Giving honor to whom honor is due

This week we celebrate one of my favorite days of the year — Mother’s Day.

I heard a lady at church yesterday morning say that Mother’s Day was a very sad day for her. Being a reporter for so many years, I sensed a story and made a point of speaking to her privately after class. She shared with me that her own dearly loved mom was dead and had been gone for years, all of her aunts had passed away, her teachers and many of her friends were dead, and she had outlived most of her closest of relatives. She was herself a mother of two, but her son and daughter were adults and busy with their own lives. They seemed to have little time for her. She doubted that she would see them Mother’s Day weekend.

As I listened to her story, I realized that this good woman felt abandoned in life and that she was unhappy in her own heart and soul. As I mulled over what she had said to me, I began to think seriously of all of the wonderful people God had placed in my life to help nurture, educate, teach and care for me. The Bible teaches us in Romans 13:7 to “give honor to whom honor is due.” I know this is written primarily to government officials and leaders, but it works for me when thinking about the people God has put in my life. Romans 12:10 in the KJV of the Bible teaches us to “be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly (or sisterly) love, in honor preferring one another.”

Many of those on my personal honoring list are not family members. Some were teachers, employers, neighbors, fellow church members and people I met in connection with my profession.

The first person on my list of those to honor on this special day will always be my beloved Mama Cole, a 4-foot-11, leathery skinned powerhouse of a woman who worked from dawn to dusk and was the most influential person I have ever encountered. Lena Darby Cole came from solid Cherokee Indian stock and went to work in a tough environment when she was 10 years old. She was employed by Scottdale Mills, a hot, lint-filled textile mill in the little village in DeKalb County, Ga. Her entire weekly paycheck was given to her family to help pay their bills and to buy food. She was so short that she could not reach the weaving looms, so the boss man had a wooden box constructed for her to stand on to do her job.

She did all of her own housework, cooked, cleaned, and reared three daughters and me while Granddaddy Cole worked the day shift. He came home at 3 in the afternoon and she went to work at 3 and worked every night until 11 p.m. Sleeping only a few hours, she was back up and at ’em the next morning with a hot breakfast on the table and many of her chores done. The owner of the mill who loved her greatly finally came to see her when she was 86 and made her retire. He said the law made him do it. Her reply was, “Well, Mr. Scott, you can make me quit and stay home, but I can still outwork three of those young girls you’ve got in there now.” That one sentence gives you an idea of her strength, her determination and her stamina.

Mama Cole did not have the opportunity of an education, as was true of many women of her generation. She was, however, brilliant. She could size things up, make a decision and carry through with her plan of action before most folks could even see the scene in their mind. I’d like to think I inherited my sense of work ethic from her. I know I learned to cook, bake, clean, care for others, and develop an outgoing and happy spirit because of her teaching. She was my rock and the anchor of my life and for as long as I can remember. When she died at age 99, I was crushed. I still miss her every day of my life in some way.

Her two daughters, my aunts Anna and Minnie, were also wonderful examples in my life. Aunt Minnie went away to nursing school, a really big deal where we lived, and served in the medical profession for more than 45 years. She is a wonderful wife, mother, friend and neighbor and still to this day cares for many medical needs among her friends. My Aunt Anna worked in the laundry industry, manning the front counter of a busy dry cleaner for much of her adult life. She has more friends than anyone I know and is the epitome of a good Christian. When I think of “a good woman,” I think of my Aunt Anna. I trust I learned the importance of education from Aunt Minnie and the art of encouragement and Christian living from Aunt Anna.

Irma Nowell was the teacher I will never forget. She was the first to offer me the opportunity to write. “You can write. Now, get busy and do it,” was what she said to get me going. I believed her and have been writing since, starting with my school newspaper and the yearbook. I have earned my living doing it.

My mother-in-law, Willie Estelle Stancil, came from a hard life. She was a sharecropper on a rugged, rock filled South Carolina farm, planting and harvesting cotton and all of the food the family had to eat. It was a brutal life and depended greatly on the elements. She can outwork any two men I’ve ever seen. With her meager start in life, she has always taught me the meaning of simple beauty in flowers, our homes, and in finding the good in each person she meets. I have learned strength and an appreciation of beauty from Willie, who will always be my mother-in-law. In fact, she’s coming for her annual visit to Texas soon. I have many things planned to be sure she enjoys her trip.

There were many others over the years, but what I am trying to get you to do is to look back and see the women (and men at another time) that have influenced you. This is a wonderful weekend in which to say thank you and mean it from the depths of your heart. A telephone call, a note, a card, an e-mail or a visit might go a long way in letting these very important people in your life know their standing.

The very best thing we can do to honor those whom God used in our lives is to mentor others as we were mentored. I have a long list of my “adopted kids,” young men and women who came to me in a time of need or uncertainty. They lived in our home, ate our food, drove our vehicles, cried on my shoulder, faced problems, made great gains, and I was allowed to be a small part. I get so much joy from seeing their accomplishments, meeting their families and learning about those they are now mentoring.

Happy Mother’s Day, and our honor goes to you today. Remember the blended families, those who have no children of their own, and those women who might be hurting on this important day.

Brenda Cannon Henley is an award-winning journalist and writer living on the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast. Having enjoyed more than four decades in ministry, Brenda shares her columns with our readers and works with churches and faith-based programs nationwide. She can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com