I wrote this letter to my mom, thirty years ago, in September of 1988. I was 29 years old and had been a pastor in North Dakota for 3 years. My mom was 49.
I just read a story in the Bible about something Jesus did that reminded me of you. Jesus' disciples had been arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest. In response to this argument Jesus took a child like Bryce Rothacker being baptized into our Lord’s family this morning, into his arms and told his disciples that this one, small child was greater than all them put together. Jesus said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."
Jesus knew that in his society, children had always been last of all and servant of all. Jesus knew that children had always been completely dependent and thus utterly vulnerable to adult power, not only overt abuse but more often subtle forms of manipulation and control. Jesus knew that the children who were misunderstood, beaten, intimidated, or humiliated would grow into adults who would unconsciously discharge their anger upon those around them who were weaker - the prime candidates being their own children.
Jesus knew that to break the spiral of violence and domination in the world he would have to address the basic social unit, the family, and the violence and domination that is reproduced and passed on from generation to generation in the family. Jesus knew that to bring the kingdom of God into the world, adults would have to learn to accept and respect the integrity of the child.
Parents would have to learn justice and compassion in rearing their children so that the children could carry these Christ-like traits with them into the next generation.
Mom, as I read this story of Jesus putting the child first in his kingdom and holding the child in his arms, I am reminded of my childhood and I am reminded of you.
I remember you always permitting me to make my own decisions. Then when I made a decision to do something or not to do something, you would always encourage me along the way. When I made the decision to go out of state to Kentucky to college, I knew you were skeptical and yet you affirmed that decision and did everything you could to encourage me for the next four years. Your permitting me to make my own choices gave me self-confidence and helped me to become resourceful in my decision-making over the years.
I watched other parents demand the obedience of my friends. Those parents always insisted they were right and their children were always wrong. They had to be in total control of their children and would try to make all of the decisions for their kids. My friends with parents like that would rebel and avoid their parents as much as possible. They were the ones who lacked the ability to make responsible decisions and they lacked self-discipline.
I thank God for a mom who did not need to be in control and who permitted me to make many of my own decisions along the way.
I remember those same parents who thought they had to have total control, also thought they were superior to their children. And so they would pity their children, they would overprotect them, and they would often shame their children. My friends with these kinds of parents would always criticize others because they were constantly being criticized at home. They felt that they were superior to the rest of us and I knew that they would grow up to be just like their parents.
Mom, I thank you for never asserting that kind of superiority. You always treated me as an equal, not any more or any less worthwhile than others. In treating me as an equal you believed in and respected me as a child. You encouraged my independence whether it be in sports, in school, in 4-H, or whatever. I made my own choices and then was expected to make a contribution based on those choices.
Your treating me as an equal helped me to develop self-reliance and responsibility. You helped me to respect myself and others and to believe in equality.
Mom, I know that along the way, especially in high school and college, you had many second thoughts about the freedom you had given me to make my own decisions, to be independent, and to contribute on my own. I made many mistakes and bad decisions in those years and had to learn the hard way many times.
Somehow you realized I would make mistakes and so you never set unrealistically high standards for me. Maybe you knew if you didn't set too high of goals for your children then we would always surpass them.
Even in the midst of my weaknesses and mistakes, you seemed to always focus on my strengths. You always seemed to have an endless store of patience and encouraged me just when I was feeling the most down. You helped me to see my mistakes as a challenge to keep trying. You helped give me the courage to try new experiences and to seek out new challenges to help me grow and mature.
Again, I watched some of my friends whose parents thought that they were perfect themselves and who demanded perfection from their children. Those parents were always finding fault. They were always over concerned with what other people were thinking and saying and would push their children to make themselves look good. And then, of course, their children believed that they were never good enough, and would become perfectionists. Their perfectionism would result in discouragement. The discouragement and perceived failure would lead them to worrying about what other people were thinking and saying about them. It was a vicious cycle.
Thank you mom, for teaching me that I'm human and for giving me the courage to be imperfect and to make mistakes.
