I close my eyes sometimes and try to remember my earliest memories. It’s like seeing underwater. The first image that comes to mind is the first home I lived in as a baby. I don’t remember much, but if it’s like I can remember the mood that was there. In the memory I can hear my brother Chris, and almost see him, and I can hear my mother, not really her voice, but just, her. I suppose it’s because as a young baby and child, she was often very close to me. It’s a relaxed memory, and very peaceful.
I then have memories of a move to Michigan. I remember the boat across Lake Michigan, the first night in the new house, sleeping on the floor, and settling in. I remember my sibling’s bedrooms in the basement, and much of the detail of that house like the spiral staircase and the round brick fireplace. I remember sand. Sand on the beach of Marl Lake and my mom’s brown legs. I remember swimming and playing on the beach for what seemed like hours every day of every summer, while my mother read, chatted to friends, and watched us, and often played with us.
One evening after the other kids had gone home, while it was still warm out, and the sun was starting to sink, she taught me how to swim. She held me in the water and spun me around. I think part of my mother came alive when she was in the water.
She home schooled me. I didn’t appreciated it at the time…I mean, I wanted to ride the school bus! She did not send me off to school to enjoy 5-6 hours of freedom, instead she kept me at home. She read to me every morning, she took me to a friend’s house who was also home schooled and she taught me phonics, and never do I remember feeling nervous or intimidated by learning to read. It just happened. (Spelling was a different matter).
Every year there was a birthday party. Friends were always allowed to come and play, and sleepovers were rarely refused. I mainly remember my mom being so laid back during that period of my life.
One of my favourite things to do with her was to visit the health food shop. Adam’s pantry. I was always allowed a “treat” something like a carob peanut butter cup, or fruit juice sweetened gummy bears. she always bought us pitta breads with stripples (soya bacon), lettuce, and tomato. I could always tell ours apart because her pitta was always overflowing with alfalfa sprouts. I complained about having to eat “healthy” and used to love going to friend’s houses to drink Kool-aid and eat Chips a’hoy cookies, but nowadays I’m so thankful for the 100% All natural juice we drank, the fruit juice sweetened animal biscuits, and everything always being whole wheat.
Later on, after we moved to Illinois, and later Wisconsin, I remember it as being a time of continual transition. We were looking for houses, churches, friends, schools. It took us a long time to really settle. When we finally found our house I remember weekends spent raking and burning leaves in the yard, but usually there was pizza and an old movie to look forward to that evening. Thanks to my mother, I know who Judy Garland, Fred Astair, Gene Cary, and Cary Grant are. During that time I struggled to make friends. I was shy, and could be a real homebody preferring to read a book than to go through the ordeal of making new friends. However my mother was always willing to drive me somewhere. When I found a youth group with some nice kids that I got on really well with, my parents thought nothing of driving me to visit the friends (some of them over 45 minutes away). She valued my having good friendships, and to this day, good friendships mean the world to me, and I will go out of my way to nurture them.
My mom always let me loose in the kitchen. I was probably only 10 years old when I was allowed to bake and cook with hardly any supervision. I am so appreciative of that nowadays. It gave me so much confidence.I always remember this whenever I’m tempted to shoo my kids out from under my feet when they want to help me bake.
Then of course there was the time I came home from a youth convention determined to go on a foreign mission trip. It was a desire so strong in me I thought I was going to explode. Instead of ignoring it, downplaying it, or hoping I’d grow out of it. My mother took me seriously. I didn’t have to “prove I was really serious” about it, and pass some sort of test. She spoke to people from our church, got in touch with missionaries we supported, and arranged to send me to Guatemala on my own for three weeks so I could experience missions.
How easy is it to think we have to have it all together before going into the ministry. We scrutinize others, question their motives, wonder if they’re mature enough, have enough experience, have the right attitude etc. Yet just as Jesus called his disciples who certainly didn’t have all their ducks in a row, and walked with them for three years, and set them loose on the world (while they still had issues), my mother was willing to let me go. Jesus knew that God was bigger than all their imperfections, and he saw the big picture. My mother didn’t have the insight of Jesus to see into my future…but she risked it anyway.
That one trip changed my life’s trajectory. I was a quiet girl who could never imagine living overseas, and after that summer, I knew overseas was exactly where I belonged. Far away from home, far away from any church or youth group I knew, I had my own personal revelation of how big God was and received a vision for my life that influenced every decision I have made since.
