She admitted to me once that she wasn’t always right. That there were things she wished she could have done differently for my sister and I. She has told me of the areas she would like to grow, and her elegant dignity has never kept her from saying, “Sorry.”
But my mother…my mother.
Some of the things that has left her mouth are the words she has forgotten, and the ones that I’ll remember.
1. “It is so much better to be loved than to be perfect all the time.”
It is instinct to believe that perfectionism is our ticket to love. No matter the style of relationship, we often convince ourselves that if we were only more attractive, more intelligent, more interesting or better behaved, less clumsy or awkward or more accomplished, we would obtain a more superior and permanent source of love. We apply this to that guy or girl we watch from the back of a classroom, hoping to catch a glimpse of their beautiful, beautiful face; we apply it to our families, and our desire to please them; we apply it to the friends we already have and the friends we want to make to the point of anxiety; we even apply it to our God.
Love cannot be earned. Perfectionism cannot be achieved. Unconditional means unconditional–without question, despite circumstance, forever and always. And, a gift is a gift.
Not only is it foolish to strive for something that has already been laid at your feet, but doing so only exhausts a cause that is already won.
2. “Anyone who has truly loved did so fiercely.”
Contrary to the tissue-paper, flower-petal painting of love society often features, love is not soft.
Love is a sucker-punch to the stomach. It is tears in a pillow and fear for another. Love is teeth-baring protection, and the on-fire thirst to give. It is raw truth. It is the giving of a life. It is blood dripping from a cross, the grasp of a hand, forgetting yourself in the glittering eyes of another. It is feeling pain that does not belong to you.
Love is not soft. It is hard.
I commend my mother for loving me that way.
3. “If you have any doubt in your mind at all, don’t marry him.”
My mother reminds me often that she nearly married a boyfriend or two before marrying my father at age thirty. She claims that almost making those commitments had more to do with believing that those relationships were ‘close enough’ to the image in her mind of what true, passionate, unconditional love must be like.
Until, that is, she met my father. And suddenly, all of that changed.
My aunt Lisa remembers my mom visiting her at work approximately a month into her relationship with my father.
“How is it going?” my aunt asked.
“If he asked me to marry him tomorrow,” my mother said, “I’d say yes.”
My aunt was taken aback. Never, she said, had my mother ever been so definitive about a relationship before.
“Even if it’s the day of,” my mom told me one day in the car, “even if you’re about to walk down the aisle, and everyone is waiting in the pews, you can change your mind.”
And, on a walk, “There should be absolutely no wondering whether or not there is someone better out there for you. That question shouldn’t even cross your mind.”
Simply put? Good enough is not enough. The skies should be clear, your heart light, the sting of love fiercely and tangibly alive. There should be no black bird of doubt staining those skies.
4. “When you can’t sleep, don’t get anxious about not being able to fall asleep. Just lay there and rest. Sometimes just closing your eyes is enough.”
My mom has endured way too many sleepless hours, distressed by the demands the following day holds as she twists in the darkness and my father snores deeply beside her.
When I suffer similarly, I remember these words, pull the blankets tight to my chin, and let my lids fall and mind wander. Sometimes I fall asleep; other times, I notice the clock ticking into the early hours of the morning. Nevertheless, finding that center–taking that time to enjoy any form of rest, and believing that the day after will take care of itself, is a peaceful practice that combats issues of control and stress.
5. “Your body is beautiful.”
Some people are mortified when they hear that my mother has no problem walking from the bathroom to the laundry room stark naked. They laugh nervously when they hear the story of the farmer who approached our house for water, only to spot my mom through the window, having just gotten out of the bath. Some of my friends turn red-cheeked when they try to imagine a life without locks on their bedroom doors, and a mother who confesses to sleeping naked and riding bikes through the countryside with her friends in college, all of them topless underneath the summer sun.
What I find much more disheartening is that some of them get out of the shower, and avoid looking at themselves in the foggy bathroom mirror.
Our bodies are incredible. They aren’t machines; they are unpredictable and unique, but they also work for us as best as they can, even when we don’t treat them with the respect they deserve.
Being young, it is easy to forget that our bodies don’t stop changing at adulthood, kind of like our assumption that every scrap of wisdom worth accumulating is achieved by the time we are married and have children. That’s simply not the way we were designed. We were designed to evolve, mind, body, and soul, every day, every month, every year.
My mother taught me how important it is to love our bodies and treat them with a spirit of gratitude.
6. “Let me be your mom.”
