I was born into a wonderful family of my father, mother, and younger brother, but my mother and I could not have been more different. I loved the outdoors and challenges, the harder the better. I loved animals, children, fishing, camping, sports, and music.
Mother and I rarely got along. It got to the point that when I was in third grade she took me to two different psychiatrists for a one-time evaluation, but they told her I was quite normal. She often was ashamed of me, of my hobbies and interests. By junior high, my parents thought it best if I went to a private boarding school. So for seventh and eighth grades, I went 100 miles away to school—for two of the best years of my life. I loved it! At my graduation ceremony, the headmaster thrilled me as he told the audience that if he could have had a daughter, he would want one just like me, an “all-American girl.”
Back at home, I began to gain confidence about the time I was a junior in high school. I seemed to flourish in college. At the beginning of my senior year, I married a wonderful man—though my mother might have chosen a different one for me.
The years went by and my relationship with my mother improved a little as she saw my husband succeed and thrive, and all three of our sons flourish in many ways. Still, she did not seem especially proud of me. My father made up the difference as he often told me what a wonderful job I was doing and how proud he was of me, which meant the world to me.
Then one day, everything changed. By the graciousness of God, I became a Christian, at the age of 32. Twelve years later, the teaching leader in our women’s Bible study challenged all of us to tell our mothers that we loved them. I recoiled! I had never thought of such a thing and knew I could not do it. Although I knew I did love her (in that, if she died, I would have wept and been terribly upset), I felt no emotion of love for her. I respected her and appreciated her, but I did not feel especially close to her. In fact, I never remember my mother telling me she loved me. I thought she should be the first one to do this. After all, I was her child, and she the mother.
But as time passed, I knew I had to do this one thing, that nothing else I did in life mattered if I could not at least tell my mother I loved her. I realized as I thought about it that as a Christian, I had the Holy Spirit indwelling me, pouring out His love in me, giving me power to do God’s will. My mother had told me she did not believe in Jesus, so I knew that she did not have the Holy Spirit and that she was alone, without help and without God. By then, she had even become deeply imbedded in a cult with all of her friends.
One day, at the end of one of our phone conversations, I obeyed the Lord and simply read off a pre-written 3 x 5 card: “Mom, I love you.” It sounded unnatural and I had no emotion of love in my heart when I said it. I was unprepared for her response. I thought she would laugh. Instead, there was an audible choke of emotion, then a sob, and a tiny, high, squeaky emotion-clutched voice speaking out the words, “Oh, I love you too! I have been such a terrible mother to you!” I was shocked. My heart broke for her and I said, “Oh Mom, you haven’t been a bad mother! You’ve been a wonderful mother to me…just the mother I needed!” With a weeping and surprised voice, she responded, “I have? How have I been a good mother?” Well, I was not prepared to answer THIS, but the Lord helped me go through a long list of the many good things she had done for me, from making good and healthy meals to sending me to fun summer camps to teaching me how to sew.
We never again closed phone conversations without saying we loved each other. It became easier. I never acquired the emotion, or feeling, of love, though. It did not matter. I began to realize that love is a choice, a decision. Slowly, she listened to our family tell her about Christ. One day I gently told her that she had never asked me about what had happened in my life, that I came to know that I had eternal life and forgiveness of all my sins and a close and loving personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She looked stricken. Later that afternoon, she came to me and asked. Three months before she died, when several stokes had taken all but her good mind, she gave her life to the One who loved her the most, the Lord Jesus Christ. She became a Christian. With no prompting from anyone else, she requested that out of her estate, she make up her tithe to the church which she had not given for the last 10 years, since my father died. That was a significant sum of money!
I learned what I already knew in my head: “But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13). No one loves like God!