Every summer after that my mother supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually to travel on short term mission trips. It was not easy for her. Although we travelled in a bubble, surrounded by excellent leaders, we were travelling to dangerous parts of the world, and anything could have happened to us. When I think of some of the crazy busses we rode on, the narrow country roads, out in the middle of nowhere, nearly kidnapped in Africa once but for God’s grace, and roughing it in a remote village in India, (where a close friend nearly lost her foot due to a poisonous scorpion bite), my mom had the confidence that you usually only find in missionaries themselves who encourage their children to travel. Never once did I feel she was worried about me. She was just excited for me, and of course she prayed!
My mother’s releasing me during my teenage years to do all that was amazing. She was criticized by people, mostly fellow church members who felt it their place to tell her she should be saving for my college education instead of supporting me to travel. She was questioned as to whether I was learning any real responsibility out on those mission trips like teenagers who spent the summer working proper jobs at fast food restaurants, and Six Flags Great America. Now that I’m a parent, I know how annoying it can be to have your parenting choices scorned or disapproved of. I can only imagine what some people thought of her home educating me through high school, letting me travel etc.
My mom (and dad) took me to church every Sunday. We moved a few times, and we moved around a few churches, but we always went, and my mom always went out of her way to make sure I was able to be involved in youth groups etc. When I was five, she sent me to the Baptist church’s Awana club where I learned John 3:16, all the books of the Bible, and several other verses that I can recite to this day. I know there were some who were convinced I was simply the “good Christian girl” because of her influence, and I don’t deny the home schooling, Sunday school going, Christian sub culture experience…however, I can honestly say that from a very young age…my faith was my own.
I don’t know how she did it, but I was somehow given the space to work it out for myself, within the environment of her influence and the church’s. I’m so thankful for that. So even in the later years when tensions inevitably rose in the home, (note to parents: just because your teenagers love God and go on mission trips…they’re still humans) I never questioned my faith or rebelled against it in order to have a go at my mother. It just never entered my mind to.
My mom was the one who pointed me in the direction of Central Bible College when I was so lost and confused about what to do after high school. She paid for my tuition so I never had to worry like other students did, neither did I have the weight of debt around me when I graduated. The decision to go there was my own though. When it got tough there, she was the first one to tell me I didn’t have to stay there.
Through tears she let me go. She let me get on a plane every summer from the age of 13-19, and go into the unknown. She left me on the CBC campus in a fully stocked dorm room at the age of 17, eight hours away from home. At 22 I got on a plane, and she had to let me go Ireland, as an adult, most likely suspecting that I would never really come back permanently.
I was still growing up when I was so far away. I still had so many lessons to learn, and was in need of so much grace. It was a tough time, despite being exciting. She always prayed for me, and although she questioned me at times, and most likely worried for me at times, was there when I rang her in the early hours of the morning in tears at the end of my rope. She was always on my side when it really mattered.
Later on, she let me go again…for good. She took me to the Trafford Centre and bought me a gorgeous dress, we had a lovely meal. I never really needed to describe how I wanted the church decorated for my wedding. She just knew, and she did it with so much joy, and it looked amazing. On the evening of my wedding, with hardly a moment for a proper goodbye, I was whisked away in a total blur of Ceilidh dancing, mad Irish people, and a swarm of New Lifers. (ironically, to get on a plane, and go somewhere overseas…Turkey for our honeymoon)
Packages of baby clothes started to arrive. Prenatal vitamins, and red raspberry leaf tea all came through the post. Nursing tops, (one that she had to buy twice because in a blur of sleep deprivation, I’d damaged it while getting it out of the package), and more baby clothes sent with love. There has been a steady stream of packages ever since….things for her little angels…but always something for me…a top, a package of healthy mac and cheese, or something random I’ve asked for.
My mom’s had to let go. A lot. I’ve been the one running off, growing up so fast. Yet, it’s often myself who still does not want to quite let go. “Mom, I need lemon witch hazel” I say over facebook…no hello, no how are you…just this instinct to ask her, just like my kids burst into the room and ask me for a drink. My mother may have allowed me to have experiences that meant I matured beyond my years quite quickly…but I have never grown up too much to stop being her daughter. I’m afraid she’s stuck with me.
Happy Mother’s Day to you mom….It’s hard to write about distinctive memories….when a mother’s presence is like the air….it’s an environment, that permeates everything. It’s so powerful….and amazing.