Friday, January 16, 2009

Being Delores Lee Ellis III

On this day, the day of my birth, I honor my mother, Delores Lee Ellis, who raised 12 children alone, teaching us each the importance of love, faith, hope, peace, respect, humility, persistence, grace, music, giving, art, sharing, reading, intention, education, language, purpose, destiny, and choice.

Historically speaking African American mothers, perhaps all mothers indeed, have always been the backbone of the family, the one who held things together in spite of loss and depravity, enduring hardship as a good soldier. My mother was such a one. But one who was both mother and father to her 12 children, all by the one man she "loved next to Christ." Bitterness never entered in as we were growing up. Instead, she single-handedly raised us with honor and integrity, taught the value of education, and showed us how to stand gracefully in the face of defeat.

I never saw my mother cry, yet I know she most certainly did. I never saw her in pain, though we know she most certainly had it. I never heard her complain, though there could have been much to complain about. When asked, "how are you?," her response was inevitably the same, "blessed of the Lord." You see, the base of my mother's strength was her confidence in God. In spite of everything, including her three-day weekly journey to dialysis, which sometimes resulted in immense weakness, and her battle with diabetes, she believed that God would not put anymore on her than she could bear--this after raising 12 children alone. Every struggle was meant to end in victory and her love for God and sheer determination propelled her on.

My mother was a mixture of grace and tenacity, gentle as a flower and inflexible as steel, if needed. When dealing with opposition she always smiled graciously, but extended her hand in mercy giving whatever she had to give to pay bills. When growing up she needed only to look at you to express her dissatisfaction. When giving whippings with a firm hand, she gently spoke to us with each stinging lash. In fact, we never heard our mother raise her voice. She simply stated her desires and we followed suit. But it's not like we didn't test her. We did--especially me, but rarely if ever disrespectfully. She always got the better of the debate spoken so in soft tones. She disarmed us with her grace; even when we were raging mad we succumbed to her wisdom, beauty, and her highly refined reasoning abilities.

What a beauty she was! She was, in fact, the most beautiful of wild flowers that endured in spite of inclement times, standing beautifully in the face of high winds, the beating sun and thunderstorms. Can you imagine raising seven boys and five girls alone? We were the apple of her eye and we knew it. She watched us carefully, not allowing us to mingle with the wrong company, insisting that we get good grades and keeping television watching down to a mere one hour per day. Since she loved national and international news, we could watch the news along with her which included in-depth analysis which we were invited to participate. She enjoyed hearing our opinions and teaching us about world events.

Nightly reading and family prayer were essential to our childhood. She spent her last buying books and encyclopedias for us and every Christmas gift and birthday present included a book of some kind. When we heard that familiar song, "Remember Me, Oh Lord, Remember Me," we knew that was the call to prayer and no matter where you were or what you were doing, each of us respectively and respectfully stopped and followed the lovely voice for prayer. It is prayer that enabled us to finish college, become entrepreneurs and professionals, and enter the ministry full-time. In fact, we are all, in spite of our various professions, in ministry as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. I guess we all went to Seminary of Delores Lee Ellis; her very life was such.


wmmbb said...

Happy Birthday Judith.

I still cannot imagine how your mother did it. The way I see it you have to be special to be number twelve.

However, it is the Cherokee side of your family history that also interests me. I suspect you might also have a European ancestoral connection somewhere along the line?

As far as I know most, if not all, of my immediate ancestors (a complete mystery beyond three generations) came from offshore of the NW coast of the Eurasian landmass.

judith ellis said...

Thank you, wmmbb.

It is indeed amazing how she did so, but as I have stated we believe that it was the grace of God that is truly amazing.

My mother's dad was indeed half Cherokee and quite a formidable small business owner in and around Chicago during the Depression at which time he gave picnics often in the park for the "colored kids" with a variety of meats and fresh fruits.

I'm sure that my maternal grandfather's success as a contractor during the Depression had something to do with his wife's family. If you heard Richard Pryor speak of his family you will get my drift. But righteous Contractor Brown, some might say "self-righteous" NEVER acknowledged this.

In fact, my grandfather would not even allow his in-laws to visit except on Christmas and Thanksgiving when they would come, my mother remembered, in convertibles, wearing mink coats -- both men and women.

