My Mom almost never left me wondering.
Yes, I was baffled by her tears from time to time, puzzled by her scheduling, and periodically frustrated by the “How’s your love life?” inquiry, but that’s par for the course. All children have imperfect Moms who love their imperfect children. But what set my Mom apart was her passion for understanding. She studied; she watched; she asked; she went exploring; she nosed around; she didn’t quit until she found some principle or connection for the problem or issue in her life. As a child, I knew that if Mom didn’t know, she could probably find out, and if she didn’t need to know, I didn’t either.
Mom was curious, and had seen enough of life not to believe all she heard or take everything at face value. She always wanted to see past the surface, to find the hidden things that most people wouldn’t expect to find or wouldn’t take the trouble to find. She was an intrepid explorer and adventurer of the human heart and mind, and she has inspired me to be one, too.
She was the one who helped me to understand that not everyone was confident enough to handle my blunt honesty. Thanks to her, I am far more compassionate and gentle with my words than my natural bent would make me. She was the one who helped me understand the motives of others that were foreign to me, the invisible motives that drove visible behavior. She trained me to notice and connect needs to actions and words, and this understanding has served me well many times in my life.
Mom seemed to sense that I needed to make sense of life, and she always had a direction for my mental energy and questions. I’m sure there were times she wondered why I wanted to know, or what business was it of mine, or why I couldn’t just let it go. But while she didn’t squelch my passion for understanding, she also didn’t let it get out of control. She knew there were limits, both natural and necessary, and she helped me accept them gently as I grew. To this day, the conversations I have in my head as I sort through life are guided by her words from years ago.
Her help has been especially valuable to me in my socially oriented field of education. I have learned from her not only how to communicate, but also when to communicate, and why. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about everything, and I have my Mother to thank for understanding discretion and the refusal to divulge what would only cause more distress.
Mom also helped me process grief, anger, fear, and despair. I tend to stew on things, and sometimes wallow in feelings for days, but she modeled for me the Biblical and Godly path of forgiveness toward the injustices of this world, and I saw her find freedom on that path, so I followed. I found freedom, too. She had many opportunities to show me the value of forgiveness: trouble with relatives, trouble with friends, trouble with church, trouble with Dad’s job, and even trouble with some of us in the house. I learned patience and kindness from watching her work through her feelings in prayer as she tried to follow God’s word. I gained confidence in the God who answered her prayers, and who had earned her trust even when He didn’t answer prayers right away, or the way she wanted.
From Mom, I also learned to make my imagination help me with my feelings by choosing to be resourceful. Too often, I have let my imagination be the servant of negative feelings, and that leads to more negative feelings, but she showed me I could take control and imagine good things coming from my situation instead of bad ones. Now I teach my children this same valuable lesson. We are never victims of circumstances, or others, or feelings unless we choose to be so.
My Mom has distinguished herself in another way; she was always humble enough and even grateful to learn from her children. She always seemed fascinated with anything we wanted to tell her, and even more so as we got older. As we grew in maturity and understanding, and shared what we learned, she learned and grew right along with us. And we all learned a lot from Dad. Mom was always asking questions…and Dad usually had a very thoroughly researched answer. Sometime he knew so much that he had questions for us in order to make his point. Mom showed us that we could learn from each other, that familiarity, and living in close quarters for years at a time, didn’t have to breed contempt. I’m very grateful for that; it’s how we raise our children now.
And when Mom didn’t know, she was never afraid to ask. She would ask God where the missing shoe, or keys, or money was. She would ask her children about who they liked at school. She would ask her husband why Christians believed in this doctrine and not that one, and where the idea came from. She would ask coaches to let her sons get a drink after running for 30 minutes while the coaches chatted…okay, she yelled about that one, but the point is, she saw nothing shameful about not knowing and nothing virtuous in remaining ignorant. She believed that you had not because you asked not, that God would help you find if you looked, receive if you asked, and get in if you only knocked loudly and long enough. Time and again, she proved to be right. And I’ve never forgotten. Now I teach my children the same thing. I’ve added my own corollary to her cherished principle for lost things: if you’ve looked everywhere something should be, you have to start looking where it shouldn’t be. They taught logic in my school.
And then, of course, Mom showed me how to understand the mystery of marriage. Some parts are always mysterious; I learned that real quick. But I also learned that it gets better with time if you both keep working at it; that it’s never quite perfect, but it can get pretty close sometimes; and that it’s foolish to build a relationship on feelings alone. They don’t last, good or bad, and you need to have something solid to fall back on when things are hard. She reminded me that you and your spouse must be in agreement about the most important things, but should complement each other’s personality and sensitivities. The weakness of one should be the strength of the other, and you need support around you to remind you of these things.
Mom was never timid about sharing truth…with anyone. She prayed with the Mormons who came to our door; she prayed with friends at their dining room table; she prayed with us in the backyard. As kids, we knew the state of our parents’ finances, the names of people at Dad’s work that made his life difficult, the family beliefs that should not be loudly and publicly shared with certain relatives, and the reasons why we weren’t allowed to watch this program or stay up later than our parents. You wanted to know? She’d tell you. And I learned so much when she did.
I’m sure I was more nosy and less oblivious than I should have been, but I had a sense, I think, that I would need to know these things. I think my Mom knew I needed to know them, too. Thanks, Mom, for telling me why. God blessed me with you…and that’s reason enough.