Fragrant Fragments: Memories of a Godly Mother-in-law

Mama T 001

Better Late than Never?

When Mama passed away in 2008 I was honored to give a eulogy at her memorial service. I rewrote that eulogy to post for Mother’s Day this May…..and somehow never published it on my blog.  Sigh.  Even though it’s later than I intended, I hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse into the life of a wonderful woman.

The Blessing of a Godly Mother-in-law

I was doubly-blessed to have a mother who loved and served God whole-heartedly as well as a mother-in-law who was equally as godly.  Since I recently wrote about my mother I’d like to honor my wonderful mother-in-law, Jean Talbert, this Mother’s Day.

A Lovely Lady

My mother-in-law was a lovely lady, refined and cultured with an interest in the arts and music.  She loved to play the piano and listen to classical music – interests passed down to her children and grandchildren.  Mom shared a house with Bud and me for a couple of years in the early 1980’s.  It could have been a sticky arrangement, but it wasn’t due to Mama’s wisdom and graciousness. “Mama”, as she liked us to call her, was extremely hospitable, and loved to cook for and entertain her friends and family.  She had particular delight in hosting the Lord’s servants, whether for a meal or overnight in her home.

 Mama as a Nurse

Mom’s training as an RN showed up frequently.  Every bump, scrape, and bruise was a hematoma, abrasion, or contusion while a hint of indigestion was always dyspepsia.  When she began spouting medical terms we lovingly called her “Hematoma mama.” In order to become a nursing instructor at a Christian college Mom had to return to upgrade her education while in her mid-fifties.  She was an intelligent woman with a keen mind and was grateful for the opportunity of teaching nursing from a Christian perspective.

 Mama Was Never Boring!

Years ago when Bud was on a study tour in Israel, Mom drove with me to my parents’ home in Ohio.  While taking her daily walk she “made friends” with some neighborhood ducks.  The next day she took along a few slices of bread for her waddling buddies.  A local photographer driving by was enchanted by this delightful woman peeking out from behind a tree to feed the ducks.  Mom’s whimsical pose made the front page of our local newspaper!

Granny Loved Her Grandchildren

Mama dearly loved being Granny to her grandchildren.  She had a marvelous sense of humor and a deep throaty laugh.  We could occasionally wheedle her into barking and clapping like a seal which delighted and amazed her grandchildren.  Granny often told the grandkids stories about her own childhood.  She described how she and her sisters used to have burping contests then promptly taught her enthusiastic audience how to burp loudly too! An avid reader, Mom appreciated quality writing and had a particular fondness for missionary biographies. Dubbed by the grandchildren as the “Book Granny,” Mama used special occasions to buy brightly illustrated, charming books that our kids loved reading over and over.

 A Godly Example

But more than anything else Mom loved the Lord and spoke of Him and to Him throughout her day. Her well-marked Bible and detailed prayer lists were indications of a vital and personal walk with Lord.  She was a prayer warrior, particularly for her children and their families. We felt the loss of those prayers when Alzheimer’s prevented her from interceding for us. Proverbs 31:28 reminds us, “Her children rise up and call her blessed.”  We were very blessed to have Mama as mother, mother-in-law and grandmother. Mom Talbert blessed her family by her intelligence, humor, love, and godliness.  Mama, we miss you and look forward to being reunited with you in heaven someday.  Thank you for the godly example you left us.

The Crabapple Tree

Crabapples up closeThe first hints of spring always remind me of the lovely crabapple tree which graced the front yard of our previous home.  With the first breaths of warmth you could almost see the tree stretching her branches and within days little green leaves would pop out in response to the welcome sun.   Soon after, cheerful white blossoms burst forth like lightly buttered popcorn in glorious announcement of a new season of growth.

Not Promising

We first moved into that house in July.  Our first introduction to the tree was not promising. A gnarly trunk, shoots sprouting out of the ground all across the yard, a tangle of leafy boughs, and tall, skinny, leafless branches jutting helter-skelter from various junctions in the tree greeted us.  There were few signs of coming apples, and those wild shoots absorbed the nutrients from the lawn leaving patchy spots all over.

 Visions of Crabapples

I’ve always figured that if God provides something, He would like you to use it. Before me was the anticipation of a crop of crabapples.  “Hmm. What DOES one make out of crabapples?”  After some research (in pre-internet days I might add) I had visions of crabapple juice and crabapple jelly and crabapple sauce and crabapple crisp – you get the idea.

