The Beat of a Mother’s Heart

Edith Lucille Mouton Custis
a.k.a. Lucille, Edi-cille, Lucil,
Mrs. Custis, Mama, Aunti Lucil,
Grandmama
(July 16, 1923—January 7, 2019)

In the aftermath of my mother’s death last week, I came across this tender thought: 

“Remember, you’re the only person who knows what her heart sounds like from the inside.” 

In the case of my mother, I’m not “the only person.” There are four of us. And while it is true that there are many different routes to motherhood, I love the thought that, before I saw the light of day, the first sound I was hearing was the steady beat of my mother’s heart.  

This past Monday, her 95-year-old loving heart stopped beating. Mama’s passing—like the slowly setting sun—took place over time with a gradual litany of losses. First she lost her mobility, then her hearing, sight, and memory until, on January 7, that steady heartbeat went silent. 

Grief stretches out over years of decline. She felt those losses too. But death drives grief home with a finality that cannot be denied. Memories of conversations with my mother are treasures that live on. 

She got off to a tenuous start, weighing only three pounds when she was born on July 16, 1923 in Lafayette, Louisiana. My grandmother journaled, “I had eclampsia and lost consciousness before we reached the hospital. She was three days old before I was aware, and she was in the incubator.”

When she was seven, her mother decided it was time to have “the talk” and asked a couple of close friends to pray. When she explained the gospel, my mother responded by asking, “Is there any other way?” Grandmother told her, “You can be perfect.” My mother replied, “I think I’ll try that way.”

She spent the next morning in her bedroom putting a mosaic together, then skipped off happily to a birthday party. When she returned, mosaic tiles were scattered all over her bedroom floor. The culprit was her younger brother. She wanted to murder him! She went straight to her mother and said, “I need Jesus!”

When she was ten, the family moved from Louisiana to Harrisburg, Arkansas when my grandfather purchased part-ownership of what would eventually become the Mouton Rice Mill

At sixteen she displayed an uncharacteristic level of fearlessness and a willingness to press the limits of what her heart could stand (or her parents would permit). She said “Yes!” to a young friend/military pilot’s invitation to take a spin in his plane. He flew loops! She didn’t tell her parents about it until afterwards. 

My grandmother nurtured my mother’s love of Jesus and her hunger to study the Bible by investing countless hours teaching Mama and her best friend Elizabeth from Bible study material drawn from the Moody Bible Institute correspondence course. Both girls were also deeply involved in the Southern Baptist Church Women’s Missionary Union program for young girls. Together at thirteen both achieved the program’s highest award in the state of Arkansas.

She became an accomplished young pianist, giving numerous recitals and a performance on Memphis radio. Her love of music inspired her determination to insure music lessons for all four of her children.

Her call to ministry came early. Her childhood friend Elizabeth raised the bar for a rich spiritual depth of friendship that she didn’t encounter in the young men she knew, so she didn’t expect to marry. Instead, she planned to be a missionary and dreamed of studying at House Beautiful (part of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky until 1998). Southern Baptist Convention leadership created House Beautiful to remedy the fact that they were sending women missionaries without providing biblical and theological training.

College came first. Her parents shipped her off to Baylor University, where her freshman year she met my father. That changed everything. His calling was the pastorate, and her story took a different direction. Looking back, they often said they “fell in love over the Scriptures.” Both had a hunger to learn and grow that never diminished over 69 years of marriage.

Trust me, they were happy!

Her heart always belonged to my dad. At nineteen, she dropped out of college to marry him. She would follow him anywhere and did. Their years of ministry together took them to California, Texas, Vancouver, British Columbia, and mostly Portland, Oregon. In his later years he told me, “She’s my ezer.” 

Her college education may have been cut short, but she more than made up for it as an avid reader. The writings of Amy Carmichael, Irish missionary to South India, had an especially profound influence on her. 

Along with supporting my father’s ministry and managing the home front, she also had ministries of her own: an after school Bible club with neighborhood children, years teaching Sunday School for high school girls, women’s ministries, and hours privately mentoring young women. Beyond the members of her family, she has left an indelible spiritual impression on the lives of countless women who consider her their spiritual mother. Even in assisted living, God opened doors of ministry to her.

Who knew that fragile little heart would beat so strong and steady for 95 years? Who knew so many others would come to depend on her or that her influence would radiate well beyond the inner circle of her family? 

