I consider myself blessed to have been raised by two strong, God-fearing women. Mama, the woman who gave birth to me, is a people-person. She’s always been like that. In college, she noticed a shy, lone girl in her class who walked around campus carrying her Bible and who would spend her breaks praying. Mama, being her usual peppy (ehem, nosy) self, asked her to the movies, but the girl said no – the girl didn’t watch movies at all. Anyway, the story goes that they ended up having banana splits instead and becoming best friends. The rest, as they say, is history.
You see, the girl didn’t watch movies because she was a conservative Evangelical pastor’s kid. At the end of that night they had ice cream, the girl would give my mother a gospel tract. That same night, my mother would make the decision to follow Jesus. The shy girl would then disciple my mother. The two of them went to church together and became a part of a young adult group that was being handled by a young student pastor. The young pastor was my father. At my parents’ wedding, the shy young woman would be the maid-of-honor and we would all end up living together as a family for most of my childhood. When I was born, I called my mother “Mama”, and that shy young woman became my “Mommy”.
I have so many memories with mommy. Some of them are tiny: like the time we made a big batch of yema (a classic Filipino confection) or the special days when we made fruit salad and halo-halo at home and the many nights that I’d fall asleep with her hugging me. As a pastor’s family and as missionaries, we were always crammed in close quarters. I’ve been told that even as a baby I would walk out of my parents room, knock on mommy’s bedroom door and ask to stay with her. Some of the memories are big: class field trips to Enchanted Kingdom (the Philippine Disneyland), to a day in actual Disneyland, to the day trip she and I took to New York City – just the two of us. She was there for every major event in my siblings’ life. Even when we went back to the Philippines for good and she stayed overseas as a missionary, she always managed to come home for graduations and year-end banquets.
Do you have that person in your life now or when you’re growing up? That you know when they’re around, it’s going to be a good day? That’s how mommy is for me. Seeing her brings up feelings of chocolate roll cakes, banana splits and all sorts of sugary flans. When Mommy is around, there’s always room for dessert. She’s my casual Friday, my hall pass, my get-out-of-jail card. She spoils us but also, she doesn’t. I can count on her to tell it to me straight if I’m behaving badly or if I’m not at my very best. She’s the structured counterpart of my mama’s free-spirited nature. She is as lady-like as my mama is ruggedly adventurous.
Even though I learned to love manicures and pedicures from Mommy, she is far from dainty or frail. She might have been shy when my mother first met her, but when I was growing up, I saw Mommy as this picture of a brave and intelligent and independent woman. She taught me to be self-assured in what God has done and is able to do in my life. She taught me to recognize my own weaknesses and allow God to turn them into strengths. She taught me that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely and that asking for help doesn’t mean you have failed to do it on your own.
There are actual moments in my life when I was more afraid of disappointing Mommy than my parents. Maybe it’s because I know Mommy is not obligated to love me, not the way my parents are (Or at least it seems like it. Forgive me, I’m not a parent so I could have this dynamic all wrong). I don’t know how adopted children feel, but I imagine it’s a tiny bit like how I feel about Mommy. It feels like even if she didn’t have to, she chose to love me somehow. A few years ago, I realized that I’ll never be able to earn her love and I didn’t have to. It was one of the most freeing realizations of my life. She is my living, personal, human example of Grace. The fact that I now no longer feel the urge to earn her love makes me want to work harder. I want to be my very best self not so that she would love me but because she loves me. Mommy gets little to no credit for her hand in us turning out the way we are now. I probably will never be able to give her the praise she deserves and she won’t take it anyway. But I’ll say it here. My siblings and I would never be the people we are now if it weren’t for her.
In recent years, her and her husband’s (Daddy) home in rural Pennsylvania has sort of become my place of respite from the world. Even when I’m not there, thoughts of them and their place calms me. My husband and I go to them often for counsel. If there’s anything I learned about the Christian service from being a pastor’s kid, it makes a world of difference to have people you can trust to keep you accountable and protect you at the same time. They are so precious to us, certainly even more than we can comprehend now. I guess in a figurative sense, I still get up in the middle of the night and knock on Mommy’s door – asking for safety and love and to be her baby again. I’m a grown-up now (or so my Los Angeles priced rent says) but I still want to hear her voice, especially on really bad days. I still want to beg her for a free pass. I still want her to say “Mommy will take care of it.” But she’s done better than that. She’s allowed me to grow and make mistakes and painfully learn from them. When I mess up and am in need of a good cry, I know she’ll always open her door, hug me and remind me to reset and refocus on my walk with God.
You see, not only did Mommy disciple Mama, she discipled me. It is through Mommy that I made the decision to follow Jesus. While she can’t and shouldn’t fix everything in my life now, she has trained me to remain in the One who can and will. I may have grown out of of a lot of perks from being Mommy’s baby, but there’s still always room for dessert. A day with her is still bound to be a very good day.