As I promised, our issue this week is one special article: the story of my grandmother, whom I was named after, whom I never knew. I pray this article will be a very special blessing to you.
One day several years ago I went with Dad to visit the graves of his parents. At the time I was not married and my maiden name was Bridges. As I looked at my grandmother's gravestone, it said "Lillian Bridges" and I can tell you: nothing will give you a shiver like seeing your own name on a gravestone.
All of us want our lives to mean something. I know this was one of the things that haunted me through most of my wilderness years. I didn't want to just live and die. I wanted my life to be significant. And most of all I wanted it to be significant for God. I have struggled with how to accomplish that. I have struggled with my circumstances, struggled with lack of finances. I always felt like God was holding me back and not providing the things or situations I needed to truly serve him.
When I visited Lillian's grave, I wondered if she had the same feeling or the same frustration. She has always been something of an enigma to me because she died prematurely and I never knew her at all. When Mother and Daddy married, he told her that if they ever had a little girl, he'd like to name her after his mother since she had died so young. Mother agreed.
My parents had two sons and Mother had two miscarriages before I came along, so while I was not necessarily a miracle, they thought I was. They really wanted a little girl.
It was fun being the first Bridges girl in several generations and knowing that I was wanted that much and knowing that I was named for my grandmother. That always gave me a special link with my father's family and with my history. In the 1950s my name was unique so this also made me feel special. But I always wished I could have met the first Lillian Bridges. Instead, I've done what I could to learn about her from people who knew her.
WHO WAS LILLIAN?
Lillian lived in a small house on Oakland Street in Tyler Texas where she and my grandfather raised two sons during the difficult times of the Great Depression. She worked hard and had a very difficult life. From the very few pictures I have, she was not a beautiful woman. In fact, she was rather plain.
Lillian and my grandfather rented their small house for $15.00 a month from the company where he worked as a cotton grader. It was basically three rooms and a porch with indoor plumbing but no hot water. The porch was eventually closed in to make a bedroom and my great-grandfather moved in with them. The two boys slept in the dining room in a bed by the dining room table.
The family had a large garden that my great-grandfather worked. As I've learned about their lives, what they ate, what they wore, how they lived, I've realized that this was a family that had nothing in the way of material possessions. In fact, they lived at or below the poverty level.
Lillian died in her own bed in 1944 at the age of 41, possibly of cancer. No one really knows for sure. There was no thought of going to see a doctor or getting treatment.
I've asked people who knew Lillian what they remembered about her. They never told me about how she looked or how she cooked or how she decorated her home or whether she had any money. Everyone I talked to, without exception, remembered one predominant aspect of Lillian's life. Each person recalled to me how faithful she was to her Lord.
When Lillian was about 30 she helped start a new church with 2 other families. One of the few photographs I have of her shows about 20 girls from her Sunday School class standing around her. She had no phone and no car. How could anybody manage a Sunday School class without a phone or a car?
Let me hasten to say that I've never felt any kind of attachment to my grandmother Lillian. I don't have any mystical or supernatural bond that I feel with her across the years. She is a stranger to me. If she walked up to me today I doubt that I would recognize her. So who was this woman? Did her life mean anything other than to pass along humanity to another generation?
THE BRIDGES REUNION
In June 2001 the Bridges (my father's family) met in Colorado Springs for a long-overdue reunion and to celebrate Daddy's 75th birthday. Amazingly, every member of the family was able to attend. Cousins, brothers, sisters, grandparents and a couple of new babies gathered from Texas, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts and Colorado. We hadn't been together in years so we had lots of catching up to do!
Saturday night, after a long day of activities, Lillian's two sons (namely my father and his brother) sat together on the couch and began to reminisce. Our cousin Danny had planned ahead and set up a video camera on a tripod to tape the two brothers talking. We were all eager to learn more about our heritage and family history so we kept them going for several hours with our questions.
