This is a post about my mom who passed away suddenly last week. Though I have lost many relatives and friends in my life, I have never experienced the grief of losing a parent. Mom was an amazing person, beyond special, and she touched everyone she met. And, though I wrote this years ago for Mother’s Day, I am reposting it in her honor.
In my very first blog post, I shared the unique way I grew up. Instead of filling our home with things, my parents filled it with people.
Our childhood home was always open. There was always room for one more person at the table. We had countless people live with us of all nationalities, backgrounds, and religions. Some would stay a night, but most would stay months. A few stayed for years. Most of our adopted family members arrived with serious needs and issues from drug addiction to abuse to serious psychiatric needs.
As I reflect on Mother’s Day, I think about the lessons I learned from my parents. And, just as my mom prefers to give to others more than receiving gifts, I thought I would share that spirit and pass these lessons on. Today I honor her with more than flowers by sharing her wisdom.
1. Personal power is more important than positional power.
As I reflect on my childhood, I cannot think of a single time that my mom used her “positional” power as parent. But she always used her personal power, her persuasion, and her personality to influence. Anything I learned about how to relate to people started by watching her in action.
Even today, my mom is never interested in titles or your position. She is interested in you. What is your story? What are your talents? What are you doing for others?
2. Giving to others will always make you happier than receiving.
Yes, we’ve all heard that it is better to give than to receive. But why? Mom taught me that happiness is always rooted in service to others. I’ve seen people with depression improve dramatically when they serve others.
Mom was always happy, always singing, always sharing. And that may be because she was always giving—to us, to friends, and to all of the people she met each day. Our house was always full of people in need, and so the opportunity to give was always present. She is still the same way today as she was then.
3. The spiritual is more important than the temporal.
Some things are temporary, fleeting, lasting but a moment. Other things are forever. Make sure you are spending time on what matters in the long run. One of the very few rules I can remember was this: If you needed a place to stay, you were welcome to stay as long as you needed. But, you were required to attend church with the family. There is something powerful about connecting to forces greater than you.
Here is one story my wife recalls about my mom: Someone was staying in the house and she was learning a new skill for a job: How to cut hair. As I recall, she was somewhat troubled and my mom was counseling her. Mom volunteered to let her practice her newly learned skills. The girl transformed her hair, butchering it on one side. Instead of anger, my mom graciously turned to her in love. As she poured love on this girl, she taught us all what really matters.
4. The heart is greater than things.
If you broke something—even something precious to her—she didn’t care much. Sweep it up, throw it out, and it was long forgotten. But, if your heart was broken, she spent as many hours with you as you needed. She would agonize with you. If you were broken in spirit, she would encourage and lift you out of a dark place. She still does.
5. Connecting with other people is more valuable than living in isolation.
We are social beings, meant to fellowship with others around us. You should spend time alone reflecting and meditating, but we are here to interact with others. Together, we can do greater things than if we are apart. Each of us is gifted and has potential. If we allow others to shine, we all benefit.
6. You are always more valuable than me.
To this day, my mom considers others above herself. She focuses on you like a spotlight on a Broadway stage. She wants to know about you and then tell everyone who will listen about your story and your gifts.
Just a few years ago, I visited my mom in the hospital. Here she was fighting an illness, needing oxygen and 24 hour care. That’s the one time you would think that she would understand that she needed to focus on herself.
Why was I not surprised when each nurse came in, off would come the oxygen mask, and my mom would introduce the nurse by name, rattle off family members, and recite all sorts of facts? The medical staff was receiving more than they were giving as they heard her encouragement and her counseling.
7. There are far more opportunities in the world than there are limitations.
Her degree was in elementary education and she taught at an inner city school for a time. Her specialty was teaching children to read and other critical life skills. Part of her mission was to make a difference in young lives. Later in life, she returned to teaching as a substitute teacher. Volunteering at a “deprived” school, she quickly became known as the “Skittle Lady” because she was always rewarding students with the candy. She consistently taught that where you start is not where you have to end.
You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. You have the ability to create, inspire, and become.
When challenges are discovered, know that you have the talent to dodge them and find a way around them. Nothing can stop you if you are determined to make it to your destination.
8. What goes into your mind is more important than what goes into your body.
Your diet may be important, but spend more time thinking about your mental diet. If you fill your mind with trash, it will stay there in your subconscious. Mom would often quote Philippians 4:8: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
9. How you live is more important than where you live.
My parents taught me that the mission field is not a place. It is a life. They originally intended to be missionaries overseas, and both attended seminary. They never moved out of the country, but they became missionaries of a different sort. Giving to others was part of the normal way of life.
To my mom and all the mothers who have made a positive difference, Happy Mom’s Day!
Original post: Mother’s Day, May 10, 2014