This Tree Needs Some Serious Pruning

Bud worked his way through college as a landscaper.  He shook his head as he looked at the crabapple tree and told me, “That tree needs some serious pruning!  You’re not going to have any crabapples to make anything with unless this tree is pruned.”  “And” he added, “You probably will not like the way it looks when I first prune it.”

And boy, did he prune it!  When he called me out to look at his work I was horrified.  No shoots, no boughs, no skinny branches and no leaves were left, only three sad looking stumpy, naked branches protruded from the trunk.  “You’ve killed my tree!”  I gasped.

 Without Pruning, No Apples

Then my husband explained the purpose of pruning.  The gardener plucks, cuts, and pulls away all of the useless growth which sucks nourishment away from the tree.  Instead of drawing nutrients to help apples grow, my out-of-control crabapple tree was using up energy to grow sprouts and shoots which would never bear fruit.  Left untouched, the tree would never produce a proper crop of apples as it was designed to do.

 Delightful Results of Pruning

The first year after pruning the tree had amazingly begun to grow back, but still needed shaping and more pruning.  There weren’t many apples that year, but the tree and lawn looked much better.  However the second year, and the years after that, the tree was well-shaped, and full of apples, delighting us each spring with its blossoms, and blessing us each autumn with ample fruit.

 Spiritual Pruning

Sometimes we forget that we are under the care of the Master Gardener.  We find ourselves spending our time and energy on unprofitable pursuits and the Lord needs to step in and ‘prune’ us.  He cuts and trims and shapes us to be more conformed to the image of Christ.

These past few months of unresolved health issues have helped me to think about this process more.  Before my mobility challenges I filled my time with ‘doing’ things in the Christian community.  My health issues have forced me to think more about ‘being’ in a proper relationship with God and allow Him to make clear what He wants me to do with the limited time and energy I end up with.

 Cutting Away Useless Things

A number of useless things have been stripped away these past months – from my thinking, my behavior, and my ministries.  Instead God has been teaching me to ‘Be still, and know that I am God.”  I am more careful now to go to Him in prayer for others and for direction on what He wants me to do.

 Fruit-Bearers for Him

Sometimes we just wish God would leave us alone and stop all of the painful pruning He brings into our lives.  But this would not be the consistent with His character.  By stripping away all of the useless branches which waste our time and energy, God is shaping us to be fruit-bearers for Him.  By God’s grace when seasons of pruning come to our lives we can honor God, learn the lessons He has for us, and be a blessing to the body of Christ.

Prairie Pride

Snow in the darkBlizzard!

The snow swirled angrily around us as we inched along a remote western Canadian highway in the darkened solitude of a late December evening. Returning from my father’s funeral in Ohio, our third parent to die in six months, we were oh-so-weary and yearning for home.  Soon the winds began to howl, driving the blinding snow across an obliterated prairie landscape.  A blizzard!  Bud could no longer see anything but white; we had to get off the road and stay off until the storm passed.

Following the reddish blur of a 16 wheeler’s taillights we pulled into a parking lot where a bevy of truckers were gathered discussing the blizzard. “Supposed to last all night.”  “They’ve closed the road ahead due to zero visibility.”  “Guess we’ll park here and wait out the storm.”

Prairie Pride

Behind a dimly lit old convenience store was an equally dimly lit derelict building bearing a flickering sign  ‘Prairie Pride Motel.’[1]  Even through the snowy blast it was obvious that whatever pride had once been there was long gone. I was dubious about getting a room in such a run-down looking place, but Bud had been driving for over twelve hours and was exhausted.  And we certainly did not want to sleep in the car during a blizzard.

A single light bulb swinging crookedly from a wire in the ceiling threw wisps of light across the narrow interior hallway. Scraped and scuffed, the room doors hung loosely from their hinges, as if the slightest puff of wind would dislodge them from their frames.  A skeletal middle-aged woman, cigarette dangling from her lips, ignored us as she carelessly slouched over the cleaning cart she propelled down the hall.  This was not promising.

Where’s the Pride?

Well, we reasoned, maybe the rooms themselves were in better shape.  Ha! Ever watch one of those spy movies where the hero has to hide out in a decrepit old building in some bleak place like Siberia?  A set designer could not have created a more convincing setting for that kind of scene than our lodgings that night.

Our room was ‘decorated’ in early garage sale with no two pieces of furniture or linens matching anything else.  A microwave with the glass door bashed in sat on a rickety table and two double beds slumped against opposite walls.  Totally worn out, Bud dropped onto one of beds and fell asleep.

