Things Our Mothers Told Us

Things Our Mothers Told Us


“Your relationships are the most important… they make a life well lived,” Laura Bush tells her daughter Barbara in an on-camera interview. Their conversation is part of The Huffington Post’s recent Talk to Me series, in which children interview their parents. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we’ve put together our own version of Talk to Me, in which the Her.meneutics writers chat with their moms about “a life well lived.”

The mothers represented here are diverse in every possible way. One grew up in poverty in Spanish Harlem and never went to school; another has a doctoral degree. Some went to work outside the house; others stayed home. Most are biological mothers, but one is a stepmother who loved her step-kids as her own after she lost her own baby. In conversations all across the country, these daughters ask their mothers the questions they’ve always wanted answers to.

What do you most want to know about your mothers? Tell us in the comments.

Halee Gray Scott

My stepmother Karen Joiner Gray was forced by her parents to have an abortion when she was 16 years old and as a consequence was unable to have children. Years later she married my dad when I was 16 years old, and I credit her with one of the most redemptive moments in my life. I talked with her recently about that moment.

“As the eldest child in a dysfunctional family, I often took responsibility for the care of the household, which felt like an enormous burden,” I said to her. “One day you came into the kitchen, took the cleaning rag from my hand and said, ‘Halee, you will never clean this kitchen again. You go be the kid you never got to be.’”

What made you do that? What made you so accepting, so incredibly loving, even though I was not your biological child?

Before I met your dad, I was very lonely and was in constant prayer. I yearned for a husband that was loving, caring, and had a trusting heart. I yearned for children for so long, and I carried still the love and guilt I have for the child I lost. Then when I met your dad, I was blessed with both. God gave me my greatest desire: a family I could love and cherish. So [what I told you] that day—it was out of the love I had for you, your dad, and your brothers.

Jennifer Grant

My mother, Dr. Myrna Grant, is an academic with a PhD and the author of more than a dozen books, including the best-selling biography of a Russian martyr, Vanya: A True Story. I was 11 when “The Siberian Seven”—Christians in the former Soviet Union— sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after being persecuted for their faith. Along with many others, my mother worked for years to raise awareness about their plight and supported their exit to Israel in 1983.

Behind her many accomplishments, however, is a woman who overcame mighty obstacles. She was ten when her mother succumbed to tuberculosis. She spent most of her childhood in foster care.

How did these early losses most affect you?

For most of my life, I’ve had a lingering sense that I didn’t belong.

In your work with dissidents, refugees, and other marginalized groups, I see you reaching out to those who don’t “belong.” Do you discern a link between the experience of being orphaned and your heart for advocacy work?

My theory is that wounded people are the most likely to help others, just as poor people have been shown to be more generous, proportionately, than the wealthy are. How it is that loss and pain bring good? I don’t know. C. S. Lewis was interested in this dynamic and wrote about it quite a lot. I see how mysterious it is, and how it resides at the heart of the universe as well as, of course, the cross.

Kate Shellnutt

After raising two daughters and teaching elementary school for over 30 years, my mom, Michelle, still loves kids. She shows off her butterfly garden to the neighbors, sends letters to her great-nephews, and works as a “playologist” at the children’s museum in Tampa, Florida.

“There are some moms who sit there and talk and talk and talk, and the kids go off on their own,” she told me. She gets a glimpse at a range of modern moms and parenting philosophies: homeschooling moms, adoptive moms, moms of kids with special needs, “hippie” moms with lots of kids, Supermoms who pack school vacations with plenty of activities.

Does working at the children’s museum cause you to think back to your own parenting and compare?

I see these moms with their kids and think, did I do all of this?I know that I did, but I worked, too. I always knew I wanted to work, but I still wanted to make sure you were exposed to lots of stuff. At the museum, they’re so focused on making everything an important lesson. Everything becomes a teachable moment. I see moms explaining to a two-year-old why something works, even though they’re not going to get it. That was big for Dad. He liked that I’d always be talking and reading to you.

Megan Hill

My mom, Patsy Evans, is a pastor’s wife, a mother of two, and a marketing and publicity administrator at the University of Connecticut. This will be her 37th Mother’s Day as a mom and her second Mother’s Day without a mom.

In our conversation, I asked her to tell me some things she did for me that I don’t remember. She recalled trips to McDonald’s—“because we didn’t have much money”—where she and my dad sat months-old me on the table and made silly faces. I also asked her about caring for her own mother in the nursing home after dementia began erasing her memory. “I tried to do things she would have done for herself if she could,” she said, like choosing her clothes, combing her hair, and smoothing lotion on her dry legs.

