I Miss My Mama

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One of the first serious books that I ever read was Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. As a fifth-grader it came at a pivotal time in my life. I had issues with my self-worth that were awful. In the third grade I had encephalitis, an extremely dangerous illness. Statisticians say that 50% of its sufferers die and 80% have permanent brain damage. Whether the latter is true or not is up to you, but it did put me behind in school. Unfortunately I was also one of the youngest in my class with a birthday less than a week from the next grade’s cut-off.

To compound things, either due to encephalitis or not, I also had a difficult time saying a “th” sound and earned the ignominious nickname of “Fim” because of it. I do know that much of my memory before the age of eight is simply blocked out due to the high fever that I had. If it weren’t for my dear Aunt Florence tutoring me in the fifth grade I would never have caught up in school. She also re-taught me how to tell time and tie my shoes, abilities evidently erased by my illness. There were plenty of deficiencies I ingeniously compensated for until her tutoring. However, before you begin to think that I wasn’t that bright to begin with, don’t forget the Magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

But, it was The Red Badge of Courage that helped me turn the corner inside my own head. The book’s hero, Henry Fleming, was an anti-hero of sorts, a lad too young to have to face war and maiming. Henry Fleming was real. I could identify with him. He went through the stages of being scared, a deserting coward, cocksure in false bravado, gutsy under fire, and in the end became a wise veteran who knew that the golden sunlight of peace was a better goal than a red badge of combat. He had earned his stripes, so to speak. As for me, I still run the gamut of all these stages. At least Henry Fleming remains a model of someone who makes it to the finish line.

So are Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and every other saint I can think of. The most common characteristic besides faith in all the saints is a set-apart life, a sense of vocation unmitigated by divided loyalties. Saints are ordinary people who dare to do what God says. Because that is so rare is the reason we call these special people “saints.” How many saints are still among us? I better not name names, but in my mind many of you qualify. More than anyone my Mother was my hero. Wow, did she love! She lived it. She helped people, legally adopted an mentally-challenged African-American man into our family. I cannot begin to name the ways that she championed the Golden Rule. I miss her so much. Maybe it’s because I have a birthday coming in a week or so, or because of what she sacrificed for me to even be born at age 39 and the gestational diabetes that turned into the real thing which changed her life forever and caused her to die far too young.

Who’s your inspirational saint, and do you emulate them? Do you ever watch ABC’s TV show, “Extreme Makeover:Home Edition”? It’s my Sunday Night inspiration for the week in terms of doing something good for deserving people. The stories of the recipient families are amazing and touching. I am amazed at how whole communities want to say “Thank you!” to the saints in their midst. I also like the ways that the marvelous gifts of the Design Team are matched so perfectly with the families’ needs is a joy to witness. It’s a show that reminds me of a little bit of heaven on earth: the good guys actually finish first! It’s a good reminder before facing another week where our reality too often resembles a less than stellar outcome. The Design Team members are heroes for putting others before self.

This is our saintly mission, too. This is our race to run with Jesus as player/coach and the Holy Spirit as dynamic energizing cheerleader. God wants us to make it to the finish line and hear those long-awaited words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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