Because of the freedom you gave me to make my own decisions, because of you treating me as an equal, because of you giving me the courage to make mistakes, I have now come to believe that all people are important, especially children. I only hope I can pass the belief that all people are important to my children so that they, too, can have good social relationships and learn to respect the rights, freedoms, and independence of others.
I pray that I will not be like those parents of my friends who attempted to enslave their children. I pray that my children will not be caught in poor and selfish social relationships where they do not respect the rights and freedoms of others.
Mom, I know how hard it is for both of us, to be living so far away from one another, you in Ohio and me in N. D. But you must know that I haven't forgotten you and everything that you have stood for in my life.
I must confess that I may have never sat down and put all of this into words if it hadn't have been for that scary Friday morning, Aug. 26, 1988. I will never forget it, Mom.
Here I am on vacation for some R and R in Ohio. You leave early on Friday morning to go pick up grandma and take her to the beauty shop. My brother had finished milking cows and had come over to the house to eat breakfast and pick me up to go back to the farm to do some work. We left the house about five minutes after you had left. You were by yourself because Danette and Rachel had not gotten out of bed early enough to ride along as they had planned.
When we came to the intersection there were cars lined up in both directions and we knew there was an accident. We looked down the road and could see the three cars that had collided on 303 in front of the golf course. Donny said, 'That's Mom's car" and our hearts dropped. We pulled off the road and ran to your car.
I will never forget the feelings of helplessness and fear as I looked into the shattered car and saw you lying there, dripping with blood, and seemingly dead. Finally, two firemen arrived, pulled me away from the car and tried to settle me down. As I watched them ease you out of the car and onto a stretcher, never have I felt so helpless and so afraid. You were limp, and frail, and weak. Never have you looked so small and so vulnerable.
The ambulance finally arrived and the paramedics worked on you for several minutes and then asked you a question. "What hospital do you want to go to?" And you barely opened your eyes and said the magic word, "Southwest." It was magic because now I knew you were alive and there was hope.
And so I rode the longest and most miserable ride of my life in the front of that ambulance to the hospital.
I kept looking back through the window and listening for signs of life. In between the whines of the siren, every once in a while I could hear you groan and your pain was my pain, your moans were my moans and the driver told me to try to settle down after asking me if "I" was all right.
We arrived at the emergency room and they worked on you for a 1/2 hour before I was allowed to see you. I looked down into your big, brown eyes and your face smashed between two pads. You asked me a question, "Am I going to miss the wedding in the morning?" I shook my head, "Yes." Tears began to roll down from your eyes and you said, "I'm never going to get to see you marry anybody."
Once again your tears became my tears, and for the first time, I realized how the miles that separated us between Fargo and Cleveland were causing a deeper pain than even a serious auto accident could cause.
And so I write you this letter to let you know that despite the miles that separate us, you are with me in so many ways and you will remain with me forever; long after this life is finished.
I will always remember the freedom, the encouragement, and the affirmation you gave to me. I will remember your treating me as an equal even to the point of when we would go to restaurants together in high school and college, waitresses would think we were brother and sister rather than mother and son. I will remember your allowing me to be human and to make mistakes and never expecting too much of me. And I will remember the most important lesson of all, that all people are important, especially children.
And so when I read these words from the ninth chapter of Mark, I think of you and I wish that I could have a whole congregation full of Moms like you. But that's not realistic. The best I can do is pass on your story so that the Moms who are like you can smile and say "Amen." And the Moms who think they have to be in control, who thinks they are superior, who expect perfectionism, and who don't believe that all people are important; may those moms be given the strength and the courage to see that these are not the ways of Jesus Christ.
Jesus knew that to bring the kingdom of God into the world, adults would have to change. Moms and Dads would have to learn to accept and respect the integrity of their children. Parents would have to learn justice and compassion in rearing their children so that the children would carry these Christ-like traits into the next generation.
And so Jesus sat down and called the twelve who had just finished arguing about greatness; and he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."
Thank you, Mom.