A touchstone is a fine-grained piece of jasper used to determine the purity of gold by the color of the mark it leaves when rubbed against it. We have faith in the mark. We also use the term in other aspects of life to describe the standard by which we judge things, people, and circumstances.
Last week my mother died, one week after her sister Shirley died, and 3 months after the death of my sister-in-law, Kelli. This could very well be the story of three families who all lost their mother. We are all coping with the overwhelming sadness of dealing with a new normal.
But, rather than write about my mother’s death, or the death of others, I would like to share with you a story about my mother’s faith, and her love.
A Reminder of Faith
My mother shared her love and faith in God with other people openly and warmly, without fear or regret. A few days ago, while eating lunch with my father at a local restaurant, he bowed his head, as if my mother were sitting next to him – he said a prayer over his food, no doubt hearing my mother’s voice in his head as I did in my own, and he said “amen” before eating. It was a touchstone moment in my life – one that I will never forget. It was a reminder of the influence my mother had in all of our lives.
Another such moment occurred in 1973. Our family moved to southern Florida a few years earlier after my father accepted a new position with IBM. I enjoyed living in Florida as a young man. There was plenty for a boy to do. My friends and I went fishing, explored abandoned orange groves, caught possum, and of course we went fishing, we even caught alligators using only a fishing bobber – when we weren’t fishing. Okay, so I liked to fish. My mother tolerated my Tom Sawyer antics in the canals and orange groves giving me room to grow in my own skin. “If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t care” she said to me on numerous occasions as she counseled me to be mindful of the choices I made in life.
A Hurricane Is Coming
I was not yet 9 years old, sharing a room with my younger brother. We lived in a cinder block concrete reinforced home that was built to withstand a hurricane, as was the practice of most homes in Florida at the time. I didn’t quite fully comprehend what this meant, until we were faced with our first actual hurricane. I remember my father closing the metal window grates on my bedroom window and locking them in place. He used tape on the patio sliding doors, to give them extra strength against high winds, and to hold them in place should they break. My mother placed emergency provisions in containers, enough to feed the family for a week, as well as gear that we typically used when on camping trips. I then made the mistake of watching the news on the television – and the local weather forecast. The fear and dread of the preparations combined with the images shown on television with warnings of flooding, death, and chaos were horrific to me. It had become too real.
After taking my bath and getting dressed – I knelt beside my bed and started to pray, but not the child’s prayer as was my habit. The fear of the oncoming hurricane overwhelmed me – and I cried for God to help me. “Please Lord, don’t kill the hurricane – just make it turn to the north. I don’t want to die. I don’t want our house to be destroyed.” As I was kneeling beside my bed with tears rolling down my cheeks, my mother passed my room. She stopped. “Jeff? What’s wrong?” she asked. I told her that I was scared of the hurricane, I was asking God to turn the hurricane away from us. She said something from the book of Matthew, “Where ever two or three are gathered in my name, there shall I be also.” and then she knelt down beside me and said, “Let’s pray together.”
God Is In Control
And so, we prayed together there beside my bed. After praying, my mother tucked me in bed and told me to sleep without worry because God was with me and He was in control.
You might think that my story would end there.
I was awoken in the night a few hours later with my mother standing over me. She was in tears. She told me that she couldn’t sleep and had continued to pray and she needed to tell me something. “Jeff, I need you to know that I gave your soul to God tonight. He is in control of your life. You are His now and He will work through you.” She stayed with me for a while and told me that she loved me, and that I should seek to know God. She tucked me back in bed and told me to go back to sleep.
The next morning I awoke to bright sunshine. Sometime during the night, the storm that was fast approaching the coast of Florida had turned north.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Coincidence is just God’s way of staying anonymous.
A couple of nights before her death, I knelt alone beside my mother and held her hand. I told her that I loved her and reminded her of that night those many years ago, when a young boy prayed to turn a hurricane. The memory of that night is a touchstone moment of my life and it had never left my mind, and I often thought of her gift to me. I cried then and there like a little boy trying to turn a hurricane, but my prayer was one of love and seeking divine guidance and assistance. The attending angels from Heaven were asked to guard my mother and help her if she asked.
To those suffering or now reminded of a recent loss, to the families of my aunt, my sister-in-law, and lost friends of family and others who also are in pain – I grieve with you. I remember my mother as a woman of faith, who was willing to offer the soul of her son for His purpose. She did so with love. She did so with faith.
I promise you this. The morning will come. These dark clouds will part and sunshine will greet us in a new day, with new hope, and a new life. Our life on earth, though it be short and bereft, will be healed and whole again. Living a Christ-centered life is more than just going to church. Faith requires a touchstone to know the purity of God’s love. My mother’s love is my touchstone of faith – and shall remain so until I see her again.