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by Julie Eller
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Her children shall rise up and call her blessed.
Proverbs 31:28

I have a guilty secret; My mother drove me crazy for more years than I care to admit, from about the time I turned 15 until my own struggles with her adolescent grandchildren gave me new insight into the woman I thought Iíd understood so well.

With the self-absorption of a child, I suppose I believed that my mother had seemingly come into existence at precisely the same time I had come into her life. And even as I heard she and her sisters speak of their own childhood memories, or looked at photographs of a beautiful young woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes standing in a gown of white satin beside her new husband, somehow I couldnít associate her other, earlier life with the one in which I occupied such a large portion now.

As a teen, there was no question in my mind that I knew this woman who had lost her husband shortly after my tenth birthday and struggled to be both mother and father to the sheltered and vulnerable child who grew too quickly into a rebellious and resentful young woman. I believed I knew the woman who, with the help of my fatherís brother, nearly singlehandedly kept a 600-acre cattle ranch going, all the while maintaining her own insurance agency and providing a home for her aged mother-in-law.

Iím sure she never knew the degree of respect and wonder I felt for her unflagging determination and the depth of the faith from which she drew her strength; certainly she never heard those words from me.

I had my first glimpse at another side of my mother when I became a mother myself; surely no grandmother had ever loved her grandchildren more deeply. Whether taking the boys to visit the goats in their pen behind the barn on hot summer afternoons or reading Bible stories to two little boys in footy pajamas on a snowy winter night, my mother delighted in their presence in her life. And I came to realize that I could re-live some of my own memories through these children we both cherished; watching my son help his grandmother plant her garden, and weeks later, sneaking ripe strawberries right out of the patch.

Iíve come to realize how easy it is to mistake an act of love for something else entirely; I suppose pride often plays a part in these things. I have a vivid memory of a sunny October morning, shortly after the birth of my youngest son. Mom had come to stay with us for a few days, to help with the care of the two-year-old and the new baby while I recovered from my Cesarean section. A fastidious housekeeper, sheíd begun with the kitchen and worked her way through our house with the single-mindedness of a special forces operative on a mission in a hostile land. As she went about her task, I became more and more uncomfortable; surely the house hadnít been that dirty? Finally, overcome by a sense of embarrassment, imagining her thinking me a slovenly housekeeper, I lashed out verbally, telling her to stop, that what sheíd already done was good enough. Even in my own discomfort, Iíd known that Iíd hurt her feelings, that she didnít understand my frustration. Sadly, at that time, I hadnít fully understood, either.

It wasnít until I recently found myself at my sonís first apartment; a new experience for both of us. As I found my hands literally itching to scour the 19-year-oldís kitchen and bathroom and engage in a flurry of vacuuming, I suddenly realized that I was reacting in precisely the same manner that my mother had, some 17 years ago.

Just as she had seen an opportunity to perform a tangible, measurable act of love and caring, so I did myself now, these many years later. It wasnít so much the fact that the tasks needed doing, it was a motherís desire, even her need, to step in and do this thing for her child.

With understanding came gratitude, then shame. How many times have I mistaken kindness for something else entirely, because of my own insecurities?

Iíve come to realize that Iím still learning from my mother, even as I enter my fourth decade of daughterhood. Our relationship has endured times of closeness and times of relative distance, but there has always been the knowledge that she is there, at the other end of a telephone connection, or at the culmination of a drive to the country.

One of these times Iím going to tell her those things which Iíve held in my heart for the better part of my 41 years; that she is Godís greatest gift to my life and that she remains my inspiration, and my first love. Iíll even concede that she truly is a far more industrious housekeeper than I will ever be; and we both know that isnít her failing but my own. But Iíll still maintain that my bathroomís cleaner than her grandsonís.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Thomas Kittrell 30 May 2006
One of these times Iím going to tell her those things which Iíve held in my heart for the better part of my 41 years; that she is Godís greatest gift to my life and that she remains my inspiration, and my first love. --Please do yourself and her a favor and don't put it off too long. Why not let her read this great article you have written. Thomas


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