All I Really Needed to Know I Learned From My Mother

On Monday morning my beloved mother (Barbara Watts Nelson Rienderhoff) peacefully fell asleep in Jesus while resting at her home in Banning CA. The attending nurse remarked that it was as peaceful a way to die as you could wish. She was 88. I’m so grateful I got to spend three days with her on her birthday just before Thanksgiving. Her condition deteriorated rather rapidly in December. My sister Kari flew down from Sacramento twice the week before Christmas to be with her. And while we with our brother Greg and her husband Bert grieve Mother’s death, there is relief in knowing her suffering is over. For her it will be a split second between her last moment of cognition and gazing up into the spectacular panorama of Jesus in the sky, calling His friends to rise. Oh happy day of reunion!

You would’ve loved her, too, had you known her. What was she like, this woman who survived my childhood? Let me share seven of life’s great lessons I learned from my mother, and you’ll get the picture:

1. Remember three rules—read, read, read. Mom was a voracious reader, and she stimulated our appetite for good books from the beginning. In a land where children’s books in English were a rarity (she and Dad were missionaries in Japan where all three of us kids were born), she managed to find the childhood classics, and we read all the time. Junior Guides came by ship from America—we devoured and preserved every issue, eventually binding them into books for rereading. I learned to love reading because of my mother.

2. Learn to love music—it is a beautiful thing. (It’s the practicing that’ll kill you!) And oh boy, did Mom make us practice. Relentless, sometimes merciless—she was our first piano teacher, along with trombone (me), trumpet (Greg), and oboe (Kari). Born with a beautiful contralto voice, she sang at the end of Dad’s sermons all across Japan. She loved music, and music loved her.

3. Never forget God has a purpose for your life. By the age of ten I had nearly died twice (stories for another time). I can’t count how many times my mother drew me aside to remind me, “God has spared your life for a reason—He has something special for you to do.” I grew up with that compound sentence. And because of her conviction and her faith, I ended up one day actually believing her. If you’re a young mother, memorize that sentence and whisper it to your child—because it will be always be true—and one day your child may very well turn out to be true to it.

4. A domesticated mother is a wonderful gift. My mother was an award-winning cook, baker (Sabbath morning sticky cinnamon rolls [to die for]), nurse, seamstress, PE coach, handywoman, boss, and queen of the castle. In a day where perhaps such giftedness is becoming rarer, God bless the mothers who embrace the divine mission of providing for, protecting and preserving a brood of children for society and the Kingdom.

5. A liberated mother is a wonderful inspiration. While it’s true Mom was more exceptionally domesticated than the TV Mom’s we watched in black and white, she embraced her God-given uniqueness as woman and colored outside the box. Somehow she became acquainted with the producers at a local television station in Toyama (a large city in which an American woman was a standout). And before long she was hosting a weekly television program fluently in Japanese (we kids with Dad even got to be her guests once!). Using her unique, God-inspired gifts, coloring outside the box, ministering as a woman—a liberated woman is an inspiration.

6. Be a learner all your life. My mother was Exhibit A that this must be God’s intention for us all. Whisked away by Dad before she could finish nurse’s training—off to Japan and mission life—good-bye schooling—but not Mom. On our second furlough, she enrolled in a school of business to study office administration. Then with her kids finishing college, she found a school that offered her life experience credit and eventually graduated with her Bachelor’s. Before long she was enrolled in Loma Linda University’s off-campus Master of Public Health degree, graduating at the same time Kari graduated from college. Then with her MPH Mother established a community health clinic in Portland OR, for which she was feted at a downtown hotel with a Community Services award. Always learning and growing, you go, Mom!

7. Be friends with God. I not only learned about prayer from kneeling beside my mother mornings and evenings—I also learned from those early mornings when I’d peek around a corner to find my mother alone, quietly reading and marking her Bible and  praying. When I would look inside her Bible at the markings and writing in the margins, I instinctively knew—she never had to tell me—how important this personal daily commitment truly is. For her, religion was a friendship and prayer a conversation. How many times when I was in college was she pouring her heart out in intercessory pleadings for me, as I later learned, at the very time the battle for my own heart was raging. She knew Jesus—and He knew her—and therein was the secret to her loving heart and fruitful life.

