For the last five years, I’ve wondered why the Church begins each year on January 1st by honoring Mary as Christ-bearer, the one who surrendered all to bring forth the Savior of us all. It’s beginning to make sense: our salvation hinges upon that ‘yes’, just as the life of every person depends on a mother’s consent.
That ‘yes’ took on new meaning for me as I started this year celebrating my amazing mother’s 90th birthday in Long Beach CA. Mom has lived to give to her four children and countless others; her only ‘gift’ request was to be surrounded by her four kids in the family home (same one we all grew up in–who can say that?!). Over two days, we prayed and reminisced together, taking our cues from the extraordinary Phyllis Comiskey who leaves Betty White in the dust.
Mom’s determination to choose life started early, with her birth mother (I’ll call her Sue). Social workers removed Sue as a child from an unsafe home; as a young teen, she found work as a maid in a wealthy home where the son of the house impregnated her. Shamed and cast out, she gave birth to Phyllis in a poor boarding house where she lived alone.
According to an intrepid social worker who researched Phyllis’ origins, 16-year-old Sue was a devout Catholic whose only prayer was for her child to be raised in the Church. Too young and poor to raise Phyllis, Sue placed her in an orphanage. After one long year, a Protestant family adopted Mom, not quite up to her mother’s specifications, but permitted because of their devout faith.
Mom combined faith with a spirit of adventure and industry. She wanted more for her life than the regional confines of the upper Midwest; she worked hard and scored a scholarship at the top woman’s college in St. Paul. She then rejected the offer of a local marriage in order to move to post-war Los Angeles.
There she met my Dad who did not share her faith but the same intellectual curiosity and high regard for the dignity of all people. Discontent with my Dad’s choice of a Unitarian church where his fellow educators socialized, my Mom moved us kids to a traditional Episcopalian Church. She wanted us to know the gift of God in Christ, a witness made easier by her own extraordinary self-giving.
All of us kids remarked on the myriad ways she simply gave to us: verbally, materially, constantly and equally. She secured us in love.
Still, all of her love could not spare us kids from getting caught up in the sexy, druggy idolatry of a CA beach town in the sixties. Dead in sin, all her children needed to get saved. My brothers preceded me in living faith and my mom, seeing the ravages of ‘gay’ life on her son, urged me to reach for more as my brothers had, to say ‘yes’ the One who could guide me onto solid ground.
I followed her lead; her ‘yes’ to God, daily and often under duress, paved the way for all my sibs to say ‘yes’ to God. Even my Dad surrendered to the Source of her faithful witness three days before his death 7-years-ago.
Mom asked us kids what we desire for ourselves if we achieve 90-years. Big if. Nevertheless, I want to follow her example of saying ‘yes’ daily to God. She fulfilled the prayers of her poor birth mother whose only hope for her child was Jesus and His Church. I want my ‘yes’ at 90-years to answer my mother’s prayer for me and to emulate her ‘Marion’ example—surrender to God and generous self-giving that makes a way for others to know Jesus’ unfailing love.