Mother


Made in a quiet land

The heart-land

Indiana small town


Knit by seasons of extremes —

Summers you could wring out like a sponge,

Winters that freeze even breath,

That taught her what can grow in dark silence


Torn by war

That took her father of six across the sea

To the ledge of a bomber’s open door

In the clouds over Normandy


She was not yet three

When he jumped, his purple heart

racing with courage and the fear

that occasions it.


Broken, he lived almost a year

Before the car crash on the way home

to an anniversary dinner


Her grandmother shuffling through the kitchen

Inventing dinner for six fatherless kids

While mom worked late at the department store that would hire her


Some nights, Dandelion soup, or whatever

was the in basket the church friends left

on the stoop. Her grandmother stirring, but singing still:


I will cherish the old rugged cross

Till my glory at last I lay down

I will cling to the old rugged cross

And exchange it someday for a crown


A theology of suffering. A God not hidden from,

indifferent to pain and need, but in it.


But that heart. That purple heart. Dad’s gift:

Quiet, stubborn, rebel courage


Drove her in a beat-up Ford Pinto

Salvaged from the wreck of a first love

All the unlikely way

To California.


She got a room in Laguna

Ran on the beach

Ate bran muffins

Dressed in hemp

Let her hair grow big and frizzy and free

Her legs strong and tan


Rebel hope in her future

Studied at a Fullerton J. C.

Until state residency,

Afforded UC Irvine –

Water microbiology, social ecology

(It was the ‘70’s)


Her senior year, an Oxford fellowship offer

And a night at a bar (she always called a restaurant)

In Huntington Beach

Some bold, afro-ed guy who just wouldn’t take no

To an afternoon on his sailboat.


A rocky few months,

Then each, on their own, freshly awake to God,

To each other. A weekend in San Francisco.

A ring, and a prayer.


Two kids she made her masterpiece.

A home that echoed with her core belief in beauty

And a God of beauty, a God of the body, of the here and now, a God who is here.


Who is a host extraordinare.

Who created bodies, revels in satisfying and surprising all senses,

Who spreads a table to which everyone — everyone — is invited,

and invited again, and again, and again,

Who invites us to set a table.


So she became an extravagant host

Of tea parties

Slumber parties

Imaginative birthdays

Christmas eve dinners

Tuesday night dinners

One never knew when the good china might appear.


Ceremony. At any and every possible occasion.

Because so much to celebrate.

Because she came from so little. And learned how to make much of it.


So sit up straight.

Know when to use what silverwear.

Cook. With fresh not frozen!

Give a strong hand-shake.

Send thank-you notes.

Care for the luckless.

And If you want to wear jeans to Grandma’s house, you better be ready for that battle.


Act like other people are incandescent, immortal beings. Because they are.


She taught this to second and third graders

For 10 years, once the kids left for college,

Downtown Long Beach. Compton.


The school budget was never big enough

For her creativity. A good part of her paycheck

Bought books, backpacks, ‘desk things’ for kids

Whose parents couldn’t, or didn’t, read

homework, report cards conference requests


Endlessly exasperated. Endlessly recommitted. Ten years.

She loved them, as us, with a launching love.


To let off steam, she started running. At 50.

Seriously. 5 miles a day.

Non-negotiable.

Within a year, winning her age-group in 5K’s


Alzheimer’s at the age of 63 should make anyone rage

With anger, frustration, depression.

She only got sweeter.


Let herself become a child.

Let herself be cared for magnificently, completely, creatively by her own son.

Let her son, Ryan, become her best friend.


She never lost her sass,

Her love of movement,

her identity as a mother — adopting teddy bears and a doll she had bought in France,

Or her sense of the God who is here,

Worthy of awe, but in the thick of pain and brokenness.


Still, because she believed in BOTH/AND,

both joy and grief,

Both suffering and celebration —

she sang

to the God whose promise to her now is kept:

This promise:

I am the resurrection. And the life.