Ellen White describes the reunion one day in heaven: “Many will raise their crowns in sight of the assembled universe, and pointing to their mother say, ‘She made me all I am through the grace of God. Her instruction, her prayers, have been blessed to my eternal salvation’” (Reflecting Christ 195). To which I bow my head this day and whisper, “Amen.”


beautiful story!!

Deepest sympathies on the loss of your beloved mother, may you feel Jesus' comforting arms around your entire family at this time of loss. Praying for all of you ...

So very sorry, Dwight! Thank you for writing up your memories of her; what a great woman she was. No wonder you are a great person yourself! I would like to know the content of her weekly TV program in Japan! That's amazing. May you and your whole family be comforted in this time of loss. A lifetime is such a brief blip on the big screen of life; good thing there is eternity to be with our loved ones.

I forgot to ask if the picture is of your mother and you?

It is comforting to hear that " She knew Jesus—and He knew her." In a little while we shall meet our mother, at the second soon advent of Christ. I share the present loss with you.

Dear Pastor Nelson, God bless you and your family. I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. You were blessed to have her with you so many years!

I am so sorry to hear about your mother's passing. Thank you for sharing this article about her with us. What a sweet reunion it will be when Jesus returns and you are reunited with this wonderful woman of God. Prayers going out for you and your family.

Wow, what a wonderful mother. I think I would have loved knowing her, so I look forward to meeting her and letting her inspire me too! RIP = Resurrection Is Promised. Prayer embraced for your whole family.

Pastor Dwight, so sorry to hear of your lost. Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman. What a blessing she was to so many.

So sorry for your loss. Your tribute to your mom was so inspiring. Thank you for sharing your memories. May God give you and your family the comfort you need right now.

Dear Pastor Nelson, So sorry for your loss. You and your siblings are so blessed to have been raised by such a Godly woman. Your tribute to your mum is such an inspiration to me as a mum. It once again reminded me of what an awesome responsibility it is to be a mum. I pray that Jesus help me to be a mum to my kids like your's was to you, and through His grace that one day my children also can call me blessed. God bless you and give you and your family strength in your time of mourning.

Dear Pastor Dwight and Family, It is with sadness that we say goodbye, but also our hearts are blessed and warmed by the knowledge that our precious mothers, who by example and deed demonstrated their steadfast love for and trust in their Redeemer, have inspired us to live for Him. May precious memories bring smiles to your faces and healing to your hearts knowing that God's promises are sure and we can look forward with assurance to that glorious reunion day.

Many of us can only dream of a mother like yours. May you be comforted by the memories and the wonderful hope in Jesus. God bless you and your family.

We with you long every day for that glorious morning when she will rise again. What a marvelous hope we have to sustain us during these dark times. Our prayers and sympathies go with you Dwight and may the comfort you so often share with others brighten your heart as well during these days. Yours in the joyous Advent hope and resurrection morning. Russell and Cynthia Burrill

What a thrill it was to read your tribute to your mother! It made us as parents realize again the joys, privileges, and responsibilities of a mother. It was wonderful your mother had that Christian vision as she raised the 3 of you. You were very blessed.

What a beautiful tribute to your dear Mother, Dwight. I enjoyed reading it all. Thank you for sharing a piece of your mother with us. . .and may these sweet memories bring you happiness as you look forward to seeing her again soon. Hugs.

Dwight, thank you so much for the beautiful tribute to your dear mother! I'm sure you brought great joy to her, making her tireless efforts worth it all! I'm glad I was privileged to know her and to be in choir with her one year in college! Yes, she was an amazing woman with a beautiful voice! When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

What an amazing tribute to your mom! We never met her, but through your words, she was a beautiful person. Our condolences. Prayers and hugs...May our dear Lord wrap his loving arms around you and your family.

Beautiful tribute to your mom. An inspiration to me. I pray as I write this for comfort and hope for you and your siblings.

