11 May 2014

A Letter to my Mother

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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}.


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.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    I just read your book. Thank u for writing it and this sweet letter to your Mom. It all touched me. I am 39…. When I was 15 I lost my Mom to cancer….. She was 42. Praying for u. That you have a blessed Morhers Day.

  2. 2

    I loved your letter to your mom. I was 23 when my mom passed away- had a 2 yr old, a 9 month old, and have wanted to call her every day for the past six years so we can finally catch up. Mothers day is always especially hard since she passed on May 7, so Mothers day is always within a week or so of the anniversary of her angel wings. Your letter to your mom was beautiful, truthful, and heartfelt and I easily related the entire way through. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the rest of the world. It helps those filled with heartache gain some peace knowing others have been there and done that and survived. Happy mothers day to you!

  3. 3

    Beautiful. I love how you introduce each of your kids to her, and see them for who they are, and see her in them, and see her in your mothering of them.
    I lost mine too soon too, and have written about that a few times. I lost Dad last August, and chose “It Is Well With My Soul” as one of his funeral songs.
    Your mom would be so proud of you.

  4. 4

    This is so lovely. Thank you. I’ve missed my mother since before I was five. As I write, Loved As If, I’m intensely aware that I didn’t have chance to know her. But the memories, seen through adult eyes, make her clearer. You make your mother clearer. Happy Mother’s Day!.

  5. 5

    Lisa-Jo… your heart, this, you, your family, your smile, your words – beautiful. Utterly, utterly, beautiful. I am in awe of you, because I’m not quite sure I could sing those words. Thank you. So. Much.

  6. 6

    oh how I loved your beautiful words this morning Lisa-Jo. You were given a gift. Your words are so well written from deep within your loving heart- Happy Mothers Day dear girl!

  7. 7

    This is a beautiful tribute to your mom. I lost my mom at 56 due to cancer. I can so relate to missing her and thinking about all of the things she’s taught you about life and parenting.

  8. 8

    this morning Shawn gave me the best possible gift- sleep! and then when I did wake up he made me stay in bed with coffee and books. I read from yours and have been so blessed by it. thank you for sharing your story, Lisa-Jo. happy Mother’s Day:)

  9. 9

    Happy Mother’s Day to you! This is so beautiful.

  10. 10
    Erin Roneree says:

    Your post really touched me with teary eyes. I’m just a mom in the trenches and feeling it many a day and love the way you write. It made me love my kids and my mom even more.

  11. 11

    I like what you said when you said “I’m amazed to watch how DNA can move through the generations.” . I have heard that characteristics of the DNA can be passed down strongly for 7 generations. Interesting post.


  12. 12

    Thank you for sharing this. Love and peace to you. Happy Mother’s Day.

  13. 13
    Krystal says:

    It’s amazing how just by changing a few words you could have been telling my story. Thank you Lisa Jo for being brave enough to tell it for all of us.

  14. 14

    Lisa-Jo, thank you so much for this entire post. I’m a first time visitor that found her way here today and am so thankful I did! Your letter to your mother is beautiful. The video you made had me teary from start to end. Prayers for peace and a belated Happy Mother’s day to you. :)

  15. 15

    Lisa-Jo, you are such an amazing mother and I am sure your mother would be proud. Thank you for inspiring all mothers to embrace all forms of the motherhood so that we are and don’t miss out on a moment of the beautiful gift that we have been given. Even when the gift is a mess one, lol!

  16. 16

    Highly descriptive blog, I loved that a lot.
    Will there be a part 2?

  17. 17

    Wonderful post! I lost my mom the day before I turned 16, so I understand on many levels. I remember turning 41 and thinking my world was going to drop out from under me, dreading every minute to the age my mom was when she died. It didn’t hit me until the next year, though, when I turned 42. I realized that year I had lived longer than she did. Now, ten years from then, I still have trouble with Mother’s Day, my birthday and the day she died, May 8th, but it’s better. Hugs from me to you!

  18. 18

    Beautifully said, thank you! I lost my mom 3 years ago. She was 85. I am blessed to have had her so long with me! But I do still miss her terribly! Thank you for sharing your heart felt thoughts.

  19. 19

    I’ve wept through this – for you missing your mom – for me not having a relationship with a mom, ever – and yet, with you to still be able to sing, “It is well with my soul.” Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!

  20. 20

    What a legacy of brave, of joy, of loving life and family she gave to you. What a tribute you gave to her.

  21. 21
    BoniLady says:

    Beautiful words

  22. 22

    That was a letter touching to read! I miss my mother too.

    Your post inspired me to write a denique:

    The motherhood
    not understood
    by likelihood
    is very good.



  1. […] So, I let the sorrow roll over me when it has to, but I have learned to live well in the sadness (Lisa Jo Baker wrote beautifully about this just today). I beg Jesus to help me smile and laugh with the children I still have in my earthly sight even […]

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