the greatest gift my mom gave me

“What are you doing?  Why aren’t you out there?” I asked my son as he sat down next to me during gymnastics practice.  My oldest son is a competitive gymnast, and he has newly discovered an emotion in regards to the sport that he has taken up…


“I just don’t want to do a back hand-spring.  I’m scared”  he said.  I went on to tell stories about my own fears, and how overcoming them have led to accomplishing fun things  – like the first time I tried clip-in cycling shoes and fell over and over again until I got it right.  He remembers watching me fall over and over again, and how I put my bike away for a few weeks, until I got it out, clipped in, and rode away determined to not let fear overcome me.

I also asked him, “Is this it?  Are you ready to quit?”  He shrugged his shoulders, and whispered the word “maybe”.  I said, “No.  Not like this.  Get out there, do your job.  You can do it.  Once you get it, you will love it.  There is nothing to be scared of.”

He finished practice and didn’t mention his fear again.  Later in the day, I told him the story of Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug who finished her last vault with a broken ankle, and in doing so, became an Olympic champion.  I talked about fear and how sometimes the hardest things we do in life are often not the easiest.

The truth is – this is NOT about gymnastics.  It is NOT about if my son will ever go on to be a champion in the sport.  No, this is not about these things at all.  Instead, it is about teaching my son that when the going gets tough, the tough keep going. In other words, it is about overcoming fears, and accepting challenges.  It’s about perseverance.

I’ve thought about this topic often, perhaps more now than I ever have before. Now that I am a mother, I admire the quality that instinctively knows how to teach children about perseverance.  It is not an easy task, and yet, it is probably one of the most important character-building values that a parent can teach a child.

This also got me to thinking about my own upbringing, and the lessons learned.  One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was not a gift at all.  It was not expensive, tangible, collectible, or desired.

It was the gift of perseverance.

Some of my earliest memories of the words my mom spoke to me include the following:

“You can be whatever you want as long as you put your heart into it.”

My mom knows a lot about life not being fair.  The youngest of ten children born in the Ozarks (southern Missouri), she experienced a life without a lot of frills.  At the age of seven, her daddy suddenly died, leaving behind her mother with children still at home.

After his death, my grandma packed up the kids who were still at home, and moved to the city to find work.  Mom has told me of having one pair of shoes per year. She has shared with me about my grandma working three jobs to keep food on the table. Sometimes, mom would come home to an empty house and eat a can of green beans for dinner.  She recalls hiding “nice things” from the social worker who stopped by to make sure grandma was not taking advantage of the welfare checks.

As you might be able to imagine, my mom and her siblings did not have the best of things growing up.  However, maybe…just maybe, they learned the best characteristics of the human experience.  They learned that family is important, hard work is required, and sometimes, life is not fair, but that is not a good enough reason to stop carrying on.  They learned the value of perseverance.

After my illness and hysterectomy in 1983, as you can imagine, mom leaned a lot on perseverance.  She had to.  She had to show me that sometimes life isn’t fair, and you just have to get up and keep going.  She also had to abide by the notion that there is a reason behind everything that happens in life, and that God allows things that we do not understand at the time, but one day, these things once thought of as being a cruel twist in life, can turn out to be incredibly strengthening lessons.  These lessons, in turn, are amazing blessings.

I remember parts of my time in the hospital, and afterward.  I do not remember how it affected my mother, though.  I look back at some pictures and can tell she became awfully thin during that time, but otherwise, she was still the same mom as she was before that sadness entered her life, my dad’s, and mine.

She got right back up, day after day, and continued to raise a daughter who learned to believe in setting her heart to the things she wanted to accomplish in life. She taught strength, courage, and perseverance by simply modeling what it is to keep going on in life, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and to not allow set-backs be an excuse for giving up.

My first birthday following my hysterectomy - 1983.
My first birthday following my hysterectomy – 1983.

My mom has faced many giants in her life. The impact of my illness on her, honestly, has been lifelong. It doesn’t take much to provoke a tear out of her when talking about it. Still yet, there’s that resilience….that echo of perseverance that has resonated throughout the years.

As I reflect on my son’s own fear of accomplishing what seems to be a difficult task, I appreciate so much of the unspoken acts of intentional courage that my mother showed to me.  I appreciate more than ever the stronghold she displayed when faced with unwavering despair.

 Persevering through difficult times, hard choices, moments that take the wind out of you, seemingly simplistic fears, and times when it is hard to discern God’s reasoning, are the times when we, as parents, can make an incredible, life-altering impact on our children’s lives.

Fellow parents, and yet-to-be parents, keep on keeping on.  After all is said and done, your courage to persevere will make a lasting impression on your children, and in turn, on future generations.

Through him we have also obtained  access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that  suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character  produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been  poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to  us.  —Romans 5:2-5

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