Grief at the loss of my mother has, like her decline, come in stages. I’ve already had moments—plenty of them—when I feel the urge to tell her something or ask a question and I can’t. Now, as I contemplate that last goodbye, solace and hope mingle with heartache when I read the psalmist’s prayer:

“My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
    my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave.” (Psalm 16:9-10)

The story isn’t over. My mother’s heart will beat again.

Rest in hope, dear Mama.

About carolyncustisjames

www.carolyncustisjames.com
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19 Responses to The Beat of a Mother’s Heart

  1. Susan May says:

    Beautiful. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother; she sounds like an amazing woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cherish says:

    When we are young, we lose a parent.
    When we are older, we also lose a friend.
    The deeper the love, the deeper the loss.
    I am so sorry for your great loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. moeinnola says:

    Awe such a beautiful tribute and so thoughtful. I’m caring for my mom, (your mom’s cousin Gloria). There are so many steps in your journey I can relate to and I cherish every moment I get to spend with my mom right now. Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful life. Knowing the rich Christian faith found in our family warms my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. CAROLANN MURILLO says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother. The legacy of Christian parents and grandparents is a special gift from God. My wonderful mother lived to 95 years of age as well, praising in Lord and Savior throughout her years of life. I’m glad we share this kind of heritage in the Lord.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Junko says:

    Sorry for your loos, Carolyn, but oh! Imagine she is with Pastor Custis and our Lord! I miss her but am happy for her. I was blessed having been under her (and their) ministry!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mimionlife says:

    So sorry for your loss. Praying for God to give you and your family peace and comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Carolyn Schmidt says:

    Your beautiful tribute to your sweet mother is precious. I always remember her as the best Sunday school teacher I had at Central Bible. She was so gracious with us teenage girls and a great role model. Both of your parents had such an impact on my life. May God wrap His arms of comfort around each of you. Sending love and prayers❤️
    Carolyn Burshek Schmidt

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So sorry for your loss. What a legacy your parents have left behind, though… May God’s presence be especially palpable during this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. dorothygreco says:

    This is so rich and encouraging Carolyn. I love the bit about how her feelings toward her brother compelled her to cry out to Jesus. What a legacy. May God comfort you in the face of this loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Kristin Beasley says:

    A beautiful tribute for your mom, a godly woman. I am sorry for your loss.
    My deepest sympathies are with you. It is a comfort to know you will see her again. God bless you,sister.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pete Ahlstrom says:

    We’re very sorry for your loss. She sounds as if she was a remarkable. special person.
    I never knew my own mother, who died when I was just 2 months old. (Appendicitis.) But all I’ve heard of her makes me wish I had. I know she was smart and fun-loving. Maybe too much so. She once helped her brothers and sister throw their youngest brother out of our haymow to see if he could land on his feet like the cat. (He didn’t, and none of the kids who did it could sit down for about the next two weeks.) We will be praying extrs for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Carolyn, I was so sorry when I heard about your mom’s passing. What a well-loved life she lived. She loved her family, friends, and anyone she met. She was so gracious and people loved her, too. This is such a great tribute to her. I have been thinking of you and will continue to pray.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Susan Nash says:

    Carolyn, a beautiful and fitting tribute to your mother’s life in Christ. In years past, I have loved the stories you have told me of your mother, but seeing it put together here makes me aware of your roots and rootedness and how much you are like her in many ways. I am continuing to hold you and the family up during this time of loss!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a gift to have so much from your mother, but it seems to me that the loss may be more fierce in such cases. What a tribute you have written along with a pattern for those of us with different kinds of mothers! Thank you for opening your heart to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Carolyn, thank you for sharing your own words about your mom…I wish I could have known her. I do believe she and my Mimi are stirring things up in heaven. Sending love as you simultaneously grieve and celebrate your mom. Love you…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Julie Anne says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your beloved mother. Thank you for sharing, Carolyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Penny Godwin says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mom. She sounds like an amazing woman. What a blessing for you. I am so sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Michael Richard Leming says:

    Looks like the last picture was taken at Westmont. As an orphan, I loved your story. Mike Leming

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Rebecca Ruggiero says:

    This tribute is beautiful and moving. What an influence your mother has (“has” because, of course, her influence lives on through the countless people she taught and loved). I am so sorry for your loss, and so glad that we need not mourn as those who have no hope. My prayers for you until you see your mother again. Thank you for all your brave, beautiful writing: your mother’s legacy shines through.

    Like

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