We had nearly exhausted them both when someone said, "Tell us about when your mother died." Daddy's brother went first since, at 14 years old, he was still living at home in February 1944. His mother had been sick since before Christmas. He remembered coming home from school. He went to check on her and asked if she needed anything. She said "no" so he went to the dining room to do his homework. His father came home from work later on and was with her and looking after her. Suddenly, through the thin walls of the small house, he heard his mother give a loud gasp. He ran to her room but she was already dead.
My dad remembered that he was seventeen years old and attending Bible College in Fort Worth Texas and working after class at Thom McAn Shoe Stores when his mother died. The night his mother died, his boss came to where he lived (since Daddy didn't have a phone) to tell him the bad news. The man took him to the bus station and put him on a bus to Tyler. Daddy remembered that it was the longest night of his life. He remembered riding the bus and crying all the way back to Tyler.
Two teenage boys, fourteen and seventeen, had lost their mother. And it was the end of her short life. Her opportunity for influence and significance was cut short. But was it really?
My uncle continued the story. "You know, the house where we lived was so small," he said. "There was no place to get any privacy. No place to be alone in that tiny home. Except for a small bathroom off of a short hall. And you could hear through that door."
And my uncle said that many times he would come home from school and overhear his mother praying in the bathroom. He would listen and hear her calling his name in prayer. And my uncle began to weep. Then Daddy put his arm around his brother and began to weep also. And he said, "She prayed for me every day. As a boy I heard her call my name every day in prayer."
WHO DID SHE THINK SHE WAS?
Why did Lillian think her prayers would be heard? Why did she think her prayers would be answered? She had failing health, no money, no family ties, no political clout, no education and no marketable skills. Why did she think her prayers would matter at all?
Why? Because she believed God's Word in Hebrews 4:16 "Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." She believed what Paul said in James 5:16 "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
She believed that God would hear and answer her prayer.
She didn't look to her circumstances. It is so easy to focus on our circumstances and feel that this is what everything is about. Right here. Right now. But Lillian didn't do that. She had only her weakness to offer to God. She could say with the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 12:9 "Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
She didn't look at the fact that she lived in a tiny four- room house at poverty level. She didn't look at the fact that she and my grandfather struggled together to put food on the table. She didn't look at the fact that she was not physically well. She didn't look at the fact that in Tyler, Texas she was not in the socially elite. In fact, she was a nobody. If you ask anyone today in Tyler who Lillian Bridges was, they would never have heard of her.
Her faith was not in her circumstances, her status, her health or her money. Lillian didn't rely on her material possessions or her family connections to get a special deal for her boys. She didn't have any possessions or connections. She didn't even ask for the blessings of local religious leaders. She marched BOLDLY into the very presence of the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God and made her petition directly to Him, just as He had instructed her to do.
WHAT DID SHE PRAY FOR?
She prayed a mother's prayer for her two sons. She prayed that God would protect them since she was weak and she knew she couldn't do it. She prayed for God to use her two sons as He saw fit. And she prayed for God's blessings on them.
Did God answer that prayer? You be the judge.
My father, Jack Bridges, is the eldest. Jack felt called to preach as a teenage boy. He went to Bible college and was ordained to the ministry. In 1950, he and my mom moved to Houston, Texas and started the Freeway Baptist Church. When he resigned from that pastorate in 1965, he had baptized over 700 people. Jack always had a special love for foreign missions and he cared deeply for missionaries and their work. The Missions Director for the group of churches that we associated with was retiring and he tasked Jack to take his place. Our family moved to Missouri and for approximately 10 years Jack provided leadership, guidance and advocacy for almost 400 missionaries in 50 countries around the world.
Jack returned to Texas in 1973 to pastor the Central Baptist Church in Pasadena. In 1974, he started a financial clearinghouse to handle contributions for missionaries and untangle international banking problems and help them get their funds overseas. Today Central Missionary Clearinghouse services 480 missionaries in 60 countries. Working this ministry now full time, Jack Bridges and my stepmother Linda touch thousands of lives for God around the world every day.
Did God hear Lillian's prayers as she called out the name of her son, Jack?
