Aside from the year she started her list, 1984, 5/3/08 is the only date Mom wrote on the page of alphabetically organized verses in her prayer journal. Sometime over the years, she decided to tear out the sheet and just keep the page in her bible.
After leaving the Catholic church, mom and I attended Community Bible Church at the farthest corner of our town. She found solace there for her weary heart, people to lean on as she struggled with my brother’s issues. For my part, I made friends with the older people, in particular, my Sunday school teacher. She enrolled my class in Emaus Bible courses and I was very proud of my certificate of completion. Elfie, a German lady at the church, would watch me on occasion, and I always enjoyed my time in her home. She had a grown son who I didn’t see much and a toddler daughter with whom I would play. She would find crafts for me to do like making napkin holders out of clothespins, show me how to make her special lemon-limeade or bake her delicious zucchini bread. Most importantly, Elfie was our bible verse person. Mom and I had a running deal with her to learn bible verses for books or prizes. Each week we would go to her and recite bible verses we had committed to memory. I actually don’t remember the rewards, but I do recall the verses. They have crept or crashed into my mind during times in my life when I needed them most.
Learning God’s word by heart was a particular mission for my mom. One of the first verses I remember her teaching me was, “A harsh word stirs up anger but a gentle word turns away wrath” Proverbs 15:1. She made me learn it as a way to avoid problems with my brother. Since we were always walking on eggshells at home, never knowing what would set him off, she thought the verse would help me tame my smart mouth. Often his wrath was turned on me, so it was imperative for me to learn to hold my tongue. In truth, it sometimes worked, though other times it didn’t because either he was too angry or my tongue-taming abilities were lacking. Another verse relating to my problem was, “Who can tame the tongue? It is a restless evil full of deadly poison.” James 3: 8 & 9.
My mother was always conscious of how what came out of one’s mouth could affect one’s life. Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That “building others up” part was crucial. To her, the word of the Lord was life, wisdom, truth, strength, hope, praise, encouragement, the inerrant word of God. She spoke them over us all the time. It was amazing to me that she knew so many bible verses off the top of her head. It seemed that whenever she was in need of guidance or strength, the scripture bubbled up from the wellspring of her soul to nourish, soothe, or guide her.
Long after I was grown and no longer running to tell her my verses, she decided to pass on the gift of memorization to my children. She had a system. Everywhere she went she traveled with a pocket-sized flip top spiral-bound notebook in which she wrote her to do lists or things she needed to remember. Her purse, bulky and many-pocketed, filled with a McGuyver’s treasure trove of “necessities” perpetually hung by her side with a shortened strap to fit her tiny frame. Plotting and planning which verses to choose, which held the most meaning and the easiest concepts, she would jot them down in one of those notebooks and store it in her bag with various rewards for learning. Almost as soon as he could speak she started teaching my son bible verses. Wrapped in the simple melody of her choosing, she would weave in a verse and reference and sing them over and over to him until he could respond in kind. Over the years he added Dum Dums to the first treat, Bazooka gum. “Something sweet for the sweet word of God,” she would say. When he would memorize and successfully recite a new verse to her – she bestowed the sweet representation of what God’s word would do for his life.
As each of my children was born she added more verses and treats which she would dispense on Sundays after a week of memorization. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, when you don’t know what to say or do, Trust in the Lord with all your heart! Proverbs three verse five, Wooo!” There was always a “Woo!” at the end of each little ditty, it made them more exciting and fun. Mom always added some thrilling sound effect. She had grown up in the time of radio broadcasts and understood the importance of sound effects in speech. At some point after my first daughter was born Mom introduced Laffy Taffys and Twizzlers.
Each week it was the same, she would tell them their new verse on Sunday and sing it for them until they could repeat it. We would all go home singing the next melody, and I would practice it with them all week. Each time she would visit in the days before Sunday she would review with the kids. She sang it with them while they tidied up their room. She sang it with them when they played outside. At the park, in the car, at the store, wherever they were together, she sang it with them so that when the time came that they needed strength or guidance, the words of the Lord would leap into their minds.
Trying to find an outfit she loved as Mom lay dying in the hospital, I came across her “Sunday bag,” the one she would switch out to wear with her Sunday best when going to church. I took it down from its place on the shelf, feeling the weight of its emptiness. Lifting the flap to smell the leather I saw that despite feeling empty, it wasn’t. Nestled inside were three individually wrapped Twizzlers and three Dum Dum lollipops, one for each of my three children. My youngest daughter was only two when Mom died, but that was still old enough for her to have learned her first verse, “Jesus wept. John 11:35.”
Mom had commemorated the event by writing the date on her page, 5/3/08