And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
When I laid out my plan for Life for Leaders in December, I was not expecting to write this particular devotion. But, between yesterday’s writing (on December 2) and today (December 3), something happened to encourage me to add something unexpected. You see, last night, on December 2nd, my mom died. Two months ago she seemed just fine. But then we learned that she had very aggressive cancer. The gift of this distressing news was that we all had time to share memories with my mom, to say our sweet goodbyes, to tell my mom that we loved her and that she was a great mother, grandmother, etc. She was able to let us know how much she loved us, too. My mom died peacefully, surrounded by her family, who sent her off to Heaven with prayer and singing the Doxology.
In this devotion, I want to offer tribute to my mom, the worker. Like Mary in Luke 2:7, a central part of my mom’s work was giving birth to children and then caring for them. She, along with my dad, raised my brother, my two sisters, and me wonderfully. She worked very hard at being a mother, harder, I’m sure, than I ever realized.
My mom was always there for me, always present when I needed her. My oldest memory of her is of being rocked back to sleep in her arms after I woke from a nightmare. I was probably around two or three, and can still feel her embrace and hear her voice singing quiet songs of comfort. Of course, it never occurred to me that my mom was losing sleep by being there for me, that she was working. She was just being my mom.
My mom would have said that her greatest work in life was being a mother to her four children and then a grandmother to her seven grandchildren. But she worked in many other ways and made a strong contribution. She began her professional life as a teacher, but only taught for a couple of years before you know who showed up. At that point my mom became full time at home, working to raise me and my siblings who would come soon. Plenty of work there, to be sure, both at home and in the community, where my mom did tons of volunteer work. She was a talented and accomplished leader in PTA, Girl Scouts, church, etc. When her children left home, my mom worked for several years in a children’s clothing shop, ultimately becoming the manager.
After my dad died in 1986, my mom’s work life took a most unexpected turn. She filled in for a while as the interim children’s director at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. During that interim stretch, she did such an outstanding job that, after a national search for a person with C.E. degrees and experience, the church ended up offering the position to my mother, who didn’t have the credentials or broad experience, but did have extraordinary capabilities as well as a giant heart. She served at the Hollywood church for seventeen years with abundant love and vision. She touched hundreds of lives and found deep fulfillment in this work.
When my mom “retired” about a dozen years ago, she didn’t stop working. She continued on at the Hollywood church as an active volunteer and then an elder. She invested much of her energy in family life, especially enjoying her work as a grandmother. She continued to be the utterly faithful, utterly compassionate, utterly loving, utterly encouraging presence I had known all my life.
To be sure, my mom excelled at the work that was common for women in her generation. She bore and raised children, cooked substantial and delicious meals, taught and disciplined her children, hugged and rocked us to sleep. She helped us know the Lord, both through her words and the faithful witness of her life. But my mom also demonstrated that women could be capable of much more than work focused in the home. She was an exceptional leader, manager, visionary, and “pastor” to hundreds of people. She was an exemplary servant, indeed, a servant leader, who offered herself fully to the Lord and to his work, whether in our family, the church, or the community.
I have been profoundly shaped by my mom’s life and her work, and will miss her dearly. But, mostly I am filled with gratitude for my mom and all she meant to so many others and me. She worked hard and faithfully in this life, and I trust she has now heard the words our hearts long to hear from our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Who are the people in your life – living or dead – who have had the greatest impact on you?
What did you learn from your mother (and father) about work?
How can we help women to exercise all of their gifts for the sake of God’s purposes in the world?
Gracious God, how I thank you today for the gift of my mom. It’s hard to believe that she is gone.
Thank you, Lord, for my mother’s faithfulness as a worker, whether she was teaching, mothering, leading, or loving. Thank you for all she taught me and for the difference she made in so many lives.
Help us, Lord, to give ourselves to your work, whether we’re raising children or leading companies, building homes or teaching students. In all we do, Lord, may we offer ourselves to you and be used for your kingdom purposes.
All praise be to you! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: The Work of Midwifery and Mothering (Exodus 1:15-2:10)