When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Be the Explorer

When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Be the Explorer

Kids never cease to surprise, and my daughter gave me a real gem today!

She and one of her best friends happen to be working on an in-class team assignment this week. It entails researching a famous explorer. By Friday, the two girls are to have prepared a short presentation for their peers, and at least one of them is to have a basic explorer ‘costume’ which can fit over the school uniform.

The explorers were chosen for the students. The girls ended up with Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596).

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1569).
Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596).

Today, on the car ride home, my daughter said to me, “So we had this idea for our presentation.”

“Yes?” I inquired.

“Well, Francis Drake had two wives. So we thought we’d dress up like them.”

I held my breath and stifled a disbelieving giggle.

“Was he married to them both at the same time?”

“No. One died.”

This quick answer zapped my funny bone, so I leaned down over the wheel as I steered through downtown Annapolis, desperately trying to make sure my daughter couldn’t see me laugh in the rear view mirror. A comic classroom scene was running amok in my imagination and it just couldn’t be contained.

I asked,”Was one of you planning to stage your death during the presentation?”

Then she laughed, and belted out, “No! But that’s pretty good, Mom!”

The whole car was guffawing now.

She continued, “We were going to dress up one of our American Girl dolls as Francis Drake, but the teacher said ‘No,’ it has to be one of us. He had a beard, Mom. Ick.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t really know what to say just then. I was a little deflated for her. I understand that the point of the assignment is to talk about the explorer’s achievements. I get that. And I don’t want to diminish him or other men in any way.

But I also saw something else in the motives of these two girls – something altogether innocent and lovely: They like being girls. And they thought they could still tell the story – as girls.

There was a time when these thoughts might never have even entered into their minds.

But that wasn’t the case today. Today they wanted to dress up as two women who were there in the wings of history – women who were every bit as real as Sir Francis Drake.

Something about that is good news to me.

Like the lily among thorns, so are you, my love, among the daughters.

-Song of Solomon 2:2 (AMP)

There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

It’s a picture I look at every day. One that sits on my bedroom dresser, reminding me that my job as a mother is not unique, and that if generations before me did, I too can get through any challenges I face today. Sometimes, I even think, ‘Perhaps these women are cheering me on.’

Who are they? They are my great grandmothers. Many greats, in fact.

But before we go there, let’s start here.

This is me with my mom, Kathleen, in January.

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Yes. She’s beautiful. In all ways.

Now, here is the photo – of the mothers we share – posed in 1924.

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The little girl is my mother’s mother – Elaine.

Diagonal to the upward right is her mother – Gretchen (my namesake).

The woman standing to the left, wearing glasses, is Gretchen’s mother – Ruth.

Seated, with Elaine on her lap, is Ruth’s mother – Sarah.

Seated on the far right is our matriarch, Sarah’s mother – Nancy.

Is a 5-generation photo like this one rare? Absolutely.

Is it notable that these women would want to document themselves for a future generation? I don’t think so.

I think that if every family’s women could have, they would have.

In fact, if we look closely enough, we find that they did.

In small, almost imperceptible ways, each one of our mothers – the immediate ones and the ones of long ago – have passed along a bit of themselves to each one of us.

My grandmothers each have stories, of course. But there’s not enough room for them here. So, consider with me for a moment, the role of names.

In Biblical times, lineage and names were very important. A name’s meaning was an indication of to whom a person belonged, their character, and calling. Today, the same can be true.

We do not live our lives in a vacuum. The same God who created us and our parents knows our every thought. Wouldn’t it make sense that His hand was in the choosing of our names?

In her book, Becoming Myself, Stasi Eldredge asks,

“Do you know what your given name means? It’s a good idea to find out. And if you don’t like the meaning you initially discover, press in to find out more about it. Ask God to reveal to you why he named you what he did.” (p. 222)

So let’s look my grandmothers’ names:

Nancy means grace.

Sarah means princess.

Ruth means companion or friend, and vision of beauty.

Gretchen is a derivative of Margaret, meaning pearl.

Elaine is a variant of Helen, meaning shining light.

Kathleen means pure.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that each name’s attributes are idealistic and intended to encourage its bearer to aim high.

