“Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck”. - Proverbs 1:8-9
“She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” -Proverbs 31:26
It is possible that there are some who will receive this month’s newsletter who may not have heard that my mother, Helen Healton, passed away on October 8th. We held her memorial on the 26th at the church. The sanctuary was full of family, friends and especially, her church family. Her death resulted from a fall she suffered at home, a fall which at first did not seem life threatening. But after three weeks in a nursing rehabilitation center, her lungs and heart, apparently weakened by one or more clots that were released from a pelvic fracture, gave out as Tyla and I wept and prayed and held her until she was released from this mortal life. We were crushed with sorrow even though we knew she was now with the Lord and happier than she had ever been in this life.
We knew we had loved her and treasured her sweet spirit and calming presence with us but we had little idea of how much we had depended upon her. It was as if the three of us were carrying a load that seemed not so heavy – until Mom wasn’t there to carry it with us. That’s the problem with wonderful people like Mom – they make it so hard on us when they are gone! Far be it for me to complain, however, for she leaves behind a vast treasury of inspiration that I will draw from for the remainder of my days on earth.
Mom taught us a lot, not so much by way of verbal advice but plenty by example. Some of her example has rubbed off on me but there is plenty I still need to incorporate. She made some things look easy to do that, for me at least, have proven difficult to follow. Still, with her death, the wise and godly example she set appears all the more compelling and desirable. What follows are some of the things she taught us.
She taught us to treat everyone with dignity and respect, even when they say or do things we don’t like. This is one of the hard ones for me to follow. When someone does something I think unjust or foolish I might say something that goes beyond merely disagreeing with their words or actions, saying something that also reflects on their character or intelligence. Mom would never do that. The “teaching of kindness” was indeed “upon her tongue.” Instead of criticism or name-calling, she had a kind word to say about everyone. She tried always to put the best construction on what people did or said.
She taught us the virtue of patient and non-judgmental listening. So many times I would cringe when someone would start telling her all sorts of things that were contrary to her beliefs or to her standards of morality, sometimes in quite offensive terms. She would listen and smile and then find something in what they said she could agree with or say something that would deftly change the subject. When one of our sons was having a hard time relating to us during their teen years, they would always find it easy to talk to Grandma. She could listen to the most hair-raising accounts without giving in to the urge to rebuke or criticize. There is indeed a place for admonishment and counsel but so often our words fall on deaf ears because we have not made the investment in patient listening. People must know we love them before they will be prepared to profit by any advice we may give them.
She taught us the value of cheerful giving. My mother was always a generous person, but soon after she and my father experienced a new, spiritual birth through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, my father announced that they were going to start tithing, that is, giving one-tenth of the gross of his meager salary as a teacher to the Lord’s work. Mom was a careful keeper of the family budget and this did not sound like a good idea to her. But she was willing to try it out. After seeing that the Lord does indeed provide and finding it was a joy to give regularly and systematically to God’s work in the world, she became an even more generous giver. We knew she gave generously of her small monthly income but when we examined her check book receipts after her death, we were quite amazed at what she was able to do. She was giving far more than a tithe to the church, plus to missions, plus to charities, plus to family, friends and even strangers, in need.
It was not just of her treasure, but also of her time and talent, that she gave cheerfully, generously and without fanfare or desire for applause. The morning of the day on which she fell, September 15th, was a Sunday and she was in the Fireside Room kitchen before Sunday School, preparing the coffee and juice, as she did every Sunday, to be served after worship. After Sunday School and worship, she went downstairs to sit with the Monthly Meeting for business. Only after that did she go home. A few years before, she would have come back for evening worship. She was a regular participant in the weekly Tuesday morning prayer meeting. She often brought the refreshments to be served after worship. She would always make something for the Union Gospel Mission dinners. That’s not bad for a woman who was nearly 89 years old.
While generous to others, she tried to be as little a burden on others as she could possibly be. Tyla and I had often to prevail upon her to let us do things for her. If she could at all do it herself, she preferred that. But whatever you did for her, she was always grateful. If you ever received one of her thank you cards or letters you know that. She would go into great detail about what you did for her or gave her, not missing the tiniest aspect of what your gift meant to her or of how she appreciated it. She taught us the attitude of gratitude. It didn’t take much to please her and she always exclaimed, “You did too much for me!” or “You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble!” She made what you did seem spectacular.
Mom also taught by her example care for the people on the margins. She seemed to gravitate toward people that other people weren’t talking to. She was great about talking to people who were new to our church or that she hadn’t seen before. She had an amazing capacity to sit and visit with strangers or even with people she couldn’t understand, either due to their limited English or her difficulty of hearing. She didn’t need to be a sparkling conversationalist. She could ask questions, listen and give people her total attention.
There is so much more she taught us – the beauty in small things, the joy of creating little gifts of love, the blessing of beholding birds, butterflies, flowers, trees and all that God created and, above all, the security that comes from total trust in God. We miss her terribly but the lessons and legacy she leaves behind will nourish our spirits until, by God’s grace, we join her and all the faithful in heaven!