Come to think of it, my mother is a singer. I never thought of her as such since she is not a performer. She never sang solo (that I recall) nor ever sang the special music in church. But I have many memories of Mama singing.
She sang to me at bedtime. I recall her belting out Amazing Grace or Victory in Jesus, two hymns I’d frequently request. The other nighttime staple was I Didn’t Know the Gun was Loaded. Apparently, the connection between the last two songs is blood: Jesus’ redeeming blood and the carnage caused by that oh-so-innocent Miss Effie. Well, she got what was coming to her.
I understand why she sang the hymns to me—for the same reason I sing Amazing Grace, Abide With Me, Holy Holy Holy, and A Mighty Fortress is our God with my children. Hymns are perfectly designed to transmit the great truths of the faith, especially to children. As an adult I am thankful for a collection of songs that exalt God, the kind of songs we sang over and over, the kind of songs I’ll still sing in fifty years, the king of songs that are suited for a deathbed. Hymns remind us of the permanent things. Mama taught me these as she tucked me in at night.
I’m not quite sure I understand why she sang me the song about Miss Effie’s capricious shooting habits, though I suspect it was for the same reason that my son sometimes goes around the house singing White Lightning by George Jones. Why do I sing a song about bootleg moonshine to my young children? Well, because my mama sang to me about murder, and apples, as they say, don’t fall far from trees. Besides, these songs are fun and lighthearted, and Mama has always been fun and lighthearted. That’s why she sang so much.
We spent a fair amount of time in the car as kids going to and from school, making grocery store runs, attending other activities, and all that. Mama always played music and sang along. I specifically remember her playing Wilson Phillips (Hold On), Michael W. Smith (Friends are Friends Forever, Go West Young Man), and Amy Grant (Baby, Baby). I have vague memories of Vince Gill, but I’m unsure if that is because we listened to his music or because Mom was mad at him for the Amy Grant affair. Later, she moved on to an obsession with Toby Keith until he got too vulgar for her taste, before finally settling in as a Taylor Swift fangirl. She even has a T-Swift hoodie.
I don’t say we share a taste in music—you won’t find Swift on my playlist anywhere—but we do share a taste for music, and I, like my mother, love to sing, but will never perform, as I have a face made for radio and a voice made for books. Nevertheless, like my mother, I am always singing around the house and I present as evidence of my eclectic preferences the music scraps my children occasionally blurt out: Hit me with your best shot (da nuh da nuh), Oh, give me what I want, what I really really want, If you want it, you can have it.
Apparently, these are the songs I sing when playing cards, another thing Mama taught me to do, again, because it is fun. As a family we made up songs to go along with card playing, including one to jinx—or as Mom would say, to “put the wammy on”—whoever was leading in Regression, which is the Baptist name for the card game Oh Hell! (we Baptists don’t cuss unless a Methodist catches us in the liquor store).
Of course, not everything in life can be fun. Close to twenty years ago Mama’s feet started hurting, and she was later diagnosed with neuropathy. From the best I can tell, neuropathy feels like a thousand tiny mice stabbing you in the feet with two thousand tiny swords, while simultaneously setting your foot on fire like the tiny arsonists they are. If that were not bad enough, Mom is terrified of mice! She rarely gets a good, full night’s sleep because those blasted rodents are nocturnal, and her feet can predict coming rain with more accuracy than any local news Doppler radar—and rain brings pain. As anyone who has missed a night’s sleep can attest, it messes with you. When you miss a couple of decades of nights’ sleep, it really messes with you. Mama has had a number of other health issues that can one way or another be traced back to her feet.
Yet, she still sings.
True singing—not performance art, but true out-of-the-heart-the-mouth-speaketh type singing—is rooted in contentment and gratitude. My mother has a lot she could complain about if whining was her nature. She could be bitter, she could be angry, and she could play Oh Hell! instead of Regression. But she comes from better stock than that (you really should meet my grandmother). She has suffered neuropathy with grace and gratitude. She knows how to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18).
I heard a friend say a while back that contentment is holding your hands open and gladly accepting whatever the Lord puts in them or takes from them. The Apostle Paul said that he learned the secret to being content; he could get through any situation, good or bad, with the strength of Jesus. Not his own strength, but that of Christ. Paul was given a thorn in the flesh and Mama was given a thousand sword-wielding mice. The Word of God to both of them is this:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”—2 Corinthians 12:9
When Jesus is enough for us—his strength, his power, his grace—we are content and thankful. For what do we have that is not a gift? Contented hearts sing. They sing of this grace. Some might even call it Amazing Grace.
Mama knows the tune and sings it in the key of G, for gratitude.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. We love you!