On this day that we celebrate mothers, I’m so grateful for mine. The older I get, the more I realize her strength, patience, tolerance, wisdom, intelligence, class, and dignity.
Life has taught me many things so far… It’s taught me how many people were NOT taught the things I was taught. So many people were not loved the way I was loved. And so many people were not shown the example I was shown.
My mother taught me the value of earning the things you desire. While I hated it as a child and felt so deprived that I had to work for things other children just received simply for being born into different families with different parents, I’m so grateful for what my mother instilled in me: That hard work does pay off. That if you really want something, you can work hard and smart and use your resources and talents to achieve it. That the things you work hardest for are always the things you appreciate most. And the journey is just as fulfilling if not more than the destination. She taught me that sound investments are more rewarding than a flashy lifestyle. And that free trips to the zoo are just as fantastic as extravagant European getaways. I’ve since seen her modest lifestyle turn into financial freedom, while other people her age still have to work to survive.
My mother taught me that there is no place for prejudice based on factors outside a person’s control. I grew up in a home where skin color was never used to describe a person. Ever. A home where a person’s disabilities were never their defining characteristics. I grew up in a “broken” home that I’ve since learned was more “whole” than most other homes I’ve since come across. Black godfather, Asian-Hawaiian step father, Latina step mother. No, my parents didn’t stay married… And I’m so grateful for that. Growing up surrounded by different cultures made me appreciate and celebrate differences. Different colors didn’t surprise or scare me – they were “normal” to me. As a child I never thought to describe a person based on skin color… So much so that by the time my mom actually met the best friend I had talked about so much, that was the first time she realized she was Black. I never knew that her skin color mattered enough to mention. In fact, I never knew skin color “mattered” in a negative context until Rodney King was all over the nightly news. I’ve since learned that some of the people most loudly crying for equality are the same people raising their children in anything BUT an equally diverse environment.
My mother taught me the definition of loyalty. That the people who vow to you and promise to you are the people you should hold accountable, not people who are outside the commitments you’ve made. My mother never spoke a negative word of my father’s new wife. Not once. Ever. In fact, to this day she praises her for raising my oldest sister and I as her own. Loving us as much as her own children. Taking care of us, feeding us, changing our diapers and loving us unconditionally. How it must’ve stung when I would have my other sister over for sleep overs. And yet my mother welcomed her with open arms and never mentioned anything of it. I’ve since learned, most women are not this way, to say the least. They direct anger and spite and slander at the wrong person. They’re spiteful and indignant and rude and horrible to the woman their ex has chosen to move on with. It’s terrible. And until I experienced it for myself, I was completely unaware that women acted this way… Because my mother never did. Sometimes I wonder if I would’ve been able to accept the same fate with such grace. I hope I never have to.
My mother taught me that you should do what’s right simply because it’s right, not based on whether or not you can get something in return. I’ve learned what strength looks like, and dignity and faith. And that not everything requires accolades. I’ve watched my mother stare in the face of cancer. And beat it. Not once or twice, but 3 times. I’ve learned of her literally beating death – dying when I was born and walking with God only to ask Him for more time with me. A woman who was raised atheist and who made it her life’s mission was to scientifically disprove God. A woman who has since experienced the most miraculous of miracles. A woman who God did not give up on. A woman whose faith is the most unshakeable of anyone I’ve ever known. When I tell people pieces of her story, I always get the same response – “She should write a book!” And yet, she’s shown me that life doesn’t always require nor reward with accolades and recognition. Sometimes just surviving is more than enough and God’s rewards are so much greater than anything anyone here on Earth can bestow.
My mother raised us to respect the time and space of other people, especially strangers. That there are certain things you should keep behind closed doors. You’d never catch us throwing tantrums in public (at least not when she was around lol). She walked with grace and dignity and class. Always. With 2 well behaved little girls at her hips. She showed us that you tip waiters even when they’re having a bad day… Because that’s what polite, civilized people do. You don’t need to “teach them a lesson” by not leaving a tip; The life of a waiter teaches enough hard lessons as it is. You say “please” and “thank you” and show appreciation. She taught us to verbalize appreciation for hospitality or a good meal. Let the chef know you enjoyed dinner… unless of course you want the chef to stop cooking. And you use the blessings you’ve received to bless other people, because they’re not yours to begin with. That everything is God’s and if you can’t be His vessel to do good work, what’s the point of Him blessing you? She has lived the life of a good steward. And she has been blessed because of it.
My mother taught me what unconditional love is. It is, quite literally, loving without condition. I’ve since watched as parents ridicule their children, punishing kids for behaving like kids. I’ve seen so many people with parents who don’t support them, don’t encourage them, and have given up on them. I’ve watched boys turn into men who don’t respect women, because they were taught that “boys will be boys” so it’s ok to misbehave and disrespect people. I’ve seen people live destructive lifestyles because that’s all they’ve ever known. And I’ve watched people run away from their blessings because they were never taught to recognize them. That was never an option in my mother’s household. Even in the depth of trial in raising us, my mother never gave up on us, always encouraged us, always supported us. I’ve always known I can achieve anything that I’m willing to work hard enough to accomplish, because my mother instilled in me the values to do so and encouraged me to fulfill them. How devastating and life altering it is not to have supportive parents. The lives of people I’ve met along the way have shown me the consequences.
