Happy Mother’s Day Mama!

I consider myself blessed to have been raised by two strong, God-fearing women.

One of them is the beautiful woman who gave birth to me and my brother within a year and a half of each other, then gave birth to my sister 13 years later at the age of 41. She’s a prayerful woman with a truly steadfast faith. Her lectures would always involve faith in God and she knows I couldn’t argue against it. I remember actually telling her more than once to “not drag God into this.” Haha! She’s also a great cook. I judge all Filipino foods based on how close it is to her version of the same dish. She’s athletic. I blame her for my brief (and failed) attempt at being a ballplayer in high school. She’s fiercely competitive. She played table tennis in a tournament literally one week before I was born – and won. If you ever go on a hike with her, you’d never have to look back and see if she’s lagging behind or waiting for a hand. She was always forging on ahead by herself, never worried about ruining a manicure. She’s quite independent though it’s hard to tell because she always surrounded herself with people and she always humbly serves everyone around her.

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Mama and her three kids. Photo credit to Vivian Lin Photography.

My mama always knew how to charm a crowd. My aunts told me that my mother was always the popular girl. She was always making friends wherever she goes, always surrounded by individuals who are willing to share their lives with her, always doing acts of service for others. My mother has a servant heart and you can’t help but see it. She also spends hours just “hanging out” with people. People open up to her because she would be open to them. When you spoke to her, you get the feeling that she’s listening because she actually is. She’s genuinely interested in your life, even if she has never met you before.

In this and many other ways, I’m very unlike her. I’m an introvert and a private person (all this expository blogging aside). We used to clash a lot because I’m not very good with people. I envied her and it made me angry. I would scream at her about how much I valued my enclosed life. I always identified better with my father, who (I thought) had a personality closer to mine than my mom’s was. I couldn’t see how she could keep opening her heart up to receive people no matter how many times she’s been hurt by them before. Bad experiences with people fed my cynical side, but I don’t think she has one. Mama is (too?) forgiving. She’s nurturing by nature, a mother with an actual strong maternal instinct. Growing up, our house was always open to people coming in and out, sharing meals with us, sitting in our couches for hours – talking to mama for hours.

She had a way to make you feel that you’ll always be loved and accepted, that it was okay to make mistakes and that every accomplishment, no matter how small, is to be celebrated

Young people from church used to come by our house all the time. Sometimes they’d come prepared with an overnight bag because they knew it’d be morning by the time they finished their stories. You’d think they’d mostly be coming for my father’s advice, but I really think they came for my mother’s ears. I think most of us already know the right thing to do, but often we need a sounding board just to test how correct our choices would be if we said them out loud. She just knew how to listen. There’s no topic that’s too mundane for her. If it’s important to you, it’s important to her. She’s conservative and strict and traditional. But she had a way to make you feel that you’ll always be loved and accepted, that it was okay to make mistakes and that every accomplishment, no matter how small, is to be celebrated.

In this way my mother was a mother not only to me, but also to many other young and not-so-young people in and outside of church. Some of my most vivid childhood memories involved getting to eavesdrop (it was a small parsonage) on all the drama, heartbreaks, break-ups, “he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not” stories the 20+ year-olds were experiencing and telling my mom. They felt like older siblings to me and I’ve seen them grow into amazing mothers and fathers with beautiful children of their own. I see now that my mama probably kept all of the their little secret heartaches inside her her own heart – hiding them from judgment, praying for them and gently nudging them to make sure they didn’t make decisions that were “too” regrettable. I realize she still does the same today – especially for her own biological children, now that we’re in our 20’s. She’s a mama bear if mama bears were warm, inviting and took in cubs of all species. But she’s also a shepherd caring for sheep. A mother and a shepherd – the very definition of “pastor” in a way.

Effective pastoring requires involvement in the every day.

My mother will not take credit for all the pastoring she’s done or for the sacrifices she has made. All my life, she graciously, gladly and excellently embodied the role of the pastor’s wife. But even when my papa was still alive, I would never forget him telling me straight-up that mama’s ministry was what allowed him do what he does best. You see, as I’ve stated before, my father’s personality was closer to my own. While he was good with people as he needed to, he nowhere had the same patience with the mundane, every day life happenings as my mother had. Papa loved people and he was genuinely invested in them too. But he couldn’t spend hours on the couch listening to them recount the drama of their lives. It just wasn’t in his personality. Also, he would not have enough hours in a day. He was often setting-off to somewhere where there were no couches. But it is with the ordinary and every day that most of our struggles with our faith come and when we need loving care the most. Effective pastoring requires involvement in the every day. So my mama would take care of us in ways that my papa couldn’t. Papa had the conference table, long meetings and coffee. Mama had the dining table, long talks, coffee – and a delicious, home cooked meal. They were opposites in form, but complementary in function. They were not hero and sidekick, they were truly one person – two sides of the same coin.

When people talk too much about what papa did when he was alive, as I myself tend to do, I want to remind them and myself that for every crazy risk papa took, for every month(s)-long trip he made, for every big cross-cultural project he started – someone had to share his burdens, stand by him, fight for him in prayer and make sure he always had a place to come home to, in addition to wrinkle-free clothes. Someone had to keep the flock personally connected to him and most importantly, someone had to keep his children grounded. Someone had to be there for us as a point of reference that was as constant as humanly possible, a fixed source of unconditional love and much-needed sanity, a never-tiring safe-haven.

That someone, all glory be to God, was and still is my mama.