Happy Birthday, Mother, and thank you for the letter

Actually, it’s my letter to you, written nearly 30 years ago, but thank you for saving it.

I must have used one of those old electric typewriters at the J.C. Penney store where I worked when I was 18 to write my mother the two-page letter I found a few years after she died. She stored it in a large tin in her hallway with dozens of other letters and cards.

Honestly, I have no recollection of writing the letter. When I read it, I realized I had poured my heart into explaining my reasons for joining the Navy and asked my mother to understand me and trust me in spite of what might have seemed a rash decision.

Looking back, I was shocked to realize that just a month before her death, indeed, I had achieved what I had so clearly indicated I had set out to do.

This morning, not thinking about it being mother’s birthday, I thought about the letter I wrote as I lingered a moment outside the building where I work. It’s been seven years since mother died now, and I thought about the long day I would spend putting a newspaper to bed, and how, in spite of the day-to-day challenges, my life is richer knowing my mother died seeing me fulfill that part of God’s plan for my life.

In the letter, postmarked “Feb. 7, 1980,” I wrote, in part:

“God has a purpose and plan for everyone’s life. It is not necessarily meant that every woman must live at home, get married and go to church. Eventually, if it’s in God’s will, I may do that, but for now, that doesn’t seem to be what He wants for me.

“Mother, I wish you’d understand that I am only 18. I am not planning for the rest of my life, but only a few years. Like that saying, ‘The Navy is not only a job, but an adventure.’ In just a few months, (basic training), I’ll have had my body in shape, my teeth fixed, some training and order in my life, and education in the field of my choice. Also a chance to witness to others, go to church regularly, and to travel.

“Travel and education are among my choices for joining.

How can I ever get enough money to go to a good 4 year college and receive my master’s degree in journalism so that I may have a good career. Even at Bible colleges, and the Southern Baptist Convention Center, in order to teach and write, you must have a degree. Then traveling. I would like to see first hand the countries we discuss in church and Bible study, and the people therein.

 

“Mother, my idea is to make myself a better instrument for God so that I can serve Him better. … Don’t worry about me. I have and will always have the high morals you taught me, and will take care of myself.”

“I love you.”

Fourteen hours after I first thought of my letter to mother this morning, I walked out of that same building, realizing it was mother’s birthday, if only for a few minutes more. Bent on processing, editing, proofing, designing – I barely had time for food – let alone to dwell on the date. When it hit me with force, I felt as Emily Dickinson once described an individual at a funeral, with “eyes wrung dry.” Though I barely cried, my heart was full and I ached.

Of course I miss mother, but I thank her, too. Because of the need to explain the clear call of God on my life those many years ago – I have a precious reminder that some dreams and goals we may not even remember are instilled in us by the One who created us for this life.

I can tell you for sure I never remember thinking I needed a master’s degree in journalism for much of anything. Not sure where at the “Southern Baptist Convention Center” I hoped to work, but my office at the Witness is located on the fifth floor of the Florida Baptist Convention building in Jacksonville. I did earn a bachelor’s of science in education and a master’s in education degree – and I love to travel and tell stories of missions and missionaries and have been to Brazil and Jordan on work-related trips. I couldn’t imagine painting a more accurate portrayal of what I do—30 years ago.

When I am challenged to forget my calling, to grow weary or faint of heart – the letter is there to remind me I did not choose, God did. “God is the author of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for.” He knew the desires of my heart, even when I did not.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Happy Birthday, Mother, and thank you for the letter

  1. Melissa Lang

    Joni, I really enjoyed reading this post. Oh, how it spoke to my heart as well. Thank you for your words. 🙂

  2. brianon

    Just one more reason we should write more letters. Would this treasure have been kept if it were a tweet, text or e-mail? I think not.

  3. jonibh

    You are so right Brian. I read it thinking, “No way!” I don’t remember writing it or even thinking that when I wrote it or for the years afterwards until I found the letter. I was focused on learning to be a wife, raising my children (teaching) and occasionally writing and being obedient wherever I was and working alongside my husband. I never “aspired” to be a denominational news writer, per se, or to work in a missions writing capacity. It’s all a joy and by the grace of God. I couldn’t have written a more prophetic letter from the heart. God is good. I have now traveled internationally 4 times in 9 years and been able to tell stories frequently about how God is working in the lives of His people all throughout the world–here and abroad. It’s sweet.

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