This was a wonderful experience. It brought tears to my eyes and pride to my heart as a parent myself. My condolences.

Please receive my comfort Nelson in Jesus name, By knowing you, I feel I know apart of her and how important she was to you.May God rest her peacefully until you meet in resurrection morning .

I remember Aunt Barbara and Uncle Paul (Japanese missionary family's would call their elders "aunt" "uncle") with very deep fondness. I don't remember the two near death experience's you had before ten because you are older but I remember the ski accident (Lake Nojirii) when I was nine. You were in a coma and I remember that as being the first time in my life our Japan missionary family prayed earnestly for your recovery. It made an impression on me to obey my parents because you had disobeyed. Your mom and dad were godly people and the gifts you shared of Aunt Barbara are the same gifts I remember of my mom, Aunt Masu. Dwight, we will meet our loved ones in heaven because of Jesus' supreme sacrifice. TYJ!!! My condolences to Greg and Karilee and all grandchildren and great grandchildren. May His countenance continue to shine on you and Karen in His ministry.

My heart went out to you this morning as I listened to your sermon on TV, Your precious mother--whom I knew at St. Helena San-as she was a student nurse--I had the privilege of watching the beautiful courtship of your parents--Paul was my classmate at PUC. We could all see in Barbara Watts, and Paul Nelson, what a true Christian life was, and they were a wonderful example for the rest of us. I am so grateful that Jesus let you have that last visit with her on her birthday (I too turned 88 end of October). And as a mother, I know how much that means. as my 60 year old son also visited me for my birthday. God was so good to let you have such a wonderful conversation with her, which privilege you were denied on your last visit with your father. I enjoyed your blog--and I am glad that God chose Barbara to be your mother--the one to guide you in your Christian journey. What a glad reunion awaits you on resurrection morning.

Pastor Dwight, today (January 14) I heard your wonderful sermon on TV and was moved to write. Condolences to you and your family for your mom's passing. You obviously loved her very much. We need sensitive, intelligent pastors such as yourself, and it sounds like your mom was a great influence on you in that regard. My mom passed away January 2016 at the age of 95. In 2007, she suffered a heart attack and was taken to an Adventist hospital here in Oregon. The doctor that attended to her was very kind.

So sorry to hear of your loss. I pray that God will comfort you and your family during this period. I pray everyday that God will continue to bless your ministry. You inspire me. God bless.

Dear Pastor Nelson, Please accept my deepest condolences on the loos of your mother . We're thankful for the Godly woman that she was and the direction she gave you . Get your knife and fork ready for we all look forward to sitting at that table with Jesus for " The best is yet to come " . Love in Christ Ryan O'Neil Seaton

Dear Pastor Nelson, I am so sorry to hear about you loosing your mother. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. I know where you are coming from when you speak of your mother cause my mom was the same way. I lost her 3yrs ago, and I am so thankful that she raised me and my siblings to love and live for Jesus also. Thank God for mothers. I can hardly wait to see my mother again as well. What a glorious reunion we will all have. God bless you and thank you for your life's work. It has inspired me. Till we meet in heaven, Your friend, Donna Armijo

A mother's love is a very special thing Gentle and soft as the lullaby she sings Warm and embracing, with power like a king Love is a special thing. (by Janie Oliver)

Dear Pastor, Loved reading your blog about your special mom. I cried when I heard you preach this sermon knowing your mom had just passed. I went up to her purposefully when she was at Carmichael one day as I just wanted to meet a woman that had produced such fine children. I get to enjoy your sister and Keith every week and Greg when he comes up to play for us. So thankful that she left you with so many special lessons and that we get to enjoy the fruits of her labor listening to you three children. As a mother, I hope that I have taught my children the lessons they need to use enduring this life until He comes back! Thank you for your ministry to us! My husband and I record your sermons so we can listen to you anytime. Prayers for you in this difficult time.

Thank you for sharing the wonderful qualities of your mother. I heard her speak once, and was very blessed. Knowing more about her through your tribute was a blessing.

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