Helen Susan (Taittonen) Jacobson: Mother’s Day

“‘Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.’ She left him there for the LORD.”    I Samuel 1:28

Among the ordinary Helen reigns supreme: quiet, unassuming and even timid.  There was nothing about her physical appearance or personality or worldly achievement that would mark her as noteworthy or recognizable.  She completed about eight years of elementary education in the Iron Ore Range of Northern Minnesota.  Her friendships were limited, as she perhaps lived much of her life after moving with her husband and children to the Evergreen State of Washington, with a heart aching for her relatives in her far-away home state.  Sickness and near blindness stalked her life until the day she died on an operating table with only her husband in the waiting room.

And yet I saw and experienced the living God in her daily life and in her commitment to prayer.  Helen was my mother, and she was the one who taught me to pray and to come to Jesus as my Savior and Friend.

My mother and father, Nestor, were in their middle forties when I was conceived as “a mistake.”  A few years before she died, she told me that after I was conceived she was ashamed and hid from the public eye.  My mom felt she was too old to have a child.  She must have forgotten her pedigree in the long-line of elderly women in the scriptures who conceived in their “golden years.”  But something happened.  God gave her a gift, a gift that subseequently has become significant to me, her son by “mistake.”  God’s Word came to her.  God “spoke” to my mother in her pregnancy and she was given the assurance that this child, kicking and punching in her womb, was to be a chld of God, used as a servant of God in this world.

Hannah, in some way, is my other’s counter-part in the Old Testament.  Hannah’s life story was differnt from my mother who was a second-generation child of immigrant parents from Finland, but the source of strength was the same Rock from which we are all made.  Hannah, according to the writer of I Samuel 1, was barren and the object of scorn by the second, “successful” wife of her husband Elkanah.  This ordinary woman, with a heart aching with desire to be a mother, did what women (and men also) of faith have always done: she prayed…and prayed…and prayed.  Then she too received the promise of the Lord through the priest Eli.  When Hannah delivered her first-born son, she presented him to the LORD with these simple words which convey great depth of faith and a mother’s heart of passionate desire for her child: “Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD,” (I Samuel 1:28) and thus Samuel, the prophet, was placed into the hands of God by his loving, praying, faith-filled mother.  It is an ordinary act and yet it is a mountain-moving, faith-filled act for a mother to “lend” her child to the Lord.

Mothers want to hold their darlings tight.  Cuddling and comforting, nursing and caring are all heart actions of a loving mother, but “lending…to the LORD; as long as he lives,” is an extra-ordinary act of faith.

Hannah modelled such faith and so did my mother, Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson.  My earliest memories include those of kneeling beside my bed with my mother as we shared with the Lord our hearts, our needs and the needs of others.

Helen was not a theologian.  Though she read her well-used Bible daily, she did not have a trained, academic understanding of “Biblical criticism” or scholarship.  She never preached a sermon, nor do I think she ever sought to “give her testimony.”  (She lived it!)  Yet, I remember returning from worship one Sunday and Mom gave her critique of the sermon, something I remember her doing only this one time.  She said, “Pastor preached today but he did not use the name Jesus once!”  A sermon was to be centered in Jesus, in his grace and love.  Jesus was to be “lifted up” and a sermon without Jeus is no sermon at all!

Helen was my mother.  She taught me to pray as she modelled it daily with me.  She died when I was about twenty-three years old, but decades later I sat beside her gravesite on a hill over looking the Kelso-Longview, Washington valley.  I do not come from a religious tradition that believers the dead pray for us, but as I sat on the grass I “realized,” I “sensed””felt” the timeless, efficacious prayers that my ordinary mother prayed decades before but in God’s sight are timeless and ever before his throne.

The ordinary often are the quiet people of faith and prayer, but I picture Jesus, with a smile brimming across his face and his arms wide open in welcome, as he receives their prayers and finally their very lives.

(One chapter in a book that I am writing entitled “Blessed Are The Ordinary, For In Them I Have Seen God.”)

Can I still Dream?

Am I too old to dream dreams, too “established,”  too gentrified?  Your “old men shall dream dreams” the prophet said.  Can I?

What is my dream?  It is yet unfulfilled, but being shaped in my mind and in my heart.  My dream:  a community of men, women and youth of all races who know the meaning and experience of the poustinic (the prayer), but who live that calling in the world as agents of God’s revolutionary love.

The prayer of the poustinic is to be openly transparent, vulnerable and longing to love and be loved by the Triune God.  Prayer is the root, the foundation, the life source of such a community.  Such prayer that is corporate, prayer that is private, prayer that is silent, and prayer that is vocal.  Prayer is the vital, virtual connection, relationship with our God of immense love.

As Catherine Doherty (Poustinia, chapter 7) speaks of a “Poustinia of the marketplace.”  My understanding of living in the marketplace might be a little different than Catherine’s, for I see the futility of charity, of giving assistance without giving development, development that springs from, not the needs, but the resources and the gifts of the needy.  My sense of living in the  marketplace is to see the needs of people from a systemic but very personal and very relational position.  Can we, who live the pousinia of the marketplace, become friends with those in need?  Can we live among them, not drive to them and then isolate ourselves in locked communities or behind garage door openers?

So my dream is not necessarily prayer and work as it is prayer and loving relationships with the poor which then propels us to give what we have, do what we can and tell what we know.