ENCORE SUNDAY: A MOTHER'S DAY TRIBUTE
Originally published Mother's Day 2007
How Mom established a spiritual foundation in my life ...
On February 22, 1979, my life changed forever.
That was as far as she always got. Maybe a few sentences further each attempt, but the effort always ended in the same fruitless result. She always aspired to be a writer but things never materialized. Robbie Elizabeth, as my grandparents named her in February of 1935, was the second oldest among four children. I just knew her as “Momma.”
That fateful date she continually referenced provided a memory that affected more than just her life. It changed mine, my sisters Deborah and Karen and most certainly my Dad’s – Bobby, Sr., as well as our entire family Momma was diagnosed with an aggressive growth that began as ovarian cancer. By the time the physicians performed a “look-and-see” operation, the growth had swollen to the size of a football.
The doctors basically gave Momma a month or two to live, tops. Of course, they didn’t know her resolve to succeed against all odds. They certainly didn’t understand her mission from God. Her assignment was to touch as many lives as she could in the short time she had left. Momma’s illness came at a time when cancer research and treatments were in the formative stage and essentially rocket science to the medical community. In those days, you just didn’t beat the disease.
Her first treatment began at home and away from any advice from the doctors or friends and family. Momma’s first dosage of healing began with two knees bent on the floor, her hands joined and eyes closed.
Momma prayed, “Dear Jesus, I know that I have been dealt a death sentence by the doctors. But, I have the utmost faith in you that my time on this earth just can’t be complete as the doctors have said. I know you have something for me. I just need you to prepare me for the task at hand.
“I’ve always believed in you and I’ve known that you were the Savior in my life. I knew Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I just never served you the way I should have. Please forgive me and please give me a chance to make up for lost time.”
Then it began. Momma began a learning process that few could comprehend. She never really felt that God was going to end her life in two months, but she didn’t take any chances in learning God’s word.
Momma was always a fast learner. When I was only eleven years old, she decided to go back to work as a nurse. Her objective was to become a LPN and in attending nursing classes she finished in the top one percent of her class. Momma wanted to make a difference and that is why she proudly accepted her first job at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center in the neurological unit. Most of the time, she handled her assignment without bringing the emotional strain home. Sometimes she couldn’t help but cry such as the time one of my schoolmates was condemned to a comatose life, the result of a motorcycle accident. Knowing that I had a dirt bike only compounded that emotional state.
Somehow though, she never worried about me. She knew I was capably in God’s hands. After all, she used to always proudly proclaim (in an embarrassing state sometimes) that she read the Bible throughout the nine months she carried me under her heart. Even when I was born with Pyloric Stenosis, a condition which forces infants to vomit forcefully and continuously, she and other members of the family stood around the clock feeding me only to have it regurgitated. She rarely slept and grabbed the lion’s share of my care until I was 6 months old. Essentially her prayers and a surgical procedure saved my life. Her knowledge of vitamins and their value enabled her to direct my strengthening for the operation. I was tragically dying of starvation. I think that is we were always close.
God had always sent Momma signs that he was alive and working in her life though she didn’t always acknowledge the lessons that played out before her eyes. She was the third consecutive generation of praying mothers dating back to her Grandmother.
I think she gained one of her most profound lessons through me and some of the children in the neighborhood. Someone, and the names and origins of certain details escape my mind at this time, had a play-set of devil horns, fingernails and a pitchfork. It was dusk and we thoroughly encompassed every square feet of that one acre yard playing a freeze tag kind of game that involved “the devil’s going to get you” as the catchphrase. That was the one line that made you run even faster to get away.
Grandma Hawkins, well into her upper-Eighties in years, sat and watched as we exhausted most every ounce of energy in our youthful bodies. At one given moment, she called us to the porch and asked us if we wanted to hear a story. We eagerly sat and listened to what she had to say as she would often have stories to tell us about the 1800s and her experiences as a child.
“You know the devil used to be the most beautiful angel in heaven?” She asked. We shook our heads in disbelief.
“He used to lead the choir service in Heaven before he decided he wanted to be God. God kicked him out of Heaven. Tomorrow, I am going to Heaven and I will see God and see his beautiful glory.”
We went back out to play, but decided another game was better than devil’s freeze tag. I went home that night and casually mentioned to Momma that Grandma Hawkins said she was going to Heaven tomorrow.
As God is my witness, she lay down in the floor at her daughter’s house and died the very next day. Momma was even summoned to the house to administer CPR in vain.
Momma started to draw nigh unto God, but it wasn’t until the diagnosis that she got on fire for him. Immediately, the church we’d attended since my birth, “didn’t seem to have the fire of God” and she relocated us to a church where they had a band, shouted and praised the Lord. As a twelve year old, I thought this was the coolest thing.
