A Mother’s Gift

Like Trees Beside Streams of Water 

Across four decades of ministry, I met some downright amazing mothers — mothers by birth, mother’s by adoption, spiritual mothers who never had children of their own but whose friendship nurtured others in the faith.  I remembered one of them when I read the lectionary Psalm for next Sunday:


They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.  (Psalm 1:3)

Her name was Elizabeth.  She was “Ibs” to some, “Gager” to many.  It was the name bestowed on her by her grandchildren; the name by which her strength, laughter, wisdom and faith were passed on to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and to the wide circle of their friends. She drew all of us into her life as if we had been born there.

She died at 94, after a long, difficult decline that robbed her, and all of us, of the beauty and vitality of her life. When her grandson posted the news on Facebook, he called her the “hero” who “taught us to love strongly and to meet the world with curiosity and an open mind.”

I will never forget standing with her, her daughter-in-law and her young grandsons beside the hospital bed where we prayed and said goodbye to her 39-year-old son before they turned off the machines and let him go. Leaving their mother behind, Gager and I went outside with the boys, sat down under an old oak tree and with an inner strength that still blows my mind, she laid aside her own grief and focused all of her energy on the boys who would face life without the son she loved, the father they adored, and friend for whom I will always give thanks.

Gager’s Last Gift 

Her last gift to me came by surprise.  Going through her desk, they found something I had written years before for the church newsletter. It was my own reflection on Psalm 1. A handwritten note said she wanted it to be included in her memorial service. With gratitude for my mother and the women like Gager who have mothered my faith across the years,  pass it on to you.

O life-giving God,
whose power surges through the whole creation,
I want to grow like a tree.
Not like a weed, Lord, or an overnight kudzu vine,
but like a strong, healthy tree,  
patient enough to grow slowly,
but always growing,
always sinking deeper roots,
always stretching wider branches,

always reaching higher into the sky.

Like a tree, Lord,

that can hold its own when a hurricane blows in from the Gulf.

One day, Lord, the tree will fall.
It will have been here long enough.
Even sequoias die.
That’s okay, Lord.
No tree lasts forever.
But may my tree fall because it has lived life fully,
richly, deeply, drawing everything it could from the soil
and giving back life to the rest of creation.
May the fruit of my tree

be a gift of life to others.

Thank you, Lord, for the soil in which you have planted me.
This is where I want to grow.
Like a tree beside the waters.
I want to grow.
Grace and peace,
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12 thoughts on “A Mother’s Gift

  1. Kay Cunningham May 9, 2018 — 7:51 pm

    Lovely reflection. Happy Mother’s Day!!

    Love, Kay


  2. I loved Mum Harnish so very much. A very special lady.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. This message couldn’t have arrived on a more appropriate day. Today was one of my Moffitt days — nothing dire in the test results but nothing great either. I really liked your mother and I know she liked me too, and I’m really glad we knew each other. Lisa

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. We’re grateful for that friendship, too!

  4. How very glorious, Jim! I also pray to be that tree.

  5. Cheryl Beckner May 9, 2018 — 9:38 pm

    Such wise words, Jim! So sorry I missed you at Hyde Park; we were out of town.

    Cheryl Beckner

    Sent from my iPad


  6. Judith Cramer May 10, 2018 — 1:25 pm

    Dear Jim, This is so lovely. May I share it with my congregations? I have many mothers on the cusp of their dotage who would be encouraged.

    Bless you,

    Pastor Judy.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Thanks! I’d be honored for you to share it.

  7. Jim, How well I remember Ibs. You captured the essence of her life in your message. Yes a strong tree but I always fondly remember her whenever my gardenia bush is in full bloom…for she generously shared bouquets of its fragrance each springtime from her Winter Park garden. Many good thoughts being sent to the three special moms in your life now.

    donna barley

  8. Today is one of the three times a year I noodle around on Facebook. Came across this…Gager would have been 100 last weekend. How blessed I am to have had her as such a daily presence in my life for so long. I do love you, Jim Harnish and will always be grateful for you in my life, in both good times and rough ones.

  9. Poked the button too soon..I’m “Jam” but you knew that!

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