When it comes to female role models, our first, most important, and lasting, is our mother. In considering this week’s global celebration of women, my thoughts naturally turn to my own amazing mother.
My mother was just 21 when I was born. I was the first of five – so I had a young and energetic mother who could do anything. In those early years, she was a whirlwind of activity, painting and wallpapering into the night after working in an office all day.
She really was a “maker,” full of ideas and creativity. As I grew older, she sewed my prom dresses, planned my parties and cooked for my friends. She did the same for my younger siblings. She was always a “maker” – making things fun, making life beautiful.
She loved us all so very much. She had been an only child into her teen years, and longed for a big, bustling family. And that is what she got.
When I was still very young, and my mother was pregnant with baby number two, it occurred to her that maybe going to a church would be good for her children. Not really believing in God, she threw a prayer into the air: “Jesus, if you are really God, please show me.” I don’t know what she expected to happen as she prayed. But in the next instant she heard a voice. She heard Him say, “I Am.”
She went to the nearest Catholic Church (Holy Rosary Parish in San Bernardino, now the cathedral parish), and “signed up.” She, my baby brother Brad and I were baptized together months later. That experience, those words from Jesus, undergirded the rest of her life. It defined her identity – and ours. She never let go of it through all life’s ups and downs. It was her sustaining truth.
When I was a young teenager, I had some questions about God myself. I was sad but sure that the universe was an empty place and God was just a nice story to make us feel good. When I shared my doubts with my mom, she smiled calmly and confidently and told me to just keep asking God to reveal Himself to me. “He will,” she said, and added that she would be praying for me.
In the next few months, I didn’t hear a voice, but I recognized God’s presence. My mother’s confidence calmed me and encouraged me to ask for revelation. That was my own turning point, the sustaining truth of Jesus in my own life.
When we are very young, it’s easy to believe our parents are super. Super strong, super smart, super funny. We aspire to be like them, to imitate them, emulate them. If we are lucky, as we grow older, though we recognize they are not exactly SUPER, we can still admire their virtues, receive their wisdom and appreciate their insights. (And we may still laugh at some of their jokes.)
When I think of my mother, now gone, I remember all her “making.” But most of all I remember how an encounter with Jesus made all the difference in her life. She showed me what that meant — and helped me find it, too.