Geraldine Mary Robertsky Clarke
May 28, 1935 — September 4, 2012
Who are you? Who are you apart from me? For so many years, I thought we were one and the same. Unfortunately, we made that mistake. But God, He changed all that — by fulfilling His purpose of setting us both free. How do I know? In my hands I hold the mirror you gave me and I see a perfect reflection of myself.
Mater. Madre. Mère. Mum. Mom. Mommy. Mama. Ma. Mother.
Greater than an ordinary sailing vessel, larger than a merchant ship — Mother — she’s made to exist for others. Her hull is commissioned with strength to brave the high seas of life, to carry goods from afar. She maintains the spirit of the ages, takes her cues from above, has eyes in the back of her head, can tell a storm is coming by the way the wind is blowing. Her arms are of borgana softness, providing for the heads of all her children. She remembers everything, keeping all her yesterdays for memento and posterity. Patina is her middle name and by which time itself is framed. Not only does she know best, but better. She perceives beauty in blackness and light in darkness. And her kitchen is never closed even if tomorrow is another day.
But what about all those storms?
Oh, those…they were just stepping-stones to all the mountains I had to climb and the Rock I learned to cling to.
Love endures all things.
You taught me this, too.
On my right hand I now wear your wedding ring.
♦ ♦ ♦
In Letter to My Mother, Barbara Kingsolver delicately scans every stage of her developmental life, recounting how it was, who she was, and what she saw — from her earliest memory at 3 to gawky adolescence and those fierce, independent college years to the time when she herself became a wife and mother — where egotism’s bloom finally fell off and her arms opened wide at the realization that giving supersedes taking and love truly is possible. She’s amazed at love, really. Amazed at how her firstborn daughter’s “tiny hand is making a delicate circle, index finger to thumb, pinkie extended…” just like hers did at eight weeks of age. Amazed at how loving and being loved by a man is not horrible and how willing she is to bear the cross that is motherhood. She celebrates the event known as coming full circle and when Mother receives her reward. Sort of. Let’s face it, the need for Mother doesn’t ever really go away. And mothers and daughters don’t ever actually retire from the mother-daughter relationship, as Kingsolver admits:
♦ ♦ ♦
We cut our teeth on the figurehead of Mother — a developmental task that extends far beyond toddlerhood. Emotional growth is painful — like cutting teeth. But it’s teeth we need and a good mother knows that. She offers her edge and bears the pain along with us. She cries for us, too. Then she cheers us on. Through a million and one little things, she shows her love, mirrors for us who we are. How else can we know ourselves but through the eyes of another? Children need a face to look into to know they’re loved. And they need eyes that speak back to them, eyes that say, “Yes, you are loved.” Sure, it is God who has made both man and beast, but only through our most significant relationships do we become that person of certain expression, disposition, demeanor, stature, spirit. He’s ordained it so.
Mothers are God-given.
But I am only too aware that not everyone is fortunate enough to have been fed from the spoon of a mother’s love. Sin, brokenness, sickness, absence, narcissism, selfishness — how often the effects of the fall play their role, rob us of the good things. Inasmuch as we want her to be, expect her to be, demand her to be, Mother is not perfect. But love is. And why there is forgiveness. If we are looking to Christ, He redeems the faults. Heals the wounds. Fills the gaps. Works wonders.
Kingsolver does a masterful job in this essay at capturing and conveying vivid moments of her life and the genuine love from and for her mother. She writes with depth and candor, both which I can relate to on so many levels, except for maybe the phone call her mother made tracking her down at a remote café in Beaurieux, France. Amazing how mothers have a way of knowing. They just know.
And why a letter to my mother would not suffice when only poetry will do.
A BIBLICAL LENS:
If there’s a single trait that binds mothers together the world over, it is the sacrifice of self.
I think of Eve, mother of all the living, and how she models for us the quintessential role — the woman of firsts: She was first to be second. First to be deceived, to feel guilt, shame, and fear for her sin. After Satan, she was first to stand before God in judgment to receive her sentence. First to receive a promise, to find mercy, to submit to her husband’s authority, to suffer pain in childbirth, to bear children, to lose a son. What did God require of her? Body, soul, and spirit, the sacrifice of self.
And what of the other mothers who beckon to us?
Sarah was called to sacrifice many years while waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son. Hannah sacrificed on her knees in prayer, asking God for a son, only to give him back to the Lord. Rachel travailed and died in childbirth. Upon the angel’s announcement, Mary said, “May it be to me as you have said.”
