I could write about the time my mom beat the snake to death in the driveway with a softball bat, and then carefully placed it in a glass jar so my biologist dad could identify whether it was poisonous or not.
I could write about the times my mom stayed up late with me to watch March Madness basketball games, to scream at the likes of UNC and cheer for little Davids going up against Goliaths.
I could write about the time my sister and I complained that were going to get yelled at for being late to practice until my mom said she’d go faster if we’d pay for any ticket she received on the way.
But those aren’t the formative moments that I had in mind as I reflected on Mother’s Day this year. Instead, the following nuggets are the things I consider when I reflect on what I learned from my mom.
1. On Right & Wrong: My mom went back to her second semester of college when I was in high school (and graduated with honors six years later with her Master’s degree, too!) Besides learning from her hardworking example, I learned from a few of her classes, like one on the Civil Rights Movement. Ever heard of PBS’ “Eyes On The Prize”? My sister (who is four years younger) and I both watched every episode because my mother borrowed it from the teacher and wanted us to know our history. From early on, I knew there was right and wrong, and I knew that just because it didn’t immediately impact me didn’t mean that I shouldn’t care or try to make a difference.
2. On Being A Man: I was fourteen, and American swimming was dominating in the World Championships and the Olympics. I had posters of Michael Jordan (the best thing UNC has ever produced), David Robinson, and several Olympians up on my wall. But I wanted to add one of Summer Sanders, and I told my mother I wanted to buy one. We talked for a few minutes, and she asked, “How will [my female friends at the time] feel when they come over and see those women in swimsuits on your wall? Will that make them feel good about themselves? What will they think?” That was the first time a conversation ended with a question.
3. On Being A Role Model: I was seventeen, and I was three years older than the next oldest kid in the youth group. There were no kids my age (or older) in the youth group at that point. I was bored, frustrated. One night, on the way home from church, I said, “I don’t want to go anymore.” My mom asked why and we talked about it for a little bit. Finally, she turned and asked me, “who will show the other kids that youth group is important if you aren’t there?” I never missed another youth group meeting… even when the Bulls were playing the Knicks.
4. On Getting Over Myself: I was eighteen, a first semester student in college, and I was miserable! Homesick, tired, not feeling particularly adapted, hungry for food I knew, etc. I called home one night and told my parents how upset I was, how much I disliked it there, and how ready I was to come home. After a few minutes of my rant, my mom said back to me, from hundreds of miles away, “You’ve spent a good amount of time talking about you and how unhappy you are. I know in high school you did a lot of service and that made you happy. What are you doing to make a difference there?” By the end of the first semester, I was involved in a half-dozen service organizations, and never looked back.
5. On Recognizing God’s Plan: I’d graduated from college and seminary, worked on my second job at a church, and entered the United Methodist denomination’s ordination process. One night, over a vacation, my mom shared with me how proud she and my dad were by how I’d pursued my call. She recounted how, before I was born, she had heard God tell her that He had a plan for me. It was at a time when things weren’t looking good, and my mom knew God was speaking to her. I didn’t know the story until my twenties, but the fact that my mom had that conviction provided me with encouragement even when the road to the pastorate got rough. [Editor’s note: Trust me, it gets rough.]
6. On Love & Marriage. Let’s face it, if you know my parents (and me), you know I’m more like my mom. Heart on my sleeve, unrelenting passion, no poker face. One night over the dishes, several years after I was married, we were talking about how you make it work for decade after decade in a world where divorce is more common. My mom told me that she and Dad were so solid because “Dad refuses to argue with me.” We talked longer, and I realized that this was the antithesis of what so many marriage books and seminars had told me: it doesn’t always get resolved, it doesn’t always get answered or handled or sorted out right away. Sometimes, someone just chooses to hold on, to love anyway, to be present, and not worry about who’s right. Sure, this was my mom complimenting my dad, but in that moment, I realized a great truth about my mom. My mom knows who she is and she’s good with that. And because she’s “comfortable in her own skin,” she helped form a strong bond between parents and let me be who I’m supposed to be.
I know not everyone had the mom that I did but I take this moment to ask you to consider what you’re doing to honor your mom, or to make a difference because you didn’t have one. Will you be a nurturing, safe presence in the life of someone else? Will you give love like you received, or like what you wished you’d received? Will you learn to forgive the hurt you carry? Will you recognize that what we have can break us… or make us stronger? This Mother’s Day, I hope you laugh, love, and live, because we’re made by a Creator God to do those things. We’re made to mentor, to parent, to provide for those who are in our care, regardless of our gender, our parental status, or our age. Who will you love unconditionally today?