Some Personal Reflections
The time is now 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning Aug 23, 2013. I have been awake for about an hour and after laying in bed developing pages upon pages of thoughts in my mind, I finally decided to get up and put a few of these thoughts onto paper. With a cup of coffee at my right hand and the household still fast asleep, I am finally able to be by myself for a short time, to think and just be, luxuriating in alone time after arriving this past Monday evening to my mother’s hospital bedside where family was assembled to be with mom as she eventually passed from this life into the next this past Wednesday evening. There has been so much hubbub going on since that point of mom’s departure that this is the first quiet time (awake) that I have had and at present, bathing in as a child does in a bubble bath.
The thoughts that I awoke to this morning were of course centering on my mom, her life, the life events and people that I grew up around, as well as the community that helped form who I am, how I view life, and how I live out my life because of these influence. As I was laying in my bed thinking about all of these things, I decided I really needed to pen a few of these reflections, which I may or may not share in the future. I found the “pastor” or “professional” me developing a sermon which in its basic form is only a way of reflecting upon life and the relationship between God and Humanity (or myself specifically.) As the old saying goes, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. So I am going to attempt to record some of these early morning thoughts as a way of helping me process the deep, deep impact that my mother Bonnie Neal Wohlford Mitchell Nichols has had on my life.
One of the basic truths in my development was to understand “life” as something that “one” can/should learn from; that there is a purpose for all events. This is of course one of the ultimate teaches that one learns through the Bible, but it was always taught to me from almost every family member that preceded me. The Apostle Paul penned this reality as, “All things work to the good and glory of God.” What this means in my family is that no matter how hard or dark life gets, you can find good out of it if you just look hard enough. Is this the generation of Depression Era babies thinking? Possibly, but it was a basic understanding of life that my mother taught me and my siblings. It was vocalized by mom’s mother as well as my great aunts and uncles, and you read the same teaching in the Hebrew Scriptures specifically out of the book of Ecclesiastes.
Another thought that I awoke with this morning is just how “tribal” we as humans are. Those patriarch and matriarchs who settled in what I call my hometown Kingman Kansas planted seeds so deep that even though most of the family no longer lives specifically in that community, changing life events always draw up back; usually through a death in the family. Even for those of the family who were never raised in Kingman, find themselves drawn back. I know that this will eventually fade as generations further from the original planters loose that connection, but for me, my reality is, the family continually draws together for support of one another from time to time, even if there is no contact between those times.
These past couple of days staying at my sister Sandy’s house, I have once again had the opportunity to enjoy the company of my two nieces, Lindsey and Tandi. I have spent most of their lives living in distant parts of the country, missing out on watching them grow into adults. Yet at times like these as we sit with one another in general conversation the family albums find their way off the shelves and into our hands allowing us to remember some of the highlights within our lives. It is through these “family” albums that Sandy’s girls are able to remember how the larger family connected as they were growing up. If we were all meeting at my house and my family albums were to appear, they would see some of the same pictures as what is in their mothers albums, as well as some other events recorded on film that would again broaden their understanding of how the fabric of our family is woven.
This coming Monday, as we hold the memorial for mom in our tribal community of origin, there will be not just family members gathering but also people who had important roles in mom’s life. People like Bob and Laverne Grey who were close childhood friends; people who have children that I grew up with as well; people who are not just instrumental in the early life of my parents, but also impacted my life, folks that I don’t see very often. I am reminded of one event many years ago when my sister, me, and our aunt Elsie were eating lunch in one of the local Kingman café, when an elderly man walked up to our table and asked if we were not “Bonnie and Virgil’s children, as he thought he recognized us”. It was Bob Grey our dad’s childhood buddy of whom we had not seen in over thirty some odd years. I have multiple photographs of he, mom, dad, Laverne and two other couples who all hung out together as close friends. Now there is only Bob and Laverne and Katie left of that group, with the first passing on over 50 years ago.
Another truth that my mom taught me was “to put my faith in the Lord. No matter what life may bring, God is there for you, supplying you with what you need. You may not get what you want, but God will make sure you receive what you need!” Well, that opens things up to a whole host of things from basic food and shelter to discipline. As I share reflections each week to the congregations that I have served, I am amazed at how often something mom has brought to light comes into my thoughts on almost any topic. I guess the reality is, that my congregation not only hears what God might have said on a subject, or how I interpret what has been recorded in scripture, but they also get some of “mom’s” understanding of how God works in our lives as well.