What have you learned as a mother caring for your own mother?

Other people are very quick to judge whether or not you are doing a good job. People do this not only to someone taking care of an older person but also to mothers taking care of children. I know I’ve thought judgmental things in the past, and the Lord is teaching me I should try to put myself in someone else’s place. Maybe they are doing their very best, and I can’t know what their limitations are.

Malena Graves

My mother, Myrna Proper, is a full-blooded Puerto Rican who was born in New York City and grew up in Spanish Harlem. She has suffered through childhood poverty, adult poverty, spousal infidelity, single motherhood (before I was born), an all-consuming house fire, a spouse with mental illness (my dad), her own depression, and the stress of caring for ailing parents. She overcame these challenges through prayer, the help of family, and the kindness of strangers and through it all has remained a servant to others.

You’ve suffered so much throughout your life, and yet still you’re the servant of all. How is that?

It’s part of being a real mother. I was trying to keep us all together. Everything isn’t always a bed of roses. That’s not real life.

How has poverty affected you?

In Manhattan, in Spanish Harlem, El Barrio, we never knew we were poor.

I didn’t know our family was poor either until college!

Abuela and Abuelo always worked hard. She cooked and sewed. He drove taxis. They had their food truck.

Do you have any advice for struggling mothers?

Never lose faith in God. Never think that the grass is going to be greener on the other side. Don’t leave your kids.

Gina Dalfonzo

My mother, Joyce Dalfonzo, was an Army wife for 22 years and a stay-at-home mom to my sister and me. My parents’ 50th anniversary is coming up in September, and with that in mind I asked her how she and Dad made it this far. In our exchange, she kept coming back to the importance of shared faith and mutual respect. “We both love the Lord,” she told me, “and we feel like we have to make up after a fight!”

She calls her ideas about marriage rather “old-fashioned” but says they’ve worked well for her. “My mother worked… and I just didn’t think I could handle it,” she said. My dad pitched in to help with us kids when he came home from work, but my mother’s decision to stay home with us allowed her to help provide “stability” to the family and be the “nurturer” who held things together. They married young and at times she thinks they would have been wiser to wait a while, but it all worked out well, so she came to the conclusion: “I wouldn’t do anything different.”

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

My parents immigrated from China to California a few months before I was born. We were a typical middle-class American family until my father suddenly became ill and died in 1994. I never saw my mother’s faith waver during that traumatic time, even as she became a single parent and began working full-time as a bookkeeper to support her family. I have often wondered how my mom remained so committed to God after becoming a widow at the age of 42. When I asked her about this recently, she admitted she had a premonition about what she was getting into when she married my father.

“I knew your dad wasn’t that healthy when I first met him,” she said. He had been born premature in China during a time of widespread poverty and starvation. “When we went out on dates, I would have to take off my jacket and give it to him because he was so cold.”

She had two other eligible men pursuing her, but she wanted to be with my dad. “We were married for 20 years,” she said. “Considering the circumstances, that was a long time. It was a gift from God that we could be together for so long.”

Courtney Reissig

My mother Deb Tarter is a wife, mother of four, and grandmother of ten. She has been married to my dad Rick, a bi-vocational pastor for 35 years, and together they have lived all over the country. Now that I’m a mother of three boys ages three and under, I asked her about her memories of caring for us kids growing up.

What did you enjoy most about staying home? What did you enjoy least?

The toddler years were the hardest for me. It’s non-stop busyness, which for someone like me, who needs alone time to recharge, was really hard. But the Lord really convicted me in those years to always greet you in the morning with a happy face. I thought it was vitally important for your well being that I was there. The best part about being home [was that] I really felt like I was investing in you. I loved watching you all learn and grow through each season, and those [memories] are what bring a smile to my face now.

Her.meneutics editors

Mothers: Worthy Of Honor

Leviticus 19:1-3

God has high expectations for children and their parents. In today’s passage, He connects holiness to, among other things, honoring one’s mother and father. In fact, the Old Testament contains stern warnings for repeated disrespect and disobedience (Ex. 21:15; Deut. 21:18-21).

The Lord knew that rebellious children who escape discipline for their wrong actions could lead a society into chaos. Just look around you—tragically, it’s not very hard to find adults who disregard God’s law, relax rules of discipline, and fail to teach their children spiritual principles or moral ethics. If we allow children to get away with disobedience, we are shirking our God-given responsibility.