These mothers have not flatlined somewhere in the annals of history. By faith, we can receive from them still today, be fed from their spoon, receive instruction, emulate. Mother love is synonymous with sacrifice.
Our spiritual DNA is secure.
Next Thursday: Household Words by Diana Lovegrove
I bless thee that I see the worst of my heart as well as the best of it,
that I can sorrow from those sins that carry me from thee,
that it is thy deep and dear mercy to threaten punishment so that I may
return, pray, live.
My sin is to look on my faults and be discouraged,
or to look on my good and be puffed up.
I fall short of thy glory every day by spending hours unprofitably,
by thinking that the things I do are good,
when they are not done to thy end,
nor spring from the rules of thy Word.
My sin is to fear what never will be;
I forget to submit to thy will, and fail to be quiet there.
But Scripture teaches me that thy active will
reveals a steadfast purpose on my behalf,
and this quietens my soul, and makes me love thee.
Keep me always in the understanding
that saints mourn more for sin than other men,
for when they see how great is thy wrath against sin,
and how Christ’s death alone pacifies that wrath,
that makes them mourn the more.
Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
it is not all briars and barrenness.
I have bread from heaven,
streams from the rock,
light by day,
fire by night,
thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.
I am sometimes discouraged by the way,
but though winding and trying it is safe and short;
Death dismays me, but my great high priest stands in its waters,
and will open me a passage,
and beyond is a better country.
While I live let my life be exemplary,
When I die may my end be peace.
If things were always a straight shot, we might get to where we’re going a lot sooner. But no path is perfectly straight. God ordains the contours as well as the obstacles, both measured and beyond us, oftentimes perplexing, leaving us scratching our heads.
Our questions do not threaten God, but He reserves the right to not answer them. And I don’t believe God seeks to frustrate us, unless, of course, we’re in need of frustrating. But what He does desire is that we depend on Him more fully — not just for forgiveness and eternal life, but for the everyday trudge, the totaled car, the failing grade, the betrayal of our bodies.
Nobody escapes this fallen world.
When the landscape is all drought, there is water up ahead, otherwise He wouldn’t toughen the soles of the feet. And there is grace for the path, the one that wends its way back to Him.
Supreme Ruler of the Visible and Invisible Worlds,
My heart is drawn out to thee
for thy amazing grace and condescension.
Thou hast kept my conversion fresh before me,
that season of my first spiritual comfort
when I passed through the Red Sea by a way
I did not expect.
I rejoiced then for that unthought-of passage,
that delivered me from the fear of the Egyptian
when I had almost despaired of life.
I rejoice now as these things are
fresh and lively in my mind.
My soul melts when I think of thy days of old with me,
was laid under the happy necessity of living upon thee
and finding thy consolations large.
my life, hope, joy, peace, glory, end;
May I be daily more and more conformed to thee,
with the meekness and calmness of the Lamb in my soul,
and a feeling sense of the felicity of heaven,
where I long to join angels free from imperfections,
where in me the image of my adored Saviour
so that I may be fit for his enjoyments and employments.
I am not afraid to look the king of terrors in the face,
for I know I shall be drawn, not driven, out of the world.
Until then let me continually glow and burn out for thee,
and when the last great change shall come
let me awake in thy likeness,
leaving behind me an example that will glorify thee
while my spirit rejoices in heaven,
and my memory is blessed upon the earth,
with those who follow me praising thee for my life.
-Retrospect and Prospect, The Valley of Vision
There are days when my tongue clings to the roof of my mouth and it seems as though I’m dumbstruck. I suppose I am, when I look at what God has done. And while I cannot fathom what He will do next, I am certain of this one thing: The earth is His footstool and Heaven is my home. And I know that He is good, and I trust in His wisdom to allow what He will for His divine purpose.
Soli Deo Gloria.
We don’t always get it right. Our measure is off, our scales are out of whack. The heart is reluctant. We get tired, want to throw in the towel. Give up just a little.
But the Spirit of God searches minds and hearts, and He sees in the dark.
His grace is sufficient.
When we come to terms with our depravity, we realize we have nothing to bring Him. God is not looking for a token. When we come empty-handed, mercy finds us and we are received. When the mechanics of being a Christian show signs of wearing thin, it’s the fat portion we must put on the altar. Even our lives.
Meet Him there.
The only thing more dangerous than the spirit of the age is being unaware that you’re caught up in it.
