Growing up I was terrified of springtime in Oklahoma.
Tornados would rip along the countryside with regularity, etching their signatures through woods and cities alike. Most nights a little outline of Oklahoma would sit at the upper right corner of the TV screen, counties littered with reds and greens and blues like stained glass, each color denoting a different level of imminence and severity.
Red always meant tornado warning. Red meant it was time to prepare your storm shelter. But our house didn’t have one. All we had were couch cushions, an Oklahoma State baseball helmet, and a hallway.
On those spring nights, I worried we wouldn’t be able to hear the sirens if we were all asleep.
I begged my mom to lay down with me. I would scoot to the edge of my bed, and Mom would climb up and put her hand on my shoulder—we’d talk about my day and school and the baseball games I had coming up. She would reassure me about the storms, and she would talk to me about God and how he helped save people all the time in the Bible.
My breath would slow, and my little shoulders would relax. Mom’s hand would stay there, on my shoulder, until the fear of falling asleep had given way to light snores.
* * *
When I was in fifth grade I wrote my own book for class. We had to write the story, illustrate the pages, and bind the book ourselves. My story was called Hula Anyone? and was about a nerd named Theodore J. Chesschamp, thrust into the limelight when a cow named 2 Udderly Cool 4 U gave every cow in the world mad cow disease so that humans couldn’t ever eat beef again (Chick-fil-A had a prominent cameo in the second chapter).
I’m pretty sure if I play my cards right I’ll be able to sell the rights to Marvel.
My mom was the chief editor on the project—it was her slanted handwriting on the margins reminding me to capitalize Theodore or include a comma before the conjunction. She stayed up late with me too, patiently alternating between blue and green and red color pencils to help me finish the illustrations.
She repeatedly told me I needed to send it to editors so it could be published. Writing was something she trumpeted into my life since I first learned my alphabet. It was a constant mantra: I needed to keep writing, she said.
I said she was just saying that because she was my mom.
But I kept writing.
* * *
It was also in fifth grade that my fears of tornados grew. I would check the windows at school at least twenty-five times a day in search of dark clouds or red counties.
At night I sat in front of the TV searching stained glass for our little county in north-central Oklahoma. I watched the coverage of tornados ripping apart chicken farms and uprooting trees, preparing for the next-day pictures of downed power lines and street signs, mangled barbed wire and pink insulation wrapped around tree branches like cotton candy. I found my baseball helmet in the back of my closet so I could be ready.
Mom and Dad were still there to pray for me before I went to bed. Mom would still put her hand on my shoulder.
One night she came into my room with small slips of paper.
“Drew, remember how I told you that God sees you and watches over you?”
“Well, there are verses in Psalms about going to sleep and trusting God with the nighttime. I wrote them down so that you can read them whenever you want and remember God is with you.”
She handed me the pieces of paper, kissed me on the forehead, and prayed for me. Then she left the room and left me with the pieces of Psalms in my hand. I looked down at the verses.
In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. (Psalm 4:8)
…but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. (Psalm 139:12)
But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. (Psalm 42:8)
Her handwriting arched and curved with familiarity and peace. I knew she believed these verses, and I believed them too.
I read them and felt the indentation of her writing and closed my eyes, trusting God with the nighttime.
* * *
Massachusetts doesn’t have very many tornados. I haven’t had to find my helmet or read the stained glass of blue, green, and red counties. My nighttime prayers don’t involve storms or sirens. They’ve changed into “grown-up” prayers—the future and falling in love and doing something meaningful.
But what Mom taught me is still true. Each night I am given the opportunity to remember God watches over me. That he sees me in my sleep. That the darkness is as bright as day for him.
Mom—whether through her voice, her handwriting, or her blessed presence—reminds me of that.
My life is a slip of paper with her handwriting on it. It covers the margins of the man I am, and if you look closely, if you feel for the contours of my life, you’ll see the indentation of it.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for your strength, your encouragement, and your handwriting.
I love you.
P.S. It’s funny how roles change. In fifth grade Mom spent loads of time trying to convince me to become a writer, and recently I’ve been the one trying to convince her to write. Her writing is beautiful, with nuanced and deep thoughts that arch like cursive and hit you like good script.
Her words remind me of God’s provision and protection. They are slips of online paper, and when I read them they speak peace over me.
If you are at all interested in my writing, I think you’ll be interested in hers.