A Letter to My Mom on Her 70th Birthday

Dear Mom,

Happy 70th Birthday!

Years ago, you made me take all my boxes of stuff from the attic. So, I’ve assumed you’re trying to declutter and don’t want more stuff. So, instead of a birthday present, I thought I’d write you a letter.

When I think through my childhood memories of you, the memories are good and are more than I can recount here. There is so much I admire and appreciate about you. Your words and example taught shaped who I am and want to be. So, I thought I’d recount a few of the things you taught me.

Jesus loves you.

Beyond anything else, you taught me that Jesus loves me and is a Savior who can be trusted. I remember you sharing about hearing Billy Graham and putting your faith in Christ. You followed his example in sharing with me about the love of Christ, his death for our sins and resurrection from the dead, and how he forgives us when we trust in him.

You shared the Good News with me through bedtime stories, songs, and books you gave me, and by sharing about other Christians’ lives. You set an example through your service at church—especially as you served alongside Judy, Marilynn, and others to share Christ’s love in Sunday School. I remember you and Judy making banners (that still hang in the church) and telling me about their biblical significance.

Your words and your example taught me that that I had a God who was worthy of worship, a Savior who loved me, gave himself for me, and was always there for me.

Live with honor.

You taught me not only to believe in Jesus but to live, act, and speak in ways that honor him.

I was in first grade when I discovered (while reading the graffiti in a Hardee’s bathroom) how to spell the “F-word.” I thought it would be impressive to use it as a word playing Hangman with a friend.

I hid the paper in my bookbag so as not to get in trouble with the teacher. I failed to remember that I have a nosy mother. Upon finding it, you sat me down on the porch and had me think about what my language says about those I represent.

I was very young when I told you to “Shut up!” in front of a friend. I don’t remember how you transported me from the living room to the bathroom, but I do remember the taste of the soap.

There was a right and a wrong way to speak to one’s parents, and you made sure I learned.

As a teenager, I thought it would be cool to have posters of swimsuit models in my room. I asked you if I could get one. You asked me, “If Jesus returned and found that hanging in your room, would you be ashamed or proud of it?” I didn’t get the poster.

I still ask myself if I want to be thinking, speaking, or acting in a certain way in front of my Lord.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

I heard this saying from you more times than I can count. Having two younger brothers who were always doing bad things and mistreating me, I had plenty of provocation for revenge.

When I struck back and was disciplined, you wouldn’t listen to my appeal, “But Mom! They did a bad thing!” You’d say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

My calloused backside and several broken spanking implements bear witness to the fact that it took me a while to learn what that statement meant.

But I find myself saying it often now, especially in a world that thinks that another’s evil justifies our evil.

“The ends don’t justify the means.”

Another saying that is burned into my memory. Oddly, I can’t recall the situation in which you said this to me. So, I can only assume I overheard you saying it to my brothers on one of the many occasions they disobeyed.

I did learn from their correction. No matter how good an outcome might be, we’re never justified in choosing evil to get it. There are principles of right and wrong, and we ought to live consistently with our principles.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

There are more times than I care to remember that you “encouraged” me to apologize to someone I wronged or disrespected. Even though I’ve blocked those memories, I am glad you taught me to apologize and make things right.

You told me about the time that, as a child, you stole a few dollars from the concession stand at the Glidden Swimming Pool. (I think the statute of limitations is past, and you won’t be prosecuted for the petty theft committed as a juvenile. But if not, I promise to visit you in jail.) Years later, as an adult, when you were managing the pool, you returned the exact amount to the concession stand money box. (You probably owe them for inflation and lost investment income, but what government has ever managed money well?)

Your example taught me that no matter how much time has passed, it’s never too late to try to make things right.

Always tell the truth.

I had just learned how to draw a star and decided to demonstrate my skill on the porch wall. Shortly thereafter, you brought me to the porch, pointed to the star, and asked if I had drawn it.

I said, “No.” So you asked if I knew who did.

I told you that Andy drew it. In most cases, given my younger siblings’ incredible insubordination, this would have been a reasonable suggestion. But since I was the only one who could draw a star (and had recently been on a star-drawing kick), you saw through it, and I learned (again) that two wrongs don’t make a right.

You showed me that we should always tell the truth, even when it means we’ll get into trouble. It’s easier to carry the consequences of our lies than it is to carry the guilt. And, repentance and honesty are so often met with mercy and forgiveness.

Don’t be afraid to speak up.

I’ll admit it. There were times in my childhood that I did wish you’d shut up choose not to speak. But Grandma Pickett’s genes wouldn’t let you stay silent when something was wrong, and someone needed to speak up.

Like the time at A&W when a booth full of construction workers were loudly using profanity, you said (loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to stop, look, and hear), “EXCUSE ME! IF YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED, WE HAVE A TABLE FULL OF CHILDREN. DO YOU THINK YOU COULD MIND YOUR LANGUAGE?” They apologized and stopped. (I crawled back up from under the table, and today I’m seeing a wonderful therapist.)

On a serious note: looking back, I appreciate how you were a “mama bear” that stuck up for your family. Like the time we were for a drive to look at Christmas lights. A drunk driver ran the intersection, causing Dad to slam on the breaks.

By the time we picked ourselves up off the van floor (we didn’t wear seatbelts in the early 80s), the driver had walked over to the driver’s window, apologizing in slurred speech.

From the passenger seat, you leaned across Dad and were just about out the window, telling that man to look at the children he could have killed. I think that talkin’-to sobered him on the spot.

Those occasions (and others!) assured me that my mom would stop at nothing to protect me, provide for me, and support me. And that’s what you’ve always done. Even when it might have embarrassed me, you were never ashamed to love me, defend me, and support me.

