There are a few people in this world who are trained in the Kingdom of God School of Survival. My mother is such a one.
Life for her has only been a life of following God. It has not been easy. From her beginning, a father, hostile to the Gospel, would gladly have stolen her faith or prevented her acting on it. However, her direction was chosen early. Nothing would keep her from it, although all Hell would try.
Evidence of her direction was her choice to get her training for wife, I mean "life" at a Bible School. The revival was in full swing, young denominations had been formed and Agnes Pauline Mayo traveled the formidable distance for a young lady to a remote farm and oil town called Enid, Oklahoma to study the Bible at what was then known as Southwestern Bible School. One of the drawing cards to this school was the presence of P. C. Nelson, one of the great minds and hearts of Christianity.
She would be pulled swiftly into the fast lane at that school. There she met an energetic young man straight off the farm in Western Oklahoma, a go-getter who was headed right for the top. She married Kenneth Erwin and two years later produced one of her greatest achievements, a son whom they had the courage and audacity to name "Gayle."
This son would try her and put her through her first survival wringer as a mother. Gayle was born ugly and large-nosed, having a preponderance of his father's genes. At three months of age, he gave up naps preferring to demand the constant attention of all adults whether awake or not. At this time, she determined that she would only have one child.
Not only did she have to nurture this child whose grandparents had named him in a not-too-complimentary way "meddlesome Mattie," but much of this early child rearing occurred without a home. Their early ministry included much travel, and she was constantly in the homes of others--not an easy task when you are breast-feeding a hurricane.
Life was filled with embarrassing moments. Many complained that she did not beat the little beast often enough--she did believe in the laying on of hands. Others thought that maybe the spankings were why he was so bad. Watching him drag wet newspapers into a church meeting while wearing a white suit now mud-caked caused many to doubt her child-rearing abilities. Twenty years later, people would step back in wonder when meeting that child again--in wonder that he was still alive and that he was not in prison.
Fortunately the main travels were in her home state of Mississippi where she could at least understand the language. Then, out of the evangelistic urge of their hearts, a decision was made that had results no one could have anticipated. A war-industry town in Southern Mississippi lacked in good churches, so they moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi to begin one.
It would not be easy. Living in curtained-off corners of dirt-floored portable building was hardly the dream of a bride, but it was for the Lord and that was enough. The little beast tried to burn down the house and also helped her begin the jogging craze long before the world would get on board. Many hours were lost as workers on the new church building being built would stop to watch as she, with switch in hand, chased the beast around the house shouting threats of ultimate destruction if he didn't stop and take his discipline. The little beast didn't understand why her tummy was enlarged at the time but he appreciated the fact that it slowed her running down.
Then, the earlier vow was forgotten. A second son was born. They had learned from the first though and chose to name him Jesse Matthew after his grandfather. No experimenting with "Sue" or "Charlotte" on this one. One windstorm was enough. Perhaps, the little beast could be tamed by the addition of a brother.
Jesse Matthew, shortened to JM because no one could spell his name, was more intelligent than the average person and tried often to run away as soon as his diapers didn't drag the ground to leave a trail. He discovered many new unexplored areas of town before distraught parents and radio listeners finally found him calmly surveying his new domain.
This new child also stretched the limits of motherhood by other means. While the little beast came in mud-covered to church, the new brother would wander in covered with nothing. Agnes Pauline Erwin was finding that motherhood made demands that no one prepared her for.
There was still never a "home" a "nest" where she could rest as she raised the children. Once the new church was completed enough to occupy, the back of the basement became living quarters, a hose over a wooden sheet outside became the shower that could only dare be used at night.
It was in that basement home that the news came that permanently changed her life and extracted more from her than she ever thought she could give. It was an event that would also establish her greatness. Word came that her husband had been injured in an airplane accident.
Now, the bride took on the role of nurse, father, mother, wife and breadwinner. Now, a home, broken in body, moved from basement to farm to trailer to shack to house to low-paying job to less-paying job. A world now rested on her shoulders. Three hungry male mouths consumed a months worth of rations daily. Only the grace of God sustained those days. The school of survival was in midterm exams.
One thing kept her going. She was in the service of God. Whatever the price or difficulty, it was not worthy to be compared with what God had waiting as reward. Indeed, what the world would have called a dysfunctional home was instead a stable, God-fearing home. How could this be? Only because the things that were supposed to happen in church happened in our home. Prayer, songs, Bible study, lessons were not reserved for the pew but occurred on the couch, at the breakfast table, at the bedside. Testimony to her faithfulness is the fact that her sons and their children still follow the Lord.
Yes, there were times of deep testing. Sometimes, when it seemed that every miracle would wait until the last minute before happening, I would hear her crying herself to sleep and praying--asking the Lord how long this was going to continue.
Regardless of how she had to make a living, her heart was still in ministry. Every attempt possible was made to return to their beloved former life. Mostly, pastoral life was too overwhelming to sustain without a well and whole husband.
Junior High school years are difficult for teenager and parent alike, but the little beast was bigger now and had a brother to fight with. Those days were spent in Oklahoma City. Perhaps the thing that saved everyone was that we had to keep ourselves alive by selling hot dogs on a stick in a downtown kiosk. During my ninth grade, they moved back to Mississippi and I stayed to finish Junior High School.
Shortly after they left, JM called me and announced that we now had another brother whose name was Kenneth Wayne. I didn't even know she was pregnant. I realized I had to improve my street knowledge. I was in shock that my parents would do such a thing.
Now, as she graduated her second son from high school, the third one would enter the first grade. Twelve more years of building her schedule around school.
I wish I could say that life became easy and wealth flowed her way, but I cannot. Much of her family lives far away. The little beast managed to stay out of prison but never became president or general superintendent as any mother would expect of her sons. The best he could do was travel to strange places and write even stranger things.
But one thing overrode all else. Her life was lived unquestionably for the Lord. Agnes Mayo Erwin was thoroughly saved.
After thirty two years of caring for an invalid Kenneth, death separated them. That had been her vow forty years earlier--till death do us part. She kept her promise. And God had joys still waiting for her. Another man came into her life and she became Agnes Pauline Mayo Erwin Bazer. Uh, we call her "Mom" for short. Along with the joy that Raymond's companionship has brought to her and the whole family, he added his own devotion to the God of all creation.
Much more has gone on in her life than can be tallied in this moment. This is not designed to tally all events, only to give honor. And we, her sons, rise up in the streets and call her blessed. We love her, honor her and wish that more sons in the world had mothers as faithful to them and to the Lord as she is.