There has been so much talk lately about Mother Teresa. And why not, it’s not often that sainthood is granted to someone who walked this earth in our lifetime. Mother Teresa was a small person who lived a very large life. My favorite quote of hers is: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Wow, that is something we each can easily accomplish! But when I think of that quote, I think of another mother Teresa, my mom Teresa, or Tess as her siblings call her.
While my mother, Teresa, would never put herself on the same stage as Saint Teresa, she certainly has had a huge impact on my life, especially my spiritual life. I remember my mother once telling us that she considered becoming a nun, entering the “Nunhood” I guess you could call it. My first reaction was, I am sure glad you decided against that idea! I had also heard stories of nun’s teaching at catholic schools and I was sure Mom was not mean enough to live up to that reputation. Just in case, I warned my siblings to hide all the rulers in the house and cover their knuckles! But actually, mom would have been an awesome nun. Tess has the one essential trait needed to become an effective servant, she always puts others ahead of herself. She taught us to be generous with both our time and our treasures. Growing up, I witnessed how she poured herself out to serve others. Even with 5 rambunctious kids and a husband who worked long hours, she opened our home to abused and neglected kids, kids stuck in the legal system. At the time, my siblings and I were not happy sharing our home and our mom with these troubled kids. Sometimes we rebelled against it. But, looking back on the experience now, I realize that opening up our lives and our home to those children shaped who we are today as adults. Mom used this experience to teach us to have a generous heart, even when it was inconvenient or difficult. My mother opened our house to anyone that needed a home, including my brother’s high school friend who stayed with us when he was having trouble with his dad. We also welcomed an exchange student from Mexico to live with us. She felt so welcomed that she came back the following year with her sister! More than 30 years and many visits later, she and her sisters are still considered part of our extended family – mostly because of Mom.
All our friends knew my Mom, and our house was the neighborhood gathering place for the local kids. Even as an adult living 2,000 miles away, I have new friends that have come to know my mother. They are amazed at how giving she is with her love, always making everyone feel like family. Mom was involved in nearly everything we did as kids. She was always working the concession stands at high school games and organizing events for the PTA. My teachers all knew my Mom, which I was never thrilled about. One of the worst feelings as a kid is knowing that your Mom is on a first name basis with all your teachers…and the principal! But as much as I felt I was “under the eye,” it was comforting to know that Mom cared enough to be involved.
Mom also knew how to keep life light. She taught me not to take myself too seriously. She always knew how to find humor in life and she laughed at herself all the time (she still does). For example, she laughs when we talk about the morning of her famous pancake recipe. With all those people in the house growing up, Mom was frugal and didn’t throw food away. So, of course she had leftover pancake batter in the fridge (or so she thought!). I had the honor of trying the first batch of pancakes that morning. When she asked me how I liked them, I told her “great, but I’ve never had pancakes with mushrooms before.” It turns out that the leftover pancake batter was actually mushroom soup! We still laugh about that, and every time I visit, I request her special mushroom pancakes.
I remember another time that she took my 3 kids to the movies. It was so dark in the theater that she had trouble finding her way, so my daughter helped her find her seat. On the way out of the movie, Mom commented to the kids on how dark it was in the theater and how difficult it was to see the screen. My 10 year old daughter calmly told her grandmother, “Well, you probably should have taken off your sunglasses when we got here.” Mom still laughs hard when telling that story!
My mother has a song in her heart, and on her lips for every occasion! She seems to know every children’s rhyme ever written, and my siblings and I have fond memories of long road trips with the whole family belting out songs from John Denver or Peter, Paul & Mary – led by mom! My sister still talks about visiting my Aunt Carolyn with Mom and singing songs around the campfire until the wee hours of the morning.
Mom also taught us about the rewards of hard work. Mom was on the go all day, keeping the house in order and running us kids around to all the activities we were involved in. But despite all the running around, there was no such thing as fast food for our family. It was a sit down warm meal every night. And anyone who stopped by was welcome to join us, there was always plenty to go around. My mom still believes in hard work and serving others today. She volunteers at the local food pantry and whenever I’m in town on a business trip, she makes sure I am well fed with a warm meal followed by the occasional apple pie (my favorite!) or banana bread. Ah, just thinking about her banana bread takes me back to cool fall evenings when the house was filled with the smell of something good in the oven and the Halloween decorations were all over the house.
Most importantly, Mom was always in our corner; she still is. She was always so proud to talk about us kids and what we were doing and the accomplishments we achieved. She now boasts proudly about her grandkids. I’m always amazed at how well informed her neighbors and friends are about my family. To stay connected, mom puts in the time to make you feel special. I remember one Saturday when mom took several of her grandkids for an “all day with Grandma” (I believe it was 6 grandkids that weekend). She made them breakfast, took them to the amusement park, swimming, and out for ice cream. That evening, when all the kids were watching a movie, there was grandma on the floor snoring away in a sleeping bag! And that is just like her, always right there in the middle of whatever is going on in our lives, sharing the experience and encouraging us. It is such a blessing to know Mom is always there in your corner!
Thank you Mom, my Mother Teresa, for teaching me true generosity, kindness, and love and how to treat everyone as family. Thank you for always being there and staying involved in my life and the life of my children. Most importantly, thank you for not becoming a nun! Happy Birthday Mom!
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” – Mother Teresa