Our daughters lead me over to the overstuffed armchair.  “Here, Mom, you rest while we tidy up.” Gratefully I sank down in it…all the way to the floor!  Choking down our laughter (we did not want to wake Bud up!) I thrust my arms up while the girls each grabbed an arm and, with Herculean effort and a modicum of noise, hauled me out of the chair.

Still Looking for that Pride

I wanted to freshen up after the long drive but the bathroom …..well let’s just say some abandoned gas stations had cleaner bathrooms than this place.  I carefully examined the well-worn face cloth and took the plunge to wash my face and hands.  No way was I getting into the shower which was a graveyard to generations of entomological specimens and boasted multiple layers of dirt.

After shoving a rickety chair up under the doorknob (at least the clattering chair would wake us up if someone huffed and puffed and blew the door in!) I gingerly sat on the edge of the bed trying to figure out how to lie down without rolling to the middle or disturbing my husband. My weary mind finally settled on a plan – balance my torso on the very edge of the mattress and hang an arm and a leg off the bed so I would not roll to the middle. (OK – here I tried not to think about what might be under the bed that would find dangling appendages enticing.) The girls covered me with my coat (no way was I going to sleep between the sheets!) while I tried to settle in for some rest.

This Place Did Not Live Up to Its Name

The stuffy room reeked of smoke so, despite the bitter cold, our daughters opened the window.  Ah! Fresh air!  A parking lot light brightened  the room allowing me to watch with weary amusement as the two girls finally laid down to get some sleep, each promptly rolling to the middle of the bed while the sides of the mattress flipped up engulfing them like a giant tortilla.

Arms and legs thrashing about they finally figured out how to balance themselves so sleep might be possible.  Soon all was silent…..for a few moments.  Two truckers walking around outside stopped directly under our open window and began arguing – loudly.  What a night!

We slept fitfully that night and were relieved to find the storm had passed before we drove off early the next morning.  A parting irony was the hand-scribbled sign taped to the office door:  ‘No Vacancy – (Tonight Only.)’  As if!

We Bear the Sign ‘Christian’

Since that experience our family has used the phrase ‘Prairie Pride’ to describe anything which sounds like one thing but delivers something entirely different. Not one thing about that location offered anything which a typical traveler would call pride.

I began thinking about how we can wear the sign of ‘Christian’ and yet sometimes not live or act as Christians should.  Like it or not people hold us to a higher standard when they know we are believers.

And they should, and so should we.  Our standard is God’s Word.  Not culture, not personal opinion, not ‘flavor of the day’ theological ideas, but the Word of God.  We are to model ourselves after the person of Christ and be Christians, or ‘little Christs.”

Is Your Sign a Joke?

snow

When we saw the ‘Prairie Pride’ sign we had certain expectations that some pride would be taken in how our room looked.  When that was not the case the name seemed to be a joke. When others see the ‘sign’ Christian, what do they expect?  Something that follows a biblical standard.  What do they actually see? Are we a joke to them because we say we are Christians and behave in an ungodly way?

We should not be surprised when someone rejects Christ and Christianity because of Christians’ blatantly ungodly choices.  Let’s NOT be like that.  We need to ask God to help us live out our name Christian in every aspect of our lives.  Unlike the Prairie Pride which did not live up to its name, by God’s grace we can be Christians who do live up to theirs!


[1] There are several reputable (and clean) motels bearing the same name.

Thanks for Your Godly Influence, Mom!

Janet Zook circa 1950 001It’s funny how the older you get, the more you appreciate your parents. Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.  I wish she was still here for me to talk with, and thank, and ask all of those questions about her life that I never thought to ask when she was living.

I Learned a Lot from My Mom

I learned a lot from my mom.  She wasn’t perfect and she would be the first one to tell you that.  But she loved the Lord and tried to serve Him with every fibre of her being.

Mom taught me many practical things:  make your bed before breakfast; turn out the light when you leave a room; close the door when you come in; work hard; recycle; do your chores first; enjoy God’s natural beauty; don’t fight with your sister. (Sorry sis, I did not do very well with this when we were young. Love you!)

My mother was very organized.  Before her marriage she had been secretary to the president of a company.  Dad with his military background teasingly alternated between calling her the General and Sarge.  Mom was thrifty, kept everything clean – loved to do laundry and hang it outside to dry (saves money and smells better) – kept impeccable finances, and was a stickler for punctuality.

“Look It Up!”

