“All I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln, my favorite of all time, nailed it, along with his…”Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower might grow.” Over time, I have written so much about my father that one might think we were two peas in a pod when he was alive. I loved my dad, and I would definitely say I admired him, but a “warm fuzzy relationship” we did not have. It was not because I didn’t want it; Daddy was shy perhaps, reserved, stoic to some, and only let his guard down when he was fully relaxed. He was raised as the miracle “only child” of a mother who had lost hers at the age of five to the same disease that cropped up in my father before the onset of his teenage years. An overcomer from his early days, he persevered through hurdles I could only imagine. When he wasn’t belabored with the joys of teaching and the stress of politics universally experienced at most “institutions of higher learning” (“Publish or perish!”), he took summers off for our family to travel several times the expanse of the United States (plus eastern Canada) and as well managed a lot of after-church picnics all over central Alabama. He taught me the wonders of God’s beautiful creation, he taught me to dive, he taught me to DRIVE, and he told me once that “it took a special person to be able to play an instrument” when I failed to make Auburn High School’s flag squad. I do remember my personal favorite memory of anything I ever heard him say: “It would be my pleasure,” when asked to redo the “father-daughter-kiss-on-the-cheek” photograph on my wedding day when the first one messed up! I will always have precious memories of my dad…but it is my mother who captivated and continues to captivate my heart.
Many of you have been blessed to meet Ruth Carolyn Fussell Freeman. She has been a faithful supporter of WellSpring from the moment of its inception (and before), and she comes as often as she can. She spends most Sundays playing the piano (and sometimes sharing a “sermonette”) with the elderly residents of Oak Park, in Auburn. She is on the road to Tennessee frequently to help her aging sisters tend to rental property, and as my only sibling lives abroad, she has some pressing interests in Japan, as well! One of seven children born to Buford and Ether Fussell in the early 1940’s, she was uniquely crafted from the get-go. As one of several middle children, she navigated family relationships through the most challenging of circumstances. Unlike my father, she could not “run off to the treehouse” when dealing with everything from unwanted green paint in her hair to bearing steady favoritism, as “MaMaw always saved the best piece of fried chicken for Jamie.” She lived in the shadow of accomplished, Type-A Sister Polly, whom to this day, says Mama, cannot sit still (Mama, we say the same thing about you…and mine say the same thing about me!). When she married Daddy, self-esteem took a beating again against his “prize intellect”. To this day, she will tell you, “I wasn’t a good student; you definitely get your gift of writing from the Freeman/Hinton side of the family.” But I am here to tell you that I am HERE because of my “angel mother.” I do not know what I would do without her, and I will never be the same if I outlive her.
It was Mama who gave birth to me, obviously. It was Mama, honoring Daddy’s Methodist heritage, who left the Nazarene church of her birth to make Auburn United Methodist her church home. It was Mama who packed the picnic lunches and organized multiple details for Daddy’s graduate classes on our annual Smokies pilgrimages. It was Mama who took me to the emergency room when I cracked my arm at the Auburn Childhood Center in Kindergarten. It was Mama who took me back to the emergency room a few years later when I foolishly rocked back and forth on a tricycle one Sunday night during “The Wonderful World of Disney” and crashed my chin into rugged pavement (I still bear the scar. Daddy may have been with her on that one…). It was Mama who got me through long division in third grade. It was Mama who gave me an ear when Little Leslie and Big Leslie decided they’d rather play without me. It was Mama who cooked spaghetti, baked birthday cakes, planned parties, and monitored our slumber party noise level with a “Your dad will be in here in a minute” (all it took). It was Mama who took us to Hollifield Memorial Library and read to me until I caught the fever so desperately I never put a book down again. It was Mama who nursed my chicken pox in third grade; it was Mama who told me I would get well when I missed two weeks of school in the 8th grade with a bronchial infection I could not kick and wasn’t sure I wanted to. It was Mama who drove me, at 16, to the Village Theater to meet my first date, who at 15 could not drive yet, either. (Have I ever told you I’m a late bloomer?) And it was Mama who ran for Daddy on April 1, 1983, when I, churched all my life, asked Jesus to come into my heart one Sunday afternoon…because she thought he was a deeper thinker and he would understand more than she.
I could go on forever, because during my college and married years, she has been there over and over and over again. She rode with us to Kentucky to help us move when my teaching job came through upon Mike’s entering Asbury Seminary in 1994 on the weekend of her August anniversary! (To Daddy’s credit, he surprised her by coming after her a few days later!) She helped us move into and out of every parsonage we occupied while serving the Methodist church following seminary, and she has scrubbed every one of them in some way, shape or form also. She fed me ice in the delivery room twice, and she has cared for our two over the years to give us much-needed and much-appreciated “renewal time” near and far. It still pains me greatly that she lost both parents and a husband when she was far too young…but our precious whirlwind has taught me how to live and go on with grace in the aftermath of grief just as surely as my dad taught me how to die with faith and dignity. I can only hope and pray that those God has brought into her life at all levels of relationship have helped to fill the void, although nothing could possibly completely do so, except Jesus.
Oh, Mama, I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. You are a sermon of love, joy, generosity, perseverance, and others-centeredness, and everyone who knows you would be lying if they didn’t agree. You live what countless study. You share what most speak. You have lost yourself as you give Jesus away in every form He ever could be given, and I hope you know how extremely special you are. I love you more than words can say, “loquacious” as I can tend to be.
Why must we celebrate mothers only in May? If not for our mothers, perfect or imperfect as we view them, we would not have the blessing of knowing, loving, and serving alongside you in our mighty church of miracle upon miracle. The attributes we cherish about our mothers, we save and share with the children God blesses us to have personally or to mentor. The qualities that show their imperfections, we file away, vowing with God’s help to break the cycle, knowing full well our own children will be needing to do the same for our own flaws. My heart goes out to those who have lost their mothers in childhood or adulthood; I am certain Jesus’ does, too, and He can fill this void in a way that those who’ve not walked in these shoes can’t comprehend. For certain, there is a special place in our hearts, and in God’s hearts, for mothers.
Proverbs 31:28-31 puts it like this:
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”