Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson
Hannah: 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 achievements that would mark her as noteworthy or recognizable. Her eight years of public education in Northern Minnesota definitely was not significant on a resume. Helen’s friendships were limited as she lived much of her life, after moving with 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 on my knees 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.”
Yet something happened. God gave my mother a gift, a gift that subsequently 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 child of God, used as a servant of God in this world.
Hannah, in some ways, is my mother’s counter-part in the Hebrew Scriptures. Hannah’s life story was different from my mother who was a second-generation child of immigrant parents from Finland, but their source of strength was the same Rock from which we are all made. Hannah, according to the writer of I Samuel 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 the heart actions of a loving mother, but “lending…to the LORD; as long as he lives” is an extra-ordinary act of faith.
Hannah modeled 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 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; she lived them. She never thought of “giving her testimony” to anyone. She lived that also. 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 for my mother, centered in the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus was to be “lifted up” and a sermon without Jesus was no sermon at all for her.
Helen was my mother. She taught me to pray as she modeled 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 area. I do not come from a religious tradition that believes the dead pray for us, but as I sat on the grass I “realized,” I “sensed,” I “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 as Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson and Hannah of the Hebrew Scriptures lean into his love and grace.