Notes from Mama’s Bible

Notes from Mama’s Bible June 25, 2013

She wrote all sorts of notes in her bible, my mother did. Not just favorite verses, although there are those. But poems that spoke to her. Like this one: A kiss of the sun for pardon, A song of the birds for mirth. One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth. She wrote it twice on the same page and dated it: Rose Garden, 1975, Portland, Oregon.

My mother embodied those words. She was far more comfortable in a garden than she ever was inside a church. She spent a fortune on her garden, and up until the last two years of her life, worked tirelessly in her yard.

The roses she planted at my brother’s home are blooming now. I can barely stand the thought of seeing them.

On book tour once, I bought her a beautiful ceramic birdhouse at a lovely shop in South Carolina. I packed that thing all the way back across the country. Mama thought it too precious to put outside so she proudly displayed it indoors. It’s in my garden now, next to the roses I planted in memory of Mama.

Mama had a lot of bibles. I have the one she used during the 70s, that time when she made the migration West. I can see in her notes the longing to leave behind the decade following my father’s death. A decade of struggle and too many poor choices.

When people inquire as to how I ended up in Oregon from Georgia, my reply is the same: My mother was running and I followed her.

Here’s another one of the quotes I found in Mama’s bible: “Walk straight on my son, do not turn your head, do not look back. You are going to the land of our Lord.”  

It’s a quote from the book “I heard the owl call my name.”

I had never heard the quote, never heard of the book by that name, or even the film adapted from the book. I had to look it up.

My mother wasn’t one for looking back. She never could understand that reflective side of me. Fortunately I married a historian who totally gets it.

Because my mother was raised the only daughter with five older brothers, she didn’t have many girlfriends.  During the last 20 years, Murphy, a former co-worker was one of Mama’s best friends.

I have never met Murphy. She is Native-American and lives in coastal Oregon. A few days ago, I received a letter from Murphy.

From the time our mother discovered she was dying of cancer, Murphy sent Mama notes, cards, letters. It seemed every other day, Murphy was sending Mama words of encouragement. It meant the world to her. Mama would make me stop by the mailbox every single day to see if there was another card. Many of you sent cards, too. Thank you for that.

Here’s what Murphy said in her letter:

“In my 3/4 enclosed old front porch is where I spend all my spare time and do all my paper work. I need you to know that twice since December the same bird has silently flown in, perched right smack on the table I sit at, looks me directly in the eyes, for what seems like a long time, then silently flies out and away. The first time without hesitation I said, “Well, howdy Shelby. I’m glad all is well.”

Then Murphy added: “In the nine plus years I’ve been on this porch no bird has ever flown in here. Plus my companion cat “Mister” who is an avid-expert hunter never even made a move. You know how your mom enjoyed the outdoors and fed the birds.”

I am a woman of faith but I’ll confess that heaven is a very hard concept for me to grasp. It was easier to believe in a city with streets of gold before I stood bedside and said goodbye to dying friends, before I took a warm washcloth and bathed my mother’s dead body for one last time.

When my mother left me in Georgia and came to Oregon in 1974, I had some concept of her life here. My brother was already living in Portland. I knew Oregon  had big mountains, deep rivers and tall trees. I knew it rained a lot, and that it was a lot colder than Georgia. I could visualize my mother, my sister, and my brother in Oregon.

It’s hard to visualize Heaven. To be honest, streets of gold and gated communities don’t interest me much. And I only want a mansion if there is a staff like on Downton Abbey to take care of it.

My idea heaven would be a home at the end of a dirt road on Mobile Bay. A place surrounded by white roses, a porch for pondering, and birds – redbirds, bluebirds, mockingbirds, and even a visit from a Mama bird, every now and then.

How do you see heaven?





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  • Karen, at the bottom of your blog post, before the comments section, there’s a set of links. On the left, links to your previous posts. On the right, some randomly-generated stuff that likely helps finance Patheos. As I pondered your question about heaven, I read the following 4 links:

    Billionaire Tells Americans to Prepare For “Financial Ruin”
    Best Sex Ever? Follow These 20 Tips
    Secret to a Gorgeous Face: It’s the Eyebrows
    Obama Won’t Finish Term Without Bottom Dropping Out

    Seems to me that the first and last on the list are warnings that this Earth is broken, and we will never see heaven here. According to them, things will only get worse.

    And of course, numbers 2 and 3 in the list tell us the opposite. We can have that one thing we really want, which will make our lives complete. Whether that one thing is perfect sex, a perfect face, the perfect spouse, or more money, just know that clicking that link will transport you straight into Utopia, right from that chair you’re sitting in.

    I suppose I have an answer to your question about how I picture heaven. Revelation 21 and all that. But that set of links tells me to be very suspicious of anyone who promises to offer you their version of a certain future. They don’t know. I don’t know. But God does, and I’m gonna have to just be content with that.

