It was 9:00 a.m. and I was sitting in my mother’s hospital room, trying to make sense of the last twelve hours. I received a panicked text message from my sister the night before that indicated something was wrong with someone I knew. I immediately called my sister and heard, “Mom has passed out.” I hung up the phone and called my dad.
“Dad, is mom ok?”
“I don’t know. I just called the ambulance.”
“I was helping her go to the bathroom and she collapsed.”
“Dad, I’m on my way home.”
Tara and I frantically packed a travel bag and I was on my way at 9:30 p.m. to the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
The three and a half hour late night drive left me weary the next morning which slowed my ability to process what I was seeing. In the bed was my sweet mother, doing ok, but suffering from a broken hip. (She broke her hip from the fall after losing consciousness due to vertigo.) I was immediately thankful that, except for the broken hip, she was ok. However, it still stunned me to see Mom laying there so helpless and in pain.
I sat down next to mom and held her hand. There was an irony in the moment for me as I thought, “If this were any other family but mine, I would walk into this hospital room at about this time, pray for, and pastor my family. But, who’s going to pastor my family?” That internal question was a moment of sincere longing for nurturing and support. Who was going to pastor the pastor’s family?
There have been moments in my life when I have been stunned by God’s immediate actions to hear my prayer and make his presence known in a situation. I was about to experience another one of those moments as I sat next to my mom’s bed.
I had no sooner finished praying my prayer of desperation when I heard a knock on Mom’s hospital door. I looked up and saw what I thought was another doctor or nurse walking into the room. However, the person quickly extended her hand and said, “Hi, my name is Alice (pronounced Ah-lee-cee) and I am a chaplain with the hospital.”
“Well,” I thought. “God wasted no time answering that one.”
But the moment grew even sweeter…
Alice had a slight foreign accent. I asked Alice about her home as a child. She indicated that she was from Brazil and moved to the states as a teenager. I asked Alice her last name. She told me her last name and I suddenly found myself in a God-sized sweet, holy, here-I-am-Paul moment that caused my soul to flood with both peace and tears.
Alice was not just a random hospital chaplain that walked into our room in that moment. Alice was the wife of one of Tara’s best friends from college. The holy irony of God sending a hospital chaplain originally from Brazil who ended up marrying one of Tara’s best and influential guy friends in college to a hospital room in the hills of eastern Kentucky was not lost on me. It was as if God heard my prayer and said, “Paul, dude, I’m all around you and your family. I’ve got this.”
Galatians 6.2 says that Christ-followers are to carry each other’s burdens. Alice helped carry my family’s burden in that moment. She also played a significant role helping Mom relax immediately before being wheeled into surgery through the words of a very poignant and powerful prayer. I am thankful for Alice and I am thankful for the way God used her to show my family that he was present. I am also thankful for a God who can take a girl from South America, introduce her to a rabid UK fan who she would later marry, and place that girl in a not-so-random hospital room in eastern Kentucky to minister to the family of her husband's college friend.
“Paul, dude, I’m all around you and your family. I’ve got this.”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31.6
So there we were, I was a seventeen year-old high school junior learning to drive and she was a forty-six year-old mother who was about to lose her mind. Mom had made the decision to allow me to drive home after school, and, for the most part, the trip had gone well. However, my sweet, little, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly, mother was about to turn into a raging mother hen on steroids at the intersection of a bridge and the main road that ran next to our house.
It was a stop sign that I had navigated a few times. It was a T-Intersection and I was the only part of the T that had to stop. Traffic to my left and right was continuous and the view of oncoming traffic was somewhat obstructed by bushes and a church. The obstructed view meant that a person had to navigate slowly into the turn in order to make sure there were no oncoming vehicles. I stopped, looked left, looked right, and then slowly started to ease into the turn in order to see past the church and bushes. I kept inching out, and out, and out, when, unbeknownst to me, I was in the middle of the road. I should have sensed the anxiety on the other side of the car as my mother began to levitate in her seat. Finally, after inching out way to far, my sweet, innocent, always encouraging mother yells out, “D@^n it, Paul! Turn the wheel!”
I was shocked! I had never heard my mother curse in her life, let alone at me. And, instead of turning, I just stared at her, which meant we kept moving further and further out into the intersection. So, again, Mom yells, “D@^n it, Paul! Turn the wheel!” I finally turned the wheel and we made it safely home. It was a while again before Mom allowed me to drive. I learned a valuable lesson that day; sweet, innocent mamas will go into raging mother-hen-on-steroids mode if you don’t pay attention and turn the wheel at the appropriate time. (I still grin every time I turn left at that intersection.)