I’m thankful that you taught me this. (I’m also grateful that when I get into trouble for opening my mouth, I can blame my Texan grandma with the fiery red hair.)

Everyone matters.

Your heart is full of love for the overlooked and easily forgotten. I remember countless trips to the nursing home to see your aunt, who had suffered a stroke. It wasn’t exactly where a young boy wanted to go after school, but I didn’t have a choice. You taught me to look at her, speak to her, and spend time with her. You cleaned her fingernails, washed her face, and cared for her.

Visiting my great-aunt is just one of many examples I could pick. You’ve spent your time visiting those who are alone, serving those who can’t care for themselves, and sticking up for the underdog.

You taught me that every human being is created in God’s image and should be treated with dignity and respect. Their stories matter and should be remembered. Even when they lose the ability to control their bodies, minds, and words, their value has not diminished.

Don’t dilly-dally.

(Aren’t you glad that I worked “dilly-dally” into this letter?)

You taught that if you’re going to do something, you ought to do it with all your might. You never did anything half-way. You are a competitive woman with an unconquerable work ethic.

I remember you working outdoors, hands in the dirt, muscles flexed and soaked with sweat. I never outworked you in the yard, and I doubt I could today.

I remember challenging you to a footrace at the campground, boasting that “You can’t beat me because boys are better than girls.” I learned my lesson.

You’ve always loved to work and to work hard. I still haven’t caught you, but I often find myself thinking of you and saying to myself, “If you’re going to do this, do it the best you can.”

It’s okay to be sad, but get up and keep going.

Your life, from the time you were little, hasn’t been easy. But you have always modeled perseverance.

When I was in third grade and wanted to join you on a two-day, one-hundred-mile bike ride (and we didn’t have good bikes, helmets, lights, or practice on long bike rides on the highway), you told me that it would be hard, that you wouldn’t wait for me, and that I’d have to finish the whole thing. There was no quitting. I didn’t quit, and my butt still hurts.

You haven’t been afraid to cry. You haven’t shied from sharing about what hurts. But pain or hardship has never stopped you.

I’ve watched you study for certifications, learn new skills, find jobs, and solve problems. I’ve watched you confess sin, ask forgiveness, and fix your mistakes.

That’s the best kind of mom a boy could have: one who acknowledges that the world hurts, who owns her imperfections and failures, who trusts in Jesus and relies on his grace and keeps pressing forward in what her Lord has called her to. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And so much more…

Decades later, I’m still not perfect in the things you taught me. (But, as the song says, “Mama tried.”) And there are a lot of other lessons that you taught me as a boy, such as:

Don’t pee your pants.

Don’t poop your pants.

Don’t wipe your boogers on things.

Don’t put things in the electrical outlets.

Don’t eat hard-boiled Easter eggs that someone hid in the sandbox, and you dug-up in June.

Don’t keep an Andes mint in your pocket “for later,” especially in Texas—and if you do, don’t decide to take it out, unwrap it, and attempt to eat it while your parents are trying to rush the family from one terminal to another in an airport.

Don’t pee in a cup and offer it to your brother to drink on a hot day.

Don’t push your brother off the porch face-first into a brick.

Don’t dump a pile of pigeon dung* on the babysitter’s head.

Don’t slam a plastic bottle of barbecue sauce against the edge of the counter because you thought “shatterproof” meant “unbreakable.”

I could say more about all those stories, but I don’t think people would be interested in those stories.

I LOVE YOU!!!

I don’t tell you often enough, but I love you very much. I’m proud and honored that you’re my mom. I’m thankful that God gave you to me as a mom—always have been and always will be.

Any good quality in me is due in part to your influence and example. (Any bad quality in me is due to my younger brothers.)

Thanks for being a great mom and a wonderful grandmother.

I love you very much.

Your son,

Eric


*Aren’t you proud I said “dung?” I still taste soap, just thinking of the other word.

A Mini-Memoir of Pastoral Burnout

Today I have a piece up at Fathom Mag on my experience of pastoral burnout. Here’s the intro:

I knelt on the floor of my study all night, my forehead pressed into the carpet, my fists pressed against my temples. I pulled my hair and wept until I fell asleep, exhausted. Waking in a fetal position, I remembered where I was and what I faced and begged, “Lord, please . . . please . . . please . . . send someone else.”

I pressed my face into the floor and sobbed, no longer able to pray with words. Tears and snot and saliva soaked my beard and the carpet. Alone in the darkness, I didn’t care. 

A faint light shone through the blinds but the rising sun did not bring hope. I wiped my face and tasted blood. Weeping face down through the night, the capillaries in my nose had broken and bled into the cream carpet. Time was up. I had to shower. I had to dress. I had to go to church. I had to preach. 

In the early morning light, I knelt with rags and carpet cleaner and scrubbed the spot until it changed from crimson to white. The words of the prophet repeated in my head, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

Although that was the last time I bled into the carpet, it was not the last time I met Sunday morning with a breakdown. I didn’t want to preach. I didn’t want to pastor. I didn’t want to live. 

Read the rest here.

Seeing Down Both Sides of the Street

Several years ago, I went for a long walk in my wife’s hometown while staying there on vacation. As I looked down the sidewalk, I noticed a well-to-do looking woman walking toward me. As she reached the intersection a block ahead, she crossed the street. Then she continued to walk in the same direction. I assumed she lived on that side of the street. At the end of the block, I glanced back. Once past me, she crossed back to my side of the street and continued on her way.

I wondered for a moment at her action. Why had she crossed the street? There was no mud or broken sidewalk or dogs to avoid. Then it dawned on me—she crossed the street to avoid me.

I wondered at that for a moment. Why did this woman want to avoid me?

Then it hit me.

Continue reading “Seeing Down Both Sides of the Street”