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A mother’s words linger long

Mothers speak to us from the most unexpected places.

They cast counsel from a banana pudding recipe scrawled on a notecard in 1989, and whisper from the bed of irises you should have divided last fall.

They mumble through your memory and tell you how you’re related to so-and-so, then chime in from your closet, reminding you to never (ever) wear white before Easter. 

And without doubt, they can be heard loud and clear when you ask yourself if writing a thank you note is really necessary.

Of course, it is. (And don’t forget to dust the baseboards when you’re done.) 

Yes, the mother tongue is fluent and formidable, influencing everything from the way we fold towels to the way we pronounce “Louisiana.” In some cases — the best of cases — the influence transcends time and ripples right on through eternity.

Mendenhall resident Christy Rotenberry described such an instance for me recently. Chatting over a plate of catfish and hushpuppies, she made mention of once visiting Francis Schaeffer’s  L’Abri community in Switzerland. My ears perked up at the mention of the famous Christian theologian, and our conversation took a turn, eventually parking in the past — the day before Christy’s mother’s funeral, to be specific.   

That’s when she found the Bible — a large-print King James Version her mother, Kathleen Stephens, marked up while teaching Explorer Bible studies.

“She had lots of Bibles, and it used to sit by her couch, but I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade,” recalls Christy. “She and I went to Explorer Bible studies every Wednesday morning for years at the Methodist Church, and she always had it with her.” Back then, that meant Kathleen would leave behind the concerns of running a clothing store, and Christy would put on hold the work of raising three young daughters. For two hours, they plunged deep into the early history of Israel, Psalms of praise, and the Gospel of John — together.

When Christy rediscovered her mother’s Bible, she made a decision: she’d read it cover to cover. Christy had done that before, but this time she would have Kathleen’s notes, tight longhand that filled the margins and edges of every page, to aid her.

The morning following her mother’s funeral, Christy began with the first chapter of Genesis. She was struck afresh by the description of the newly-created world — its perfection, Adam’s right relationship with God. She shot off a text to her sister about what she read: “This is where Mother is today.” 

A pattern developed. Christy would do her daily reading, then share her mother’s notes. The list of text recipients grew to include not only Christy’s two sisters, but her daughters as well, who range in age from 27 to 33.

“My youngest was at Southern, and it was pouring down rain,” remembers Christy. “We had just been in the chapters about the flood. She joked that she was sure glad God had promised not to destroy the earth again that way. That’s when I knew Nana’s daily insights were having an impact.”

That’s what they call them — Nana’s daily insights — and Christy has been faithfully sending the detailed messages each morning for 15 months. For Christy, who was often sitting beside her mother as the notes were originally penned, it’s been an emotional adventure.

“It’s like she’s still teaching us, as she did all our lives,” Christy says.

They recently finished Proverbs, which means the group is about half-way through their journey. Here are the notes Christy shared for chapter 31 of that book: Six key areas in which a woman can be a blessing — the way she works with her hands (verses 20, 22 and 24), the way she creates a home (verse 21), the way she considers herself (verse 22), the way she invests in her marriage (verse 23), the way she speaks (verse 26) and the way she exercises her faith (verse 30).

Good stuff. Great stuff. 

And an important reminder that a mom’s words linger long and shape generations. So with Sunday just around the corner, I’ll end with a take on verse 28 of that chapter Kathleen so wisely divided: May your children rise up and call you blessed. Happy Mother’s Day.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.