I have learned a lot from my mom, although I haven't always been willing to admit it, especially during most of my adolescence. Some of the lessons were small things, some were things she said, some were things she did. Some things just snuck up on me.
1. Don't sit in the balcony. Sit on the main floor.
In church, we were not Front Row people. My family were not the elders or the deacons. But, we didn't sit in the balcony either, even when our church expanded and we had a balcony. I thought that the balcony was very cool, and I wanted to sit there. My mother told me, in no uncertain terms, that we were not sitting there. "The balcony is for spectators, not participants." That was her view. In church, we may not have been the movers and shakers, but we were not spectators. We were there to participate, not to watch.
2. "You Should Not Care What I Think."
I used to ask my mother, "What do YOU think I should do?" I was always looking for affirmation, which I don't think was a bad thing. And, when I was younger, and sometimes she said to me, "You should not care what I think," sometimes it hurt my feelings. I wanted her to be my cheerleader. At first I didn't understand why she said it. Now I think I do. She wanted me to be my own person. Growing up, she longed for compliments from her taciturn father. She never got them. I think she figured out somewhere along the line that he loved his children, even though he couldn't say it. Because of that, she didn't want me to have to rely on anyone else's good will or good opinion, even hers.
3. Use what you have.
My mom loves music, just as an amateur, like my dad. She got one year of piano lessons, but after that one year, she had to quit because the teacher raised her prices from a quarter to fifty cents. But my mom kept buying sheet music, kept practicing, and kept trying to learning the songs that were popular when she was growing up. We had a piano in the house, and reams of sheet music. She and my dad would sit at the piano and sit and play and sing together. When my widowed uncle got re-married one December, he asked me to officiate a small ceremony at the farmhouse. He asked my mom to play a couple of Christmas carols. She did.
4. Who You Were Yesterday is Not Who You Are
My mother went back to college when I was in high school. It took her a few years, because she was working full-time the whole time. When I was in college, she would call sometimes with a question about a class she was taking. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration.
My mom learned to hug when I left for Japan. Our family had never been demonstrative before, but we all started to warm up to it. We cry more often now, too. She has moved from being a moderate Republican to becoming a pretty liberal democrat. She reads and she thinks about things, and she has pretty strong opinions.
A few years ago, my mom asked for a Bible reference book for Christmas. She started going to Bible studies and book studies. She reads N.T. Wright and Brian McClaren.
5. "Let People Say No For Themselves."
The first time I was elected to run the Sunday School at church, I had the unenviable responsibility of finding Sunday School teachers. I was sitting at the kitchen table with the church directory in my lap. I looked at my list of names, and checked off the first one without calling. I said to my mom, "I know she will say no, so I won't call her." She looked at me and said, "Let her say 'no' for herself." So I called. I don't remember if that particular person said yes or no. But what I remember is having good conversations with everyone I called, whether they were eager to serve or whether they had good (or terrible) excuses for not being a Sunday School teacher. I remember that I found out a little bit about other people's lives, learned to know them a bit more, sometimes got an unexpected 'yes'. Even when the answer was no, the conversation and the connection was worth it.
When I was growing up, I think I was sometimes afraid of my mother. My dad was the warm and fuzzy one. My mom was smart, seemed omni-competent. She sewed all of our clothes, made good suppers, and kept everyone organized. She was a little shy, and I thought she was perfect, too perfect for me. But then, every once in awhile, she would get down on the floor and play with the cat. And I saw that she was more than my idea of her. She was a person. She is my mother, but she's not just my mother.
There are days when I think that this realization is her greatest gift to me.