I call my mom tonight, both to say hello, and to talk to her about her upcoming party in September. You see, she's turning 90, which means that she grew up in the great depression, married in the midst of the war, and raised my sister and I in the midst of Kennedy's assassination, Vietnam, and Watergate. She lost her first child at birth, and in the process nearly lost her life, leaving her without the capacity to bear children. It was because of this that my sister and I were adopted into the Dahlstrom family and heritage. Her husband's multiple childhood bouts with pneumonia would lead him to an early death, and my adopted sister would die at the age of 43, leaving only my mom and I for the past 14 years.
All of this is the backdrop for what happened when we talked tonight. In preparation for her party, I said, "do you have any favorite Bible verses mom?" She left the phone for moment and returned with her Bible.
"Yes, let's see" she said in her broken and tired voice, as she opened her Bible and began recounting her favorite verses. "Of course, there's Matthew 6:21" she said, "and Hebrews 1:1-3. II Timothy 3:16 is about the Bible being sufficient and breathed by God. James 4:10-11 reminds me to be humble. II Peter 3:18 reminds me to keep growing in Christ. Of course, there's Colossians 2:6-9 as well." Then there was a pause before she said, "But my favorite is Isaiah 26:3: 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee'. Of course, that's my favorite verse, if I could only pick one."
By this time tears are streaming down my face; tears born of gratitude and compassion for this woman who raised me. Don't mistake this for hollow sentimentalism. I remember a lot more than family devotions growing up. I remember not only fun baseball games but blowouts, celebrations and family meltdowns, uproarious laughter and seething silence. There's no mirage of perfection in the rear view mirror. What there is, though, is a sense that I was chosen into a family where both parents allowed, at least in some measure, the reality of God to bleed into their daily living. They read their Bibles. They gave money away. They served their neighbors. They attended church and took my sister and I as well.
You don't know, as a kid, if the whole thing is a pretentious show, a cultural trapping, an environment for business connections, or the real deal. But mom's endured the death of her first child, the death of her husband, and the death of her oldest adoptive child. At 75 and still working for the city, she bought a four door car so that she could drive to the rest home in order to pick up the "old people" and take them to church. Now, nearing 90, she's pretty much confined to her room.
But when I ask her if she has a favorite Bible verse, and she can rattle off half a dozen of them as she thumbs through her well worn copy, I know that this wasn't a show for her. This was the real deal.
Sometimes I grow weary of emergent cynicism, and post-modern arrogant deconstructions. Though I understand that every piece of this fallen world (every person, every family, every nation, every church, every spouse, every parent, every neighbor) will reveal scar tissue if we look closely enough, I also know there's a lot of grace and unspectacular obedience to Jesus floating around our there that's somehow being missed. But the world views born of this one dimensional fixation on doubt and failure depress me.
This is why Mom's answer to the simple request for a favorite Bible verse was a breath of fresh air. "Thank God" I found myself thinking, "that there are still reminders in this world that people have whethered immense storms and come through, not perfectly, but with enough wholeness that, as their 90th birthday approaches, their love for Jesus Christ shines through with greater clarity than ever." May that be all of our story when, if God should allow it, we're that old.