My mom was born in her grandparents’ home in the cold of winter on January 14th, 1939. Her mom, Ruth, was a homemaker, and her father, Clayton, was a farmer and Mennonite pastor. They named her Grace Elaine.
This is the home/farm where she grew up:
She was the first born of three children, and the only girl, but I am certain she was not spoiled in any way, shape, or form. My Mennonite grandparents were too busy thinking about how to put a meal on the table and sew their own clothes and milk cows and stuff like that.
Here’s a photo of my mama and her cousins when she was younger. My mom is in the center, with her hands up by her mouth. Her younger brother, Elson, is in the front, putting God knows what into his mouth.
When I asked her to describe her childhood, she said the following, “We had good, simple food and were never hungry because we had cows my parents milked and food from the garden which was canned in the summer. We kept potatoes and apples in the basement during the winter.
We had chickens who laid eggs which we needed to gather. Sometimes we bought groceries from a huckster, a man with a truck which had shelves of food.”
My mom was a good girl. She pretty much did what her parents wanted her to do. Despite that fact, they SENT HER AWAY to Mennonite boarding school–a private, Mennonite high school that was located two hours from home. I guess they just wanted to make sure she was a hundred percent Mennonite, a hundred percent of the time.
And she pretty much was. She sewed, read the Bible, sang hymns, cooked awesome food, and even wore a covering on her head. She was beautiful, but concealed her beauty in order not to be vain. That was the “Mennonite way” during that time.
After pursuing her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, she went on to do her master’s degree as well. But she loved teaching Sunday school and wanted to learn more about the Bible, so she decided to go to seminary, too.
She was (and still is!) an interesting paradox: religiously conservative, but politically liberal. Loyal to the Mennonite Church, while quietly pushing the boundary to become one of the first female pastors in her conference.
She demonstrated in her vocation as a pastor that everyone is invited to the table. Life is not about what people can give to you; it’s about what you can give to others.
My mom was a unique mother. She became an ordained minister when I was in the third grade. An important part of her calling was encouraging the church to sponsor refugee families from Vietnam and El Salvador in the 1980s. Once a family was here, she invited them into OUR family. Through her actions, we saw the value in learning from other cultures. She found ways to communicate with others who spoke no English at all. We were part of their families and they were part of ours.
But my mother was unique in other aspects as well.
She was extremely matter of fact all of the time, as well as logical and honest. When I was around seven years old, she sat me down and talked to me about menstruation. I was like, “This is gross, and why are you telling me about this??! I’m seven years old??!!”
Her reply, “Because it’s going to happen someday, and you need to be informed.” Such a Grace answer.
She bought my brother and me a book about body parts and bodies changing. When she saw us reading it, she said, “Let me know if you have any questions. It’s okay to talk about the book.” We were like, “Um, no,” and quickly put the book away in embarrassment.
She believed in rules and following them, but definitely picked her battles carefully. If she said, “If you do that one more time, you will get spanked,” she meant it. There were no empty threats. At all. Ever.
For whatever reason, she neither encouraged nor discouraged us from believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny. My theory is that she considered these things to be fluffy and not focused on Jesus’ teachings. So when we would ask if they were real, she would only respond with, “I will not answer that question.”
She rarely showed emotion, and was often even-keeled–the opposite of my dad. However, when she lost her brother to cancer, I remember seeing her tears. She says, “My saddest time was when my brother Elson died from a four year battle with cancer. Since he was 18 months younger than I, I felt he was part of me. I had so many tears even though we lived hundreds of miles apart for many years. Even a long time after the funeral I was surprised that when I looked into a mirror I felt like crying. That has never happened before or since.”
She was devastated by the loss. She was in her forties and didn’t expect to lose someone so close to her at a young age.
My mom continued to parent me into my adulthood. The first time my exhusband and I separated prior to my divorce, that woman sent me a Bible verse every.stinking.day through email. Every morning I knew I would have a piece of encouragement in my inbox when I woke up.
When I was in the midst of grieving the death of my marriage, I literally could not get out of my bed one day. The tears flowed from my eyes to the point that my eyeballs were swollen and I couldn’t see. My mom stayed with me. She baked me homemade bread. She prayed. She told me she envisioned me like a beautiful flower who was about to blossom, but I had been covered with dirt for so long and I was finally reaching out of the soil. She saw my potential before I did.
I wanted to be my mom. She’s just that kind of strong woman I was longing to be.
So right after I gave birth to my own daughter, I started to breastfeed. It was very challenging for me on many levels. I went back to work when Aliana was eight weeks, my marriage was continuing to crumble, and I was trying to do everything perfect. I put tremendous amounts of pressure on myself, and I was an emotional post-partum wreck.
I decided to see a lactation consultant.
When I was sitting in the consultant’s office, feeling overwhelmed, I said, “My mom nursed me until I was two years old! I know I can do this. I just don’t get it.”
The consultant looked at me and said, “You are referring to your mom a lot, and that’s okay. Could it be, though, that you are a different kind of mother?”
Ugh. When the truth stares you in the face, it’s often hard to hear, but necessary.
I realized in that moment that I would never be my mother, and I would need to accept that. The truth was, I was a working mom, whereas my mom stayed home with us until I went to school. The truth was, I was in an unhealthy marriage that was falling apart and I had minimal support in my child rearing, whereas my mom had the support of my dad. The truth was… I was NOT my mother.
Not only were our circumstances different, but our personalities are very different as well. My mom is shy, and I’m a social butterfly. My mom is graceful under pressure, whereas I get emotional. My mom is the best cook I know, I am not. My mom is a minister, and I MOST DEFINITELY am not.
Parenting is hard. I am thankful I had good parents. I am also trusting in the fact that although I am very different than my mother, that I am designed to parent my daughter.
And I know that my daughter is not me either. It can be difficult to accept that our children are not going to be us or be exactly who we want them to be.
This quote from Kahlil Gibran (one of my heroes), sums it up:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
I love you, mom. ❤️ Thank you for believing in me and praying for me. Happy 80th birthday!