I'm saying thank you to my mom for all the lessons I've learned from the story she's living. She's taught me to lose the guilt as a working mom, to build strong friendships, to reap the benefits of laughter, to value honesty and to navigate life with faith.
In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about the importance and benefits of gratitude. And not just being grateful--like writing in a gratitude journal or on the gratitude wall I have in my house--but showing gratitude. So I’m stepping up my gratitude game today and writing this letter to you. I really hope that anyone who reads it will be inspired to write a note of their own. Who knows? Maybe we’ll start something here.
Ann Voskamp wrote, “Every single woman needs to know — she’s not merely passively viewing other people’s stories, but that she’s writing an unforgettable story, that she’s an active verb in a bigger story…. That she’s writing restoration into wreckage, she’s editing out all that’s not edifying, and that she’s filling all her pages with a deeply fulfilling grace.”
Mom, your story is powerful. I know you would never describe it that way, so I want to show you why it's the perfect word to describe your life. Thank you for living a story of countless lessons.
Chapter 1: Work
Lesson: I don’t need to feel guilty about loving my work and striving to make an impact outside my home.
When I won a teaching award a few years ago, I knew my mom had to be there to celebrate with me. I'm a teacher because of her.
Thank you for showing me that I can love my kids AND love my work. I remember being so proud of you when you graduated with your master’s degree...I think I was about 6 years old. I loved standing next to you in your big black robe and purple hood because it all felt so important. Some of my fondest memories are helping you grade papers in the evenings and putting up bulletin boards before school started in the fall. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but as I look back on what you accomplished as an educator, it really can’t be overstated.
You loved my brother and me so much that you took it upon yourself to create an impressive gifted education program for our entire school district. I know the impact you had on countless students. They didn’t hesitate to celebrate your 70th birthday with personal notes of thanks, many years after they left your classroom. Your decision to go back to school and continue working meant those kids had an incredible teacher who pushed them beyond their limits and believed in what they could achieve.
My mom (top, R) created the "Louisville Education Advancement Program" for our district. My brother (middle, far R) and I (bottom, far R) were some of the first to benefit from her work. Yes, she did many incredible things. Letting my grandma perm my hair at this age was not one of them.
(You’re also the reason we all have the keyboard memorized and can type at the speed of light with our eyes closed, even though we hated those stupid stickers covering all the keys. Oh, and I will apologize for the rest of my days for the way I behaved when your principal observed our class and I flat out refused to do my presentation.)
I never felt like I came second to your work, but I always knew how much you loved it and worked to be the best at it. Thank you for pursuing excellence as a teacher and setting such a great example for me as a working mom.
Chapter 2: Friendship
Lesson: It’s important to build strong friendships because times will come when I need to rely on other people.
Thank you for showing me how to be a good friend, and how to allow others to be a good friend to me. The simple fact that my boys call a few of your friends “grandma” is evidence of the strong relationships you build. When I was growing up, you were more yourself with your friends from school than anywhere else. Have you ever stopped to wonder how many rooms you’ve painted together through the years? None of you ever attempted a home improvement project alone and you found a way to balance your precision and perfectionism with their speed and efficiency.
Having such good friends meant that one monk costume worked for every kid who had to dress up for a Canterbury Tales project in high school, and one menu worked for every graduation party because you had it down to a science. You still gift them banana bread every Christmas and we still look forward to the trail mix we know you’ll receive. It doesn’t matter that you live in a different state now; one opens her home to our entire family so we can all spend Christmas together.
(Left picture) These women are among my mom's closest friends. She's on the far left, then Sharon, Rozanne and Jayne. This picture is bittersweet because Jayne recently passed away and I know it was hard for them to say goodbye. (Right picture) Our recent Christmas celebration at my mom's friend's home.
(What I learned from growing up with the daughter of your friend: we should never, ever try to color hair with something from the drug store the day before the first day of 9th grade because gray is not a flattering shade at that age. We should also never trust an older brother for baking advice because that may result in exploding cakes in the oven, which sent us into a panic because gray hair was happening. Worst teacher in-service day ever.)
I will never forget how your friends rallied around you the year that grandpa died, grandma got remarried and dad left. You know what else? You let them help you, and I’m so grateful because I don’t know how we would have survived otherwise. Thank you for investing in friendships that last.
Chapter 3: Laughter
Lesson: If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. Laughter can be a survival skill because it will help me search for joy.
Thank you for showing me that genuine laughter is a beautiful sound that can heal. I remember hearing you laugh and reminisce with your sister when we went to Guatemala, the first real laughter you shared with her in 20 years because you were estranged. Can you believe we’ll be celebrating our 12th Reunited weekend in a few weeks? These annual trips with you, Aunt Bonnie, Great Aunt Marty and Sharon (my sister-in-law) are a highlight of my year.
