You were 42 when you died. I am 39 and painfully aware for the first time how young you were.

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Young enough to love Bruce Springsteen and dancing with Dad in the living room or out on the driveway as you waved us off to school. It’s frozen in my memory. The outline of you in your light- blue sleep shirt dancing barefoot in our driveway as Dad pulled out of the garage and into the street.

You would wave and dance us good-bye almost every morning that I remember. Dad called you Jo-babe, and you were a wild mix of who I have grown up into. You’d send us out by bike late at night to pick up a Coke and a slab of chocolate for you when you were working into the wee hours.

Firstborn. Gypsy yourself. You were a mother to kids born in three different countries. Lover of books and stories, you had me at the same age I got married. I still have all your books, and they’ve been good friends to me in my homesick years.

How you loved languages!

You spoke German, Dutch, English, and Afrikaans, and you taught Latin. I got the best parts of my mothering from you— and also the worst. How I find my comfort in books and familiar words because of you. How you would lock yourself in the bedroom and refuse to drive me to drama practice and insist I had to take my bike instead because you were stuck near the ending of a good book. Jackson has inherited the same gene— the love for losing yourself in a story.

Oh Mom, I’ve missed you.

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Lately I’ve missed you more. I’ve cracked open a door to remembering what life looked like with you in it, and all kinds of strong feelings have blown in along with the memories. I parent deliberately these days. Less fly-by-the-seat-of- my- pants, more thought. You would love my sons.

Jackson wears your name and your love for story so close to his skin, I’m amazed to watch how DNA can move through the generations.

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He eats movies, and imaginary characters loom so large in his mind that I know we will have to guard what he consumes. Today he was looking for something to eat and informed me all he wanted was some junk food. It would make you laugh how passionate he is about chocolate.

Micah challenges me. People tell me he looks like Luke, and I see it— all Dutch-born genes looming out of his blue eyes and fair skin. He is built for rugby, but if he grows up stateside, I’d say football is in his future. Some days the juxtaposition of his temper and bulk with his sensitive spirit can make it hard for him to navigate his world.

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He pours so much love into his puppy that I know the rightness of agreeing to add a dog to our circle of crazy despite what it costs me in irritation.

I want you to meet Zoe, Mom. She has unmade me and then put me back together again. And this time the parts of me that got broken after you died seem to have jigsawed themselves into place.

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I can see the whole picture, and I am surprised how beautiful it is. She takes my hand, and her chubby fingers fold my soul into her palm. Zoe is teaching me how you loved me. That you loved me much deeper and longer than I could possibly remember.

That you loved me at midnight and for three years in Zululand and during our stint stateside and even in standard six, when my skin broke out and you tried to take me for that facial. Everything I can’t remember about you I see reflected in Zoe’s eyes.

I am terrified by how much I love her.

How did you bear the good-bye? Twenty years. Twenty years. It hurts to type it. Twenty years ago I sat in a pew and sang the last words you left for us:

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

One week after I’d turned eighteen. I’m thirty-nine today. And I’m still singing it, Mom. I’m singing it still, and I still believe every hard, awful word to be true. That we can sing though the heavens crash open and the world comes pouring down around us. We can raise our eyes and our voices to the hills, where our help comes from, and sing. Even when all that comes out is a whisper.

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

I bought knee-high boots last year— the first pair since the ones I owned when I was eighteen. I think you’d like them. They’re a burnt umber kind of suede, and they make me feel brave.

Like riding bareback in the karoo.

Like walking the ridge of Table Mountain.

Like taking the train from Ukraine to Hungary.

Like changing my first diaper.

I am growing into brave, and I have two sons and a daughter, just like you did. We would light your smile on fire.

All the frenetic life in this small house, all the clamoring to be loved. It makes crying okay.

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Because you can be sad and you can be well at the same time. Kingdom kids, Mom. I’m working hard to raise Kingdom kids with eyes for more than themselves.

Past Jackson’s tae kwon do and Micah’s soccer, past what I haven’t decided to make for dinner yet, past Zoe’s looming terrible twos, and past the last of the needles from the Christmas tree that are still buried in the carpet months after the tree got thrown out.

We’re looking and listening past it all, holding on to your second chance with both hands.

And we are so well.

 

Written with love for all the motherless mothers today. And the motherless daughters. And the women who were meant to be mothers and aren’t yet. And the moms whose laps are full of kids celebrating with them today.

Every single one of you is braver than you know.

 

{To see the video click here}.

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If you haven’t already – treat yourself, your mom, your sister, your BFF or your grandma to a copy of my new book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom. This post is an excerpt from the last chapter. And no matter what stage you’re in when it comes to motherhood, my prayer is that it will encourage. That it will be the book you pass on to encourage other mothers.

And remind you both, that you are braver than you think.

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