Our Founding Fathers and Mothers, 1977 and Beyond

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Four years after the Civil War, Teddy Roosevelt’s northern daddy, who worked tirelessly to make life better for the families of Union soldiers, and his southern mama, who sneaked supplies to the Confederates, did what many wealthy Americans did after the war. They loaded up their children onto a paddle steamer in their home city of New York and crossed the Atlantic for a Grand Tour of Europe.

Ray and I have been on a grand tour of our own, but not to Europe. We celebrated the conclusion of our homeschool convention season with our own personal driving tour of southeast Texas and southern Louisiana, and of Mississippi and Alabama. We made our first stops in between the conventions in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and The Woodlands, Texas, and then we took a week to meander home.

This grand tour was Ray’s idea. For a few years he has been wanting to go south to visit several people who have been important to us through the years. Mission accomplished. Our hearts and minds are full of stories from those two weeks and I’ve been itching to share some with you.

Ray’s and my first stop after Chattanooga was Oxford, Mississippi, home of the first church where Ray served as a young campus minister beginning in 1977. The Roosevelts went back to the roots of Western Civilization. We went back to the church where Ray first learned how to be a daddy and I first learned how to be a mama.

Oxford, Mississippi 1983
John, Charlene, Mary Evelyn, Ray, and Bethany Notgrass at home in Oxford, Mississippi, 1983

I don’t know how to describe exactly what those Oxford Christians mean to us and how profoundly they influenced us. Twice this year we have been able to visit with two couples who sojourned in Oxford at the same time we did and they feel the same way. Jim and Mary Jo now live in Arkansas and we saw them on our way to another Texas conventions this year. Kelly and Arlene live in Alabama; we saw them this past Friday night.

You know how it feels when you try to explain something to someone and they get it — I mean really get it. As we were sitting around Jim and Mary Jo’s supper table, Jim said those Oxford Christians we knew back then were like the Founding Fathers. He hit the nail on the head. The American Founding Fathers laid a foundation for our country. Those Oxford Christians laid a foundation for the lives of many young people.

From before our first conception, I wanted desperately to be a godly Christian mama. I was surrounded by godly Christians in Oxford, especially mamas. There the older women gave freely and I watched wide-eyed and hung on their every word. During those years, I was in one “how to be a godly wife and mother” class taught by a woman from out of town; but I don’t remember ever being in a class like that taught by one of the members of our church. They taught me in the same way God said that parents should teach — as we “walked along the way” together.

  • When I asked for advice — which I did often — they gave it, sweetly and with honesty and humility.
  • They were diligent students of God’s word.
  • They served the poor.
  • They practiced hospitality in their homes.
  • They had time for mamas of young children, even though many of them were rearing teenagers themselves.
  • They let their light shine.

Now you are Founding Mamas for your children, giving light to all who are in the house.

You are the light of the world.
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket,
but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16

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