A guest post by my husband, Ed Nicholson.
See that sensible-looking woman in the picture above? That’s my mother, Mary. I’ve known her for about as long as I can remember. Hopefully Mother’s Day isn’t too far off for a post like this. She’s been on my mind lately, and I’d like to tell you a little about her and how she helped to shape my journey of faith.
In the early days, my family was, perhaps, only marginally religious. We attended a Methodist church and we celebrated the usual holy days like Easter and Christmas and First Day of Summer. There were a lot of Catholics in our town, so we’d see the ash marks on the foreheads of the faithful in early March, but that seemed a little fanatic to our sensible faith. We ate meat every day of the week, thank you. For my family back then, church was something that stayed pretty much at church.
Then came the big change.
My mom had grown up in Virginia, and most of her family still lived there. We lived in Ohio, but we’d visit the southern half of the family often. One year, when I was about 12 years old, Mom decided to take a trip to Virginia with me and my sister. Susie is six years younger than I, so she would have been six at the time. I thought of her then, and still do, as my baby sister. I was going to be the man of the family on this trip. The Protector. I’m not sure now why the whole family didn’t go, but my dad and two older brothers stayed home in Cleveland while Mom, Susie and I loaded up the car for the 500 mile trip and headed south.
When we first arrived, I mostly did the apathetic kid thing – lying about with my Sony Walkman cassette player, listening to Led Zeppelin – but I was aware enough to know that something was up. One of Mom’s sisters had undergone a sort of major religious conversion. I overheard Mom and her talking about some new church. Aunt Darlene used Jesus’ name at least four times in each sentence, and she speaks a mile-a-minute, so that’s a lot of Jesus, let me tell ya. Maybe she had joined an ashes-on-the-forehead church? I couldn’t know for sure, but whatever it was, my Mom wanted to know more.
Over the next few days, we went to my Aunt Dolly’s new church about 30 times. OK, maybe we only went a handful of times, but it seemed like we were there a lot. They did not put ashes on people there, but from the perspective of a young Methodist, they did some really weird things. First off, they were loud people. Nice people, but loud. The music was loud. The sermons were loud. Their prayers were even loud. I had been taught that God saw and heard everything, but these people wanted to make sure He could hear them very clearly. They talked about Jesus like they knew Him personally – as if they had just run into Him at the Piggly Wiggly before church. What in the heck was going on here? I didn’t know. But God was speaking to my mother. Loudly.
And she responded.
My mom experienced the same religious awakening that her sister had experienced. She became Spirit Filled. Now, I do not want to get into doctrinal issues here about what various Christians hold to with regard to the infilling of the Holy Spirit. That is beyond the scope of this article and beyond the purpose of Beauty Observed. It is enough to say that all Christians believe that the Third Person of the Trinity is the agent of God that draws people to Himself. He is alive and well. Baptists, Methodists, Charismatics and Catholics all believe this. This basic idea is as orthodox as the Resurrection, so there is no need to quibble.
But I digress… My mother was on fire for God, and I was terrified.
After our visit in Virginia, we were ready to head home. Mom was changed. Big time. She was a Spirit-filled, devil-stomping prayer-warrior for God. We got into our Chevy Caprice Classic and Mom promptly took off her glasses, claiming, “I am healed by Jesus’ stripes! I no longer need these.” I was in the back seat because it was the furthest spot in the car from my Mom besides the trunk. I was holding on to my role as my sister’s protector at this point. I had heard enough Bible stories in the Methodist church to remember something about God asking somebody to offer their son in sacrifice. Who knew what ideas might pop into Mom’s head?
Much of the rest of the trip is a blur of prayers said by Mom, loudly, and prayers said by me, under my breath, but I do recall a few highlights. After being horribly lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains for hours as my nearly blind Mother tried to navigate the switchback turns, a large bug slammed into the windshield. Thinking back, the thud of the impact along with the smeared guts of the thing suggested something a little bigger than just a bug. Perhaps it was a bird or a mountain lion, but my mom pointed to the red streak across the glass and declared, “It’s the Blood of the Lamb!” I turned up my Walkman just a little louder and held my sister a little tighter.
At another point, we stopped at a fast food restaurant to eat. We were sitting together at a small table with our cheeseburgers when an elderly man came up to us and handed Mom a silk flower with a small piece of paper taped to it. My mom – remember the picture of the sensible-looking woman above? – that woman in that picture stood up in the middle of Wendy’s, clapped her hands over the man’s ears and said, “Be HEALED in Jesus’ name!” She said it loudly. I looked at the piece of paper on the silk flower. It read, “Society for the Deaf. Donations Appreciated. God Bless You.” I’m not sure if God healed the man’s ears or not, but his eyes did get really big as Mom held onto his cranium. I am pretty sure though, that he didn’t hand out flowers to strangers anymore after that.
When we got home (proof of miracles) I told my dad and brothers that, “Something has happened to Mom.” I also called my aunt in Virginia and asked her how long it would take for whatever my mom had gotten to “wear off.” She laughed and assured me that it was just excessive zeal, and that Mom would be fine.
Over the months and years that followed, things did settle down a bit. Mom was fine. Whew. Her faith stayed as fervent as ever, but she mixed it more and more with knowledge and temperance and all of the other fruits of the Spirit. She never went back to the way she was before that trip, though. She was changed forever. And while I was scared at first, I eventually came around to seeing that her faith was real. Very real. She was not content to live 6 days a week without thinking about God, and then give Him a token of appreciation on Sunday. No. She was literally in love with Jesus. In one way or another, my Mom’s faith has permeated the whole family. Even my dad will casually quote Scripture to me or comment on something their pastor has said recently. All of Mom’s children are seeking to love Jesus like she does, even if they each approach it a little differently.
What my mom has taught me is that sometimes faith is awkward and stumbling. Paul the Apostle said that in this life we see through a glass dimly. My oldest brother is only recently coming back to loving Christ, and in a recent conversation about theology, he told me, “Faith is messy.” I think this is true. Watching my Mother’s journey of faith has shown the whole family that the important thing is to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. We do need balance, yes, but it’s so important that we learn the difference between when we need to sit and wait for God and when we need to stumble toward the kingdom of God, grab faith by the ears and wrestle it to the ground, claiming it as our own. Life is short, and we cannot afford the luxury of keeping God at arm’s length until we are ready. I think it was Martin Luther who said faith is an active, lively and mighty thing.
My Mother has an active and lively faith. She loves Jesus with all she has. I am positive that when she stands in Glory beside that man from Wendy’s, as they both worship God, that they will both understand and be grateful for what happened on that day when I was twelve.
I love you, Mom!
Ed Nicholson February 26, 2014