Mother knows best… or does she?
It was 1932, in Yorkshire, England, and a young woman held her infant boy in her arms. She apparently had not been expected to marry, but all that changed when God brought a “Polish” refugee into her life. Now, here she was, holding her firstborn son, a precious gift. Undoubtedly, she was full of dreams for his life, as mothers tend to be. Hester, this brand-new mom, would seek to protect her son and raise him well.
She and her husband were very aware of the dangers of the world in which they lived. After all, they had already suffered through WWI and the Bolshevik revolution which led to her husband’s dangerous trek out of Eastern Europe. So, they were not naïve to the realities of the world scene as they were starting out in life. Their moves, or attempted moves, back and forth across the English Channel were at times motivated by a desire to keep their family safe from the events that they feared would unfold.
Hester and Piotr had placed their faith in God; a common devotion that had drawn them to each other. This faith and trust would be put to the test repeatedly during their years together. They had no money. He was an orphan and refugee without a homeland. Physically, she struggled with debilitating rheumatism. But their faith, refined by the trials of life, would be their greatest legacy to their children, particularly to Samuel, this baby boy.
Try as they may to avoid it, they did get caught up in WWII and lived through years of peril. As a boy, Samuel watched it all happen – history in the making – and witnessed his parents’ distress and prayers. Years later, he reflected on seeing God’s hand of provision and protection on their family. May 1940, he recalls their family of four walking from Belgium towards Dunkirk, France, in order to evacuate to England. For a seven-year-old, on the one hand, it was an exciting adventure, but on the other hand, it was a perilous slow march that left him with unforgettable pictures.
Snapshot 1: They arrive at a big house one evening; the doors are wide open; no one is home. Sitting on the stove, a meal is prepared, warm and ready to be served; the table is set. The four of them sit down and have dinner. They feed the chickens of the house and leave. The family of the house must have escaped in a hurry.
Snapshot 2: Countless people are on the road, walking together with their belongings towards the coast. Piotr is not at ease with keeping his family with the “convoys” and often chooses to keep his loved ones separate. On one occasion, they leave the long line of evacuees to spend the night in a barn. They wake up the next morning to the roof about to collapse on them; a result of a bombing during the night. Carefully they manage to get out, but what they encounter on the road that day as they resume their trek is a sight Samuel would never forget. God had protected them, but many others had perished along the way.
Piotr had lived through previous wars. Survival skills learned at those times proved to be valuable lessons now as he sought to maneuver through these life-threatening events as a husband and father. In His wisdom, God had prepared him. Now God was also shaping the next generation, not through a life of ease or comfort, not through freedom from danger and difficult choices, but in perfect, divine wisdom. God knew what Samuel needed to learn in these formative years, even before He called him to salvation, to prepare him for a life of trust.
Back in Belgium for the rest of WWII, the family continued to struggle on multiple levels – food was scarce, jobs were few, and suspicion was prevalent especially against non-Belgian citizens and Protestants. I wonder if Hester mourned the life she would had dreamed of giving her children. Did she question God’s faithfulness as they waited in long lines for a loaf of bread, as Samuel came home from school having been roughed up for his faith, and as she anxiously waited for her husband’s return on many occasions? How did she speak about her God to Samuel as the two of them went looking for Piotr one evening, checking ditches along the way, fearing what they would possibly discover? Did her faith waver, or did she realize that it was all part of the training God had chosen for them?
God called Samuel to salvation at the age of 19 and instantly into fulltime ministry. He would end up living in several countries, using the various languages he grew up learning (his father spoke seven of them), travelling often, and needing to trust much. The experiences of his childhood and the example of his parents, primarily his godly mother, prepared him well for the life God had for him.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005, decades later, when a series of terrorist attacks rocked London. Now in his seventies, Samuel and Denise, his wife, crossed the Channel again to bring some long-time friends to see the sights of the city; something he loved doing. It is barely two months after the Subway bombings as they take their seats on the train, and on their way, pass the exact spot where the tragedy happened. One of the friends expressed concern about their safety and the wisdom of their excursion. Samuel laughed. His response revealed a lesson learned over a lifetime, “We are safe anywhere, at all times, until God calls us home.”
As Hester held Samuel in her arms on that September 1, back in 1932, she did not know that God’s training ground for his life would involve a war, poverty, ostracism and ridicule, among other hardships. Situations all mothers dread! I doubt those events would have made her top-ten list either had she had a choice. God knew best. Had she seen the life her son lived as a pastor, church-planter and evangelist for about 60 years, she would have had to bow in humble recognition of God’s perfect wisdom and plan.
Samuel is the man I called Dad until God called him home in 2014. How I miss him! Hester is the grandma I never met but rejoice that I will do so one day. I take comfort in knowing that a perfect God planned their lives, mine and those of my children. Each new generation needs that training ground to learn to trust an all-wise, all-loving, almighty God.
Hester controlled one thing: Her attitude. I control only one as well: My own attitude.
I pray I do not stand in the way of God’s plans for my children. Moms, let’s bow the knee and trust the Eternal One. Life may not be how we dreamed it would be, but let’s face it, in light of eternity, we are rather short-sighted. The Master Planner is at work, and His reality is far better than any of our dreams!