How can we number the things a mother teaches her children? Mothers teach children how to tie, how to dress, how to brush their teeth, and how to use their manners.
The mechanics of life become a bit more complex in the teenage years. We teach them to drive, and to answer out loud when spoken to (though it seems by this time it should go without saying!).
But it’s only when we look back on what we’ve learned from our own mothers that we get a glimpse of the volumes of wisdom housed in our hearts. We know how to tie and drive and be polite because she taught us.
But we know how to live because of how she lived.
Some learn by a negative example what not to do. Some are fortunate enough to learn from a positive example. I was one of the fortunate ones.
My mom and I had our disagreements. I distinctly remember seething at having been made to take a bath. I silently vowed, “I will NEVER make my kids take a bath if they don’t want to.”
For Mother’s Day this year, instead of reflecting on my own wild adventures in motherhood, I wanted to share a few nuggets of wisdom I learned from my mom.
On performance and perfectionism: “No one cares if you mess up.”
At every performance and violin recital I could count on a major blunder. I dreaded performing, especially solo pieces. Twenty-five years later I still get nauseated, sweaty, and shaky before performing. When I bemoaned my musical guffaw, my mom always said, “Hardly anyone listening even knows you’ve messed up at all! Besides no one cares if you mess up!” Of course I never believed her, and repeatedly responded, “Well, I care!”
I’ve repeated the same words to my boys when they’ve fumbled at the piano keys. Because now I know it is true. Very few know, and even fewer care, if you mess up. We are delighted to hear you play at all.
On Breaking Up: “It’s better to rip the Band-Aid off fast.”
This might be one of my favorites, because of the clear sensory analogy. Who prefers having the Band-Aid pulled off slowly—plucking two hairs at a time from a tender injury over an agonizing period of time? Rip that baby off in under a second and be done with it. It still hurts, but it’s over. I applied this wisdom without regret.
But beyond her analogies taught from the pulpit of the kitchen sink, we also learned from how she lived. My mother lived what she believed. She practice what she preached. And she taught that lesson—not with pep talks or analogies—but with her life.
At age six, on the evening before I was to register for Kindergarten in British Columbia CA, I heard my dad’s friend call my mother from the hallway of our house. It was strange to me. As I drifted off to sleep, I made a mental note to ask mom in the morning what he said. Though his voice wasn’t panicked, it was unexpected.
By the next morning I’d forgotten about it. I dressed for kindergarten registration in my favorite outfit which I’d laid out the night before—bell-bottom hip-huggers and a rainbow shirt. My mom called the three of us kids to come to the bedroom we shared. She sat on the edge of the bottom bunk. When I sat next to her I could see she had been crying. She was on the verge of tears again when she said with very little prelude, “Last night Daddy went to live with Jesus.”
We were ages 2, 4, and 6, and in unison we began to cry. I remember thinking we sounded like a tornado siren as it crescendos. We wept and asked questions. She wept and explained as best she could.
At moments like that, the promises of Scripture are tested by real life and real death. Is it true, as the Apostle Paul says, that we “do not grieve as those who have no hope?” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Leaning on her Savior and His word, she taught us this truth: for those who trust Christ, death is not the end. It is the beginning.
But the words she used were much simpler than Paul’s. She merely told us, “Daddy went to live…”
It was the first of many ways I would see her faith demonstrated as she leaned heavily on her Savior. She cried with us as we missed our daddy. By her example, she taught us to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Romans 12:15)
She lived it honestly, though.
One Sunday, perhaps only a year after losing my dad, I walked into the sanctuary at church to hear my mother singing a solo during choir practice.
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
I was shocked at my mother’s lovely voice. Of course I’d heard her sing before, but it was perhaps the first time I’d heard her solo from the choir loft, and something about the vaulted sanctuary lent resonance and volume. I was amazed and proud. That’s my mom.
When practice was over, I asked if she was going to sing it on Sunday. She replied, “I don’t think I can,” and I knew what she meant. She was just a year into widowhood, and it was not yet “well with her soul.”
She believed someday it would be, but she didn’t feign “wellness” before she was actually well.
Years later she told me that days before my dad unexpectedly died she had read Psalms 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” It stuck with her for no apparent reason. She did not know of any widows or orphans in her circle of family or friends. But in hindsight she saw her reliable Savior providing for her in advance just as he’d promised, “For your Father in heaven knows what you need before you ask him,” (Matthew 6:8).
He knew, and he gave what she needed before she had asked. Between an international move, six years as a single working mom, remarriage, and the challenges (courtesy of yours truly) of blending two families, she had plenty of opportunities to rely heavily on her Savior.
These are the lessons that can’t be broken into chapters and points. You’ll find books on grief, parenthood, and integrity. But the most memorable way to learn is by observing a life governed by the loving boundaries and comfort of God himself.
That is my mom.
The writer of Proverbs 31 describes a woman of noble character and says “Her children rise up and call her blessed.” As the daughter of such a woman, I would add, it is a pleasure to do so.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for teaching me with your life. I love you.