Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Song for my Mom

Note: I am currently in the States, celebrating my mom's 80th Birthday> The following are the remarks I shared at her party:

Some of you know that I like to write. The first piece I ever published was a poem that I wrote about my mom when I was about 8 years old. It was published in the San Antonio Express News on Mother’s Day. They had a poetry contest and my poem won an honorable mention. But in retrospect, I’m guessing it wasn’t the elegance of my prose that merited an award. I’ll bet that somehow, despite the clumsiness of my words, the judges were able to see the complex beauty that is my mom.

I say complex because my mom is one of those people whose beauty is rich and varied; yet, it never clamors for attention. Much of her greatness has gone unsung through the years, and she’s never once asked for recognition. But today, mama, we want to sing your song.

We sing of your creativity—how through decades of changing styles you clothed your girls with glory. Because of your brilliant imagination, your diligent stitching, and your flair for fashion, we were always well-dressed. And each carefully constructed garment was a masterpiece. You dressed us in your love. But your creativity went far beyond your sewing skills. Sisters, who of remembers being about 10 years old, when mom decided to do one of her “spot-checks” on our clothes dressers? What happens to messy drawers? And unmade beds? My mom even made discipline fun. Effective, but fun.

We sing of your industriousness—how you worked harder and longer than any woman I know. As the Head Nurse of the orthopedic ward of a County Hospital, you were honored and respected by all who had the joy of working with you. Anytime we visited you at work, we got a tiny glimpse of how much your nurses loved you, and we know they loved you because you worked tirelessly beside them, never lording your authority over them. You were the first one in, the last one out. And when you came home from work to 5 girls you kept moving. Often Dad was traveling and you flew solo through music lessons, band concerts, hospital trips, homework challenges, meal preparations, and piles of laundry and ironing. I have never seen her bed left unmade, her sink left unclean, nor her kitchen floor unswept.

We sing of your wisdom—how you seemed to speak just the right insights into each of your children at just the right time. You never imagined that a one-size fits all approach to parenting would work with five girls as diverse as we were. You taught us that fair is too low of a goal, and you strove to always do the best thing for each of us, even if it was different than what you did for others. Of course there were some non-negotiables, mostly having to with neat drawers and made beds.

We sing of your passion—how we knew, we always knew, that no matter what, you were FOR your family. You love our father fiercely. You loved him even when others criticized him. You loved him when he lost his job for standing up to a tyrant. You loved him when he was promoted. You loved him when he was down-sized. You loved him when he traveled. You loved him when he made mistakes. You love him out loud, and if anyone knows just one thing about you, it would be this: You loves Burris. And we girls know how to love our husbands because you love our Dad so well.

And right after Dad, you loved your girls. You loved us individually and you loved us collectively. You loved us extravagantly and you loved us strictly. When needed, you loved us like a mother bear loves her cubs. I’ll never forget the time when we were shopping and a woman accused me of shoplifting. You grew 10 inches and growled, defending my honor without hesitation. I stood in awe, realizing under those florescent mall lights that my mother (who always seemed so meek and mild) would walk through fire protect her girls. You love right to the end. You loved our Sharon when she was her silliest, her sickest, and her stubborn-est. And you taught us how to love when it hurts; how to laugh while we cried, and how to sing during the storms of life. Maybe especially during the storms.

We sing of your faith—a faith hard wrought, tested, and refined. You are not one who holds blindly to comfortable platitudes. You have struggled with God, and you taught us that God is big enough to handle all of our fears and failures. You have never stopped growing, never stopped surrendering, never stopped seeking, never stopped believing. You let Him speak His love both to you and through you.

We sing of your kindness—You may well be the kindest person on the face of the earth. You care deeply for just about everyone you meet. You treat people with sincere dignity. How many—how many of our friends have benefitted from her goodness and grace? How many neighbors? How many strangers? My mom is the type of person that takes the smallest cookie, the hardest chair, the last place in line because she really wants others to have the best. Our joy makes her smile. Our success makes her cheer. Our comfort puts her at ease.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about my mom is her genuineness. If she is happy, she’ll tell you. If she is sad, she’ll tell you. If she is mad, well, she won’t have to tell you because trust me, you’ll just know. But you see, there’s so much grace in that. So much grace in both love and anger expressed, not buried. She will never become bitter because she harbors no resentments. She feels things deeply, freely, fully, AND openly. And I’ve come to realize that the root of her genuineness, the heart of that kind of transparency is a rare and precious humility. A humility that considers others better than herself, not in a self- deprecating way, but in an other-honoring sort of way. She bears her soul not for her benefit, but for ours. For my mama, my dear, sweet mama is a peacemaker, and her transparency is her way of continually surrendering herself to others. In this way, she reminds me of another peacemaker: Jesus. He was stripped bare on the cross, made naked so that he could provide a covering for us.

My mama, today, as we celebrate 80 years of your life, I marvel at what we see in your wake. Five daughters, one in heaven. 4 GENTLE sons-in-law, the very thing you prayed for us. 16 grandchildren who all bubble with affection for you. You’re coming up on 58 years of marriage—a marriage that is still abounding in love. You have friends around the globe, women like Sabine, Patti, and Maren, who would love to claim you as their own. And your godly influence still impacts me every single day, especially first thing in the morning, when that still small voice in the back of my head whispers, “Jenn, make your bed.”


  1. I remember your mama... and cinnamon rolls in the morning after a slumber party in a house filled with giggling middle school girls. Happy Birthday Mrs. Dennis! Thank you for giving us Jenn.

  2. How precious! What a gift to honor your mom at her party! Enjoy your time together.