When godly parents are firm in a loving way and discipline consistently, they establish themselves in a position of righteous authority. To turn a blind eye to disobedience or disrespect is to undermine the Word of God. A son or daughter who disrespects a parent and gets away with it has violated Scripture (Ex. 20:12). And not only has the child sinned, but the parent has also transgressed by permitting the misdeed. Moreover, the door has been opened for the child to question the rest of God’s law: If that rule doesn’t matter, maybe this one doesn’t either.

Give your mom honor, and if you are a mother, be worthy of your family’s esteem. Expect obedience from your offspring—as well as respect, whether they are toddlers, high schoolers, or retirees. God has given you charge over your children. Honor Him by holding them to a high standard.

Two Mothers

“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)

Two Jewish ladies, each carrying children recently conceived, met to discuss their circumstances. Perhaps billions of mothers, before and since, have had similar encounters, but since this meeting between Mary and Elizabeth was so special and precious, perhaps we can all profit by its study.

The first thing we notice is that their conversation turned immediately to God, to praise of Him for His goodness and grace. No doubt each one experienced all the common difficulties and discomforts of these months but chose instead to dwell on their blessings and the greatness of God.

Mary especially, in the discourse introduced by our text, burst forth in a torrent of praise, singing of the virtues of her Savior and reveling in His grace (vv. 46-55). He had chosen her despite her unworthiness. Her present misunderstood circumstances were not in view at all, just her precious communion with her Lord and His gracious dealings with mankind. In all these things, she “rejoiced.”

Note that there is no hint of doubt in her song, neither is there a shrinking back from His holiness. In these verses are no fewer than 15 quotations from the Old Testament. Mary knew God’s Word well and sang it back to Him. Furthermore, she sings in humility, not calling herself “mother of God,” as some do today, but sings of “God my Saviour.”

These two mothers provide a model for each of us, especially those blessed with childbearing. May each encounter focus on Him, not just on temporal events. May our fellowship be centered in Him and in His Word, not just with friends or family. May prayer and praise burst forth from our lips, not just idle conversation. May we know all the joy and confidence of Mary and join in her song. JDM

The Beauty of the Lord

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. —Psalm 27:4

What does perfection mean? According to Webster, perfection means “the highest possible degree of excellence.” That which is perfect lacks nothing it should have and has nothing it should not have. Perfection is fullness and completeness. Something that is perfect is not lacking in anything and doesn’t have anything it shouldn’t have….

When we apply perfection to God, we mean that He has unqualified fullness and completeness of whatever He has. He has unqualified plenitude of power. He also has unqualified fullness of wisdom. He has unqualified knowledge. He has unqualified holiness.

When I say that a man is a perfect singer, I qualify that in my mind. I think, Well, he does the best a person can. But when I say that God is holy, I do not qualify it. I mean it fully and completely. God is what He is and that’s it. God’s power and being, His wisdom and knowledge, His holiness and goodness, His justice and mercy, His love and grace— all of these and more of the attributes of God—are in shining, full, uncreated perfection. They are called the beauty of the Lord our God.

Lord, Your beauty is overwhelming in its perfection, and I wonder why we would ever want to look at anything else! Amen.

We Are Just Not All Alike

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. (Ephesians 2:10)

We ought to be fully aware that in the body of Christ we are not interested in the production of “cookie-cutter” Christians.

This is a word of caution in the matter of Christian experience—there is no pattern or formula for identical Christian experiences. It is actually a tragic thing for believers to try to be exactly like each other in their Christian faith and life.

I have probably been overly cautious about testifying to my own experiences because I do not want anyone to be tempted to try to copy anything the Lord has done for me.

God has given each of us an individual temperament and distinct characteristics.

Therefore it is the office of the Holy Spirit to work out as He will the details of Christian experience. They will vary with personality.

Of this we may be sure: whenever a person truly meets God in faith and commitment to the gospel, he will have a consciousness and a sharp awareness of the details of that spiritual transaction!

When heaven smiles and pours down

When heaven smiles and pours down its showers of grace, then they are precious things; but without the celestial rain we might as much expect water from the arid waste, as a real blessing in the use of them. “All my springs are in Thee,” is the believer’s daily confession to his Lord—a confession which until death must ever be upon his lips. As love comes from heaven, so it must feed on heavenly bread. It cannot exist in the wilderness unless it be fed by manna from on high. Love must feed on love. The very soul and life of our love to God is his love to us.