Like Times Square after New Year’s in the rain, America today is full of the aftereffects of a party gone bad, but many are too intoxicated to notice. To the level of distraction and amusement we’ve stooped, we have sunk to new lows and the mood is dark. Sobriety only comes at a price the morning after.
Thumbing through TIME magazine (Monday, Jan. 16, 2012) the other day, an article caught my eye — 10 Questions for Chris Kyle, a candid interview with former US Navy SEAL sniper turned author who earned three Silver Stars in Iraq for expert marksmanship with the deadliest record in American military history. The lines between his brow and the edge in his words: “You live in a dreamworld,” both pointed to something truer than my comfort zone was used to.
One question the interviewer asked was why he could kill a woman with a grenade in her hand but not a little boy in Nasiriyah with an RPG in his. “That day I could not kill a child,” was his reply. Something higher than the brass command to kill was informing Chris Kyle the day he let that boy go free. A reminder that rules not of this world play into the hands of a Sovereign God.
No dreamworld there.
Meanwhile, atop our lime-treated soil on this slightly tilting planet, our isms keep us busy clicking away online and picking from shelves of well-stocked stores, feeding off pig slop on TV and allowing our app-hungry devices to consume us while we treat our pets better than our neighbors. We’re split right down the middle — an angry couch of fiction readers, softer than marshmallows, living in the land of Diversion with two fists raised in the air. National pride faces its own dichotomy amid pleas for someone to rescue us from moral decay without having the collective conscience to uphold the standards necessary to recover them.
The spirit of the age has swooped down like a giant bird to carry off in its bill this suffering generation, convincing us that we’re fighting for a just cause — namely, our rights.
The spirit of the age has swooped down like a giant bird to carry off in its bill this suffering generation, convincing us that we’re fighting for a just cause — namely, our rights. Look around. Every institution is under siege. Marriage is in the hopper, getting redefined. The term “family” can mean anything you need it to mean. Parents can choose their baby’s sex beforehand and children can decide their gender afterward. Our churches are in crisis, schools need policing, leaders from every sector are dropping like flies for doing unspeakable things. And the economy sustains a head wound that won’t heal while backpacks set up as portable living rooms in the public square. Ideological ire is everywhere. Around the globe, protest and unrest have become a way of life.
For the Christian, things are dicier than ever. While intolerance is a sitting duck, tolerance is a ticket to hell. The Word of God is Truth, but if discernment isn’t rooted in faith working by love, entitlement is a silent creeper and soon your judgments will subtly begin and end with you. The fog of spiritual battle can be thick, may even cause temporary blindness. Things are getting harder and harder to separate and figure out.
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when asked if He was King of the Jews? He answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Soothing words. Terra firma. Rules not of this world.
Still, the clanging of cymbals can be attention-getting loud. Knowledge abounds while Truth declines, Anti-Semitism rises as judgment falls, and walking circumspectly may mean keeping quiet when everything in you wants to scream. You may have knowledge, zeal, and confidence, but they will mean very little if you do not have Christ.
Tumult in the city, tumult in the Church — one thing is clear: The Zeitgeist is a very big killer bird.
For further meditation
Author’s Note: Reference in this blog post to TIME magazine does not constitute its endorsement or recommendation by the author nor is the article meant to be a political commentary on war or exploit the horrors of war. Use of said article is strictly anecdotal.
Retired Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was called “Al-Shaitan Ramad” (The Devil of Rahmadi) among insurgents and is known as “the legend” among his SEAL brothers. He now lives in Mid-Texas with his wife and two children and considers himself to be a better husband and father than he ever was a killer.
Postscript: On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle was shot and killed, along with veteran companion, Chad Littlefield, at the Rough Creek Shooting Range in Erath County, Texas.
Give me a grace that precedes,
aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire to show forth thy praise;
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbour,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to teach,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.
May thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.
—New Year, The Valley of Vision
As the calendar New Year 2012 offers fresh hope for yielding more fully unto Him and seeing from new angles and perspectives, I’m reminded how little I am in control of so many circumstances. As a Christian, living in a fallen world is hard enough, learning to navigate on the high seas; an act of faith. I can but hoist my sail heavenward and trust Him for momentum, that I might gain by seeing from an eternal vantage point.
And I rest in knowing that my Sovereign God, from before the foundations of the world, has ordained the waves, ordered the opening and closing of the locks, fixed the buoys, and set the boundaries. By His glorious and omniscient design, He alone knows the course I am to take. Yet, still I must pray:
May all my moorings be found in You.
Thou art good when thou givest,
when thou takest away,
when the sun shines upon me,
when night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
with thee as the blessed Pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.
