“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 1 Tim. 1:7

When I was 13 years old, a girl from a poor family in our church got married. Her parents couldn’t afford a reception, so the staff wives decided to do it for her as a gift. Upon learning that a bakery cake would exceed their budget, my mother told the others, “That’s okay, my daughter is very creative – she can make the cake.” The next day she presented me with a set of decorating tools and commissioned me for the task. I objected on the grounds that I had never even made a cake, much less decorated one. She answered, “Not to worry. I got you a book.”

To this day, I shudder to think of how hideous that 3-layer cake looked. But to Mom, it rivaled the Sistine Chapel as a work of art. From that day on I became the official cake maker for all the birthdays, receptions and weddings for our church, family and friends. Seven years later, while serving as a summer missionary in Oregon, our team helped with a huge 4th of July evangelistic outreach event. Someone on the food committee remarked, “If only we could find a way to decorate all these cupcakes.” So I found myself decorating for the Lord. Upon hearing about it, Mom responded, “Now see? I knew God had a reason for wanting you to decorate cakes.”

My mother’s motto has always been, “You never know until you try.” She believed that God had a purpose for everything he allowed us to learn, and that we weren’t being good stewards of our gifts if we failed to identify them. Regardless of subject or skill set, she would always respond to any expression of interest with, “Why don’t you give it a try?”

Sometimes Mom didn’t even wait for us to develop our own interests. If she got an idea in her head, she’d push it onto us until we gave in. That is why I’m a pianist now. Mom told 6-year old me that I would have so much fun playing piano and started me in lessons. (She omitted the part about hours of practice.) Mom was sure God wanted me to become a writer. That’s why I’ve been contributing to denominational publications for 48 years. Although I sometimes cringed when she broached a new idea, I invariably caved and gave it a try. Very often I failed miserably, but she would cheerfully observe, “Well, now you know.” And more often than not, I stumbled upon talents or skills that yielded years of enjoyment and satisfaction. Why not make quilts for my grandkids? How hard can it be? Why not take up photography? What fun it could be! Why not learn Hebrew to enhance Bible study? Okay, that didn’t go well, but Greek and Latin proved more manageable.

I feel like all the best things I know how to do came from Mom’s optimistic encouragement. She herself never stopped exploring and learning, and it was all for the sake of Christian service and love. She expanded her gifts to widen the scope of her witness. She was a living model of what people these days call a “growth mindset.” As a college student she helped pioneer a fledgling Baptist Student Ministries program on three different Arkansas campuses. As a pastor’s wife, and later when Dad joined a seminary faculty, she opened her home to all kinds of people, feeding and housing both large groups and individuals. At age 45 she left teaching and went back to school to become a certified medical assistant. She subsequently managed an office for a group of surgical oncologists. Her patients responded so positively to her ministry that the doctors sent her to a local seminary for additional pastoral care courses. She traveled the world and lavished motherly care on missionaries and nationals on foreign fields, collecting friends and surrogate children wherever she went. Everything and everyone interested her. Her eagerness for new experiences never flagged.

We lost Mom on May 25, just a month ago. She fell in the kitchen and hit her head on the floor. Five days later she was gone. Just like that. I’m still recalibrating. I’m in that initial stage of loss where everything seems surreal. She was just here, and now she’s not. How is that possible? I have to slap the phone away each time my fingers start dialing her number to share bursts of joy or absurdity that delight her so.

As the eldest daughter, I suddenly find myself on the front line, facing the gaping void our family’s matriarch filled. I know I can’t wear those shoes. I can’t match the wisdom and energy from which Mom dispensed limitless prayer and care and concern and support for each one of us, from youngest to oldest. But what I can do is try. Mom trained me to meet each challenge head on, to do my best with what I have, without fear or excuse. I will continue to seek new goals and experiences. I will continue stretching myself to grow and learn. I will continue hurling myself into this adventure of living life to its greatest possible fullness, because I had the best teacher ever, and because this is her gift and legacy to me.

One Comment

  1. Sandy Low

    Precious Vivian, your words have such love, warmth with a beautiful peace and encouragement about them. I could actually hear your mum’s voice in some of the things you wrote. Bobbie was an amazing lady, friend, surrogate mum to us, full of encouragement, love and a blessing to all! You could not have had a better teacher and what a legacy to carry on. You will do this in an amazing way and it will become your legacy too.
    Thank you for accepting us into ‘the family’ and being part of our lives. Blessings always, with loads of love, Sandy

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