What I didn’t see is that she was a bricklayer establishing the foundation of a major life lesson that would set the basis for my spiritual life. She had always taught me about life and did so by example. Momma was a stay at home Mom for many of my formative years and handled all the home-front duties while my Dad, a man of limited education, worked from 6 AM to 10 PM, 5 days a week and sometimes Saturday.
Momma taught me what love was. My Dad had always admired her but never really pursued a friendship, much less a relationship. In fact, he had never spoke to her when he made the comment to an unbelieving group of co-workers at the gas station that he’d one day marry her.
Knowing only about the comment only after the fact, she met Dad and they were married after only two weeks of acquaintance and courtship time. I am convinced the day before her illness was revealed they loved each other more than the day they met. It increased daily.
Every person she met along the way, including Dad and her children, was continually reminded that she loved the Lord and that He was the best choice in their lives. Momma attended countless miracle crusades and interacted with many. Her finest story was the time at one of these meetings when a man dressed in solid white, walked up and out of the blue uttered, “God is going to heal you.” He walked away and we never saw him again. Momma went to her grave convinced this was an Angel. I am convinced she may have been right.
Momma always seemed to know when the Lord spoke to her heart and she was faithful to obey. The cancer treatments were brutal. So brutal in fact that she was administered almost a triple dosage at a medical university three hours away once a month. During one of the trips, Momma was ill and lying down in the back of the family car as my Dad stopped off at a convenience store to find something to comfort her. God spoke to her heart and almost miraculously she found the strength to rise up and take note of lady walking across the street.
She got out of the car and met the lady in the parking lot. “God has spoken to my heart to pray with you. I don’t know why but he wants me to pray for you. Could I do that?”
The astonished lady nodded in approval and only after she prayed did Momma find out the stranger was within hours of committing suicide. Momma shrugged the incident by simply stating, time and time again, “I was just obeying the Lord.”
God remained true to his words spoken through her heart. He did heal her. Shortly after a year to the date of her diagnosis, the doctors said her cancer was all but dissolved and her disease was in remission.
Around that time, God gave her one of her most complex missions and that was to reach her Dad for the Lord. Fate had dealt my Grandfather with a serious blow. He was diagnosed with a terminal stomach cancer and given a short amount of time to live. Momma’s testimonies to Grandpa eventually led him to Christ before his death. In that time, the faith of a mustard seed took root and enabled a truly bitter man to die with a smile on his face. This man, who could cuss the paint off of the walls, in his dying breath saw the majesty of Jesus Christ and was more than willing to meet him. God used her as the avenue to reach him.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out the mental anguish of a year-long fight with cancer and the subsequent death of her father took its toll on her physical body. Yet, through it all, she praised God’s name to the Heavens. She knew that by His stripes we were healed and held on to that Word.
One day on a routine check-up after some tests, the doctor delivered another round of tough news. Her disease had returned this time in the form of an aggressive brain tumor. She accepted the fact that maybe her work was complete and now God had a higher plan for her.
Mom passed away on August 5, 1980 at the seemingly young age of 45. I was only 13 years old, but I’ve never forgotten her lessons. Even when I was a backslidden sinner, I remembered.
Momma continued a legacy established by her elders. She wanted a son and called it a miracle when I was born. I think I know the reason now…maybe it was time to start three generations of praying Fathers - starting with me. I can tell you that I am confident that my oldest son is the second in line of this generational gift. The gift of God’s blessing through her still lives even though she graduated to Heaven a quarter century ago.
I am blessed to have four children, a grandchild, and a beautiful wife. Teaching children in this life to do the right things is tough in this day and age as I am sure it was for Momma when it came to me. The key is early preparation.
My youngest daughter leads daily grace before each meal. At three years of age, she pulled me off to the side and began giving me a Bible lesson while sitting in a hotel during a family vacation. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are older, they will not depart.” Amen.
If Momma were alive I’m convinced she’d cling to the spirit-filled ministry of T.D. Jakes. In my personal devotional time, which includes an episode of his show, he posed the question, “Wouldn’t that be something to tell your children that you can still mess up and turn out right?”
Momma perfected the saying if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
The Jakes lesson continued, “Abram understood that God is trying to get the blessing through us. The blessings in our life are not about us, it’s trying to pass through us. Until we understand that important point, we are never going to encounter the complete blessing he has for us. He’s breaking down curses and hexes along the way and sabotage from Satan. He’s breaking the barriers that have held our generations back.”
Jakes then shared a personal lesson that pretty much summed up this God-inspired article. He noted during church that he noticed his mother during her latter years and her decision to not pray with the group and shout during the oft-times powerful services. He just had to ask her why she didn’t join in. She was taking inventory of the audience.
“Remember those times when I studied by the oil lamp and the bed…reading all day and studying…I thought I was going to do something great. I thought I was going to speak to multitudes of people. Then you came. The reason I am so proud of you is that your success has vindicated my suffering.”
Two years ago, I sat down to write this testimony. I vindicated her suffering and failure to write a book.
On February 22, 1979, she began writing a story that I am proud to put the finishing touches on today.