My family wasn’t rich, and my parents often had to keep a tight hold on the family purse. My sisters and I would get nice gifts on our birthdays or at Christmas, but when I think back on the best thing my mom gave me, I realize it was something I used all the time but never appreciated.
A Semi-Frugal Family
Growing up with my family was an experiment in mind-blowing paradoxes. My parents were both frugal and extravagant.
We often went on multi-day family trips to visit relatives or so my father who was a pastor could speak to various groups. Instead of flying we would drive, even several states away. Instead of roadside meals family trips meant pre-packed lunches and snacks including Tupperware containers full of celery and carrots soaked in water.
And yet at home, we would often go out to eat. As a minister my father thought it important to go out and connect with people in restaurants and also support the restaurateurs in his church.
We had nice clothes, but they were often hand-me downs. We had nice things, but they were often acquired at gift-giving events.
My parents loved to give gifts when they could. I’ve received many great gifts from my mother and father over the years, but the best thing my mom gave me was something I still have to this day. Sadly, when she first gave it to me, it made me mad.
A Nerd in the Making
I grew up different. My friends liked watching sports; I liked watching sci-fi. They liked talking about the last game; I liked talking about my computer. Bear in mind, this was at a time when computers and computer games were uncommon and were found almost exclusively in the hands of nerds… nerds like me.
I’ve grown up a lot since then, but the love of computers, coding, and games is still a part of my life. The last week I’ve been working on a secret mobile game type project building 3D models, coding app prototypes, and having a blast. The world has changed to appreciate tech-minded people, but it wasn’t always that way.
I struggled to fit in when I was a kid. It was not uncommon for me to be picked on, laughed at, or, often worse, ignored. What I really wanted at that time was something I didn’t really get. Instead, I received something else: the best thing my mom gave me. And it annoyed the crap out of me.
A Boy Who Couldn’t Get It Right
As I was growing up, I struggled. I couldn’t figure out how to connect with people. Even when I did, it seemed like people were built differently than me. I often felt alone, regardless of whether I was the life of the party or not.
But more often than not in my early teen years I did not feel like the life of the party. Although I would eventually learn how to connect with people in my later teen years, I was very alone through much of the early ones. Through times at school, church, and other places, I often found myself either alone or often picked on and teased.
That’s when I got the best thing my mom gave me. It’s not what I asked for. It’s not what I wanted. But it’s what I got. There’ve been many things I’ve been given over the years that I’ve given away, discarded, or completely forgotten about, but this is one thing that I’ve never let go of, and it’s become more valuable to me the longer I’ve had it.
The Hope of Vengeance from On High
All those times when I came to my mom for help, I wanted her to give me something that she never gave me. When other kids made fun of me or excluded me or mocked me I went to my mom to order a big old plate of vengeance. I knew that the person who cared about me most would be on my side ready to smite my enemies.
And was I ever wrong.
Time and time again I would go to my mom with bigger and more lavish transgressions foisted upon me ready for her to scorch the earth and rid it of my foes. I wanted immediate validation and overwhelming confirmation that I was in the right and those who spoke ill of me were worthy of punishment and retribution.
What I wanted was short-term vindication. What I received was something much more enduring.
The Best Thing My Mom Gave Me
I never received what I was looking for. I never heard that the people that that spoke ill of me should burn for all eternity or should endure a swift and mighty punishment. I never found confirmation that my enemies should fall beneath the might of God’s vengeance or suffer the weight of their just desserts.
In fact, I never received confirmation that I had enemies at all. Because the best thing my mom ever gave me was a different view. When I came to her looking for retribution, she demonstrated empathy. When I explained how I was mistreated, she asked what would cause someone to be someone who mistreated others.
She showed me empathy and compassion, but extended it also to those who mistreated me because she knew that pain breeds pain. The way to combat pain is not with more pain, but with healing. She understood that enemies aren’t enemies, but friends you haven’t found common ground with yet. She helped me to see past someone’s actions to the root cause of the pain that caused those actions.
My mom showed me that people were people, and the best way to make the world better was not break the world down into “us” vs. “them” but to listen, learn, and offer kindness and healing even when it wasn’t offered to us first.
A Little Understanding
The best thing my mom gave me was not only understanding when I needed it, but the ability to see where other’s needed it to, particularly those who were confrontational.
We don’t change the world by doing what’s easy. We change it by doing what’s right. We don’t change it by acting the same as those who are acting poorly. We change it by sharing kindness even when it’s not shared with us.
We are all in pain in one way or another, whether it’s on the surface or deep below. We often act from our pain without really thinking about it or realizing it. When we help each other despite those moments where someone is reacting to the hurt, we begin to change the world, one person at a time.
The best thing my mom gave me was that understanding, but she also demonstrated it every day. No matter how anyone treated her, she was always ready to love them. Imagine a world where everyone was like that.
If you want to change the world, offer peace. If you want to make a difference, offer kindness. Today is a great day to love people, even when they’re not lovable. Change your world today.