Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Mother's Faith

Note: My sister Jane asked me to share a copy of this. She's printed out all the eulogies from my mom's memorial service, which we held down in Florida in August. When I pulled up my piece, I thought some of you might enjoy it, too. The photo is one of my mom as a child. I guess you could call it a publicity photo because it was used on the front of the brochure of the orphanage where she was given up as a child. -- Joanna (aka "Jonie")

My mother built her life around the church. Most recently, she attended healing services on Wednesday, worship on Sunday, and for as long as possible, she volunteered at the church thrift shop.

Back when we lived in Indiana, Mom helped with coffee hour, taught Sunday School and participated in any way possible.

Her goal was to raise us up in the Episcopal Church, but more importantly to teach us how to be good people. All these activities doubtless contributed to who we are today, but the most memorable lesson we derived didn’t come from sitting in the choir—or the Sunday School rooms—or the pews. It came from sitting in our car. The greatest lesson that my mother ever taught me in faith happened when she agreed to give a ride to Elizabeth Taylor.

I can imagine your thoughts: Elizabeth TAYLOR? And I’d guess you are thinking about the famous movie star.

No, not THAT Elizabeth Taylor.

I’m speaking of another Elizabeth Taylor—and trust me, this woman was not movie star material.

This Elizabeth Taylor was a unkempt newcomer who showed up one Sunday at church. Mom quickly learned that Elizabeth lived a block away from us—and didn’t have a car. So my mother volunteered to give Elizabeth a ride to services.

Which would have been well and good except…except that Elizabeth didn’t keep herself very clean. She had a bad case of body odor which she tried to cover up by dousing herself with a cheap and cloying perfume.

Summers in Southern Indiana are hot, muggy and miserable. The only air conditioning our car had was 460 air—four windows down, 60 miles an hour. It didn’t work in town. Between the heat and the closed surroundings, Elizabeth’s presence was especially…ripe.

So, one particularly stinky Sunday, after we got home from services, I started complaining, “Mom, do we HAVE TO give her a ride?”

Then Mom said something that I’ll never forget. She said, “Jonie, how can I sit there in Church, repeat the commandment to love my neighbor, and then, not give that poor woman a ride?”

She taught me a lesson I never forgot.

Some people take the Las Vegas approach to religion. You know what that is. You’ve heard the slogan: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Some people attend church or temple, and leave their religion at the door, as if it were a vestment to be shrugged off on the way to real life. My mom refused to do that.

What my mother taught me was that real faith is messy—and sometimes even stinky--it’s inconvenient, it calls upon us occasionally to put aside our concerns and needs as we care for other people. Let me back that up with scripture:

James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.


Terri Thayer said...

Lovely. What a picture of a woman.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

And can you imagine giving her up? Her mother was an unmarried school teacher. Her father was a married furniture store owner. Her mother didn't want to give her up, but back then, a school teacher would be fired for having a child. The agency said her mother visited her often, held Mama in her arms, and sobbed. Finally, she gave in and signed the adoption papers.

Vicky's Place said...

Joanna, what a touching story. Your mother sounds like she was very special. {{HUGS}}

Kaye George said...

A touching post, Joanna. That picture could be you, strong resemblance. I had a wonderful example in my mom, too. I know you'll always miss her.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, Kaye and Vicky. Mom sure taught me a lot. I think I'm appreciating that now more than ever.

Betty Hechtman said...

The story was touching along with your comments about your mother's parents. Maybe it gave your mother some comfort to know that her mother didn't want to give her up and did love her.

I hope you find like I have, that even with your mother gone in body, she will always be with you in spirit.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Betty, Mom had been told for years that her birth parents died in an auto accident. When my sister had her lovely daughter Lexie, we all started wondering about our genetic lineage. Mom wrote to the adoption agency. She was more horrified than comforted. Being illegitimated really upset first. But Mom being Mom, she quickly recovered, and yes, the story of her mother's Catch-22 and reluctance to give her up was a comfort.