Dad's younger brother is Jerry Bridges. Many of you will have heard his name. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma and went into the Navy. While in the service, he met a man from the Navigators who began to disciple him. When Jerry got out of the Navy, he went to work for the Navigators and eventually became Vice President for Corporate Affairs.
He is a great student of the Bible and loves to study God's Word. He spent a great deal of his working life in administration, but he continued to study and eventually began to write. Jerry is the author of seven books, including The Pursuit of Holiness, which has sold over one million copies. His other books include The Practice of Godliness, True Fellowship, The Joy of Fearing God, Trusting God, Transforming Grace, and The Discipline of Grace, which won a Gold Medallion Book Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Today he ministers to college students, churches, Bible conferences and other groups around the world, and literally millions have been touched by his writings.
Did God hear Lillian's prayers as she called to Him for her son, Jerry?
ABOVE ALL WE ASK OR THINK
Did Lillian ask God to use Jack to help in the cause of missions or to use Jerry to reach people through his writings? No. There's no way Lillian could have imagined what God could have done with her two boys. She was probably wise not to constrain God. She knew that the best she could do for them was to give them up to God and His plan. And she knew from Ephesians 3:20 that God was "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." Not just abundantly above but "exceedingly abundantly above" certainly seems to apply here.
With all due respect, Lillian wasn't the first mother to do this. For example, after years of frustration with not having a child, Hannah prayed so fervently that the priest Eli thought she was drunk. (I can't remember the last time somebody accused me of being drunk when I was just pouring out my heart to God. How about you?) God gave her a son, Samuel. After he was weaned, Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to the priest Eli.
I Samuel 1:26-28 "And she said, O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman who stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshiped the Lord there."
WE CAN PRAY LILLIAN'S PRAYER
Except for this article, you would have never heard of Lillian Bridges. She was never on the news. Her picture was never on a magazine cover. She didn't even get her "fifteen minutes of fame." On the face Lillian's life was not at all remarkable. She was born, she got married, she had two sons and she died prematurely. I don't even know that she finished high school. Since I live in the community where she lived and died, I know for a fact that her name is unknown. It is not on a building, a plaque or in the local history books. No one has ever heard of her. She was poor, sick and unknown. She was a "nobody."
But her faith in God transcended her life, her circumstances and her limitations. Her determination to pray for her sons was not daunted by illness or lack of money. The fact that she had no influence in her community did not stop her from accomplishing her goal. She prayed for her sons. And according to those two men, she cried out their names to God. I would say that her prayers were fervent and certainly effective.
I don't tell Lillian's story to glorify her or my father or my uncle but only to glorify the power of the Living God that she and they worship. And I tell her story to demonstrate that WE can tap into that same power. This is the reason her life has become such an inspiration to me.
It has always been so easy for me to focus on my desire for significance and let that significance be measured in terms of things that I could see, things that I wanted to do, things that I wanted to be able to hold up for the world to see and I could say, "See? My life has been important. It counted for something."
But Lillian knew to "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." Matthew 6:20. She probably didn't know that her days would be short on this earth. She did not even get the "three score and ten" (age 70) that the Bible talks about. She had no idea what her prayers would accomplish. But I think that her life has to have been one of THE most significant that I know of because she trusted God and her faith was rewarded.
As I think of mothers and Mother's Day, I think of my heart's desire. I want to be a good mother, to do what is best for my children, to provide them with what they need to face the future. It is so easy to think that I must rely on my circumstances, my money, my power, my health or my fame. But I don't. I can't. I only need faith in God and to fervently pray for my children. And I can know in my mother's heart that God will protect and bless my children, even if I am not here to see it. Because He is faithful and He answers prayers.
I wish you a Happy Mother's Day. You may be enjoying the day with loved ones. You may be grieving over the loss of your mother this past year. You may be sorrowful because your children are estranged. Regardless of your circumstances or limitations, my prayer is that you will give this Mother's Day to God. Trust Him with the ultimate outcome of your children and your situation. Trust that your confidence will not be in celebrations marked by the world, but that your faith will be in your sovereign Lord who answers prayer.
With all my heart,