Mom would type our papers for us as long as we had the piece word perfect and would dictate the entire thing to her as she typed.  No composing on the fly for us and absolutely no help with spelling.  “Mom, how do you spell ____?”  “Look it up. The dictionary is on the coffee table.”  Now to my childish mind that did not seem logical.  How can I look up how to spell it if I don’t know how to spell it?  Well guess what?  Not only did my spelling improve, so did my vocabulary and skill in using resource materials.

She had a whole stable of these pithy sayings she would throw out when we were trying to wheedle our way out of or into something.  “Mom, can I do (something ridiculous or dangerous)?”  Then I would make the big mistake of saying, “Everybody else is doing it.”  She would shoot back, “If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you jump off too?  Of course not.”  And then to ensure we had something profitable to occupy our time she would add something like, “Now go weed the garden.”

Spiritual Influence

The biggest influence mom had on me was spiritual.  My mother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 29.  It threw her life and marriage into a tizzy. She tried to find herself by studying with a cult but my dad sensed something false in it and forbade her from continuing.

In His providence God placed Christian neighbors on both sides of our house.  One day while chatting over the hedge, our neighbor lady told mom that she needed the Lord.  Mom started going to church with this lady and trusted Christ as her Savior from sin.  She started taking my sister and me to church with her, and one Sunday after church mom lead me to the Lord.

Mom’s illness was severe and though she was very careful and very regimented, it was extremely hard to control.  While her illness limited her at times, it never defined her.  Mom’s practice was to be church for all of the services.  Even as she struggled with the effects of cancer in her last years, Mom was in church until she could no longer go anywhere.

Saved to Serve

During our growing up years my mother served the body of Christ.  She would teach Sunday School, host neighborhood Bible clubs, teach VBS, entertain missionaries, help in ladies groups and serve in the choir.  After my sister and I were grown, Mom began selling Tupperware.  At one time she was number eight in sales for the entire US but always clearly told her co-workers and clients she was doing the job to help support missionaries and would never hold a Tupperware party on Wednesday nights or Sundays so she could be in God’s house.

Small Spaces – Large Devotion

The biggest example my mom left with me was that of devotion to God.  Our house was tiny.  Aside from the living room, kitchen and laundry area there were two little bedrooms, one very small bathroom, no attic, and no basement.  My dad worked shift work and would often be sleeping while the rest of us were awake. Finding a place to be alone with the Lord was a challenge for Mom.  She bought a narrow, short bookcase and placed it in the bathroom.  In it she placed her Bible, devotional books, hymnal and missionary prayer letters.  Mom would rise early, lock herself in the bathroom and meet with the Lord.  Every day.  Without fail.

A godly heritage.  A godly example.  A godly mother. I’m grateful for this blessing.  Much of this was done before my father ever professed Christ.    Thanks for all you taught me mom.  I pray that we can have the same kind of influence on our children. Wish I could tell you face to face……..someday I will!

The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace

The Excellent Wife a Biblical Perspective by Martha Peace is a book I recommend for Christian women today. Based on Proverbs 31, the book deals clearly and succinctly with the biblical pattern for Christian women in numerous areas of life.

 

The twenty-one chapters of the book are divided into four sections. Section one contains six chapters and deals with the Christian’s broader understanding of basic truths such as God, sin, God’s pattern for relationships, and understanding God’s purpose in marriage. The second section, also six chapters, focuses more directly on the wife’s responsibilities: to Christ, in her home, to love in a godly manner, and scriptural respect. Delving deeper into the Scriptures, Mrs. Peace examines five aspects of biblical submission in section three. Included in this section are chapters dealing with the tongue, a quiet spirit, and God’s purpose for submission. The final four chapters hone in on sin problems women frequently face, what God says about them, and how to overcome them in a godly manner.

The Excellent Wife is a biblically based women’s Bible study book. The women in our church expressed great appreciation for the book and its emphasis. Our study group included married ladies, teens, single and divorced women. Because Mrs. Peace takes great pains to support all she says with the clear teaching of the Bible, there is great benefit for all age groups and categories.

The companion study guide that is available is divided into twenty-four lessons corresponding with chapters or portions of chapters in the book. The guide poses simple questions based on the text and specific scriptures. Each lesson also contains thought provoking personal questions requiring the student to apply what has been taught in that section.

The Excellent Wife is currently in print and can be purchased from local Christian bookstores as well as from book services such as CBD. Its biblical focus and thought provoking presentation make it well worth reading and adding to your library.