My mother’s life has embodied patience and understanding and diligence. I watched a woman – underpaid, underappreciated, often ridiculed for speaking up and voicing her opinions and expertise – change the lives of literally every child who goes through the California public school system with a learning disability. She showed us what it means to fight for people who can’t always fight for themselves, when she flew to Sacramento every other month to advocate to the state on behalf of special education. And yet she never bragged about it. I didn’t realize until later in life all that she had done, not for us, but for other people’s children. My sister and I were blessed not to struggle with learning disabilities. This wasn’t a cause my mom took on because she was inspired by her own plight. It was a cause she felt called and equipped to take on. And so she did. She taught me that your talents are God given and not to be wasted, even when they don’t directly benefit you. They’re not for you. They’re for you to share.
My mother taught us the value of education. That spelling and punctuation and grammar matter if you want people who know how to spell to take you seriously… not just in English class. An employer, investor, date, or potential business connect who knows the difference between “affect” and “effect” is going to notice if you don’t. My mother taught us that you should do your best in school not because it means an “A” on a piece of paper, but because the development of your mind is something that will carry you through the rest of your life. That what you’re really learning is problem solving and deductive reasoning, how to properly interact with other people and how to articulate a message. And she also taught me that some of the greatest lessons are taught outside the classroom – in sports and music and social interactions and travel. That sometimes living in another country with another language and another set of customs can teach you more than the 4 walls of a classroom ever could. That BOTH types of education are critical and that one is no better than the other.
And although she was just a woman, my mother taught the importance of a father. That whether or not a physical earthly father is present, we all have a Father who loves us unconditionally and wants the best for us. He protects us and nurtures us and provides for us and has made a home for us. He forgives us so much that we are obligated to forgive the earthly fathers that may not have been there. My mother has always said, “Find a man who understands that the greatest thing a man can do for his children is to love and respect their mother.” Never have I understood this more than now. The older I get, the more wisdom I see in that little piece of advice. With that one little sentence, she taught me one of life’s greatest lessons – A person’s actions are so much more important than the beautiful words they may say. I learned the value of my mind and my body and myself. And that I have the power and control to allow someone in or to force someone out of my life. That I am a daughter of the King and shouldn’t settle for treatment of anything less than a woman deserving of such a title.
My mother taught me that it’s ok not to get things right the first time all the time. That sometimes the second season in life is better than the first. Sometimes the first is the practice round. That one failure doesn’t mean a lifetime of failure. That you can bounce back from adversity better than before. My mother has bounced back from things most people will only ever read about or see on a screen.
My mother has taught me the true meaning of forgiveness. That to forgive doesn’t imply that someone’s actions are valid, but it frees you from the bondage of hate. She showed me that all sins are equal in he eyes of God and that if He can forgive me daily, who am I not to forgive other people? She showed me what it means to forgive the ultimate in hurt and pain and shame and betrayal – not because it’s easy to do so, but because that’s what God calls us to do. She’s forgiven where few would be willing to forgive.
My mother taught me that a first impression is one of the most important moments you’ll ever get in the life of any relationship – romantic, business, or otherwise. Always be prepared. You never know who’s watching. She taught me that being well dressed is a beautiful form of politeness, and a woman can never have too many shoes. She taught me that sexy does not mean scantily clad and that you only get one face (well, most people only get one face lol) so take care of your skin. She taught me the value of taking care of yourself. If you can’t even take care of you, how do you expect to take care of everyone else? Life has shown me the opposite extremes: Mothers who are so into their own vanity that they are blind to the message of inadequacy they’re teaching their daughters; And mothers who don’t take care of themselves and pass along the same habits to their children. In this way and so many others, my mother taught me the importance of balance.
Of all the things my mother has taught me, perhaps the greatest is obedience. That an obedient woman is she who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. That obedience is a shield of protection and an act of humility. Her life is a testament to her faith. It is a reflection of her obedience. If you ask her how she’s managed to do all the amazing things she’s done, to live the kind of retirement lifestyle most only dream of but few attain, she’ll tell you it’s all by the grace of God. I would tell you the same. All by the grace of a God she chose to say “yes” to.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be a mother. Frankly, it scares me – The idea of bringing up children, especially little girls, in a world with outrageously unrealistic standards of beauty, the ubiquity of social media, and life experience that’s taught me that so many moms aren’t teaching their future nonexistent sons and daughters to respect my future nonexistent sons and daughters. I pray we all start teaching our children the value of one another. I pray we realize our greatest teacher is in the example we set by the way we live our own lives. To be totally honest, I wouldn’t want to live my mother’s life. It is scarred by extraordinary amounts of pain. But it is also a story of survival and strength and forgiveness and grace.
If one day I am a mother, I pray I can pass on the lessons my mom has taught to me by the life she’s lived. If I’m even half the woman she’s been to me and the world, I will have succeeded.