It was Mother's Day, 1964. I was up early on that Sunday morning anticipating the walk to the church with my father.
As the Baptist preacher in my little hometown, Dad was usually at the church early every Sunday morning. Often in the late spring and summer, I was encouraged to join him on a Lord's Day hike down to the corner of 4th and Virginia Avenue where First Baptist Church was located.
This Mother's Day would be a memorable one! It was only three months before my 10th birthday.
The yard surrounding our humble parsonage was a small-scale botanical garden. Fortunately, the man who preceded my father as pastor had a green thumb and had planted a variety of roses, azaleas, camellias, fig and plum trees.
I often felt sorry for this "pastor-planter" for he was much like Moses who planted but never was able to see his "promised land" of flower and fruit. He died of a heart attack too soon before he could see the bounty of that colorful landscape. Thanks to him, our yard was the envy of many neighbors.
As my father and I walked out the front door that second Sunday in May, he paused at one of the rose bushes and began to use his pocketknife to gather two of the most beautiful roses on the thorny branch. On our way down the street, my father began to tell me about the love he had for his own mother.
She died young. When he was only 20 years old, she went on to heaven after years of suffering and pain. Yet she must have provided a tremendous amount of guidance and encouragement in those few years they shared together.
My Dad reminisced about my paternal grandmother and her unfailing and unconditional love. He gently reminded me of those same qualities in my own mother and hoped that I would be aware of the value of a loving mother before I was left, like him, with only memories.
I walked into our church sanctuary that bright sun-filled morning decked out in my too-short gray pants, my clip-on tie pressed against a neatly-pressed white shirt and the most perfect red rose pinned on the lapel of my navy blue sport coat.
During that special Mother's Day service, I watched my mother beam as she listened to my father communicate the values of all loving mothers. As I saw the white rose on the lapel of his dark suit, I thought for the first time of the grandmother I never knew. And from that day on, I never took for granted the love of my own mother.
It is interesting to me that I learned the value of a loving mother through the symbol of a rose given to me by a thoughtful father. This Mother's Day will be a difficult one because my mother died last November after a long illness. However, I will never neglect to give thanks for her patient love, encouragement and wisdom that she freely gave to me since the day I was born. And I will also give thanks for the mother of my own three children who continues the circle of godly influence and prayerful guidance that only Mama can give.
The Bible speaks of faith, hope and love, with the greatest being love. Why is love the greatest? I believe it is because love is eternal. The white rose I will be wearing today will be a pleasant reminder of that persistent love that continues through me.
Bruce Fields is Associate Pastor/Pastoral Care at First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville.