The preacher concluded the sermon on love by saying, "Even the person who has committed the most heinous crime still has a soul, and Jesus loves that person and offers forgiveness. What about you? How do you feel about the person who raped your daughter; killed your son; beat your grandchild; or the drunk driver who destroyed your family?... Hypothetically, could you live next door to them? Could you work with them? Could you help them? Could you forgive them? Could you love them?"
While traveling home that same day, the only adult in the car with four teenagers who sat in the back and whose conversations I willingly tuned out, those questions rang over and over in my head. Tears streamed down as I began to examine myself. I thought about the preacher's comments and questioned my love for people. My mother taught us to love and forgive, but could I forgive and love those who may have committed a crime against a family member, neighbor or friend? Before I could answer those questions, I had to ask myself, do I genuinely love those individuals with whom I come in contact daily - whether it's job, school, community or church related who haven't committed any criminal act? Do I harbor feelings of prejudice and hatred toward my fellowman? Have I treated people fairly? When I walk down the street or see a person in the mall or park - do I smile and greet them out of common respect as my mother taught me? Have I treated the janitor or maid in the same manner as I have the president of a company? Have I loved unconditionally? Have I been kind and helpful? Have I done everything in my power to treat people the way I want to be treated?
Educator Mary McLeod Bethune said, "I leave you love. Love builds. It is positive and helpful. It is more beneficial than hate...Personally and racially, our enemies must be forgiven. Our aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice... 'Love thy neighbor' is a precept which could transform the world if it were universally practiced ... loving your neighbor means being interracial, inter-religious, and international."
The month of May is a time in which we honor and celebrate the precious gift of mothers. I honor my own mother, Mrs. Bernice Gambrell; and to other mothers who have birthed children or never physically had a child, but are surrogates to many, I honor you as well.
I thought about the preacher's message in parallel with mothers and children. As loving mothers, just like the Lord, we, too, show unconditional love every day toward our offspring. The love of a mother for her children is very powerful. We love and accept them for who they are - regardless of the easy or difficult roads they may travel in life. Sometimes, no matter how much love is shown or sound advice given, our children choose different paths. The child may have gone astray from our teachings, but do we love them any less? Do we discard children who may be battling or struggling with alcoholism, parents' divorce, drug addiction, homosexuality, sexual addiction, lying, cheating, etc.? Should we help them? Should we forgive them? Do we toss aside children who are physically or mentally handicapped or bedridden? If they are in trouble or in prison, do we abandon them?
Should we be advocates for our children? Political writer Maria W. Stewart said, "Oh ye mothers, what a responsibility rests on you! You have souls committed to your charge, and God will require a strict account of you." A great responsibility has been placed on our shoulders as mothers. We have a charge and a duty to teach, train, nurture and raise our children in the admonition of love and the fear of the Lord.
You must ask: What is my legacy to my children? What examples am I showing my children? Do I show genuine love or hate? Do I forgive or hold on to their mistakes? Do I love and forgive them in spite of their issues? Have I been a good mother? Have I taught and trained them in the way they should go? Have I instilled godly and moral values in them? Have I demonstrated the love of the Lord? You be the judge.
Community columnist Juanita Gambrell Floyd of Tupelo is vice president of finance/administration for CREATE Foundation, Inc. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.