Grace was in her steps . . . Heaven in her eyes

Motherhood was God’s idea. He purposefully created women to carry, give birth to, nurse, nurture, teach, and tenderly love their children in a way unique to women. It was His plan that a bond of unconditional love be forged between mother and child that would bridge any divide, face down any storm and last for eternity. I am blessed to not only have had a wonderful mother of my own but several wonderful “mothers” in my life.

My Mother

Clara Mae Avery 1923-1995

My mother was a simple, hardworking homemaker who loved her children. She was a genuine saint who loved God until it showed.  She was ever present, always encouraging, never demeaning, faithful in prayer and always ready to laugh. Mother taught me so much about practical Christianity. She also instilled a sense of confidence in me that was far beyond my capacity to perform. The following two quotes capture some of what she meant to me and what she did for me.

“I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” (John Wesley)

“When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” (Pablo Picasso)

Her Mother and Mine

Virginia Vernon 1918-2012

My mother-in-law had one of the most gentle, selfless and soft spoken personalities of any women I ever knew – yet that softness covered a frame of pure unbendable steel.  Granny was a sharecropper’s daughter, a mother of eight (three in diapers at one time) a pastor’s wife, a missionary stateswoman, well read, a fantastic speller, a caregiver (eleven years to an invalid husband), a long term widow and all the while her children’s loving mother. She faced the normal trials of life plus: open heart surgery, Parkinson’s, a broken hip (that left her bedfast for ten years) partial blindness and much loneliness. Yet I never, ever heard her complain or whine! She never lost her sense of humor – even at age 94. She was a great role model!

Their Mother

Rebecca Ruth (Vernon) Avery

My wife and the mother of my children is almost an exact replica of her mother. She is witty, selfless, others oriented, extremely well read, hardworking, holds confidences (and her tongue), lives for her family, is prayerful and supportive. She has a very single devotion to her faith, her family and her husband. Watching her in action as she raised our two sons was a joy. She read to them and later with them – constantly. She taught them to read and write before they ever attended school. Their achievements today must largely be credited to the lessons they learn at her knee.

Other Mothers

Dot Brown, Mary Stetler

My mother suffered a massive stroke the night before I was installed as president of GBS. My parents had traveled to Cincinnati with me to share in this special day but mother never made it to the Hilltop. She lived only six months after the stroke. After her death, two godly women became “mothers” to me. Dot Brown, a retired nurse and my first Dean of Women, was one of those rare discerning saints who always seem to have the right piece of advice at just the right time. Her counsel and support were priceless. And then there was Mary Stetler. Mary Stetler came to me shortly after my mother died and said, “I know you have lost the woman that prayed for you every day. I want you to know I am going to pray for you now” – and she has!

No one can take the place of your own dear mother but I am so grateful for the wonderful mothers God has providentially placed in my life. So to them and to all of the wonderful mothers who will read this, I honor you with a quote from   John Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye, in every gesture dignity and love.” Happy Mother’s Day!


Surprised By Joy Again

–April of 2007

Surprised By Joy Again

For over thirty years, I have been on the most wonderful journey with Jesus that any Christian could desire.  Yet for most of that time I have been somewhat perplexed by joy.  Joy is a recurring theme in the New Testament and is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit.  It is clearly one of the graces of the Christian life. The Apostle Peter refers to knowing Christ as “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” The apostle’s statement sounds to me like an “ecstasy of overflowing happiness.”   Yet, in all honesty, I have had only brief encounters with anything that would fit this description. Furthermore, though I have met many pleasant and happy Christians, I have not met very many who seemed to possess such a state of life. My muddled mind kept posing two questions: “Is there something deficient in me?” or “Is there a problem with my definition of joy?”

A window of insight opened for me while probing around in John 13-17.  These five chapters record one evening in the life of Jesus and His disciples — not just any evening, but the last one they spent together before His death on the cross.  He has so many things to tell them that they haven’t yet understood.  In solemn tones He shares with them what is soon to happen.  He tells of Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial and speaks plainly of His departure back to the Father.  He warns of tribulations, hatred by the world, and times of sorrow so extreme that He compares it to the labor pains of birthing. The disciples reel emotionally as they try to comprehend such news. Yet running through this dialogue of despair is the recurring theme of joy!

As I dug around in these verses and their context I discovered two very important insights.  The first is that joy is both a feeling and a condition.   As a condition, joy is the assurance of faith that we are acceptable to God and the knowledge that God’s good providences are working on our behalf.  This joy is an inner comfort and confidence in God. It is untouched by outward circumstances and is not diminished by pain and sorrow.

As a feeling, joy is a kind of ecstasy or overflowing happiness.  C.S. Lewis said that “peace was joy at rest and joy was peace dancing.”  The feeling of joy is simply a graced moment whose duration may be brief or remain for an indeterminate amount of time.

The second insight I found was that Jesus gave His disciples a basis for their joy.  Actually, He anchored their joy to three things, three things that provide everything that both they and we need in order to have joy under any circumstances. 1. Love and acceptance.  In John 15 Jesus assured them of their connectedness to Him, of His unconditional love for them, and of His constant presence with them through the Holy Spirit. 2. Purpose and hope.  John 14-17 unveils His unfolding purpose for these and all future disciples.  It is a mission that includes trials and rejection, but more importantly divine enablement and inevitable victory.  3. Security.   John 17 allows us to listen to Jesus praying that we may be “kept from the evil one” and “may be with Me where I am.”   With these truths for an anchor no wonder Jesus proclaimed that their – and our – joy could be full!

The insight gained here in John helped me understand James’s statement, “Count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations.”  It also gave new meaning to Hebrews 12:2, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross….”  C.S. Lewis wrote in another context of being “surprised by joy.”  Well, another seeker on the journey for truth has once again been surprised by joy!