I met her in 1981 in Cleveland, Ohio. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like.
I’ll call her Anne.
Benny and I drove to Cleveland with our two small children to visit friends who had moved there to start a church. We were excited about spending time with our dear friends who also had children Josh and Jaime’s ages. But God had a surprise for me on that trip.
I had no idea I would meet Anne. She and her family had started attending the new church and were among a group who came over for an informal gathering at our friend’s home. I don’t remember much about the afternoon. But I do remember Anne.
While we were chatting her son (who, in my mind, is about age eleven) approached her. He didn’t interrupt but waited patiently for Anne to finish what she was saying to me before she turned to invite him to ask his question. I had never seen a child be so polite and respectful, and I made note of this interaction. Throughout the afternoon I observed equally impressive amounts of tenderness, affection and playfulness between this mother and her pre-teen son.
At the time my son was only three. Yet what I was seeing inspired me. I fast-forwarded eight years in my mind to when Josh would be eleven. I wanted the kind of relationship with my son that Anne had with hers. I wanted him to feel free to kiss me and tell me he loved me when strangers were present. I was inspired by the tender way they interacted and loved how easily they joked with one another. And I was struck by the respect this little guy demonstrated to his mom time after time.
I finally pulled her aside and communicated what I had observed. I felt compelled to encourage this fellow mother who was several years ahead of me, and to share how her relationship with her son was painting a picture for me of what I desired with my Josh. (Only God knew that I would someday be the mother of four sons!) I asked if she could give me any helpful advice on how to build a culture of affection and affection with him based on her mothering experiences.
Her advice isn’t nearly as important as her example. As I’ve mentioned on this blog several times, “more is caught than taught.” Her counsel was helpful — but not as helpful as what I “caught” from her that day.
Ok; I’ll be honest. The thing to which she most attributed the strength of their mother-son relationship was homeschooling. And because of what I learned from her that day, Benny’s desire to home educate our children was confirmed in our hearts as something we should attempt. Her reasons for homeschooling, however, had little to do with academics and lots to do with cultivating a strong relationship with her kids; the kind of relationship that could weather the tumultuous teen years to come.
Again — it wasn’t her advice that affected me most. At the risk of being viewed as tooting the home education horn, I have to be honest in saying that I would also attribute the relationship Benny and I share with our adult kids — and their strong connection to each other — partly to homeschooling, due to the sheer amount of time we all spent together over the years. We had to either learn to get along, resolve conflicts, ask forgiveness and love one another or we would have all been miserable! But Anne could have told me that the key to her compelling relationship with her son was that she stood on her head for fifteen minutes a day!
The reason why I’m including her in a series on people whose lives have affected mine isn’t because I ended up homeschooling. It’s because i met a woman who had a vision for motherhood that lured me to discover and embrace my own vision for the kind of mother God wanted me to be. I know godly mothers who aren’t homeschooling that have a sweet and loving relationship with their children. I’m not suggesting that homeschooling is the way to raise respectful, affectionate children who unashamedly love their parents, because I also know home educated teens who are disrespectful and whose parents long for a closer relationship with them.
Anne’s affect went far beyond how we chose to educate our kids. God used her to spark faith that my relationship with my children didn’t have to drift into just-like-the-world tension, disrespect and aloofness. If her 11-year-old son could respond pleasantly when she asked him to get her a glass of water then perhaps mine could, too. If she could spontaneously and playfully grab him as he passed by and kiss him without an “Awww, Mom” reaction of wiping her kiss from his cheek, then maybe Josh wouldn’t shun my affection once he was approaching my height when onlookers were present.
One day I was at a conference in a church out of state when a dark-haired woman approached me. She had listened to a recording of a message I had given on a motherhood-related topic where I talked about Anne. As the story unfolded, she realized she was Anne. What a special moment it was for me to personally thank her for her influence in my life many years prior. Ugh. I wish I could remember her real name.
So she remains Anne to me. And I’m still grateful to God for that trip to Cleveland where providence led to me to meet her. Today I have four sons who are grown men. We’ve gone through some hard times over the years when my vision for mothering sons and our patience with one another were tested. Yet God has been faithful. That seed He planted in my heart took root; grew; was pruned; endured storms; and is now producing fruit beyond my hopes and dreams.
Josh, Jesse, Joey and Jake — we all know Who is due the most credit for the love between us today. But someday I hope we get to all thank Anne…together.