And isn’t that God’s calling? For us to become like Him? With His support? To ultimately come home to Him?

I am descended from these women – born of each one of them. If I string my grandmothers’ names together – as a lineage banner over me of God’s love – I get a message that looks something like this:

I give you My Grace, dear Princess. Walk with me, be my constant Companion and my Friend, for I long to be yours and you are a Vision of Beauty, like a Pearl surrounded by ugliness. I have made you to be a Shining Light, a sign of my Pure and eternal Love. 

Sound strange?

Check out this echo in Song of Songs where the Groom (God) speaks to the Bride (Us):

You are all-beautiful, my beloved,

and there is no blemish in you.

Come from Lebanon, my bride…

how much more delightful is your love than wine…

You are an enclosed garden…a fountain sealed….

a well of water flowing fresh from Lebanon. 

– Song of Songs 4:7, 8, 10, 12, 15

This Mother’s Day, I looked back at my grandmothers with gratitude for the life and the love they extended to me down through the ages by virtue of their perseverance and hope. The names they gave their children are not only evidence of the desires of their hearts, but also of God’s heart.

Consider your name. Consider your family’s names, and how they whisper to you of Love.

The women in the photo I look at every day are more than just my grandmothers – they are examples of how I know that He loves me.

Concerns for My Daughter

I’m catching a mid-morning flight and trying to leave the house quietly. But my daughter is up to say goodbye.

She’s always been an early riser, but I’m still surprised to see her standing there in her pajamas, her blond hair a tousled mess.

“Honey, you should be asleep.”

She turns her head ‘No’ and whispers while moving in to hug me tightly.

“Did you leave Daddy a schedule?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. But who’s driving me to dance?…What is the plan for tomorrow?…Did you remember to tell Dad about…?”

She has a list in her head.

Just like me.

Maybe that’s not a good thing.

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See – the list making – the idea that we can finalize plans, has become for me an extension of my perfectionism – something I do not want to pass on to her. Having a few ideas about what I’d like to do is one thing. Expecting them to happen just as I’d like, is another.

I want to tell her to relax. Enjoy. Don’t anticipate.

But it’s hard to convey these things effectively. And there are even bigger things that I must teach her. Things I believe are essential for her to understand.

If all of Scripture could be boiled down to two central messages, they’d be: 1) Be not afraid. 2) You are loved.

More than anything else, these are the things I want my daughter to know. And sometimes I worry she isn’t getting these messages.

‘But maybe she’ll see,’ I think. How can I help her see?

These were my thoughts in Bible study Thursday night, where we were discussing Jesus’s mother, Mary – the one person in history other than Christ himself who best exemplifies a person exercising full trust in God’s providential care.

To the root of her being, Mary was humble and put her faith in God. She had no silly notions that she was in charge of her life. As the angel told her that she would bear God’s son, she declared herself “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Her ‘yes’ – given despite the questions she had – showed she accepted the full weight of His authority, love, and protection. From within that sacred space, she then assumed her role in God’s plan and prayed from her deepest depths, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46)

Mary’s life was anything but easy, and it’s impossible to overstate how agonizing it must have been for her to watch her son die on a cross. But everything we know about Mary leads us to this conclusion: in the role that God chose for her, Mary was fully cooperative, and God used her as His instrument to point others to Christ – to Himself.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Mary’s last words in the Bible, concerning Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana, are to the servants – and all of us – “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5)

We too can magnify God – make He who is invisible, visible – by fully leaning into Him and asking Him to fill us with His love. Then, His love flows into our words. And into our actions.

Lord, I thank you for your mother, Mary. I ask that you make me more like her, and that Your Will be done in me. Make me a vessel that magnifies your Love, projecting Your radiance to my beloved daughter.

Holy Moments – Day 25 – Meg Turns 40

From my vantage point – about 36 inches above the ground – I could see a mass of blankets preceding Mom through the back door and into the kitchen of our little Cape Cod home in Gales Ferry, Connecticut. I was two weeks shy of 3-years old, and I knew there was a treasure inside those warm white fuzzy folds. Her name was Meghan. And she was my baby sister.