I love my mom. She taught me many valuable life lessons. Lessons that, I was somewhat unaware of until I took sometime this week to reflect on her influence. While reflecting upon my mother, a Confederate Railroad song came to mind titled, “Jesus and Mama Always Loved Me.” One part of that song states, “Life’s a picture that you paint, with blues and grays and cans and cant’s, heaven knows I’m not a saint, but I know Jesus and Mama always loved me.” My mom, Trudy Gibson, has always loved me and she’s taught me some very necessary lessons about life and Jesus.
First, Mom taught me through her presence. She showed me that there is power in being with someone. She was not very instructive with me, but I never had to be concerned with whether or not she would be present. Whether it was an academic meet, a basketball game, or an early sermon, Mom was there. Mom told me time and again that she cared for me by being present with me.
Jesus is truth. One of the most powerful characteristics of Christ is that he became truth in flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus showed us that real truth is relational. His life was an example of the familiar educational phrase, “Caught, not taught.” The disciples caught a lot of Jesus because they saw him in flesh live out what he taught. I caught or observed much of what I learned from my mom. Jesus’ actions, as described in the Gospels, challenge me just as much as his words. Jesus and mama always loved me because they took the time to be present with me.
Mom also taught me through her work ethic and by getting dirty. There were many mornings when I groaned as I rolled out of bed because it was too early to be awake. I easily could have slept for another forty-five minutes every single day if it were not for the fact that my mom wanted to get to school in order to prepare her classroom. She was always one of the first ones to arrive and one of the last ones to leave. Also, Mom’s work ethic taught me that, if you are going to do your job correctly, getting dirty is required. Mom had students throw up on her, parents yell at her, and kids share lice with her.
Jesus also had a work ethic of time and getting dirty. Scripture teaches us that Jesus spent thirty-three years on earth. Yet, it was the last three years of his life that show how he invested time in those he taught. Think about this: Jesus took a no good group of fishermen, tax collectors, and women and patiently invested his time in them for three years. He taught disciples who were so impatient and hot headed that they wanted to destroy cities (Luke 9.54) and were always fighting for positions of power (Mark 10.37). Yet, it was Jesus' time with them that molded these men and women into a group that would change the world.
Like my mom, Jesus got dirty because he hung around dirty people. He touched the untouchable (Mark 1.45), he spent time with the unlovable (John 4), he cradled the undesirable (Luke 18.16), and forgave the unfaithful (John 21). Why did Jesus get dirty? Jesus got dirty because he knew that changing peoples lives was worth the dirt, the grime, the gossip, and the accusations. Jesus lived a dirty life because he loved. Jesus and mama always loved me through their work ethic and by getting dirty.
Finally, Mom taught me through sacrifice. She taught me much about putting others first. Remember that I used to complain about getting up too early? Well, Mom would get up even earlier in order to always, and I mean ALWAYS, make me a breakfast that consisted of two eggs and two pieces of toast. Mom traveled hours on the twisted backroads of eastern Kentucky in order to watch me play basketball. Mom never missed a game in nine years. Mom would sacrifice what little money she had to buy me a coke and candy bar whenever we stopped by the local convenient store. We were not poor, but we had to use our money to the maximum in order to survive.
Jesus was all about sacrifice. He sacrificed heaven (Philippians 2), he sacrificed dignity (John 18), and he ultimately sacrificed his life (John 20). I am here today because, in large part, my mom sacrificed for me. We are here today because God-in-flesh, Jesus the Messiah, sacrificed for us. John 15 states that greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Scripture teaches that Jesus laid down his life, or sacrificed, for you, me, and the rest of the world in order to redeem all humanity back to God. Again, Jesus was all about sacrifice. Jesus and mama always loved me through their sacrifice.
Today, I am thankful that another mother embodies the same characteristics of presence, work ethic, and sacrifice to her children. Her name is Tara Gibson. I know that many of you think I work hard and sacrifice for this church. I am nothing compared to the 5’3 daughter of Tracy and April Woodall, the dynamo of a mom who makes breakfast every morning, treats patients every day, and then returns home to put up with the insatiable neediness and whiney nature of me. Proverbs 31.10 asks, “Who can find a capable wife? She is far more precious than jewels.” Trudy Gibson, Tara Gibson, April Woodall, and Becky Tuttle are, by far, the jewels of my life. They, like Jesus, have always loved me.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.