I had my mom for 4,615 days.
I was 12 and ½ years old when she died and, at the time, had no idea how young she was. To me, 38 was old. I know better now.
Like most of us, I don’t have many specific childhood memories. There are certainly a few that stand out, but mostly it’s just a series of layered memories that somehow accumulated over those few thousand days.
If you were to ask me about my mom, I would tell you about her kindness, her wonderful sense of humor, the way she was way too overprotective, and how she managed to make everything fun.
I also could tell you about the best spaghetti in the world and her orange cake that I’ve pretty much been craving since I last had it back in 1979.
As hard as it is to believe because it’s been over four decades since I touched her, I would also tell you about her hugs and how safe I felt in her arms.
Certain songs remind me of her, triggering memories. Smells, like her White Shoulders perfume, can take me back in time, too.
But I don’t remember a single word she said to me, even though I know we had many conversations.
I can’t say for sure if I talk like her or have any of her mannerisms, but I know that who I am now has a lot to do with who she was back then.
For 4,615 days she used her life to paint a picture for me, one tiny brushstroke at a time.
It was a masterpiece that she probably didn’t even know she was leaving behind.
I certainly was completely unaware of it as it was happening. In fact, it would be many years before I realized the effect her life had on mine.
As mothers, we have a lot of day-to-day responsibilities.
We nurture our children as we care for them, but the truth is we’re actually doing much more important work.
Those little people who have been shared with us have the uncanny ability to watch our every move, listen to everything we say, and somehow pick up on our innermost thoughts and feelings.
That’s why I feel like I know my mom so well even though I never got old enough to think of her as anyone except Mommy.
As children grow, it’s the seeds we’re planting that are taking root inside of them, helping them to become who they will one day be. My mom planted so many seeds in me, some that I am just now discovering.
“One sows and another reaps.”John 4:37b
But, way back then, she was simply living her life as a young mother, doing all the things that mothers do.
It seems, through the daily grind of motherhood, we’re mostly completely unaware of the brush we hold in our hand, the one that’s ever-so-gently leaving behind our mark on the canvas of our children’s lives.
I love people. I want to be kind to everyone. I feel bad if I utter the slightest injustice toward someone else.
I’m creative and love to have laugh-out-loud fun but am also happy to curl up with a good book. I don’t think I’m like this simply because of my DNA. I think it’s more impressive than genetics.
I believe my mom used the colors of her life, the muted shades of quiet love and the bright bold colors of fun and creativity as well as the simple lines of design, to leave something of herself behind for me.
She quite simply rubbed off on me.
“…don’t neglect your mother’s teaching; for they are a graceful wreath on your head, and beads for your neck.”Proverbs 1:8b-9
And she died completely unaware of what an amazing artist she was.
I wonder if any of us know the impact we have on our children.
As I grew without her, harsher colors were tossed my way, marring my beautiful canvas, and I grew up quickly, much too quickly.
I carry the scars on the canvas that’s my life, but none of those dark ugly colors ever completely covered up the ones she gave to me.
I stumbled around back then, forgetting to look at my reflection, not understanding that I would catch glimpses of her in myself if I only knew where to look.
I see her when I look in the mirror of my life now.
I finally understand the gift she left for me. I know what God gave me when He allowed me to have her for all those days so long ago.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…”James 1:17a
And I know now the one I gave my own children, just like I’m acutely aware of the paintbrush that helps guide me as I spend time with my grandchildren. My brushstrokes are deliberate now.
Motherhood is art at its best.
There isn’t time for first sketches.
There aren’t erasers or vats of paint remover.
No, every day ends up on the canvas of your child’s life, layer upon layer, until one day, when you finally have eyes to see what is right in front of you, your masterpiece is nearly finished.
My mom gave me those layers of love during our short time together. And I’m so grateful she used colors that will never fade.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.”Matthew 5:16