I pawed at Mom’s arms, trying to see, but was gently led into the family room and seated far back on the olive green sofa with my right arm supported by a pillow so that…. I could meet her.

I wish I could remember her face on that day. But I do remember holding her. Holding her. Feeling for the first time that emotion that is privilege to older siblings (and the bane of youngers!) – ‘I will look out for you.’

She was my only sibling, and my protective instincts were sometimes appreciated – like when Meg was falsely accused of slashing mattresses at Girl Scout camp and I knew this wasn’t possible. She didn’t even own a pocket knife, for goodness sake. I was more than happy to go to the troop leaders and tell them what was what.

But more often than not – my compulsion to force on her my 3 years’ worth of advanced wisdom was met with resistance or outright rejection. Go figure.

To her credit, at a young age she understood how to use my bossiness to her advantage. For example, Mom asked me to help Meg learn to make her own bed. I got so frustrated by Meg’s ‘inability’ to straighten her green Sears ripcord bedspread, that I pushed her out of the way and declared that I would “just do it myself.” I ended up making lots of beds.

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Meghan and me, 1983.

Like so many sisters, we’re perhaps more different than alike. But it’s funny how every time Meg’s birthday rolls around, I feel our kinship reconnected in a special way, and in the last day or so, perhaps I’ve found the reason.

Meg and I were both born during Advent – a word which means “coming.” It is, by its’ very definition, a season of anticipation in which we keep a look out for the greatest gift – Christ, the Light of the World.

So many of my fondest memories with Meg are centered around moments of waiting for something.

Sitting on packed boxes in various houses, waiting for the moving van to arrive for our military move to another state.

Holding our bags in our laps (before the stewardess told us to put them down), waiting for the plane to land in Seattle, home of our beloved grandparents.

And my favorite – waiting side by side at the foot of the tree on Christmas morning for our parents to wake up. My sister and I never dared proceed with opening (or shaking!) gifts before ‘it was time.’ We didn’t even run into Mom and Dad’s room to jostle them awake. Why? I don’t know. I’m just so thankful now that, for whatever reason, Meg and I had this quiet special time together every Christmas.

In my childhood mind, the month of December – marked by her birthday, then mine, and ending in Christmas – was magical because for most of it, we were looking forward together to the largest celebration still ahead. Intuitively, we recognized this month for what it is – The season of Hope. The season of anticipation which rejoices in the fact that the best is still to come. And to think – that this is when we were blessed to be born.

My beautiful sister is a searcher. She digs deep and asks thoughtful questions. She looks for the Light.

So, today I celebrate Meg on her 40th birthday. As much as I’d like to think I could still ‘look out’ for her, I know she’s in the very best of hands and loved beyond measure. And though she’s doing well in life, I still believe her best season is up ahead. I’m eagerly waiting to see what’s in store for her.

Holy Moments – Day 20 – Our Family of Faith

My heart leapt with joy as I ran up the steps into church yesterday. The school children were singing one of my favorite hymns – the Catholic Litany of the Saints. When we sat, I settled quietly into a back pew, where I took this photo. There were six adorable third graders dressed as saints standing on the altar, and approximately 250 kids up front, with my Kindergartener somewhere in the midst of them. They are all so little – they are invisible behind adult heads.

St. Mary's

As often as I can, I try to attend the kids’ prayer services, and because we celebrated All Saints Day on November 1, the topic of this one was the lives of the saints. Our deacon lead us in a simple prayer.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this beautiful day.

Thank you for all the blessings in our lives.

Thank you for all the saints in heaven. 

Thank you for the example of their lives. 

May we all try to be a saint. 

Amen. 

Growing up in Protestant churches, I didn’t give much thought to the notion of saints. They seemed a foreign concept, distant from Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. But all of that changed during my junior year of college when I went to France. And perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Yes – I was a French major and studying a tremendous amount of art history, so I was surrounded by illustrations of the saints every day – in museums, in town squares, in building facades. But to truly appreciate the art of Europe, you must visit its cathedrals, where sculptures and paintings of saints are in every direction you turn. Yet this is not what led me to consider saints in a different light. The story has a subtle beginning, years earlier.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am blessed with one living grandma. But I also have a grandma in heaven.

