As many of you know, my Mom passed away on the 11th of May. As I’m writing this, over a week has already gone by and once again I’m amazed at how time keeps persistently moving forward. But that’s not why I’m telling you about my Mom’s passing. There’s something more that I want to share with you, but I’m going to ask a favor of you before we continue. I want to ask you to withhold judgment until you’ve read the whole story.
So here we go. My Mom and I were not emotionally close. We were never ugly toward one another; we just didn’t talk much or share much with one another. I loved my Mom in a dutiful sort of way and I’m confident that she loved me though she was not demonstrative about it. You’re liable to think I’m a terrible son when I say that I have not cried over her death, but I can honestly say it was a blessing because she was physically and emotionally miserable.
But I’ve come to know my Mom a bit better since May 11th. She left me and my sister and brother a gift that we were largely unaware of. Mom liked journals, at least she liked the idea of them because she would buy them and start writing. None of them are complete but her story is there in bits and pieces. The gift to me was the journal where she wrote about her life growing up and about her first marriage to my birth father. Peyton Place has nothing on this story.
Mom was born in Wheatland, WY, the youngest of six children, one of whom died in infancy. Her father was an alcoholic and when she was around 12 her father caught her mother in bed with another man. Her parents divorced and the court determined that neither one of them were fit to be parents so Mom was shipped off to live with her siblings, each of them keeping her for a few years until she was 19 or 20. Then she decided to move to California with one of her cousins. It was the late 1950’s. After a time, she and her cousin parted ways. That’s when she met my birth father. She writes that he was charming, a smooth talker and she wrote multiple times that she was naïve. She was young, longing for someone to love her and not very wise. She had told me bits and pieces about him through the years but her journal revealed that the man was an absolute scoundrel (I’m being polite).
They went to Reno, NV to get married because his divorce was not final. He had four children by his first wife and likely I have other siblings because he was a womanizer. He would leave my mom for days at a time, crossing the border into Tijuana to go to the strip clubs. Not too long after they were married he stole $3000 (equal to $28,000 today) from a Go-Cart club that they belonged to. After stealing the money, he took my mom to San Francisco. The club members tracked him down and when he didn’t pay back the money they had him thrown in jail. A short time after his parents bailed him out I was born. While she was in the hospital my Mom gave him $200 to pay toward the hospital bill and he took the money and went to the bar. That was the final straw for Mom and she divorced him. She goes on to talk about being a young single mom and the trauma of irresponsible baby sitters before she met Jack Brown, the guy who would give me his name and become my Dad.
That’s where the journal ended. Pretty crazy, right? Those of you who know me would have never guessed my tragic, convoluted origins. You would likely never imagine that I was the offspring of such a despicable man or that any woman could be so gullible as my mom. It is truly an amazing thing that I am the person I am in the place where I am. That’s what grace is all about. I am only who I am by the sheer grace of the Lord. I can think of a thousand different ways that my life could have turned out. There are thousands of “what if’s” that pop up when I think about what my life could have been and most of the outcomes are not pretty. I can confidently confess with Paul that “I am what I am by the grace of God!” By His grace He orchestrated the course of my life, moving us from San Fran to Idaho to Ft. Lauderdale and finally to Boynton Beach and the Christian Academy at FBC Boynton where for the first time I heard and understood the Gospel, asking the Lord to forgive me and receive me as His own (Mom and I were baptized together at FBC Boynton and my Dad about a year later.) I’m twice adopted! Finding Mom’s journal has blown me away. Not because of how awful or tragic it was but because of the clarity of God’s grace to me in all of it. The story of my life is shot through with the grace of God!
However, there is another take away in all of this and I hope you’ll hear my heart in this. I didn’t just turn my life around. I was rescued! If you are a believer, your life is shot through with the same grace. You and your family may have a long history as Christ followers. You couldn’t even begin to imagine yourself or someone in your family getting caught up in the kind of chaos described in my Mom’s journal. But here’s the reality. If you go digging back in your family history far enough, you’re going to find someone whom the Lord rescued out of the chaos and brokenness of their family and changed the trajectory of their life and that of their family. You’re just as much a recipient of grace as I am. We’re all in need of rescue because we’re all lost and hopeless without the grace of Jesus.
One last thing. I hope my story is a reminder to all of us to be careful not to write people off. We never know how the grace of Christ can change a life. It certainly has mine!