In our family growing up, this was always an anomaly. You see, all the males in our family – Dad, Ray, Tim and Randy – had their birthdays in the winter (January – March), and the girls (Robin, Lisa, Julie and Amy) had their birthdays in the summer (June-August). That left only one person outside those parameters. Mom had her birthday on October 4. I always thought that to be a bit off, but since I wasn’t on the Committee for the Decision of Birthdays, October 4th it was.
I wish you would have known Mom. Your life would have been richer as a result. Now sure, I suppose most of us would say that about our mothers, at least I hope that the way each person’s mother lived, and the way each of us shows respect would make that happen. I just know that this was a person of singular character and love. As an adult, living in the framework of a life as an air force wife, with the expectation of moving about every four years or so, and moving across country, or across the world was certainly a challenge. Then, to do that all the while herding seven children of varying hardnesses of heads, and each with their own needs and wants vaults her pretty close to sainthood, if we did that in the United Methodist Church.
Mom earned her bachelor’s degree in education, and actually taught school for a couple of years, until Ray turned up. That was in the early 50s, which meant the standard when you were a mother with children meant that the husband/father earned the pay, and you created the family, and grew the children. Sure, Dad was there for much of it, but the everyday, hands-on work fell to Mom. So she remained a homemaker, with an eventual class of seven.
As we were going through the house after her death a couple of years ago, and were sorting out all the “stuff” of our home, we started to realize that many of the games, and puzzles and other activities that we learned to do all came from an educational resources company. Wasn’t that just like Mom, to sneak in formative educational tools into our playtime! But education was in her blood. I think that was probably the reason she taught Sunday school for probably 50 years or more, teaching a class of some elementary age at whatever base we found ourselves. Of course, the chaplains loved the fact that the Crosses added 9 persons to their regular worship and Sunday School roles! But I remember when she was in her upper 80s, that she would talk about teaching the Bible Story portion of a rotating Sunday school program, and how she would sit on the floor with the kids sitting or lying on big pillows, and she would recreate the stories that they would never forget. One time, when I visited home and went to church with Mom, it was a wonderful surprise to see these tall, sometimes bearded young men come up to her, and say, “Hi Mrs. Cross – do you remember me?” And of course, she did, and always had stories for each boy or girl, and a question they once asked, or how they needed “encouragement” to sit still for a bit longer than they wanted. I hadn’t realized I shared her mothering with generations of church kids. And her face always beamed when she would get a hug from one of them, now adults.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before, but when I would visit from time to time after Dad’s death, I would notice she loved to watch golf on television. It seemed kind of a funny pastime for her, but she would say more than once how she always thought that would have been a great hobby to take up, and actually, after we moved back from Australia, and all the kids were in some kind of school, she thought very seriously about getting some clubs and making her way. She actually thought she would be pretty good at it. That was when they had six kids. Then Amy showed up, and the dream of golfing went back in the closet, and she never played a game. I was always a bit saddened when I thought about that – how much indeed she gave up of the things she would have like to do, just for Ruth’s sake, instead of taking care of someone else.
Now, she (and Dad too) did fill our home with all sorts of crafts and hobbies. I thought that was just normal, but I grew to be amazed at how many things she tried, attempted and mastered over the years. Ceramics, leather working, calligraphy, scrapbooking, Asian paper making, metal working, jewelry making – she one time even thought she should try out goldsmithing, but fortunately, the cost was a bit prohibitive, so she instead tended herb gardens, and grew roses and all sorts of other potted and planted green things around the backyard, with the obligatory Christmas cactus, and African orchids setting up residence in the large kitchen window.
That, and crossword puzzles. Around her recliner in the family room lay multiple sections of newspapers, all folded in quarters with half, or mostly done crossword puzzles using her analytical mind. Later, when lymphoma forced her to become bedbound, besides watching Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, she had stacks and stacks of devotional books at her bedside, piled up on a table. They weren’t there for show – oh no! She devoured them, over and over again. She would say, “These are my friends – we have spent hours together, and they always have something else to show me.”
Indeed – over the course of about four years, when the doctors said she would only live six months, she became increasingly bedbound, and limited only to her bedroom as her residence. Yet, to speak with her, all you would hear is, “I have all I need right here. Sure, I wish it could maybe be different, but it isn’t and so I’m happy.” She epitomized the hymn, “It is Well with my Soul.” Whatever her lot, Christ taught her to say that it was well with her soul. She was my teacher to the very end of her life on earth.
So, today I celebrate what would have been her 93rd birthday. We celebrated her 90th in style with loads of family and good food, just like any time when we had reason to gather from all over to celebrate something. Then, of course, we did the same thing seven months later, as we said good bye, and thanked God for the gift of this woman’s presence in our lives for so many years.
One of the very good things about missing someone, is that their memory remains sharp and focused on so many things of the past. I would consider it the worst tragedy of all if, after someone in our life died, we humans would forget they ever existed. So, do I get a bit sad and find I am missing her? Of course, but that also means the spark, the joy and the richness of an abundant life still showers down on me and on us as we are called to live great lives on this earth ourselves, and to live with such distinction and significance that we would have the privilege of having others miss us and remember us after we are long gone ourselves.
Happy birthday, Mom. And blessings to all of you today.
Thought for the day: Never lose hope. You never know what tomorrow may bring…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.