It was still dark when I heard your footsteps this morning. Buried beneath my three ragged quilts, I blinked groggily, struggling to roll over and crawl out from my warm cocoon.
But I could hear you—tinkering around the kitchen in your old gray robe—washing up dishes someone left by the sink after you had already gone to bed.
The coffee begins to brew, and I can picture you there, laying out your Bible and journal. Ready to talk to Jesus.
The puppies gather around your feet and you stare off into the distance and the sun still hangs low in the sky. I can’t see you from where I lay, but I know that’s where you are. And I know that you’re lifting up our names—sometimes with teary eyes. Sometimes with bewilderment. But always lifting. Always giving. Always wanting our hearts to be more like His. Always wanting us to be happy in our own skin—however hard or tiring or scary that sometimes might be.
You wonder how I know.
Once, when I was little, I saw your journal laying out on your desk. You were on the phone, hiding in your closet because three kids were running around, undoubtedly screaming at each other. And as I opened it, I saw our names. And your prayers. And each morning since, I’ve seen you sitting in the same spot. Your gentle voice and loving eyes, and wrinkling hands always ready to make me coffee or scrambled eggs.
And I know by watching you that you and Jesus must talk quite a lot.
All mothers bring life into the world. But you, Mama, you’re a life giver. You never stopped laboring, even after those first days that everyone says are the hardest. When those night feedings were no more and we had driven away to college and stayed away in the summers.
You breathe life into our dreams. Into our fears of destruction and death and failure. And then you stand over the stove, supper simmering in the skillet and look at me with heavy eyes and say, “Who wouldn’t do that for their child?”
That image and that voice and the depth in which you spoke has stayed with me for months. It’s hung around my neck. It’s been branded onto my heart. And that’s why when I sat across the table from my friend Leslie and told her I wanted to be like you, I started to cry. And then we both sat there crying in the Zoo cafeteria, blubbering over burgers and chicken sandwiches, thanking our maker for giving us mothers who make us who we are.
But these are the things we forget to tell you, Mama. As I rush throughout my days and navigate through the muck and joy of figuring out life, I forget. I forget to tell you that of all of the people I could be, I would really only like to be you.
You tell me you’re not brave. But I see that little girl in you. The one who threatened to beat up the kids who were picking on the scrawny boy in the class. The one who threatened to smash a flowerpot atop their heads. The girl who stood up for the ones who can’t stand up for themselves. And who still does each week when you bring home fresh fruit for the kids in the county who have no one to give them the food that they need. You’re the bravest person I know.
I forget to tell you that I see you. I see the way your mind weaves creative thoughts and brilliant ideas. I see how much intelligence and drive and talent rests inside of you. And I recognize how much you’ve given up to wake each morning and live hundreds of the same sort of days. Breakfast and laundry and teaching multiplication tables and sentence fragments. And all of this for over twenty years.
How much you gave up when you decided to give us the best of you. And I recognize how ungrateful we must have seemed, simply because we didn’t know what a good thing we had.
I forget to tell you that I remember the days where you took us to feed the ducks. Or the afternoons where you’d say that school was lying around you on a lawn chair and listening as you read Narnia aloud. And how very lucky we were!
I remember the way you’d sit with me in the floor of the used bookstore after my doctor appointments and tell me to pick out as many books as I’d like but to “please not tell Daddy.” And then you’d grin and wink at me, pick me up off the floor. And I’d feel like the most special person in the world. You gave me trips in a covered wagon and 18th century tea parties.
You gave me the world, Mama. And every day, you keep on giving it.
This, most of all, is the thing I forget to tell you.