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After suffering a stroke and then being in a coma for 11 days, my Grandma Elaine (Grandma ‘Chris,’ as we called her) passed exactly 30 years ago on All Saints Day, November 1, 1985. My mother was in such grief that she didn’t even make the connection to this Holy Day until the priest mentioned it in his funeral homily. At 12, I didn’t know what the day meant – what was special about it. But I do remember walking out of the service, into the Florida sunshine, and feeling that somehow, Grandma was ok.

Two weeks later, I woke up one morning and went directly into the kitchen to tell my mom I’d had a dream.

“Grandma was sitting at a square table,” I said, “playing cards with three other ladies. She had on a black dress with small red flowers on it. She looked so happy. Her dark hair was up, and I was walking around the table looking at her. She looked up, right at me, and smiled at me.”

Then I said, “Mom. Did Grandma ever play cards?”

My mom stood there frozen.

“She hadn’t played in years.”

To my knowledge, no one else in our immediate family had a vivid ‘Grandma dream’ like mine following her death. And the details of it have never scared me or left me.

In the time I’d known her, my grandma had also not attended church. But she was a Catholic. In fact, she converted to Catholicism sometime before marrying my grandfather.

So, when I called my mom from France and told her that I felt that Grandma was with me every time I visited a cathedral, she said, “That’s weird. She really wasn’t into church.”

All of this brings me back to the saints. What do we believe about them? We believe they are our Loved Ones, our Family of Faith. This is why we have sculptures and paintings of them in our churches, so that we will remember them, just as we have photos of our relatives and friends in our homes. And just as we ask our family and friends here to pray for us, we can ask the saints to pray for us as well. The saints are clear examples of people who truly lived Jesus’s commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) And since “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” (James 5:16), it is fitting to ask the saints to appeal to the Lord on our behalf.

While there are thousands of saints officially recognized by the Catholic church, it is accepted that the names of millions if not billions more are known only to God, just like only God knows the hearts of men. “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

For my Confirmation on April 7, 2007, I was invited to take the name of a saint, as many Catholics do for this sacrament, though it is not required. I hemmed and hawed over this decision for weeks, but finally decided that my own name “Gretchen Elaine” was sufficient. Only later did I realize – when I was confirmed ‘Gretchen Elaine,’ that perhaps I had taken a saint’s name anyway.

 

Click Catholic Litany of the Saints to hear the song and see some beautiful artwork. This song was played at the Easter Vigil when I was confirmed.

Holy Moments – Day 19 – Grandma’s Wisdom

Yesterday, when I was brooding (if you’re so inclined, you can read that post here), I heard my Grandma’s voice talking to me. I am so very, very blessed to still have her. She is 93 and breathtakingly beautiful, as you can see in this photo taken of her last year.

Gretchen_Grandma2014

She lives on the opposite coast – in Seattle, Washington. So I don’t get to see her nearly enough. But I try to call her as often as I can.

She is more precious to me than all the jewels in the world. My love for her is boundless. Today, just for a moment, I’d like to celebrate her wisdom.

When I was 11, my parents divorced, and my grandma and grandpa asked that my sister and I come spend a substantial part of our summer with them in the Pacific Northwest. They were boaters, and for several weeks in June and July we toured the San Juan Islands, stopping in Vancouver and Victoria, and dropping anchor overnight in tiny coves, where we watched the Orcas jumping playfully around the boat and listened to their calls in the darkness. It was there that my grandparents let my sister and I discover the freedom of a rowboat, and introduced us to the thrills of catching and eating Dungeness crab. One summer led into a few. They were the joys of a lifetime.

But during that very first summer, there was a cloudless day when Grandma came up to the flying bridge and sat opposite me. She was pensive, and told me she wanted to talk to me for a little. I said sure. She simply asked how I was feeling about my parents not being together anymore. I don’t remember what I said. I just remember that she was the first person who had asked me how I felt.