    • I am both delighted and annoyed by your reply. Delighted that you took a moment to actually thoughtfully consider that I’m wrestling with this. Annoyed that Patheos feels it necessary to put those links between the conversation I am having with readers and the one readers are having with me. A true commercial interruption.

      But your answer is thoughtful and true. Of course, none of us knows. In the hours after my mother passed my brother said: I only know wherever Mama is she is with God and that’s good enough for me.
      I believe that. I also believe that she found a way to pay Murphy that visit.

      • There are times when I think those links are problematic, also, but I have desensitized myself to them, and am able to focus on your posts themselves. In this case, those links enlightened me to the fact that we should be free to have our ideas of what heaven is, but warned me that everyone out there is, ultimately, trying to sell me something that is a very poor substitute for heaven. And that truth is not limited to Patheos.
        To fully answer your question, I have read enough about your mom to become convinced she is conscious, pain-free, and in the presence of her Savior, and looking forward to reuniting with you and others. But I’m not trying to convince you I’m right about that, and I have no idea what substance comprises the gates or streets that surround her right now. I do trust that when we get there, we will realize that God didn’t let us down.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I’m a Catholic from this area. But I’ve also got Native American blood. Some local enough to consider myself distantly related to the Chinnook, the Atflati, the Clatsop. Perhaps even to Murphy in a very distant way.

    Listen to what she tells you about this. The Church Triumphant *can* manifest into our reality. The Saints do visit.

    To me, Heaven is the reality- this world a subset.

  • Glenn

    Karen – I love the way you write! It’s tender and artful. Thank you for sharing your heart! (Those links are pretty funny.)

  • Patty Hicks

    Karen, I love your honesty and how fortunate for you to have those notes from your mom’s life.

    The whole thing about imagining what heaven is like has never been something I have spent much time thinking about. It seems secondary to me. That could be because I understand how limited our earthly minds are and it seems folly to me to try and determine what it will be. I have trouble with the streets of gold concept even though they sound amazing, I do love other things the Bible describes though and imagine fountains that flow with indescribable flashes of color. But being a
    lover of nature and knowing how it makes me feel to be amid the beauty of a forest or peaceful meadow, I like to imagine having lush
    fields free of thistles and wildlife abounding unafraid of my presence, a soft breeze and perfect weather, but then that is my flesh.

    What I most often think about when I think of heaven is seeing the face of my Savior and being
    enraptured by Him, even being able to hold His face in my hands and to gaze
    into His eyes. (I am like a bride in this love.) The rest will be
    wondrous I am certain but my human brain is only human after all, so for
    now those fields are fine with me but give me Jesus and the rest will do.

    NOTE: About those annoying links, so you and others know, if you use AdBlock you won’t don’t see them. It’s what I use and don’t see them.

    • Funny, Patty, how often I think of who I will see in heaven but Jesus isn’t first on my list. Does that say something telling about me? Or is it that so many of those I miss represent Christ to me?

      • Patty Hicks

        You know I think it could be a little of both actually. Those who have gone on before were Christ to me and instrumental in the growth of my faith and even today still speak in my ear. Oh and I long to see them too…but Jesus…He is the one I get most excited to see. Could be a good thing to pray about too Karen. Our love does ebb and flow in this flesh of ours. It is an amazing feeling, something I never had experienced until I fully knew what it was to trust that His blood had completely removed my guilty and shame. That’s when it all changed for me.
        May God graciously bless you with a fresh sense of that love of the “bride” in coming days.

  • Angela Ray

    For me heaven has little to do with my surrounds. I envision holding my Grandpa Ralph for hours and listening to him in that low gravel voice. Or meeting my Grandpa Kelly for the first time that I remember and tell her what an inspiration she was to me. For me heaven is about reunions, glorifying Christ in His redemption in all our lives and spending eternity with those we loved. With that and the presence of Christ, who needs streets of Gold.

    • Love that Angela. Yes, for me, heaven is more time with Granny Leona. And so many others.

  • AFRoger

    Imagining Heaven
    (A meditation from South Sister, Oregon)
    I cannot imagine heaven
    unless there are mountains in it
    Cannot imagine majesty beyond
    jagged rock and snow against the sky.
    What sound would ever be heard from
    quickened, mighty winds
    unless they blew against the rocks and trees
    that reach into the clouds.
    If ever I am blessed, and someday glorified
    Oh, please! Oh, please, let there be mountains!
    Such places for the soul to soar…
    For I could not imagine heaven
    if mountains were no more.

    • I can see those mountains as I read this, Roger. Thank you for sharing. Are you there now? Or was this from some time ago? Yes. Mountains. Streets of Gold? Save those for the Trumps. 🙂

  • Susan_G1

    Karen, you write so beautifully. Thank you.

    I haven’t the faintest idea what heaven will be like. I only know I will be happy, that’s it.