Once, I felt so guilty over burdening my parents with the overwhelming load that laid heavy on my heart. I was approximately twelve years old when I asked my mom, “Do you ever cry over me?”
My mom paused for a minute. Staring at my narrow, peaked face, she eventually replied, “You don’t ever need to worry about me. You worry about you.. This is my job. Just let me be your mom.”
I remember this when it becomes my turn to fulfill a role, or when a friend admits their discomfort in letting others see their brokenness to avoid the guilt that comes with it.
Hiding is not what we were created to do. We were created to make up for one another’s weaknesses, to stand on guard in others’ battlefields while they stand up in yours.
Know your roles, and take them with heart.
7. “God has already set in place the people in your life who will love you.”
Even if we could fix our imperfections, it would not add one more loving person to our lives. All of our relationships are planned, intricately designed by the Great Creator. We can take rest in that, knowing that there is no use wasting energy on changing who you are to accumulate relationships that aren’t for us.
8, “You can’t control everything.”
Some things. Not everything.
I like to play this game. I like to pretend that I am the one in control of everything in my life. I pretend that I am in the power seat, and take credit for every put-together corner of my existence, and take panicked responsibility for any detail that goes haywire.
While playing the game, it’s easy to forget that this brings a lot more anxiety than it does peace.
So, sometimes, my mom has to play referee. She has to interrupt the game, re-explain the rules, and encourage me to drop the ball right where I found it.
9. “It’s all about energy. Sometimes if you put too much energy into someone or something, it will start to pull away. But if you pull away a little, sometimes that’s enough to make that someone or something chase you.”
The push-pull of energy isn’t a hokey idea planted in silly brains. Every human being possesses a specific energy, and I am of full confidence that the level of energy we put into/pull out of people or situations is of great affect to the intricate balance of relationship.
10. “Sometimes in forgiveness, you have to offer it up, then ask God to help you until you mean it.”
Forgiveness isn’t always easy. But, I have learned from my mother that we don’t always necessarily have to feel it before we offer it to someone.
The fact that we are willing to work toward feeling our forgiveness is a display of grace. Because we are human, and imperfect, it sometimes takes time to develop the softened heart that comes with our offering. And, that’s okay.
11. “Just drink some water. It’ll make you feel better.”
A stomachache. A headache. Extreme hunger. Carsickness. Emotional upset.
Every ailment, my mother arms herself with whatever else may be needed, but never forgets the cold, slippery glass of water.
12. “Concerts are the best.”
My mom has attended countless concerts. She has gone to so many that sometimes it becomes difficult to recall those she has and hasn’t seen. Several artists she has seen twice.
She took me to my first concert when I was in the third or fourth grade. The featured bands were Big Daddy Weave and FFH, and though I had never heard of them until that night, the darkened atmosphere and wailing wavelengths of electric guitar were like cocaine to my system, sending me into the deep, lifelong addiction my mother had suffered for all her life.
There is nothing like it. Never do I experience more freedom or clarity than I do standing among strangers, faces turned up toward the powerful delivery of human condition and spirit.
Like my mother, I am already accumulating a long list of those I have seen. And, like her, some I have seen twice.
13. “Every girl should have a pretty dress.”
Nowadays, my closet is full of them. But I remember the first dress I ever saw and truly desired, for no particular reason than the fact it made my heart sing.
The dress was the color of champagne, vintage lace dripping to the knee. I was fourteen, had a long history of jeans and shorts, and had nowhere to wear it to. Nevertheless, I showed it to my mother.
She was surprised that I had any interest, and after a quick conversation we left the store without it. But, as we were pulling out of the lot, she said, “Every girl should have a pretty dress.”
She just knew it was worth waiting for.
14. “Don’t manipulate situations.”
We’ve all done it. We’ve all heard that that cute boy or girl is going to be at that basketball game and made sure we didn’t miss it. We’ve all tried our best to weasel something we want out of our parents or siblings, and we’ve all tried to get caught doing something we wanted to be noticed doing.
My mom advises against it.
If something is supposed to happen, it’ll happen. Like they say in any sport, Don’t force it. Don’t force a situation, because usually the turn-away is more brutal than waving as it passes by. Don’t be convinced that you know best, because you don’t. Don’t be motivated to get what you want at all costs.
If it’s not meant to be, it will always be taken from you.
16. “All is well.”
This is the mantra I hear when I am in tears, when fear plagues me like a reaper at the door.
With serenity gracing her face, my mom will pat her heart and tell me, “All is well.”
And so far, she has been right. Every single time.