Remembering a special mom on Mother’s Day
Rev. Bryan Jackson
May 6, 2021
I was ordained on Mother’s Day. It was, needless to say, a special day.
Some of us are blessed to have pleasant relationships with, or fond memories of, our mothers. That Mother’s Day in 2000 was a wonderful turn-of-the-century gift for me. It is true that not everyone can share in the joy of having a wonderful mother. Gordon Livingston, M.D., acknowledged this when describing the complexities of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) for mental health assessment and classification. Livingston thought that the diagnostic section of the manual should be referred to simply as, “People to avoid.” He goes on to say that “These are the people your mother warned you about. (Unfortunately, sometimes they are your mother.)”[i] If you are someone with that experience of your biological mother, I am hoping that, somewhere along the way, you found a mother figure that has helped you adjust to the past and celebrate the present.
My mother tended to try to make up for the lack of emotional closeness between my father and me. From the perspective of family systems theory, not a particularly healthy thing, but none of us are perfect, and I understand why she did it. The things I remember—the things that brought me much joy as a child, and later, as an adult—give me a sense of comfort and gratefulness. Besides the obvious endowment of providing me with life, Mom made sure that my sisters and I knew we were loved. For the most part, we weren’t left guessing, as so many are. A demonstrated commitment of kindness and unconditional positive regard were the hallmarks of her interactions with us. She did not pepper us with manipulative games or deception that forced us to make the best of nothing but bad choices. Many among us are not so lucky.
Mom had a number of close friends in her circle. She played bridge regularly and faithfully with a group of women with whom she would remain friends over the long term. She was a “cradle” Episcopalian and remained one until her death in 1999. Interestingly, as a child I was exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke, most of that produced by Mom’s multi-pack-a-day habit. I hated it so much that, as a child and later a teen, I tried various ways to get her to stop—including once passive-aggressively giving her a smokeless ashtray for Christmas. I believe it was called the Magic Butler. The magic didn’t take; it didn’t work, and even if it did, she wasn’t taking the bait. She stopped smoking more than a decade later when I underwent cancer chemotherapy. That’s what moms do—they sacrifice.
I didn’t function well as a teen and I eventually dropped out of high school. Nonetheless, I continued to work. I recall my mother being the one person that I believed had not given up on me. Something about my character kept her from cashing in her chips on me. She had said, “He can make it.” Eventually, I proved her correct. I returned for my GED in short order, went on to get an associate’s degree at the local community college which transferred over toward a bachelor’s degree, and the rest is history—largely because of her faith in me. My wife has often said I’m “half man, half dog.” I would agree that I am like a dog when it comes to remembering kindness and loyalty. My mother was the epitome of both.
My mother was the one person that I believed had not given up on me. She was the epitome of kindness and loyalty, and her gifts were heartfelt, genuine, and long-lasting. Mothers who actively demonstrate how to love others and pass that along to us–well, they are the moms for whom Mother’s Day was created, after all.
Mom’s devotion to her church was an example for me and many others. Throughout the years, she served on the altar guild, was a faithful member of the Episcopal Church Women (ECW), and worked in the church kitchen among her volunteer contributions. Mom’s Anglican roots are extensive. They go back generations. Her sister-in-law—my uncle’s wife—used to try to predict what would turn out to be my precarious future by saying, “Jean, he’s going to be a priest.” Curiously, my grandaunt on the Methodist Cherokee side would tell my parents, “I’m tellin’ ya, that boy’s gonna be a minister.” Since these predictions more or less came true, I don’t know if it ever brought Mom any sense of comfort before her passing, but my hope is that—in some small way—it relieved some of her chronic anxiety about my rather schizophrenic career path.
In chapter twenty-one (“Called to Serve”) of my spiritual memoir, I reflect on how my sisters’ children benefited from knowing my mother by mentioning how she had the tendency to make each child know that they were unique and special. I also wrote that I had observed something about myself while speculating that “My guess is that my sense of service and restoration started with her.”[ii] Those are the types of gifts mothers should give us—heartfelt, genuine, and long-lasting.
Mary, mother of Jesus, demonstrated love, obedience, humility, and was highly favored (Luke 1: 26-38). If we can associate our own mother figure with Mary, we ourselves are highly favored. Mothers who encourage their children to grow and be successful are special indeed. Mothers who actively demonstrate how to love others and pass that along to us—well, they are the moms for whom Mother’s Day was created, after all.
Happy Mother’s Day, moms! May you love and be loved, while showing others the way.
The Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Mount Hood Cherokees, a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. He lives on Vashon Island, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.