given on Sunday, May 8, 2011–Mother’s Day
Let me introduce you to Sonja. Married to a pastor, she holds an educational degree and works part time as a school librarian. The community in which she lives is rural, small, and somewhat remote—Denver is three hours away but in a different state.
She has children—a young daughter and now two sons. Her pastor husband also runs a garage door business because the community is small and financially the pastor’s salary needs supplementing.
Sonja could be any one of the mothers in this world. She loves her husband, works with him to meet the budget, and as a team they raise their kids. She is our neighbor, our friend, and a pastor’s wife.
Yet, Sonja has a son with a very special story—God’s story. We met Colton last week as we tried to define eternal life. But his story demonstrates a mother’s story. We all know a mother’s story, and each have common threads while unique. Sonja’s story is every mother’s story.
In Isaiah, mother’s love is equated to God’s love. Each one of us recognizes the images from today’s passage because we know who mothers are. This does not mean that each mother exhibits each quality; and we know there are mothers who have failed to fill a mother’s role successfully, yet we all seem to instinctively know the definition of a mother’s love:
Nobody hungry, nobody thirsty,
shade from the sun, shelter from the wind,
For the Compassionate One guides them,
takes them to the best springs. . . .
I’ll make all my mountains into roads,
turn them into a superhighway.
God has comforted his people.
He has tenderly nursed his beaten-up, beaten-down people. . . .
“Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
walk away from the baby she bore?
But even if mothers forget,
I’d never forget you—never.
Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands.
–excerpts from Isaiah 49:8-15, the Message
These words are very similar to ones in I Thessalonians. Whether Old Testament or New Testament, the writers use a mother’s role to help explain God’s love for all of us. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, which God or a mother would do to make sure the children are fed, clothed, and sheltered. A mother sees the pain, the joy, the fear, the excitement—everything a child experiences and knows it deep within her own being.
Sonja’s story is every mother’s story. We can identify with her because she lives in our time, in our world, and in our culture. When we learn her story, we reflect on our own stories.
Colton, at the age of 3 years and 10 months, faces a life-threatening experience. Sadly, the experience follows months of his dad’s own health challenges so the family reserves are depleted. Yet, just as the family begins that rebuilding process when health issues are cleared up, work and life resumes its typical pattern, and the family breathes a collective sigh and moves on, Colton gets sick.
Briefly, Colton develops flu symptoms and vomiting begins. A couple of days and he shows improvement. No fever. No vomiting. And he begins to play. The family goes to a church meeting and Colton gets sick again. To shorten nearly two weeks of physical misery, Colton ends up in emergency surgery with a ruptured appendix and abdominal infection running rampant inside him.
Sonja’s story demonstrates the love that God has for all of us. The story describes the images and emotions a mother experiences when battling their child’s health crisis:
- Sonja held down the fort (p. 25)
- Sonja channeled her anxiety into the role of busy caretaker (p.27)
- At each turning point, we had tried to make the right call, but we had made the wrong ones, and now Colton was paying for it, “A helpless child was suffering the consequences of our mistakes.” (p. 29)
- Looking in her eyes, I could see that her hopes had drained away. (p. 35)
Colton was gravely ill. He was in pain and as Sonja watches the doctors and nurses try to heal Colton, she loses her strength while Colton loses his battle. She would do anything to keep her young toddler from this painful experience all the while bearing the guilt that she could–or should–have done more.
This mother’s story does have a happy ending. The medical team battled the infection. The prayers, not only of Sonja and her husband, but also of a community, reached God. Colton healed, and as sick as he had been, he literally bounced back to health. Many might simply say his young body made healing happen quickly; but in Sonja’s story healing is due to God’s compassion.
Sonja’s story gives us insight into God’s gift to each of us—mother and father, aunt and uncle, grandmother and grandfather—even those who are not. Sonja’s story ends with a blessing.
After Colton healed and began blurting out surprising bits and pieces about heaven, he shared one surprise for his mom—he had met his own sister while he was in heaven!
Between the birth of Sonja’s oldest daughter Cassie and that of Colton, she had miscarried another child. She and Todd never shared that information with Colton because he was so young—and it happened before his own birth.
The setting was October, after his surgery in March, and the family was each in their own world, so to speak. Dad was working on a sermon, Sonja working on their business paperwork, and sister Cassie playing with Barbie dolls.
“. . . I heard Colton’s footsteps padding up the hallway and caught a glimpse of him circling the couch, where he then planted himself directly in front of Sonja.
“Mommy, I have two sisters,” Colton said.
I put down my pen. Sonja didn’t. She kept on working.
Colton repeated himself.” Mommy, I have two sisters.”
Sonja looked up from her paperwork and shook her head slightly. “No, you have your sister, Cassie, and . . . do you mean your cousin, Traci?”
“No.” Colton clipped off the word adamantly.” I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?” . . . time stopped . . . Sonja’s eyes grew wide.
“Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy” Sonja said, her tone serious.
“She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy.” (pp.94-94, Heaven Is for Real)
Imagine the shock, imagine the emotions, imagine the fear of hearing your toddler son telling you about a child miscarried years earlier. In those few moments, Sonja had to open up one of a mother’s most painful experiences, understand a son’s words, and grasp the reality of life after death.
To shorten the story, Colton was able to describe his unnamed sister, explain that God, not Jesus, has adopted her and that she was fine. A miscarried child was alive and living in heaven. And, just before Colton turns and walks away, as though this knowledge was as common as knowing that the grass is green or water is wet, he says, “Yeah, she said she just can’t wait for you and Daddy to get to heaven.”
Sonja’s story is so many mothers’ story. We love, we marry, we have children, we lose children, and we weep. Yet there is hope because God loved us so much that he gave his only son so that we may have eternal life.
Sonja was given a gift that deepened her faith. Her living son, who had absolutely no idea that he was a third child, met Jesus, and met his other sister. What seemed like just a common piece of information to him, was a mother’s priceless gift.
Today as we honor mother’s all around this world, we are given a gift, too. Whether young or old, married or not, parent or not, this mother’s story gives us all hope. The words of the scripture sometimes seem so distant; but when the writers tell us that God’s love is like that of a mother’s love, we can understand. Jesus knows, Art Linkleetter knew, and moms know—kids do say the darndest things. But what joy we can take when we know eternal life is love eternal.
We hear Colton’s story, but also that of his mother.
You have shown how you love us just as a mother does.
You have said that you will be with us to meet our every need.
You have whispered into our hearts the truth about eternal life.
You give us hope.
Thank you for the words in the scripture.
Thank you for Colton and his dad for sharing Sonja’s story.
Thank you for our own mothers who serve as your love
Thank you for hope.
Eternally grateful, Amen.