(Editor’s note: Read Part 2 of this series, “If my 97-year-old mom were president.”)
Mark Twain once wrote, “It is at our mother’s knee that we acquire our noblest and truest and highest ideals.”
That’s certainly true of my mother, and I hope yours, too.
President Trump’s former campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.” And he just shared at an Indiana rally that the slogan for his second presidential campaign run will be “Keep America Great.”
I was thinking on this Mother’s Day weekend: What if my 97-year-old mom were president? How would she make and keep American great?
I know one thing for sure: She wouldn’t leave it up to Washington, D.C., or the White House to get the job done. Like others in the Great Generation, she would say the answers lie in God, each American, our families and our communities.
She actually gives the answer in her autobiography “Acts of Kindness: My Story.” And her advice is something we all can follow to make our country and our lives great again, especially if we’re facing hardships or rebuilding our lives.
My mother, Wilma Norris Knight, was born in 1921, and she just celebrated her 97th birthday on May 4. I can hardly believe it; she can’t, either. She is the last survivor of her 11-member biological family.
My mom had a very difficult first half of her life, and the second half had its share of sizable obstacles, too. She was raised in abject poverty in rural Oklahoma, and she given away as a ward of the state when she was only 8 years old. She was treated for two years for a rare disease, living away from the family in a children’s hospital.
When she returned healthy a few years later, she lived through the Great Depression, and her entire family used to pick cotton in fields just to survive. They often had to move due to shortages of work and food.
Mom married my father at 16, but she was abandoned to raise her three boys by herself. I was the eldest, and I often had to assume the roles of my absent father. We were as poor as church mice, but that’s what also prepared me to overcome the obstacles of this life.
I was re-reading through her life story and gleaning the wisdom that was so prevalent in my upbringing in rural Wilson, Oklahoma, particularly her advice about how her generation survived and thrived through the Great Depression.
There is no better time than right after my mother’s 97nd birthday (May 4) and Mother’s Day to share her wisdom with you as an encouragement from someone who has actually “been there and done that.” (The following words are directly quoted from her book on Pages 89-95).
My mom wrote:
How we reawakened the American dream and spirit
In her inspiring book “The Forgotten Man,” Amity Shlaes conveys some fascinating stories about what life was like during the Great Depression. In the very heart of that economic crisis was “the forgotten man,” a term used for the millions of people who were unemployed.
A popular Depression-era song expresses their pain and struggle:
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead.
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?
Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
As the lyrics remind us, a loss of employment or downturn in one’s economic status can change everything. And only those who have truly been there can understand that.
We learned many valuable lessons during those years that served as a basis for the rest of my life. These lessons might also encourage people today suffering through their own economic and employment valleys. I would dare to say that if we lived more by these principles, we would experience far more personal and national recovery and rewards.
Don’t be surprised by hardship.
I think it’s fair to say that most people today expect life to be easy and sprinkled with a few difficult times. But back in the Great Depression era, we all learned in a big way that life is hard and sprinkled with some easier moments.
The Bible encourages a similar point of view: “Don’t be surprised by the fiery trial that has come upon you.” Even Jesus cautioned us: “See to it that you are not alarmed” when difficult times come. Other translations include, “Keep your head and don’t panic” and “See that you are not troubled.”
Another thing I’ve learned over and over: Bad things happen to good people, but good people can survive bad things, especially with God’s help.
Though it’s an understandable human reaction, worry is the absence of trust in God and will rob us of God’s best. Remember what Jesus encouraged: “Consider the birds of the air. They do not work or toil, and yet your Heavenly Father provides for them.”
Watching birds is a very real living illustration that can help us overcome anxiety. Elizabeth Cheney wrote a poem in which she explains this lesson through a fictitious conversation between two birds in an orchard:
Said the Robin to the Sparrow,
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and hurry so.”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin,
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”
Instead of worrying, Jesus said that we are to “Seek first God’s Kingdom and all your needs will be met.”
This is God’s promise in the Bible: “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus.” As my pastor has shared, God may not give us all our greeds, but He’s promised to provide all our needs.
That is also why Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” If we only prayed and focused upon “daily bread,” we’d see many more provision miracles around us.
Get back to the basics.
Simplify your life. Live within your means. People must be willing to cut back and be OK with it. We must quit borrowing and cut spending. Be grateful for what you have, especially your health and loved ones. Be content with what you have too, and remember that stuff will never make you happy. Never. You’re not going to take any of it with you. Have you ever seen a U-Haul following a hearse?
Back then, we didn’t have 1,1000th of what people do today, yet we seemed happier, even during the Great Depression. Practice the principles of contentment. As the Bible says, “With food and shelter, we shall be content.”
Being content with what we have reminds me of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. It was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to tire of it. He longed for a change for something “better.” Every day, he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell and listed the farm with a real estate agent, who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, it emphasized all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, healthy stock, modern equipment, acres of fertile ground, etc. Before placing the ad in the newspaper, the real estate agent called the farmer and read the copy to him for his approval. When he had finished, the farmer cried out, “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I am not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life.”
(In Part 2 next week, I will give five more insightful points of advice from my mom about making our country and your life great again. This is all great spring cleaning for our souls!)
Now, you see why my brother, Aaron, and I wrote in the foreword of her autobiography: “If there are two words to describe our Mom, it would be kindness and love. When anyone meets Mom, they feel like they have known her all their lives, because of her kind and loving spirit. In other words, Mom has said every morning for as long as we can remember, “Lord, use me for your Glory.” And we believe He has done just that! God, thank you for giving us the best Mom in the world.”
Happy 97th birthday and Mother’s Day, Mom! You’re still the best!
(If you’re so inclined, you can order my mom’s autobiography, “Acts of Kindness: My Story,” from Amazon, or an autographed copy through my official website at ChuckNorris.com. I guarantee it will inspire you or a loved one you give it to.)