Contractor Brown, as my maternal grandfather was known, laid a great many foundations for buildings in Bloomington Illinois and Chicago.

judith ellis said...

If I could say that I was the special one having been born the 12th, I probably would. :-) The reality is, however, that all of my older siblings are pretty special. They have taught me a lot and I may have said something of use to them.

Bob Foster said...

Happy Birthday Judith—

What a wonderful family story. If only our entire society had a shred of your mother’s love and strength…what a country we would be.

I also suspect that your mother would have something to say about the lawsuit recently filed to force the omission of the phrase “so help me God” from President-elect Obama’s oath of office. The case should be decided today, but I believe our new President will say what his heart tells him anyway.

Have a great celebratory day, and do something special for yourself.

Bob Foster

judith ellis said...

Thank you, Bob, for your kind words about my mother. She was indeed a wonderful woman with tremendous love and compassion. She was also no joke. We had plenty of fun and we laughed a lot, but she said what she meant meant what she said. She also did not spare the rod.

I read rather hurridedly on your blog this morning about the lawsuit. If I'm not mistaken the people rule in this country and it the people who will make the decision with regards to "in God we trust" or "so help me God" whether it be on dollar bills or spoken by a newly elected president.

The President-elect does believe in God. In fact, the church where he delivered that very relevant father's day service last year during the campaign is in the organization that my great-grandfather, Bishop G.T. Haywood presided over, being the first of the P.A.W.

While I am a believer in God and his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, I am a firm believer in choice. If others do not believe in God or Christ this is their decision. The 12 disciples and following apostles were not like the Crusaders. Belief or unbelief was a choice.

On this special day for me I have already done something that I never do, go to the movies midday. I saw Slumdog Millionaire. Good movie! Tonight I will have dinner with a friend and meet with other friends tomorrow.

Thanks for the reminder. Sometimes I have to be reminded of special days, as my focus is often so singular, though often not fixed on me.

dave wheeler said...

Judith...a happy belated birthday! I hope it was as unique and special as the person who was celebrating it!

As I read your words I thought of how closely I think "the you I know you to be" reflects the values, the knowledge, and wisdom of your Mother. Honor and integrity. Grace and tenacity. Gentle and inflexible as steel in word and interaction. I'm thinking this is quite possibly the greatest gift that you could give a parent and I'm sure Ms. Delores takes pride in the legacy she has left through her children.

Getting adjective-less again Judith when trying to describe your terrificness. Thanks for sharing this as always!

judith ellis said...

Thanks, Dave. I had a super birthday. A friend and I went to a most terrific spot on the waterfront, Seldom Blues, to listen to live jazz and eat great food. The wonderful thing is the spot is an upscale one and last night there hoards of people there with jewels, flowing gowns and starch tuxedos. We wore jeans and Ugs. :-) (It was -3 last night. Hello!) It was the night of the great auto show charity ball.

The food and jazz, Alexander Zonjic and legendary friends, were great! To my complete delight, we ran into my brother, Reuben and wife, along with his good friend, Frederiek, and wife. I love it when I run into my siblings and friends out, especially on my special day. There were also many celebrities out last night. They were dressed to the nines with jewles and tuxedo stripes. As I said, we weren't at all. We were warm and I loved it!

dave wheeler said...

Am listening to Alexander Zonjic and Friends with the Motor City Horns as I type...that is SWEET!

As always...thanks for the knowledge!

judith ellis said...

Sweet indeed! Enjoy!

Cynthia said...

Belated birthday wishes. Your Mother was nothing short of a miracle worker, raising a large
family and instilling and living
by her spiritual values. She
certainly knew what she was doing
as anyone who reads you knows.

judith ellis said...

Thank you for that, Cynthia.

Your wishes and words are appreciated.

CJ said...

Judith...your mother sounded like a really special lady.

Mine was too. She made her Transition on Friday. It was sudden, she was sick but she was seemingly improving then BOOM! A massive heart attack.

Many of us don't appreciate the gifts our mothers and dads are until after they're gone.

Judith Ellis said...

CJ, my college pal

I am so sorry to hear about your mom. "May the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus."

Let me know if I can do anything, anything all.

With peace and love,