My mom is a rare woman.
She is humble, honest, passionate, idealistic, and self-sacrificing. She goes against the grain in almost every way possible and sees things through her own unique and fantastic lens. Like a cherry tree, elegant and extravagant, thriving in the desert, taking no heed to her surroundings and fully focused on the act of blooming, she gives the world something to wonder at.
In many ways, my mom has not had an easy life, and I have had a front row seat to the good and the bad, the ugly and the miraculous. I have watched her face struggles and challenges that most know nothing about, including the worst in herself, with tremendous courage.
I have seen her take a hard stand against the evils of the world and of her own past when they threatened her family, and more importantly, I have watched her admit and deal with her own mistakes. I have seen her rise to an ideal most would laugh at (and often did) time and time again. I have seen her be broken, overcome, grow, forgive, learn, and heal, and through it all create something that this world does not understand.
My mom is a woman of determination, and perseverance. Her struggles only fueled her belief that she, that all of us, could be better. She held her children, in particular, to high standards. She worked tirelessly, every day and well into the night, toward creating her vision of a family that was more loving, kind, caring, and nurturing than anything she had personally known. She relentlessly believed that it was possible to leave the darkness in the past and create something completely new based on her own faith and convictions.
When I was around six years old my mom made a decision that got my attention. This moment was so defining that it made our family what it is and continues to be to this day.
At the time, my sister Michelle and I had two things on our minds: our upcoming week-long visit to our grandparents’ house [We were excited out of our minds], and being selfish little brats who were in constant competition to be better than one another. Who could grab the favorite toy first? Who could take the biggest cookie? Who could lie and get the other in trouble the most?
On this particular occasion, we were racing to the bathroom before lunch, and yes, it was exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. Also on this particular occasion, as we yelled and argued belligerently about who had won while grasping the toilet bowl for dear life, my mom decided enough was enough.
She informed us that if the arguing and selfishness did not stop immediately, there would be no trip to the grandparents’ house. I knew my mom well enough to know she would follow through. I woke up to the fact that, given the right motivation, I could control not only my actions toward my sister, but my feelings toward her.
Over the following weeks, months, and years, my mom worked tirelessly to elicit a heart-change in us that would lead to an actual desire to put each other first.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; Honor one another above yourself.” [Romans 12:10]
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, consider others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but also to the interests of each other.” [Philippians 2:3-4]
“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” [Phillippians 2:14]
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other…” [Ephesians 4:32]
She took time out of every day to help us memorize these words. She presented us with imaginary scenarios and allowed us to choose the proper responses, in practice for real life. And then she helped us, in every situation, to choose a loving response, from the heart.
My mom expected us, at a very young age, to treat each other with love, respect, and consideration, in every situation. My mom didn’t allow arguing, complaining, or bad attitudes. She helped us learn how to genuinely want to serve each other willingly. My mom taught us to find joy in looking for opportunities to be a blessing, and in going out of our way to make those around us happy. My mom went after our hearts, not just our actions. And no matter how people criticized her, no matter how the world laughed, she held to and worked toward her goals.
Now that I have children of my own, I look back on these convictions with admiration. I remember her early mornings and late nights and how many meals she skipped because she was busy teaching us or reading to us while we ate. I remember the black beans on bread we ate for lunch because she wanted to be home with us when we were young. I remember all the trouble we caused, how exasperated she felt at times, having to constantly stop and deal with six kids, all day, every day, with no breaks, no evenings off, no time to herself.
I look back now on the tenacity with which she fought to home-school all six of us even when she had to go back to work full-time. I remember her determination to have us in church every time the doors were open, even when my dad worked third shift and could barely stay awake. I remember all this, and so much more that I could never adequately sum up here.
No detail was ever missed, nothing was slacked on over the years. She didn’t have girlfriends to vent to – no family was close by to help out. Many nights she only slept for three or four hours, and yet she pressed on.
And what she couldn’t see at the time, but what is now clearly visible to all, is that she did exactly what she set out to do. She succeeded in creating in our home a safe haven, a place of unprecedented love, a new definition for the word “family.” She succeeded in creating what my siblings and I would later refer to as “a bubble of light” in a dark world.
When my sisters and I first moved away, before we had really put down roots anywhere, we used to discuss this “bubble of light” that was our Michigan home. This place where belonging and joy and genuine love existed. This place where people put each other first, were willing to go out of their way to make each other happy, where each person’s needs were considered and cared for. This place where we wanted to be together, where no-one was an annoyance, where we didn’t need space from each other.
And my siblings and I – we would ask each other, “Is the bubble of light real? Or is it just a dream and the rest of the world is what is real?”
Deep in my heart I knew the answer. If my mom, in spite of the challenges, the criticism, the misunderstanding of the world around her, the mistakes and regrets that all of us as parents are far too familiar with, could create something so spectacular, so otherworldly, then I knew what she had taught me was more real than everything else in the world combined.
I knew that the eternal love of God, which had changed her, challenged her, healed her, and ultimately flowed through her, was the one and only reality. I knew that the light overpowered the darkness, and that there was nothing – absolutely nothing – that could not be restored.
I now understand that there are as many “bubbles of light” in the world as there are people who love each other unconditionally. I have watched as what my mom worked so hard to build has spread, as everyone around her has been pulled into the loving security of the family. I have watched in my own life as I have fully surrendered to divine love, and have seen myself and those around me transform.
I have learned that genuine unselfish love – it comes like a hurricane and it burns like a wildfire. It catches. It grows. It knocks down and rebuilds everything in its path. It comes through us, in spite of us, and because of us. It is the most real thing there is.
The struggles, the darkness, the pain – it is all there for a chance to learn to love. There is only life to fully live and heaven to unashamedly create. My mom, through her strengths and her weaknesses, her joys and her pains, her triumphs and her failures, taught me that.
My mom is a rare woman.
She has the biggest servant’s heart of anyone I know. She has the open-mindedness to listen to and learn from the viewpoints of others, including asking her own children for advice at times. She has the humility to admit her own faults and the strength to grow and change.
My mom taught me to truly and deeply care about those around me. She taught me at a young age to think about others, to put myself in their shoes and understand how they feel. She taught me to go out of my way for others, whether they deserve it or not, for no other reason than because I genuinely want to.
My mom taught me to celebrate others extravagantly, and that real joy comes in bringing joy to others, not from anything I receive back.
My mom taught me to find satisfaction in hard work and simplicity. She chose to see all of her life as a blessing, even and especially the hardships.
My mom taught me humility through her mistakes. She showed me how to face the darkest parts of myself and bring them into the light.
My mom taught me that even when I feel like I’m failing, to keep putting my heart and soul into what I’m doing and trust that God is working through and in spite of me.
My mom taught me how to stand my ground and reach for an ideal, even if no one else understands.
She showed me how to create something that will make the world wonder.