This time of year causes most of us to pause and think about motherhood. For me, Mother’s Day is a bittersweet time, not only because I’ve never had the privilege of being a mom, but because my own mother is in heaven. Her birthday always falls close to (and sometimes on) Mother’s Day, making May a month I find myself missing my sweet mama more intensely. But this time of year also provides a great opportunity to remember the tremendous influence she had on my life. In a spirit of celebration and gratefulness, here are fifteen things I learned from my mom.
1. Pray often. My mom believed in the power of prayer, and I am confident that her intercession helped make me who I am today. Knowing that she continually prayed for me provided peace during many stressful moments. If I was taking a final exam, mom was praying. If I was struggling with a life decision, I knew she was joining with me in seeking God’s will. I have no doubt her prayers for my safety kept me from many unseen calamities, and I believe some of her requests are still being answered today. Her example of “praying without ceasing” inspires me to do the same.
2. Value education. As the eldest of 13 children in a farming family, my mom was forced to drop out of school in seventh grade. Even with little formal education and having to learn English as a second language, her aptitude to learn was obvious. In her forties, she finally had the opportunity to obtain her G.E.D. Although she never had the chance to pursue higher education, mom wanted all of her children to do so. She was a key part of my education, teaching me to read by the time I entered kindergarten. She continued to encourage my education all the way through college, when she not only sacrificed financially, but even helped me study sometimes. Perhaps it’s a fitting tribute to her that I work at a college today, helping others achieve their educational dreams.
3. Do your best. Though mom’s primary career was that of a homemaker and mother, she showed me how to have a good work ethic no matter what I do. She always gave her best to her work, didn’t leave things half-done, and never made excuses. I’m sure at the time I took for granted the hours she labored cleaning, doing laundry, sewing, and cooking—but now I can see how she did each of those tasks with commitment and excellence.
4. Encourage others. Mom found many ways to lift others’ spirits, and loved to send written words of encouragement. My scrapbooks contain many precious cards that remind me of her love and support. In college I had the privilege of taking a trip to Europe with my university choir. As I unpacked my suitcase thousands of miles from home, I found numerous sweet notes tucked in nooks and crannies, reminding me that mom was thinking of me. Her thoughtful actions throughout her lifetime helped me see the importance of taking a moment to encourage others.
5. Be a good listener. After I moved away from home, my parents and I started a tradition of visiting on the phone every Sunday afternoon. This habit continued for about twenty years until I moved close enough to see my folks in person. Whether by phone or face-to-face, I remember what good listeners they both were. Mom’s ear was especially dear to me, as she could relate best to matters of a woman’s heart. Mom and dad rarely “told me what to do,” but their faithful listening often helped me process a situation and gain new clarity.
6. Smile often. My mom was blessed with what I like to call a “movie-star” smile . . . beautiful, wide, and engaging. Her smile lit up her face, even when she was older and living in a nursing home. Although it’s been numerous years since mom passed away, some of her former caregivers still comment on her smile. Mom demonstrated that a smile, given genuinely and regardless of circumstances, can be a lasting and beautiful thing.
7. Live frugally. My mom lived through the depression era and rarely threw anything out. She made recycling popular before living “green” was ever heard of, saving and re-purposing a multitude of items. (I think she may have gone a bit too far when she turned an old toilet tank into a planter.) Mom wore clothes until they had holes in them—and then artfully patched the holes to gain more mileage. She was an expert at making low-cost, but tasty meals, and never, ever tossed out leftovers (or left food on her plate). Mom rarely spent money on herself, scrimping and saving for the benefit of the family.
8. Love Unconditionally. My mom and dad exhibited unconditional love for me and my brothers no matter what we said or did. Because I didn’t know any differently, I assumed everybody’s parents loved that way, but now I know it was something very precious. My mom was always there for me. She was tenderhearted, forgiving, and supportive, even when I didn’t deserve it.
9. Comfort others: My mom was a supreme comforter. During my freshman year in college, I struggled with severe homesickness. I would literally lay my head in my mother’s lap and sob uncontrollably when it was time to return to college after a weekend visit at home. I don’t recall any of the words she said, but I remember the gentleness of her hand stroking my head. Her comfort gave me the courage to get up and keep going, and taught me the importance of being someone’s soft place to land.
10. Appreciate things made from scratch. I can still remember the smell of home-baked cookies, wild blackberry pies, cinnamon rolls, and roast and potatoes in the oven. In addition to cooking almost everything from scratch, mom was an expert seamstress. The hum of her ancient Pfaff sewing machine still lingers in my memory. In a world where convenience foods and internet-shopping is now the norm, mom gave me an even greater appreciation for the effort that goes into something made by hand.
11. Have a servant’s heart: My mom had a true heart of service for others, especially her family. She served faithfully without grumbling or complaining as she cleaned up after us, fed us, nursed us when we were sick, and provided for our needs. She also volunteered at church, helping quietly behind the scenes. Mom never sought recognition or the limelight and found joy in helping others succeed. Her service impacted many lives and inspired me to find fulfillment in serving others, too.
12. Be content by yourself: Mom spent much of her life alone at home while her kids were in school and dad was at work. Having never learned how to drive, she was limited in the places she could go on her own. Mom enjoyed people and liked to go on occasional trips, yet she seemed more content to remain at home, even it was by herself. As my life’s path has also led me to experience a fair amount of “alone time,” I think of mom and how she found peace and fulfillment in her circumstances.
13. Remember that cleaning is important (but it isn’t everything): My mom was a fastidious housekeeper. Every Saturday the cleaning ritual commenced with fervor. Dad pitched in, and they worked all day to make sure the bathrooms were sanitized, the carpets vacuumed, the floors mopped and every exposed surface dusted. I can still picture mom on her hands and knees, scrubbing vigorously into the corners of her kitchen floor. While mom taught me to value a clean house, I also saw that it can be taken a bit too far – especially if the drive to clean is based on a fear of what others will think if they happen to find a cobweb.
14. Suffer with grace and dignity. The final years of my mom’s life included a great deal of suffering. As her health declined, she lost not only the ability to care for her family, but for herself. She eventually required assistance with bathing, dressing, feeding and toileting. Yet somehow she never let the indignities she experienced take her dignity. She exhibited a gracious spirit to her caregivers, greeting them with a smile instead of a demand or a complaint. She persevered with endurance to the finish line when she received her release into eternal life.
15. Keep faith at the center of your life. My mom’s quiet, but deep faith in Christ was the guiding force of her life. Her prayers gently moved mountains. The Bible was her source of truth and hope. Her faith served as her rock and comfort. While battling a failing mind and body, she chose 1 Corinthians 2:9 to be engraved on her tombstone: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
I take comfort in knowing that mom is now experiencing a joy incomprehensible to those of us still on earth. Until I join her on the other shore, I’ll do my best to put into practice all she has taught me.
Thank you, mom for being a shining example for all to follow.
I love you mom!