“She didn’t give us her blood, but she gave us her love, and so we called her ‘Mom.’ It’s every orphan’s dream to be hand-picked and placed into a good home. But to be hand-picked by Cherie Valentino—that was beyond a dream because she was the embodiment of motherly love.”
That’s how I began the eulogy for my mother, Cherie G. Valentino, who died seven years ago today. I knew that if I could just get past those first few sentences, I’d be able to finish the message. By the grace of God I did, but even now those words meddle softly with this grateful heart.
Mom couldn’t have children, so she and Dad decided to select a few of us out of obscurity and make us their own. Bob, Tim, and Ronni Sue—we were the unholy trinity of South 15½ Street in Reading, PA, and Mom had to straighten us out once in a while with that old wooden spoon. Still, she was our cheerleader. She was truly “in our corner” in every facet of life—academics, sports, social pursuits, you name it. She would cheer us on with her unique blend of enthusiasm, encouragement, and practical advice.
In our ministry here at Fleetwood Bible Church, I knew there would always be at least one tape of the weekly sermon sold, and one good review of it, too. Even when I threw a bomb, she said she loved it. Most of us knew Mom to be:
• Forward Looking
Mom was a lady who looked for the best in people rather than the worst. I guess you could say she was “everybody’s sunshine.” The sun is known for being bright, warm, and cheerful, and we always look forward to its healing rays after a long, dark winter. That’s how Mom was. People enjoyed being around her, and she was never a threat to anyone.
One of my favorite memories of Mom was the time she came to a church picnic wearing (unwittingly) a slightly pornographic T-shirt. Mom and Dad used to get matching shirts from each country they would visit. The ones they purchased in Amsterdam were quite raunchy, but no one had ever noticed. You had to look very close at the cartoon figures in the windows of the tall building on her shirt to see how the various body parts were being used.
Mom was feeding one of the babies from our nursery when she looked down and noticed the animated shenanigans. We all howled about her faux pas, committed, ironically, at one of her son’s church functions. But none laughed more so than Mom. “Exactly how,” I wondered, “does a pastor put his own mother up for church discipline?”
I had the thrill of baptizing Mom when she wanted to make her faith in Christ public. And that’s the best memory of all. “Because I live, you also shall live,” said Jesus, the Light of the World. When the sun sets, it ceases to be in view, but it doesn’t cease to exist. It goes away for a while, and then it comes back again. And so it is with Mom. Because of Easter, we will see her again.
Mom once told me she was glad she couldn’t have children because it led to us becoming her children. How gracious of her to say so. Her pain became our gain, and yet she considered it her gain, too. All three of us may have been somebody else’s “mistake,” but we were Mom’s “miracle.” On further reflection, I have to say that she was the miracle.
Cherie Valentino never gave birth, but she was a real mom—my Mom. And I thank God for letting me be warmed by her rays for 38 years.