The first weekend was finally a chance for Sharon to spend time with you away from dad and she was speechless at all the laughter. For most of the weekend, you and Aunt Bonnie could barely speak you were laughing so hard. Sharon had never seen you so carefree and unguarded, and that realization initially made her sad, but then happy to know you had a space to let your guard down.
From L to R: Great Aunt Marty, me, my mom, Aunt Bonnie, Sharon (my sister-in-law)
(There are so many stories I could share here…when you worked at a bridal store and trapped a flying bat with the largest bra you could find; when you couldn’t figure out how to put a stick shift in reverse and made me and a friend--middle schoolers!--get out of the car and push us out of the parking spot at the local ice cream place in front of a ton of kids we knew; when you and Aunt Bonnie stood in the middle of a busy McDonald’s parking lot with the grandkids, boisterously singing a song you wrote to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain; the looks we got from people on the beach last Christmas as we took family pictures in matching pj pants you made for all of us; your habit of buying and then wrapping Christmas presents to give to yourself; the year you gave the grandkids framed photos of yourself...)
We celebrated mom's 70th birthday in Charleston, SC. She was so excited to show us these outfits because she made all the pants. They attracted A LOT of attention. She knew we were going to the beach, so we'll never really know why she chose a pattern all about Route 66. She does have a terrible sense of direction.
Thanks to you, I can find joy in just about anything. Having a sense of humor has helped me as a teacher and most definitely as a mom, and I can laugh at myself because you’ve shown me how. Thank you for using laughter as a healthy way to deal with life.
Chapter 4: Honesty
Lesson: I need to be honest with myself and other people, and be willing to listen when others confront me in love.
Thank you for making honesty an important part of our relationship. I’ve never had to guess what you’re thinking or how you feel about something, and I’ve grown to trust that you don’t manipulate anything. When I was uncertain about moving to North Carolina a few years after Ken and I got married, you told me that you didn’t raise me to come back home; you raised me to go...to walk away from you into my own life. Until I had my own kids, I didn’t understand the selflessness of that statement, but I knew what you meant.
With all that happened in our family, nobody would have blamed you for holding tightly to your kids, but you didn’t. You sent us off into the world as a resilient young woman and young man. And you’ve been honest with us both ever since. Sometimes your honesty stings, like when you told me that I needed to figure out how to let go of all the anger I felt toward people in my life. At first, I was hurt because I felt justified in my anger. But then I realized how much it was affecting me--and having very little impact on anyone else.
You’re also always willing to listen when I need to be honest with you. Since your divorce was finalized six years ago, we’ve had many conversations about its effect on me, especially since dad’s dementia diagnosis. You’ve given me space to be overwhelmed and frustrated and angry as my brother and I (and our incredible spouses) have navigated his decline. Moving him to a nursing home, cleaning out his apartment, applying for Medicaid, and now transitioning to hospice....it’s been awful, and you’ve allowed me to process it all with you. I don’t know how many moms could handle this with as much patience and grace as you have shown me.
(On a lighter note, your honesty is even something we all joke about. You know you have very little tact and willingly apologize when you’ve unknowingly hurt someone’s feelings. It usually happens to your daughter-in-law Sharon, who has learned to be honest right back! Remember when she told Great Aunt Marty to “suck it up” on one of our weekend trips? I think we were all in shock. But the women in this family place a high value on authenticity, so Sharon fit right in.)
True honesty is hard because it requires humility and courage. Thank you for being honest enough with me to hold me accountable when I need it.
Chapter 5: Faith
Lesson: Faith needs to be my foundation because it will carry me through every crisis I face.
Thank you for showing me how to live my faith, even when I don’t speak it. As I grew up, I never doubted how much your faith meant to you. You weren’t loud about it. I would describe it as a strong and quiet faith that was always just below the surface. I know you love reading your Bible because the pages were soft and worn, and if I close my eyes, I can see your handwriting on its pages. I know you pray because you’ve told me stories of walking around a tree, pleading with God to give you direction when a crisis in our family gave you nowhere else to turn. During that time, we shared a favorite passage: Psalm 121. The first two verses are “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
Twenty-five years later, we shared a new favorite, this time with Great Aunt Marty, Aunt Bonnie and Sharon: Isaiah 61:3 says “and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Faith has sustained us all.
I’m absolutely convinced that neither of us would be here today without faith as our foundation. Thank you for teaching me to love Jesus in a way that draws people in without judgment.
I took this picture at YMCA Camp Greenville in Greenville, SC. Most people know this outdoor chapel in the mountains as Pretty Place. Pictures cannot do it justice. The words on the beam above the cross say "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills."
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here for now. It’s the middle of the night and I need to get this blog posted--I know you understand because you work the same way. Inspiration always strikes at the last minute, so I’ll blame you when I hit snooze a million times in the morning and annoy Ken because I can’t drag myself out of bed. I know you’ll laugh as you read this, which makes me smile.
I love you, Mom.
You really are writing an incredible story, one that needs to be told in its entirety someday. For now, thank you for letting me share just a few of my favorite chapters.