When we were younger, my mom would host incredible parties. Because my brother’s birthday is 2 days before Halloween, mom would go all out to celebrate both with cake and costumes. She’d hang lights and streamers. Make punch. Dress up, which sometimes meant a graying wig and fake blood streaming down her face and other times meant cat ears and drawn-on whiskers. She’d Blare “The Monster Dance.” One year she even ordered a bounce house. She’d go all out. And this past year, she made trophies out of decorated skeletons and had a costume contest. Seriously. Growing up, I always viewed these parties as another yearly tradition. Another thing to dress up for. Another time to visit with everyone we know. Now that I’m older and understand better what it looks like to plan and pay for get-togethers, I’m not sure how she did it. I’ve thought to myself often, “whoa, that’s a big deal,” and wondered how she was able to pull it off.
She would also come eat with us at lunch. In elementary school if our parents visited for lunch, we were allowed to leave the stinky and loud rectangle tables, and sit on the other side of the room at the round tables instead. And, we could invite one friend. Once when mom came, she brought my aunt too. I couldn’t decide which friend to bring, so my mom said, “well, your aunt is here too so that means you can invite two friends.” We kept going on with this—pushing the rules and so forth— until I had 4 or 5 friends at the table with me. I remember the looks the lunch monitors gave us, as if they wanted to tell us we weren’t allowed to have more than one friend at the round table. I also remember how cool I felt that my mom had allowed me to invite all of my closest friends.
By the time I got in middle school, I spent every day of my summers reading books. I’d finish one every two days, or sometimes two in one day. When I said I loved reading, I meant it. Without a shadow of doubt. And these days when I’m home, I glance at the same worn-out, paperbacks on my own shelf—the same ones my mother held when she was younger than me. And I ask her, “Hey, whatcha reading tonight?” And sometimes I’m even tempted to shake my head when she says, “Look at the books I got this week!” And above all, I’m amazed to know a person who is so genuinely invested in good stories and hard experiences and beautiful words. Honestly? In a lot of ways, I’m scared of those things. When my mother says she loves them, it makes her brave and courageous to me.
When I had gotten tangled up with messy decisions that led to a bad, boo-hoo break up with my first boyfriend, my mom is the one who came in my room, closed the door, scolded me, cried, and ultimately, loved me. I’ll never forget that conversation. I couldn’t even look her in the eyes, because I knew that I had scared her. She was absolutely terrified for me, and loved me enough to say so. I can’t say that conversation and the days that followed were scrapbook moments. I can say they showed me what it looks like to love someone with the kind of fierce hope that doesn’t stay put, but chooses awkward talks and tear-filled eyes without skipping a beat.
There was also that time we took a weekend girls’ trip to Georgia. I remember how badly momma wanted to see the sunrise on the beach, so on our final morning, we set our alarms for, like, 4:45, packed the car for the day, and made the 45 minute drive to the beach. We weren’t even halfway there and we realized we were surrounded by rain on all sides. Determined to outrun mother nature, we drove in the opposite direction for an hour and a half. When we got to the beach, it was still raining and the light had already made its way across the sky. We sat in the car for an hour before deciding to just head back to the hotel. I remember momma kept saying, “I’m sorry,” as if she could have influenced the rain to fall a different way. And I remember just being thankful to enjoy a rainy day adventure with her.
Even a few weeks ago, mom and my sister, Lilly, signed Valentine’s cards and delivered them to the people in the retirement home. On Valentine’s day the pair travelled all over town to deliver baskets of cupcakes and chocolate to some of our friends and family. “Me and momma are playing Secret Cupid!” Lilly exclaimed. As I recounted momma’s Valentine’s Day plans to my friends, I laughed, “Who in the world is she?”
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I know how to ramble in some conversations because of the way I’ve heard her talk to strangers as if she’s known them forever. I know what it looks like to make an effort for those around me because I’ve seen my mother go to great lengths to put others before her own needs. I know what it feels like to drive under the open sky with the convertible-top down because my mom has been willing to get her hair a little messy and play the music a little louder. I know it is possible to do things, like eat a bowl of cereal, while reading a book. And, I know what it feels like to paint a dream in your mind, and to hear a voice beside you telling you, “Go, go, baby, go.”
I know these things because my mother—like no one else I’ve ever known—has embraced her unique role in this life. God Himself dreamt up this idea of life, and made just a speck of it happen through my mother. And during my wiser moments, I stand and think, “Wow, how cool it is that my mother has played so many cool parts in my story. How cool is she.”
Because I also know that I was born a month before your 17th birthday, and you have loved me relentlessly and continuously since, I know that today is your day. Today is the day when every balloon should float in the sky and every piece of confetti should fall from our hands as we dance, dance, dance for you—
Because at the end of this day—as I scramble to post this before you go to sleep— you are still the most lovely, compassionate person on this continent. You have illustrated a sacrificial life, and used all the right colors and shapes to make it beautiful. And I’ve never told you, but I’m so thankful it’s the only thing I know. I’m so, so thankful it’s the only thing I know.
I know life is moving in crazy directions for us these days—I think in some ways it’s fair to say you’ve grown up, and I’m still getting there—but there are still days when I’m in my dorm room and I ache to just say hello to you. I’ll think forward to my next visit with you, and I’ll say to myself, “I just cannot wait to hug my momma.” That sounds silly even from 25 miles away, but I’m happy to have spent this day with you under one roof. I wish we could throw a party for you the same way you’ve thrown parties for us, but I hope this little letter will do. Even though some of the streamers weren’t hung and we didn’t hide under the table waiting for cue to jump out, “Surprise!”, I hope these words will make you think back on those memories and smile. I hope these words make you want to look forward to the work that is happening in your life today and tomorrow.
Whatever happens this year, wherever you walk, whatever books you read, whoever you speak to, I am praying this is your best year yet. With all that my feeble words can express, I am praying that the things you do will be the things you love. I am praying that the Creator of life itself will come to you every day, and reassure you that His work is continuing in you, and that you will go for that. Whatever it is, I hope you go for it this year.
I’m one of your number one fans forever, and I’ll never stop being inspired by you. Happy birthday, mom.