest of the family. You even learned how to fish but drew the line at taking a walleye off the hook. You started to jog in your 50’s and even did a five-kilometer race where you finished first in your age group.
But more than that, you grew in your ability to express your feelings; verbally and physically, after growing up in a very reserved Pennsylvania Dutch household. It was pure joy to observe how you would hug and kiss your grandchildren and tell them how much you loved them. And Gary and I will forever be indebted to you for the times you cared for our young children so that we could get away for occasional vacations alone.
Mom, sometimes I wonder who I would have become without your nurturing and influence. For it was you who modeled for me unconditional grace. It was you who showed me how to give my life away in service. Your life was pure and holy. Is it any coincidence that one of the lectionary readings for Mother’s Day this year is found in 1 Peter, chapter 2?
“Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Mom – you who had no malice in your life for anyone, and you who nurtured me with the spiritual milk of pure grace — thank you for showing me how to taste and see that the Lord is good. May all that I am and hope still to become reflect God’s glory as well as honor the goodness and fruitfulness of your life.
P.S. Save some Mary Jane’s for me!