Dear Mom, Thanks for the benefit of the doubt
I think it was the residual thoughts of a dream I dreamt, but it slipped into the recesses of subconscious and disappeared in the fog of fading memory. I can no longer confirm that I dreamed of her or dreamed at all.
At any rate, I woke.
I woke, hearing in my head (or maybe my heart) her perfect alto voice.
In my vision, she is at her familiar perch at the upright piano to the left (your left if you are in the pew, facing the front of the auditorium, which I am) of the small stage and simple oaken pulpit of the First Bible Baptist Church there in Mineral Wells, where her father holds forth the gospel according to Bill.
She is not a fancy pianist. She plays with neither flair nor pomp...and certainly no circumstance. Instead, she employees a simple, straightforward style that seems to say, "I'm just here to draw your attention to the words. Listen...to the words."
Before Adele, there was Freda
Her piano playing is simple, sure. Her voice, however, is complex and rich. I have heard few altos sing with more power or subtlety than Mom in her prime. Think of Adele if Adele adored Christ.
She is singing the song she sang from that spot more than any other I can recall: "Neither Do I Condemn Thee."
It is impossible for me to hear that song and not hear Mom sing it.
By the crowd of worshipers, sorry for their sins, Was a poor wanderer, rudely brought in; Scribes came and Pharisees anxious to see What the meek Nazarene's verdict would be.
Chorus Neither do I condemn thee, precious words divine, From the lips of mercy like the sweetest chime. Wonderful words of Jesus, sing them o'er and o'er, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more."
They told of her wanderings, naming each flaw, Spoke of her punishment, quoting the law, Writing upon the ground sadly and slow, Thus sat He unheedingly, head bending low.
Still cried the Pharisee’s, “Pray, Master, pray What shall we do with her, what doth Thou say?" Then said he rebukingly let the first stone Come from the sinless hands, hence and alone
Cheeks flushing with the shame, turning about And from His presence, walking slowly out Then saw she standing there, head bending low He who the world despised, bade her sin no more
Spoke He most tenderly, pray, woman, pray, Hast thou no accusers?" "Nay, Master, nay," "Neither do I condemn thee, soul, sick and sore; Go forth, I pardon thee, go and sin no more
This remarkable moment from the life of Christ, set to music and sung with such earnest emotion by my mother, forever etched on my soul the depth, the beauty, and the raw power of divine grace.
This has me thinking about Freda Jo (Henager) Strother and all of the ways she has enriched my life.
Like more sons than not, I think of her as pretty much the perfect Mom. The hallmarks of her brand of motherhood? Unfailing love. Unapologetic loyalty. Undying support.
There being no one to ask me the obvious question, I asked myself, "Gene, what is the one thing your Mom gave you that most informed who you are today?"
The answer I came back with surprised me...
"The benefit of the doubt," I says. "Mom always gave me the benefit of the doubt."
A Juvenile Delinquency...not a Delinquent
Some of my readers know this and some do not, but one of the watershed moments of my life took place when I was about 10. Dad was the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Strawn, Texas, a town of slightly more than 700 souls. Across the street from the church was an old cemetery with graves dating back to around the Civil War era — Mount Moriah Cemetery. One Fall day, someone made the initial discovery that a bunch of the old tombstones had been pushed over.
I confess. It was me...and my friend, Paul. We were playing some crazy graveyard football game we made up and the tombstones were the silly defenders trying to tackle us. Once we discovered the adrenaline rush of pushing over such heavy, formidable stones, we, drunk with power, cut a wide swathe through the hallowed ground.
No, I am not proud of this.
Nor did I confess to it when questioned by my parents as to whether I had any knowledge of the incident. Dad was suspicious. But Mom...Mom believed. Well, she believed me until she didn't anymore. It was Mom who finally, a month or so after the incident, confronted me and I confessed. Lying to Mom was harder than it sounds. Her trust was so real and her pain so palpable when you broke it, it always broke me.
I think about the way I think about things today and I realize how blessed I was to have a believer in Mom. She always assumed I was right — or on the right side — until I proved her wrong. I was on her fighting side, brother. Mess with her boy and reap the whirlwind.
Even when I was wrong, Mom believed it was a bad thing I did, but that I was not that bad thing, nor a bad person.
All Trust is Sacred
I think about how sad it is for relationships built on doubt and mistrust. How hard it is to be the kid of the parent who always assumes the worst. Or the husband of the wife who suspects everything. Or the wife of the husband who doesn't trust you out of his sight.
George MacDonald said, "To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved."
Trust is sacred. Trust is precious. Trust me, it can be lost and there are few losses greater.
Of all the manifold benefits I have enjoyed as the son of Freda Jo, I have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt the most.
Thanks, Mom. I try to give that same thing to my kids and hope they will to theirs.
I love you.