My world was falling apart, but she was willing to open herself up to whatever might come hurtling out in that moment. After whatever it was I managed to say, she smiled gently. “Well,” she said, “I am here if you ever want to talk about it,” and didn’t belabor the conversation.

My grandma opens doors and leaves them open. This is how she loves others so well. She listens with undivided attention and does not judge. Never once in my entire lifetime has she said anything negative about either one of my parents. And only one of them is her child – my dad. In fact, every time we talk she still asks me about my mom, and cares deeply about her welfare. The two of them visited with one another last summer. People matter to Grandma, because she is wise. She knows and trusts that Love is bigger than human failings. 

I heard her voice yesterday as I was cleaning dishes – again. I had once lamented to her that I couldn’t get the house in order – that it never seemed to be as neat as hers. She laughed and said, “Well, the work is never done.” Right there, she put it in perspective. Orderliness is a temporary facade. It will all shift soon.

So, I honor my grandma with this section of Proverbs from Chapter 8, “The Discourse of Wisdom,” which personifies wisdom, which comes from God.

Those who love me, I also love, and those who seek me find me. 

With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.

My fruit is better than gold, yes, than pure gold, and my revenue than choice silver.

On the way of duty I walk, along the paths of justice,

Granting wealth to those who love me, and filling their treasuries.

– Proverbs 8:17-21

The fruit of Grandma’s wisdom is my family’s unequivocal affection for her. She is a light we are drawn to because she exemplifies honorable character. And I look forward to hearing what she might say the next time I call her – today.

Holy Moments – Day 2 – 106 Women

WWP_STMStartFlowersOctober 1 was a monumental day for my parish. A handful of us had been praying for years – YEARS – for that day. We wanted to host a particular Bible study for women. But space is very limited in our historic church, and there were many obstacles. Yet, when God’s timing is right, doors just seem to fly open.

And they did. In the span of a few months, a team of us started gathering interest. And then it happened…Women began registering for our study. More women signed up. More than we expected. And on that rainy night – they came out for the first meeting. 106 of them to be exact.

106 women walked through the doors to begin our parish’s chapter of a growing nationwide Catholic Bible study called Walking With Purpose (WWP). I have been a participant and group leader in this study at another local parish for the past 5 years, and have experienced healing, transformation, and a deep conversion of heart that is difficult to fully express in words. The women I have met have become steadfast friends. Sisters, really. And I look forward to going to Bible study like I look forward to seeing beloved family members.

So why is this a holy moment? Because I KNOW what’s in store for these ladies. I know of the goodness that they are about to taste. And I am thrilled for them.

Today is Thursday again – time for WWP.  Our numbers are now 112. My adrenaline is pumping. The work of the Holy Spirit that is being done through this ministry changes lives. I am witnessing it with my own eyes, and thanking God for what He has done, and will do.

 

Just Having Her Here

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Me and Mom.

Mom came for a 4-day visit and left yesterday. She lives in Florida and I’m in Maryland, so visits require scheduling and travel.

Over dinner Sunday night, we discussed family mysteries and unanswered questions – particularly the ones we wish we could ask the women who came before us and who have since passed on. There are many puzzle pieces missing, and while we have plans to do a little research, we know it may only get us so far.

Thinking about these women – my grandmothers and their sisters, all the ‘greats’ on my mother’s side – I wonder endlessly.

Which qualities did they like most in themselves? Which did they like least? Where, if at all, did they find emotional connection? With whom did they have their closest relationships? In times of trial, poverty, war, disease, abandonment, and the loss of husbands and children, where did they find strength? In several cases, we don’t know anything about their faith lives. So I wonder… How did they carry on? What did they believe?

And finally, what were their greatest successes? And by that I don’t mean the worldly definitions of success….I mean – at the end of their lives, what did they want to be remembered for? And do we remember them for that?

In the midst of this conversation, Mom turned to me and said,

“You know my story, right?”

I nodded weakly. It was such a loaded question. I know so much about her life, but to know her story? A person’s depth is endless. Another human being can hardly fathom it. How I’d love to say I fully know her, that I can understand her every experience, thought, heart and soul’s desire, but I am limited in my ability, and there is more to discover all the time. I hear something new every time we talk. Each encounter with every person I meet is like that – if I’m listening.