–Year’s End, The Valley of Vision
At the end of every year for as long as I can remember, I find a few hours, or maybe I should say the hours find me, to hang up my hat and draw a curtain on the last 11 months, resigning myself to the fact that next month will be a blur and I will never pass this way again.
What’s done is done.
I then get quiet and pensive — until I rest in knowing that what hasn’t been accomplished this year will perhaps be in the following, remembering that it’s not so much about what I’ve begun or finished as it is the good work God began in me and promises to complete.
Feeling suitably small, I give Him thanks.
“That we shall communicate
not just what comes to mind,
but that which is in accord
Assumptions can be costly.
For centuries, men have erected shrines of their own making, gargantuan masterpieces to honor a God Whom they believe gives nod to their monuments of cavernous proportions and elaborate detail.
In 1883, an idea costing muchos pesos combined with a massive land donation brought forth the Basílica del Voto Nacional in Quito, Ecuador to commemorate the country’s devotion to the Sacred Heart. Men and women came donating stones in exchange for having their names engraved on them. Technically “unfinished,” it’s been said that “when the Basílica is completed, the end of the world will come.”
But God is not moved by stone.
Religion, no matter what form it takes, is a wall of great heights, a seeming protection — a pseudo-spiritual alibi for the sinner. Whether the object of affection is in the artistic fenestration of a narthex, hideous array of gargoyles or the furnishing of a Gothic spire, it’s always something that represents what men think God also admires. But He does not concern Himself with temples built by human hands.
And yet, there is another set of religious lies far more common, which distort the grace of God, allowing us to persist on our own terms. A veritable spree which is actually a cover-up for wickedness.
“I can’t help it, I’m just wired this way.”
“God understands my needs.”
“Jesus wants me to be happy, right?”
Apart from its many vestments, the distinguishing marks of man-centered religion are always the same: they either focus on externals or diminish personal accountability.
But Jesus said:
“A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you,
That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
-Matthew 12:35-37 (KJV)
Unless we rid ourselves of the last traces of religion, we will inevitably end up following our own dictates and remain bound, building castles in the sky, impressed by what our own hands have made, unaware that God is far more particular about what it is we say and do.
Purify my lips and guard my steps, O Lord. ♦
I would have despaired
If I had not believed
That You would come to me
Great God who saves
—Lyrics from Great God Who Saves by Laura Story
Thirty-two years ago seems like yesterday, as does sitting at my mother’s kitchen table, longing to be understood and have my sins accounted for. Her compassion held me somewhat, but still the moment proved inadequate for any further confession. She couldn’t cleanse me of my sin and take away my guilt. My soul was a mix of trouble and danger — to what degree I didn’t exactly know, except that I was crawling out of my skin. I decided to take off down the road, no fixed destination in mind.
A main highway is no place to work out your salvation, but that day it had become the ordained venue. Cars blurred past; I hardly noticed. Preoccupied with only one thing: How to undo the burden that was my life.
Just 17, deeply broken and with an as yet unformed theology, all I knew was that both Heaven and Hell were beckoning. Somewhere between turning off the highway and meandering halfway down the dirt side road, vivid in my mind’s eye was the stunning, bloody scene of Golgotha — an offensive sight had I not believed.
Jesus died for my sins. Mine.
The heat of conviction fell as my heart pounded. No longer a clergyman’s dry recitation as dictated by a perfunctory church calendar, I was grasping the reality of Christ’s death in real time, on the ground — in my darkest hour of need.
I had faith, but not the legs to keep walking. I did what made the most sense at the time. I climbed over the nearby post and rail and barbed wire fence to make my way over the hill, hidden from view. The cows weren’t out to pasture, but the fact that I was trespassing was even less of a concern. I dropped to my knees. Dead men don’t care where they die.
The crush of sin was now too much to carry. I cried out to God loud enough for all the world to hear absorbed in my solitary state . Clouds overhead were a tumultuous grey, threatening to rain. A necessary, unbearable moment. I didn’t demand of Him what I could only beg for.
Would He hear me?
However long I spent in travail I don’t know, but long enough for the sky to give way to crepuscular rays and for the effectual work of grace to take hold, cleanse the dreck of sin from my soul and set me free from the wasting ache of pain, guilt, and shame.
With hands raised, I stood amazed, wiping away the last of my tears. A whole new world had opened up. Back up on the road, I skipped and sang like a little girl.
Without a doubt, He had come to me.
Great God who saves.