This one’s for my mom.
She’s the one who made me, after all. She’s the lady who didn’t just let me dig for dinosaurs in the back yard, but the one who put the shovel in my hand and told me to go explore. If she ever regretted the giant pits and mounds that soon riddled the ground, she never let on.
She’s also the one who taught me to brave the crawling bugs and gooey grubs and shuck the summer corn. They’re just bugs, she’d say, and the corn’s got to be shucked. And the beans had to be picked. My palms were sticky with the corn’s busted sugars, and soon the long stems dangling from vines and crawling with spiders were ready to fill the buckets. What I want to say is, she taught me what earthy work was, and she applauded when I caught grasshoppers and called them my friends.
She’s the lady who sent me fishing bass or fixing lawn mowers with Dad, who showed me the vibrant, untamed worlds painted into staid lines in black-white pages of her ever-present books. And she’s the one who, when I told her I was moving across the globe, wiped her tears away and told me to go explore.
She’s the one who always had a warm bedtime story, and the one who made sure my summer breaks were spent as often in the library’s stacks and pages as the pool’s glimmer and blue. She woke us early to pancakes and bacon and eggs every Saturday, then sent us outside to our chores, no matter how much we wanted to sleep in.
Somewhere in the basement she still keeps the penguin I used to cuddle. She sometimes still tells me of the day I handed it to her and told her I was too old for it.
I always wondered why she remembers that. Perhaps she saw in that moment that I wouldn’t stay so young. Perhaps she saw how swiftly time was flying.
She told us Bible stories, she drove the van to VBS, she read and studied Scripture for the classes she was teaching. And when the night came when I found myself helpless in all my sin, she and Dad were there at my bedside to introduce me to my savior, to the Jesus I’d heard of all those years.
She carried me through my fevers and suffered herself for each of my broken bones. She stayed late in the lamplight to crochet a dinosaur rug for my birthday, and she shopped garage sales to buy us more Legos and work clothes. Later, she hunted up extra work to pay for basketball shoes and summer camps and subscriptions to magazines that would keep us reading.
She had four boys, you see, and somewhere in the mother’s natural act of giving, of emptying the best of herself to others, and somewhere in the child’s nature of craving constantly more, and that multiplied by four, she found herself in the habit of last. Her alarm clock rang extra early so she could stuff lunchboxes to send us out the door. Her evenings were forever devoted not to hobbies nor friendships nor time with the feet up and the remote in hand, but solely to shopping for mountains of groceries and whipping those into something delicious–in short, shoveling food into the abyss of teenage stomachs.
Somehow she still managed to smile, loved to smile, actually, and perhaps could be contented with nothing more simple than a Sunday afternoon spent grilling with her growing men around her, a sunshine moment of blue skies, smoky brats, and background football—and finally, finally some time spent all together.
She suffered through our sarcasm and indifference, alone in the house without female sympathy, cut off from girlfriends by ruthless itineraries of practices, open gyms, and games, of sideline hand-wringing and nights crying over a son’s careless comment.
I must have been sleeping meanwhile. I don’t know how she survived.
When I said I wanted to enlist, she drenched her anxiety in a healthy dose of the Psalms, asked if I was sure, and told me again to go explore. She suffered through my years in the Army, and my brother’s stint in the Marines. She slogged through sixteen months of her sons in combat zones, four of those with the two of us no more than two hours apart—only scorching roads and hidden explosives and raging Fallujah between her offspring half the world away. I wonder now how many times she fumbled through mailbox contents hoping for a letter home.
I wonder now how she spoke to my brothers at home while we were away.
One year she bought a pool table for her birthday. Maybe she worried I was spending too many nights at the riverfront bars with subpar cues and sketchy friendships and returning too many midnights smelling of cigarettes and frustration.
More likely, she just wanted a few more moments with a son she knew would be leaving home soon.
She begged heaven for my bride, for my angel, for my future wife, well before the thought had even crossed my mind. She spoke to the Lord and lifted my future in fervent prayer before I ever met her, before I even started noticing girls, I’d guess. Mom saw when my heart was broken, and added to her busy mornings more prayer, over and over, day after day, while I was sulking and sleeping. And then, when my big day came, she smiled and walked me through the sand to the altar on the beach, and she gave me away.
This is the mom who took to watching the Simpsons with us, who trained and ran a half-marathon, who bought that pool table, and who hiked and cried, hiked and cried, hiked and cried until she reached the peak of Flattop Mountain—just to be with those sons. I might never know—she herself might never know—if any of those would ever appeal to her had not her sons been there as well.
She strained through jobs with too much stress and too little pay—just to fund Christmas gifts and mission trips, to have something ready for some son’s emergency, just to buy the vacation she dreams of—the one where we all gather from everywhere we’ve spread and laugh in carefree wonder the way we all remember. She lives for a moment as that, for the flash of time when all come back to the hands that fed them so many meals, to the heart the broke for them so many times, to the lips that whispered so many supplications on their behalf—and she asks nothing more in return than to love in that moment together, in that fleeting glimpse of time before we would return to where our lives have led us.
She poured herself into us, you see. And if anyone ever wonders why she woke so early and worked in jobs that sometimes crushed her and why she expects so little for herself, you have to see that’s exactly where my mother’s heart has focused itself for so many years. It was never on herself.
Mom, you’re my role model for generosity. Your simple love, your steadfast devotion, your patient endurance, your constant giving of so much and constant receiving of so little in return—I don’t know if I’ll ever fathom it.
I do know I can never repay it.
Thank you for your life spent for us.
The worst thing about being so far away is not giving you the giant hug you deserve so much today.
I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.