And Mom and me? Our time together is finite. Just like everyone’s. It’s not because of geography.

Her desire that I know her – that I know her story – is the great call of each soul. We all have this need to be fully known. And there is only One who can meet this need, who knows our story better than we do, who has been writing it with us and for us since before time began.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

-Luke 12:6-7

Claudia’s Day

image“Mom – Why is God’s plan so hard to understand?”

It is the penultimate question. Asked on a big day. But my daughter had no way of knowing that. I haven’t told her that today marks one year since my stepsister Claudia entered heaven. That Claudia is on my mind. In my heart. And always will be.

“I don’t know.” I answered honestly. “But God is much smarter than we are, and we have to trust him. He wants the best for us – to keep us with Him forever. And while bad things may happen in our lives, He just wants us to lean closer to Him when they do, because if we do, He promises to protect us always in the end. Because while our bodies hurt, our souls are protected. Forever. When we choose Him.”

I was preaching to myself as much to her.

September 13, 2014, my family lost Claudia to complications following childbirth. Over the course of 3 1/2 weeks as Claudia fought for her life in the ICU, my family and I spent hours on our knees, and I posted prayers for her on Facebook. And when she passed, I was emotionally exhausted for weeks.

What many find strange is that I didn’t know Claudia all that well. My father and my stepmom had been married at that point for 12 years, and had 7 grown children between them when they met. My stepmom is from Chile, and over the last decade or so, most of her 5 children had remained there. So, I only met Claudia in person about 3 times. Nevertheless, we were family, and when family is in crisis, family comes together. 

It’s nearly impossible to describe the power of the Holy Spirit when He  intervenes. And it was completely His work in using me to pray for Claudia. I felt a love for her like I would for my blood sister, whom I’d known for 39 years. I was ready to pray for Claudia day and night. I wanted to know every detail about her health status, the care of her baby, the welfare of all those closest to her. There was a holy fire lit in me that I still can’t explain. I just loved her. And I knew that Jesus had called me to this privilege. And the next thing I knew, I began to write down my prayers on Facebook.

I had never before done something like that. Never before had I put my faith before a public audience. And I was completely unafraid. I felt the boldness and confidence of the Lord in my heart and it brought me joy and peace to appeal to Him daily on behalf of Claudia.

Within a couple weeks, I felt another nudge from the Holy Spirit to begin this blog, and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t been primed for the experience by writing prayers, I either would have ignored this nudge, or backed down from it out of fear.

So that’s what I want to say today. I want to thank my sister Claudia for opening a new door for me. I have always thought it was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to write this blog, to accept that 31-day writing challenge that started it all. But the other day, I had a passing notion – ‘Hey – What if she was the one who came up with the idea? Maybe whispered it in Jesus’s ear? Hmm? Can these things happen in heaven?’

I don’t know. But this last year of writing and following through on that holy nudge has been her lasting gift to me, and I am really looking forward to meeting her again someday.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:38-39

For Kathleen…Mom…A Gem

When did you first realize your mom was a person?

When did you understand….that she had once been a child…

Kathleen_Baby_1946

who experienced her own, unique childhood…

and became a young woman…

who had dreams, hopes, and fears…

which may or may not have been realized…

by the time she became your mother.

Did you…kind of think…her development ended with your birth?

I ask because, if you’re like me, the realization that your mother is (or, may she rest with the Lord, was) a full-fledged individual with her own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, successes and failures, has been a gradually dawning, but incredibly powerful one.

We celebrate Mother’s Day because we love mothers. According to the demands of the job, which they fulfill with devotion, mothers bring us into the world, welcome us, nurture us, feed us, teach us, encourage us, comfort us, discipline us, sacrifice for us, challenge us, and in short, care for us all their lives and ours. Once a woman recognizes that she wants to “mother” in any kind of capacity and follows-through on that God-given desire, limitless possibilities to love other people emerge. So we celebrate mothers and all they do and have done for us.

Gretchen_HSGrad_1994   Gretchen_Mom_Wedding

But did you catch the gist of that last paragraph? We typically think of moms in terms of what they do for us.

