Reflections on All Things Beautiful: Gaynell Hudson––My Mother
[NOTE: This is a repost, on my birthday, an of article originally published on 8/21/13 on the tenth anniversary of my mother's homegoing]
Today I reflect on, and celebrate, the life of my mother, Gaynell Hudson. Ten years ago today she exited time in order to enter eternity. She departed from among us to embrace her Savior and Lord.
Of course, everyone's mother is special for all the same reasons. But Gaynell Hudson was special for a lot of other reasons. Because we labored together, along with my dad, Horace Bryan Hudson, in the ministry for 24 years until her passing in 2003, I understood her motivations. I embraced her theology and philosophy of service to all people. I'm not alone in embracing this understanding, though I knew it best.
We shared a special bond as members of what I sometimes think of as "OCS," the Only Child's Society. My mother was the only child of William & Essie Hayden, who were regionally renown Gospel singers. My grandmother, Essie, who passed when my mother was only 17 years old and just finishing school at the famed Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Essie Hayden was a pianist of extraordinary ability and acclaim. My mother was also a gifted pianist, singer, and songwriter.
She was a stay-at-home mom, which was more feasible in those days. She poured everything she had into me–– and she had a lot! I discovered she had artistic ability. My mother possessed profound insight and high intelligence. She read thousands of pages of books per year, especially after her conversion to Christ. Most of all, she helped people...all the time. She helped all kinds of people, all the time, with a brand of "tough love" that made a positive and lasting impact. I've watched her speak to young men–fierce looking young men–and hold their attention. She is fondly remembered around our church for looking people in the eyes and saying, "You be encouraged, this too will pass!" Followed by a loving embrace and hug that could last minutes. I've seen adults begin to look like (and likely, feel like) children unburdened by troubles, if only for a few moments, while in her embrace.
What many did not understand was the source of her powers of empathy and connectedness to people. She looked at nearly everything from a higher perspective or purpose. And she did not suffer liars, cheats, and people with questionable motives! She could rebuke as sternly as she would warmly embrace. Her life shaped her character.
Before and after the death of her mother, and while her father worked jobs and sang tenor with Gospel groups, my mother was in the "care" of people who were not altogether caring. She never told me the details of those days, but always became grieved when reflecting on it. This experience fueled her strong sense of justice, injustice, and zero tolerance for the mistreatment of vulnerable people.
The death of her mother only magnified her pain as a 17 year old young woman. Before she came to Christ, she internalized her pain. Her marriage to Horace Bryan Hudson, brought stability to a destabilized life. Bryan (as people called him) and Gaynell were two young adults, each outstanding in his and her own way. Into that union, I was born and in time it became clear that I would be the only one. My mother transformed her pain, harnessed her empathy, exercised her extraordinary intelligence, and cultivated her interest in all things beautiful into occasions of discovery for her only son.
At the little apartment in Barrington Heights on Indy's southeast side, we did everything from read, sing, talk about current events, play games, listen to symphonic music, jazz music, and gospel music. Sometimes we imagined the symphony instruments and played them in pantomime. We danced, looked at photos from around the world in magazines, and watched television together––what (thankfully!) little we had in those days (three channels broadcast from 5am to 12 midnight only!). I especially remember being required to sit still and respectfully listen to the President of the United States whenever he gave a major address on television. I still do that today.
We rarely moved around town, especially outside of our black "section" of town, since she did not have a car to drive while dad was at work, or I was at school. Despite that, I remember my world as a very large place full of big ideas, interesting people, and lots to do—though in reality our world on Perkins Court was very small.
One day, as a six or seven year old, I proposed to build a rocket, complete with diagrams and a materials list. I remember my parents taking me seriously and encouraging me that all things are possible. But for some strange reason, I never received the Roman candles I requested to build the first stage of the rocket!
In my late teens, my mother became of follower of Christ, and she directed all of her energy towards helping other people experience "all things beautiful," beginning with Christ. She completely understood, and identified with the Only Begotten Son Jesus and His singular focus on teaching the Word and saving lives. Gaynell Hudson, my mother, was fully committed to serving God and people. This is the greatest gift I received and lesson I learned from her. This continues to be the basis of my motivations.
In a world of facades, excuses, superficiality, and small mindedness, Gaynell Hudson was a model of authenticity, consistency, hope, and faith.
The worse day of my life occurred on an evening in 1982 or 1983 (I don't try too hard to remember). Following a midweek Bible Study, my wife had left but returned to our meeting place to tell me that my parents were involved in an accident a short distance from our meeting place (no cell phones in those days). She was driving home down 34th Street, just east of what is now called Dr. Andrew Brown Street. When we drove back to the location. The accident scene involved two vehicles with parts strewn across the street and the cars smashed into a heap. I learned later that it was a head-on collision. After I parked my car and we walked over to their car, I saw my injured parents. Dad was out of the car dazed, but mom was still in the car with broken bones and conscious. Mom said, "Don't worry," and she began thanking God through her pain. Reflecting on it, I know she was also thinking how all this was affecting me––always thinking about others. For a short time, I blamed myself for holding service that night. They were not wearing seat belts...few of us did in those days, though we buckled up thereafter.
The experience of assisting my parents in their recovery, driving them to doctors and orthopedic specialists before either of them were allowed to drive, and assisting with my mother's rehabilitation from many broken bones including facial bones (which eventually resulted in her losing sight in one eye), was the most rewarding time of my life at that time. Not only did I have the privilege of helping the people who gave me life, I fully came to understand the great power of personal sacrifice, empathy and serving. I learned that pity is useless. Love and availability are everything. Dad mended quicker than my mother since his injuries were less severe.
Because I was in full time ministry, I moved my "office" to my parents' house. I learned to balance time with my wife and children, ministry responsibilities, and how to serve my congregation, community and my parents effectively and efficiently. Looking back, I suppose all that was "hard." It may have seemed hard to some. But it seemed easy to me because there is nothing more significant one can do than serving, especially your own parents. It is amazing what can be accomplished when we choose not to make excuses and refuse to fear hardship or service as an unwelcome imposition in our lives.
During that time, and for years afterwards, as mom coped with effects of her injuries years earlier, I watched her continue to do what I had always seen her do: Enjoy all things beautiful, love God, and serve others. Even when she experienced kidney failure and the onset of cancer, she continue to serve people, teach Bible study 12noon on Wednesdays, join attend Saturday morning prayer just after her dialysis treatment, spend time with each of her grandchildren, and more. She lived a full life of 65 years, howbeit physically challenged.
For some 15 years we ministered together at nursing homes. Mom would play the piano and sing followed by a Bible lesson from me, and we both prayed for the people. She served on prayer lines for national ministries and ministered at the women's prison in Indy and mentored young women. She began a Community Christmas outreach that continues to this day.
As a husband, father, pastor, educator, and consultant, I live the lessons learned from Gaynell Hudson everyday. I am Gaynell Hudson's son. I am honored to celebrate her life by how I live my life.
What is unfortunate, and even tragic, today is that we seem to be a society and a popular church culture (as distinct from Christ's church) that has come to value things other than sincerity, authenticity and service. Some of what I see is barely recognizable as biblical, Christlike, and efficacious. Our culture is high on style, but low on substance. Yet God continues His work through abounding grace. His Kingdom is advancing.
Gaynell Hudson is long gone, but her son is here. And many others of her "children" are here too. I believe we can make and have made a difference. I believe the values and godly practices of my mother are timeless and transcendent.
I continue to look for all things beautiful and useful to honoring God and helping people!