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Monday, April 11, 2011


Every Tuesday and Thursday, my mother gets up early, puts on her pearls and lipstick and heads off to a job she takes very seriously. An old-school stickler for timeliness, she leaves the house three hours ahead of schedule in case of an unexpected delay—which never happens. Since she arrives at work early, she stops for lunch and a bit of shopping before pulling into the school parking lot to greet two tired, cranky, and usually dirty clients ages eight and eleven. This is her eleventh year on the job, and nobody—absolutely nobody—can take her place.

For my sons, there’s no nanny, coach, babysitter, or schoolteacher who can hold a candle to Grandma. Even professionally trained camp counselors hired to laugh on cue and motivate youngsters are dull compared to a big-haired old lady who can regale children with stories of playground bullies and growing up in a boxcar. That she is so involved in my boys’ lives is a testament to her humility and earnest response to the call of servanthood.

When I think back, several versions of my mother appear in my mind. There’s the mom for whom I waited as I lay awake in bed, anticipating the nightly ritual of playing “this little piggy” on my tummy; the worried lady waving to me from the airport terminal as I left to spend a summer in New York by myself when I was sixteen; the mom I condescended to when I was in seminary and thought of myself as an intellectual. And there’s the woman who travelled many miles from her home with a suitcase full of flowers to see me get married.

Like so many mothers, she came last on the list of her own priorities. Trapped in an abusive marriage, she struggled to protect her children, something she had no previous experience with. Eventually, she made the soul-crushing decision to leave full-time mothering and find work in order to provide our basic necessities without having to fight for them. But this meant a premature detachment from her children, who became latchkey kids. I see now the struggle I couldn’t possibly have understood then. When I was a 14-year-old locked out of my house and wanting be locked out forever, I wondered what on earth kept her in such an awful place. I begged her to leave so we could start over, but she always said she had to get her kids through college first. And this, to me, was ridiculous. Until I became a mom.

Too many mothers today don’t feel truly understood. Maybe that’s the case—particularly if their kids are as self-absorbed as I was. But this much is true: God knows every mother. And children grow up and learn to see reality through a more accurate lens. As each year passes, my mom becomes more complex and more lovely in my eyes. I am learning to see her true face—the one God sees.

Now, when I slow down long enough to look back over my life, I recognize the endowment she gave me. I see myself bending over the bathtub to bathe my little boys as I try to conceal the tears of exhaustion streaming down my face, and it’s her all over again. There’s me driving across state lines with two babies in the back seat while tanking up on coffee to stay awake. It’s her again. And the woman who spends her paycheck on Legos and toy soldiers? Yes, it’s me—but her too.

Every time I left home, my mom told me in her most sincere voice, “I’ll be praying for you,” as if that message was a $20 bill I could keep in reserve for an emergency. But those prayers actually worked—for both of us. Her petitions have flown ahead of me wherever I go, like birds that know instinctively when and where to move. And that makes the servant heart in her happy.

She’s small and delicate, but has traversed life’s most difficult terrain successfully. And she’s done it with simple faith. If you’d told me 20 years ago that my mom would finish this strong, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are. She greets each day like the pro that she is: prompt, prepared, prayed-up, and looking good. Which is why she’s irreplaceable—like all mothers are, whether they know it or not. Do you?

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