The older I become, the more keenly aware I am of just how much I resemble my mother. I will admit that I have not always understood her or her motivations and often failed to see her own humanity. Some of my teen attitudes and actions toward her make me cringe in regret now. Becoming a mother has a way of setting the record straight and finding new respect for your own mother. The magnitude of the job is hard to imagine until you live through the struggles and joys of the task. And, the realization of how you can change the world through God-centered motherhood is overwhelming when taken on in our own strength.
My mom did not for the most part work outside of the home. She had occasional part-time jobs to help during tight times throughout the years, but she mainly was a “keeper at home”. Growing up in the public school system, I began to be influenced negatively toward my stay-at-home-mother. I loved having my mom available to take me to school, pick me up, tend to me when I was at home sick, etc. But, I never really saw it as a “job”. I know that my mom felt the pressure to be something different from the feminist atmosphere in our culture. My attitude at times belittled her role in my life. I grew up hearing that women could be anything they wanted to be, yet saying that you desired to be a mother and homemaker was always viewed with tainted glares. I began to think less of her than I did of the moms that wore suits every day to work, ran frantically around trying to accomplish things that would ‘change the world’, and brought home their own paychecks. School pushed vocation over education. I believed my mom was one of the smartest women I knew but began to question whether she was wasting her time. Most of the other moms paid people to watch their kids so they could go ‘be something’ and ‘fulfill their dreams’. They drove nicer cars, had their hair and nails done; didn’t their kids turn out fine?
The problem that I had inherited was that I was viewing motherhood through the eyes of man and not through God’s. It wasn’t until I had to have back surgery at the age of 16 that God grabbed my attention to the beauty of homemaking and motherhood. And, He began to show me that “having it all” was only truly possible by surrendering my life to Him. I have heard career women say that they do everything a stay-at-home parent does plus have a fulfilling career. But, if you are not present with your children then you aren’t doing it all; wiping noses, changing diapers, putting them down for naps, reading and playing with them, and witnessing many firsts or hearing conversations that only happen in those quiet moments are things that are missed. That is a reality. And vice versa…if a woman is not in the work force there are trade-offs as well. We all choose which ones we will make and can live with; certainly at times because of necessity and not always easy ones. But I had wrongly elevated one calling over another. I had told God that this was something I would not do…it was beneath me. And so began the work God would do in my heart.
My mother and I have a connection called scoliosis. It is a hereditary condition that caused, for both of us, a severe curvature of the spine. Attempts at correcting it with body braces had failed, and I was left facing a major surgery. It was the scariest time in my life as a teen. But, through that my faith grew exponentially as I sought Him for strength and comfort. I remember laying on the gurney being prepped for the operating room. My parents kissed me with tears in their eyes and said their ‘I love you’s’ and ‘See you soon’s’. Then, I was alone with strangers poking and prodding me. I will never be able to explain the presence of God in my life at that moment. Memorized portions of Scripture flooded my mind. Where as moments before I had felt a panic attack taking over, I began to feel calmed. I kept praying and asking God to not leave me nor forsake me. I asked Him to be with my frightened parents. The next thing I knew (which was many hours later), I was waking up to my parents’ tear filled eyes again. I have never doubted God’s existence since that moment. He had cast out my fear and calmed my spirit. And although the next few months would be fraught with pain, discomfort, and a battle for self-esteem, I can see now how God used that to reshape my thinking on so many things.
After my surgery, I was in a full body cast for close to a year. It was my new normal. It was hard to be comfortable at any moment in my day. I had tried to return to school, but it was just too hard to function let alone learn anything. My parents sought a different way to keep me on schedule to graduate. I was sent to an alternative school that mostly existed for teen mothers and high school drop-outs. At first, I felt even more awkward and out of place. But slowly, I began to enjoy my new experience of being home more and at school less. It was so empowering to be in control of most of my studies with the ability to create my own timeline and schedule. I saw that education could be accomplished with more freedom and flexibility where parents are tutors and accountability partners. That seed that was planted changed my view on how I would eventually educate my own children. It would not have happened if my mom hadn’t driven me across town and allowed me to try something different. Sitting at the kitchen table doing homework while my mom prepared dinner began to change my entire outlook on life.
The first thing that changed was how I saw my mother. I can still picture my mother sitting in my hospital room for hours even while I slept. She cried when she saw me in pain. She held my hand when I couldn’t do anything but cry. And when my treatment was sub-par, I saw a force no one wanted to reckon with. I saw her interact with other people in ways I had never seen before. And, why had I not seen it? Because I was away from her more than I was with her. I had always wondered what my mom did all day while I was gone. I just didn’t seem to grasp what she could have possibly done while we were at school or activities. Did she just sit and watch television all day? Boy, did I get a wake-up call! During that time, I saw the strength of my mother and the amazing love she has for her kids. I watched during my recovery as my mother worked her ‘magic’ on our home. I never really paid attention to how lovely our home was…that was all because of her. I was comfortable there. My friends were at home there. There is a talent in that. I have been in many homes where that was not the case. It was a gift she used to bless us. I began to be thankful for a clean home and saw how much effort it took for her to make sure the six of us had clean clothes, clean bedding, warm meals, and good experiences…that was work. Since I couldn’t shower with a body cast, she would haul the kitchen table over to the sink, cover my cast with a trash bag, and wash my hair for me. I am thankful that she was there to do that for me. We had many laughs together during our one on one time while my siblings were at school. I witnessed her sending cards or making food to deliver to a neighbor that was ill or a missionary friend that needed encouragement. I saw her volunteering at church and my siblings’ school. She was a busy lady! And, she did it quietly to serve people she loved.
My mother was also a light that I desperately needed when I found myself facing the devastating loss of our first son. As I waited in the triage for my family to arrive after being told my baby’s heartbeat couldn’t be found and that I was in active labor at 36 weeks, I heard my mother wail in the hallway as they explained what was going on. She loved me and her grandchild deeply and the loss was overwhelming. She held my hand as I gave birth with a pained love in her eyes, but she was there for me. I know that moment was not easy for her. It took a toll. But, good mothers do that. They power through for their children to meet their needs. And a few days later when I was facing a funeral, she slept in an uncomfortable sofa bed in our tiny apartment and let me lay beside her as I couldn’t sleep. Such simple acts of love made such a difference in my spiritual outlook. Her strength held me up and walked beside me through the darkest moments of my life.
Through all of this, I saw a prime example of grace and unconditional love. God took my worldly view of motherhood and shook it to its core. I don’t view my mom as a superhero. She is amazing but not perfect. I am glad that she showed her flaws or I would be overwhelmed trying to live up to that standard. She has been faithful to my dad for nearly 50 years and has loved her children well despite her physical limitations and chronic illness. I know I have not always seen it that way but now that I am a mother my focus is distinct. I fail my own children at times and disappoint them, but I hope that they can see my love for them through my daily involvement in their lives. My mother showed me how to be present, to work hard, to be faithful, and to serve others even when I am tired and life gets hard. I am thankful that God allowed these detours from my own ambitions and plans to show me how motherhood could transform my haughty heart full of worldly ambition to a simple, grace filled existence of ordinary ‘mom’ moments. I am my mother in so many ways, and I am very content in that.