I so often find it interesting that the “church” struggles with the popular phrase, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” The reality of the matter is, I was raised by that motto. Most of my extended family never really found church communities as a viable environment to live out their faith, yet the understanding that God exists, that God will judge your actions based on how you treat your fellow human beings, that God walks beside you are all building blocks that I was raised with. There was never any direct quotes from the Bible to substantiate these teachings, but presented as if Moses himself had brought these down from the mountain top directly given by God – also known as “commandments.” I watched my mother curve her needs and desires to those of others (whether they were good or bad) because of this type of understanding that God is the ultimate judge of each person’s actions. We are not to judge a person’s motive, just respond to it the best we can and let that motive be between God and that person. It plays a huge part in my life when a person comes asking help from the church. I find that I do not question the sincerity of the request, or judge “if they would only do this then they wouldn’t be in this position”, I just accept that request for what it is, “a need for help at that moment.”
My mom also taught me that “life isn’t meant to be easy”. In a society that preaches a “name it and claim it”, or “I deserve this” type of teaching, or “if you have enough faith in God, God will give you riches and a pain free life” she saw this as non-truth. To mom, struggles in life were what build’s the character of a person, like exercising at the gym, to build your muscles, God somehow presented the opportunities for us to struggle in our own way the areas of our lives that needed to be buildup. As an old Jewish saying presented in “Fiddler On the Roof” : Lord I know you love me, but couldn’t you just love me a little less?
I am reminded of so many times when mom would struggle to make ends meet and feel total despair, yet somehow rally with the confidence that God was with her in those times and would help pull her through them. It wasn’t that God would magically throw money down from Heaven to resolve the problem, no that wasn’t what God was about, but rather God was there walking through this mess with you and helping you solve whatever situation you found yourself in. God never provided hardship or pain as some faith communities like to believe, but God was always there holding onto your hand, somehow providing guidance and bringing that inner strength that is deep within you to rise to the occasion to meet whatever life throws at you.
One last thing that comes to my mind as I wind down this two hour period of silent reflection (people are starting to wake up), that of “unconditional love” that mom taught and modeled. This is probably the second most important lesson that she taught me and possibly the greatest gift given to me other than my life itself. Unconditional – wow, what a word. It so totally encompasses my mother and who she was. The church throws that word and concept around on one side of its mouth while at the same time speaking judgments and presenting expectations in order to “be” accepted into the family.
While I was growing up, I was told by both mom and dad, that if I ever got into trouble, they would be there to stand beside me, whether I was in the right or in the wrong, but that if I were wrong, I would have to accept my punishment, but if I was being wronged, they would fight tooth and nail for my defense. Maybe every parent says this, I don’t know, but what I do know is that mom had unconditional love for her family. This was most evident to me as each of her three biological children came out as “gay” to her. When many parents disowned their children because of this, mom never wavered in her love for us.
I started these reflections with the observation about the importance or possibly the reality of being “tribal”. Many of these basic things that I have learned from mom are not what mom developed in a vacuum, but rather are “tribal” truths that she brought to the table from her mother and father, aunts and uncles. The “commandments” that I was raised with really are teachings – laws if you will, of much of my family who has preceded my mother and father. There is a circle of life, we are not individuals that live in isolation, but members of a much larger community, often referred to as family, but even larger than that. And yet, it always comes back to the one on one relationships and from the perspective as a son or child, that relationship is most basic between our parent. Often when I am speaking to someone or just doing head conversations with myself, I will make a statement and realize to myself, “I sound just like mom.” Not just in thought but in the intonation, tenor, and inflection! It’s a frighten realization to think that I am so much like my mother, and yet I cannot think of another person that I would most be proud to be compared to than that of my mom! Mom, you have given me not only life, but a myriad of truths that are the foundational blocks that I live my life by – good and bad alike, thank you from the bottom of my soul for all of the shared events, the instructions, and the love and support that you have given me, my brother and my sister, and to all those that call you friend.