As a young boy, I had no idea the rarity of my experiences.
When my mother decided to return to college in pursuit of a degree in education, she turned to my great-grandmothers and grandmothers to help care for me. Little did I know at the time, but these incredible, gritty ladies could be considered my very first ethics professors.
They taught me that hymns feed the soul and keep us on track.
My great-grandmother was known to the family as Jennie-mamma. She is the single person most responsible for my Baptist pedigree.
When my mother and father found themselves parents in their early 20s, it was Jennie-mamma that helped them out with taking care of me. More than anything I can remember from my earliest days with her was her always singing hymns.
Her favorite was “Trust and Obey.” Even though I did not recognize it at the time, I now realize that her choice of songs may have had a double meaning for a curious little boy.
These women shared with me the ingredients for laughter and joy.
The other great-grandmother that cared for me was known as Nanna. We did not live close to her and my great-grandfather, but when I did spend time with them, there was nothing better than Nanna’s banana pudding.
With each spoonful of deliciousness, we would talk and laugh about the adventures of her young life. To this day, when I am feeling down, I stride into the kitchen knowing anything can be resolved if we have an honest conversation and a little banana pudding.
They helped me understand the importance of presence through hamburgers, root beer and shoes.
As the last full-blood Muscogee Creek in our family, my grandmother, GiGi, contributed to my affinity for cultural identity and deep respect for diversity. However, the vast gift she handed a teenager was her presence.
On my birthday, she would always take me out for hamburgers, root beer and a trip to the local department store for some new shoes.
As a teenager, I really liked the food and shoes I was given. However, as I grew older, I discovered the most precious gift I was granted was her willingness to spend time with me.
These women demonstrated the power of affirmation.
Granny worked for Tulsa Public School as far back as I can remember. She worked in the cafeteria preparing food, serving students and breaking up fights. She was an incredible woman that was constantly working with her students and her family.
The most valuable lesson Granny taught me though was the importance of affirmation. Now, she was not overindulgent with the compliments, but she didn’t have to be.
Granny’s affirmation came through the realization that I could hear her in the stands when I was playing baseball. “Great hit, Mitch,” she would bark from behind the fence. There was nothing more comforting to a child than hearing those affirming words.
They taught me about unconditional love.
As the student turned professor, my mother taught me the most important lessons of my life. She taught me about forgiveness, generosity and kindness. However, they all pale in comparison to her lesson about unconditional love.
The love my mom professed for her family and the actions associated with it provided examples of unconditional love. My brother and I often failed in obeying her every word, caused her more work around the house and shot back an occasional harsh response. Each time, she responded with love.
No greater love has this world than a mother for her children.
I’ve also learned many lessons from those who I’ll affectionately call “adjuncts.”
While the above women formed my young life, there have been so many others afterward that have shaped my mind, held my heart and challenged my mind.
Of course, for over two decades now, my wise and thoughtful wife has been the dean of my life. Each day, she teaches something new and challenges my dogmas. For her, I am eternally grateful.
As a Baptist minister, some of the most important biblical and practical lessons of my career came from my female colleagues. From in-depth history lessons to inspiring sermons, each one helped challenge my mind, stir my heart and inspire my soul.
To my women mentors and colleagues, I am so thankful to be in a community of faith that affirms your call and offers opportunities to live out that call.
Finally, to the many other female family members and friends that have dried my tears, held my hand, corrected my course, laughed at my expense, humbled me with snark, and walked alongside me in life, thank you for those lessons.
To all of my professors, adjuncts and classmates, I want to wish each of you a happy Sunday as we celebrate mothers and women everywhere.