When I was about to begin the second grade, my family moved from the small town of Maud, Texas where I had been born (just outside of Texarkana) to the small town of Newcastle, Oklahoma (just outside of Oklahoma City). We hadn’t lived there very long when I began to play with the boy who lived next door to us. Our favorite thing to do was ride our bikes up and down our dead end street as fast as we could, whooping and hollering and racing to see who was the fastest. One particular day we decided to be super adventurous and explore the unknown (meaning the woods directly across from my house). We hopped on our bikes pedaling as fast as we could, raced through the open pasture and rounded the tree marking our entrance into “the woods,” and then simultaneously slammed on our brakes spraying dirt, rocks, and grass all over. We both stopped and gaped at the massive stone monument full of holes that stood before us, barring our way to the old log cabin that lay beyond. Terrified of what was clearly a “witch” living in the cabin, we flew like lightening back to the safety of my yard swearing to never venture into the woods again.
Imagine my surprise when, a few months later while singing Christmas carols with the youth group, our church van passed the stone monument and drove straight up to the “witch’s” cabin. The “monument” it turned out was simply an old fountain, and the “witch” was a precious lady from our congregation who had been widowed for many years. This began one of the most valuable, influential relationships of my life.
Every chance I had from that point on I would hop on my bike after school and ride to Mama Bear’s house. I would stay for hours fascinated by her lava lamp and watching Matlock with the sound off so that we could visit. She would offer me snacks often sending me home with a pocketful of goodies, and I would listen to 80 years worth of stories and wisdom. She would tell me of her late husband and how they served the Lord together, of what it was like being a white woman with black friends during segregation, of how she came to be a Christian and of her hopes and dreams for our congregation of the Lord’s church.
When I was a freshman in high school our family moved again, but I always made sure to stay in touch with Mama Bear. I would write her letters, call her on the phone, and drive back to see her every time I had the chance. Jonathan and I drove up for him to meet her because her approval was necessary before our engagement could be “official,” and on my wedding day I wore a necklace that was a gift from Mama Bear. I’m thankful that she was able to meet my oldest daughter, and I will remember forever the heartbreaking day when I learned that she was no longer here with us.
Words cannot describe the impact that this wonderful woman had on my life. I am so thankful for her love, her guidance, and her example, all of which are still living through the stories that I share with my children, and now with you. Even though we weren’t physical family (except for sharing the blood of Christ) she will forever be MY Mama Bear, and I would not be the person I am today without her influence. Her family was even gracious enough to invite me to sit with them while my Daddy preached her funeral.
We all know James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” However oftentimes I am afraid that we look on this verse as a burden, and completely underestimate the blessing that we receive when we fulfill this verse in the way God intended.
One way that we shortchange ourselves (and the person we are reaching out to) is that we make this a robotic function in order to check off a good deed on our “Christianity List”. I know that sounds harsh, but I am afraid that if we are brutally honest this often in the back of our mind. We need to strive both as parents and as individuals to respect the wisdom and guidance that is found in our older sisters, and to appreciate the opportunities we have to learn from them. If we approach these relationships from a standpoint of, “what wisdom can I gain (or share, depending)” I think these relationships will quickly become deeper and more meaningful than we could have ever imagined.
There are many ways that we can begin working on these relationships, starting with making sure that “Our Person” gets a hug and a smile at every worship service. If we really wanted to shake things up, we could even ask to sit with them, or invite them to sit with us. For a younger person it shouldn’t be difficult to set aside a specific time every month to go by and see them just for a little while, and to call them once a week. Another good idea is to invite them to your children’s school activities. If you’re an older woman it shouldn’t be too difficult to send a young person a card on their birthday, and to call them once a week and simply ask how their day is going. Another good idea is to pickup some ice cream when you’re at the grocery store and invite the child over for a special treat.
All of us are either a single person who can reach out to an older person, a mother who can help her children reach out to an older person, or an older person who can reach out to someone else. So this month’s Let It Overflow Challenge is simple: if you are an older woman (I’ll leave that up to your discretion) find a young person and be their Mama Bear. If you are a young mother or a single woman, FIND a Mama Bear and welcome her into your heart and into your life. One of my greatest wishes is that my children can have a Mama Bear in their lives, and that in turn I can be a Mama Bear when my own children are grown. I pray that we will all accept the “Mama Bear Challenge,” and that just maybe we can look at the command in James 1:27 a little bit differently.