But my mom is a precious jewel. Not because of what she does and has done for me, and my sister, and my kids, and so many others…No. She’s precious just because she is.

Over time, I have been privileged to learn that it is better to listen than to talk. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” So when my mom starts telling me about her life, I pay attention. And this sparkling gem of a woman has shown me many things through the stories she tells. Here are just a few:

Enjoy the ride. My mom spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She liked to rollerskate down those enormous hills and stop herself by catching a rope at the bottom. I’m freaked out just thinking about it.

Know your strenKathleen_Sewinggths and use your skills. My mother has a quiet strength and is always willing to work hard. After she finished high school, there wasn’t money for college. So she worked to pay for it. She used her talented hands and the sewing skills she’d learned from her mother and grandmother to make gowns for sorority girls.

Always, always, always be kind. Some 30 years ago, my mother was in a post office when an elderly man cautiously approached and asked her for help with a form. He said his eyesight was poor. She noticed the form was for a change of address. As she filled it out, she kept asking him to repeat the street names; he was difficult to understand. Finally, she guessed on the spelling of each one and read them back to him. He just said, “Yes, yes, that’s fine.” Then she handed him the pen and showed him where to sign. He signed only an ‘X.’ It occurred her that this sweet, polite gentleman probably could not read.

Take a deep breath and stretch – yourself, your resources, your time. For as long as I can remember, my mom has worked or volunteered on a nearly full-time basis. And she pushed herself. I’ll never forget that day when I was in fourth grade in Jacksonville, Florida and a special delivery arrived: the **pink!** Buick my mother had won for her stellar Mary Kay sales. It was a dream come true – for both of us!

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Later, when I was in college (paid for by loans and my parents’ savings), she was single and money was very tight. But in my junior year, she still managed to come to France with my sister to visit me. I am so very humbled by this thought, because until recently when she explained this to me, I never knew…..how hard it was for her to get away from a rather low-paying job she endured to ensure her daughters’ educations….how far her commute was for that job….and what her monthly take-home actually was. Though she can certainly be thrifty, I was shocked. I asked her, “My gosh, Mom…How did you do it?” “Lots of soup,” she said.

Put your “face” on. My mother is always “put together.” Hair and makeup in place. She jokingly calls this her “face” and we say she won’t walk to the end of the driveway unprepared for the day (kidding, but only kind of!). But I’ve learned the secret behind this daily routine of hers. If you take time and care to present yourself well, you will present yourself well. You’ll feel better, more self-assured.

My mother’s also in good shape, doesn’t overindulge (chocolate doesn’t count!), and sees her doctor regularly. These things aren’t optional, and they don’t have to be avenues of narcissism either. It’s about loving yourself enough to treasure your health and well-being. Where’s the story for this one? Pictures are the proof. She’s in her late 60s, has never colored her hair, has low blood pressure, and low cholesterol. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, Remember who you belong to. My mom knows she’s a child of God and that He loves her. And she looks at everyone else in the world this way too. She knows people are on their own paths, so she’s not preachy. When she’s most open and her vulnerability is on full display, there a deep beauty in her humility before her Creator.

She passes on the love she’s been given…to her family…and her friends. If I said to her, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19), I know she’d say, “Amen.”

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One final thought…Last year, my mother was presiding over a convention of nearly 1,000 women, finishing her term as President of the Florida State Chapter of P.E.O., a sisterhood devoted to the education of women and an organization to which we both joyfully belong. She had served on the Board of Directors for seven years, moving up through the positions one by one to President, and having gotten to that level of leadership not by self-promotion, but having been nominated and selected by her sisters. There were myriad speakers and presentations over the 3-day event, but I was in deep awe of just one – my mom.

I wish I could find a word stronger than “proud” to describe how I felt. Her personality and skills were on full display, and all of the determination and perseverance that carried her through the ups and downs of her life had prepared her for this moment. It brought to mind that wonderful verse from Esther: “And who knows but that you have come…for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

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Every single life, every single woman’s life, has a purpose. In fact, it has many, many purposes, rippling out from the deep fountain of her soul. 

Thank you for being you, Mom.