My mom was a force of nature. As poet Barbara Kingsolver once said, “Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” That was my mom. Fiercely independent, she left home at 15 and got a job as a waitress. The popular, cool guy in town swept her off her feet with his charm. And that’s how the world got me, her first child. She gave Johnny Gibson an ultimatum: “We have a baby now (that would be cute, chubby little me). Stop the partying and let’s be a family, or I’m leaving.” He promised and failed, promised and failed, promised and failed. So she left him to raise me on her own. There we were, then, just the two of us.
She was beautiful and as a result was invited, or rather “scouted,” to attend high society parties at which were politicians, actors and singers. (Believe it or not, there are people whose job it is to go to restaurants and stores and find beautiful young women—and young men—and invite them to the parties of the rich and powerful. We live in a predatory world). If I were to name some of these celebrities, you would know the names. In fact, I was named after one of them (Not too many hunky 1960s actors with the first named Ty, so you won’t find it difficult to discover my ridiculous namesake). At one of these celebrity parties, the young and beautiful Laura Emily was taken advantage of. She became pregnant and that’s how we got my adorable baby brother. Now she was the single mother of two.
After my brother was born, she was swept off her feet by another man. She so wanted to “find love.” This one was a popular chef for Hollywood celebrities. He was charming and charismatic, and he also hit her in the face for the first time on their honeymoon. She knew she made a huge mistake marrying him. The honeymoon violence was her first of many beatings over many years as, along the way, she bore two more children. Once, just once, he threw one of us kids across the room into a wall. She put a gun to his head and said, “If you ever touch one of my children again, I will blow you head off while you sleep.” He never touched one of us again, but she continued to endure his violence herself until he nearly killed her with one last beating. With broken ribs and a fractured skull, she fled that night with her four children, never to return, and proceeded to raise us by herself on her waitress tips in one of the poorest housing areas of Los Angeles.
He was charming and charismatic, and he also hit her in the face for the first time on their honeymoon.
Did I mention that she was beautiful? Well, one man after another cycled through our life trying to win her. Understandably, I hated them all or, rather, perhaps I was afraid of them all. She finally worked up the courage to marry one more time, this time to a man who looked like a “god.” He was a Robert Redford doppelgänger, for those of you old enough to know what that means. He was also a member of the Southern California biker gang called “The Misfits.” My mom did not have good taste in men. She did so desperately want to “find love.”
One day shortly after their wedding, the new “dad” told me to do something. I mouthed off to him and he began slapping my head back and forth with his long, muscular arm until my head was buzzing. My mom flew out of the kitchen like a wild cat and jumped on his back, pulling his hair and punching his head, screaming, “Don’t you ever touch him.” He never did again, and we actually became friends. He was the closest thing to a dad I ever had, and he treated her with respect, without violence. To this day I like him in my mind, in my memories.
He had two daughters, Tracy and Julie, ages three and five, who were being severely abused by their biological mother. My mom somehow took the girls (I think they call it “kidnapping”) in order to save them from the abuse they were enduring. We then fled the state of California to the Pacific Northwest. Now Laura Emily had six children.
But then something utterly remarkable happened.
And something utterly tragic.
My mother found Jesus Christ, which is to say, she finally “found love”—love, in fact, of the highest form imaginable. And, of course, she brought the knowledge of His love into our home. Jesus was the Man she had always been looking for, she said. Her husband—the Robert Redford biker dude—just couldn’t do the Jesus thing. He threatened that she must choose between Jesus or him, and she chose both. She insisted that she could never cease loving Jesus, but that she would also be a devoted wife—that, in fact, loving Jesus would make her a better wife. But he wasn’t buying it, so he left one day and took those beautiful little girls with him. And that was the final stress of her life. Her immune system collapsed and she was diagnosed with lymphoma. Over the course of a year, we watched her wither away to 80 pounds of skin and bone, and she finally died at the young age of 42, but not before making sure that I, a mere teenage boy, and my teenage wife, Sue, were in love with Jesus. It was due to her influence that Sue and I came to know the Lord. And all the ministry that Sue and I have done over the years is the direct result of my mother’s influence.
…she loved you so much that the stress of losing you killed her.
I never saw Tracy and Julie again after they were taken away that fateful day, until 20 years later. Sue came rushing into my office and said, “Quick, pick up the phone.”
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello, is this Ty?”
“Ty, this is Tracy.”
“Hello Tracy, how can I help you?”
I had no idea who it was. Some lady named Tracy. Then she said, “And Julie is here with me too.”
Immediately it all came flooding back to my mind and I knew who I was talking to. This was Tracy and Julie, my little sisters, that I had not seen in 20 years since our mother’s death.
“Our dad was channel surfing,” they explained, “and saw you on television. He got the phone number off the screen, and we decided to call you. Ty, please tell us what happened. All we remember is that your mother rescued us out of a very bad situation, and she became our mother. She was the mom that loved us, and we tell people she was our mom. Ty, what happened? Suddenly she was gone. Did your mom stopped loving us, Ty?”
“No, she never stopped loving you. In fact, she loved you so much that the stress of losing you killed her.”
They cried over the phone with me.
That was my mom.
Julie and Tracy’s mom.
Kimberly and Charles and Todd’s mom.
That was the fierce and crazy and beautiful and suffering and searching and remarkable Laura Emily.
I wish I could tell her Happy Mother’s Day.
Ty is a speaker/director for Light Bearers and pastor of Storyline Adventist Church. A passionate communicator with a message that opens minds and moves hearts, Ty teaches on a variety of topics, emphasizing God’s unfailing love as the central theme of the Bible. Ty and his wife Sue have three adult children and two grandsons.