Photos give us a chance to gaze back in time, and I have one that is a special treasure.

It is a black-and-white picture of a beautiful teenage girl wearing a simple dress with a look on her face that says, “I love life and can’t wait to live more of it.”

Pictures are true, but they are not the whole truth.

This girl had not had an easy life. She grew up picking cotton in the hot eastern Texas sun and helping care for her two younger sisters. She also faced other difficulties she would not want me to share.

You can see nothing of the hardship in the photo; all you can see is joy and emerging maturity. There is a reason for both – her mother.

Hilda Noble, the teenager in the photo, had a mother who country folk would call a saint. Ruby Noble lived a very hard life, but she gave her six children, including Hilda, something beyond difficulty in which to hope. She gave them love.

I came to know Ruby later, but she lived and loved more like Jesus than anyone I’ve ever met.

You will not be surprised to learn that Ruby had a saint of a mother herself – Lillie. And you probably would not be surprised to learn that Ruby’s daughter, Hilda, grew up to be a saintly mother as well.

Lillie to Ruby to Hilda – mother to mother to mother. These are the women who shaped my early life, for they are my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother.

Hilda, my mother, is the one who had the most direct impact on me, but I know she was part of this magnificent human chain.

My mother populates my childhood memories like an angel of light. In those recollections, she is sitting beside me at the dining room table helping me with my fourth-grade homework when I want only to give up.

She is telling me God has something special for me to do when I feel like the world’s biggest failure. She is giving me a paddling for doing something wrong.

She and Dad are leading me to follow Christ simply by being good people – not perfect or great people in the eyes of the world, but good people who love me even when I disobey.

Every child needs a mom in his or her life. Some, like me, are blessed with one by birth, others get a mom through adoption, and still others have someone who fills the role of mom without the official title.

We need moms because we need nurture, care, correction, direction, hugs, advice and more from the unique and powerful perspective of a woman. And when we think of all that it means to be a mom, we think of giving, of emptying one’s life for another.

Hilda Noble Foster is quite simply the kindest, most giving person I know. She is no longer the teenager in the black-and-white photo; she is much more.

William Sloane Coffin once said, “God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement.”

These words are said perfectly regarding the God of Creation, but they also can be said of those in God’s creation who allow God’s love to be reflected in their lives. Mothers, it seems, have a special ability to love in this way.

My mother loved me just because I was her child, not because I could do anything special. She loved me before she actually saw me, before I could actually return her affection, before I could achieve anything. And in that God-like love, she created value in me and caused me to see value in myself.

Hilda Foster, however, is not alone, and that makes a mother’s love even more wonderful. We see God reflected in so many women.

Of course, no mother is perfect, and we sometimes might even say someone is a “bad mother,” just as we might call some man a “bad father.”

While I have been the life-long beneficiary of having a very good mother, it is hard for me to write on this subject without hurting for those who have not been so blessed, just as I hurt for those whose fathers left them with more pain than love.

This reality points us to God’s grace. It seems God is always working to bring people into our lives that can provide just what we are missing.

It may be someone to direct us or scold us, to praise us or correct us. And it may simply be someone to love us, to bring value into our lives by simply valuing us.

On Mother’s Day each year, my mind is turned to the almost six decades of blessings Hilda Foster has brought into my life. And over the past 31 years, my mind also has been seized by appreciation for the mother of my children and the love she has brought to their lives.

But as I honor them, I also feel inclined to honor all of the women God calls out to be a mother to a growing soul.

As I said earlier, we all need moms because we need nurture, care, correction, direction, hugs, advice and more from the unique and powerful perspective of a woman.

Sometimes we call those women “Mom,” other times we simply call them “a blessing.” Either way, God has touched us by bringing the “moms” into our lives that we need.

It was easy for me to identify my mom; for others, it takes a touch of imagination. A mother’s love changes us whether it comes from a birth mother, an adoptive mother or simply a caring woman.

From all of us who are “children,” we say thank you to our “moms.”

Ferrell Foster is director of ethics and justice for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and a member of First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas.

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