My mama is a strong woman. There are lots of definitions of strength, and she had nearly all of them. She prided herself on being able to, “pick up her end of the couch.” Those were her words not mine, and ended up being part of the criteria for me choosing a wife. But strength goes down deeper than just muscle and bone. Mama’s strength went down into her very soul.
My whole life, my mama has been a small business owner. There are few jobs in this world as rewarding, precarious, and stressful as owning a small business. It comes with a sense of freedom and the ability to grow or maneuver with the agility of the marketplace, but comes with the downside of not having anyone to bail you out if things go sideways. My mama worked all through her pregnancy with me, while getting her degree as well. When I graduated college, it was actually the second bachelor’s graduation ceremony stage I had been across. She had a fairly rough time in her pregnancy, seeing as I led to a lot of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks lost to what some people call “morning sickness.” My mama often dismisses people who refer to it as morning sickness and wanted to simply remove the “morning” word altogether. While I was younger, she also ended up making monthly trips to Texas in order to check on the franchises over in that part of the country. She confessed that those trips were difficult on a good day, but having to leave her family made them even more difficult. I would get to come along occasionally, but I was also not the best airline passenger in my infant and toddler years. My mama always projected authority and sophistication while we were in the presence of her employees. It was strange seeing that side of her, at the beginning, because, to me, she was my mama. To her employees, she was an employer who expected much and stated that clearly. People still loved her for that, though, because they realized that her expectation of excellence ended up reflecting well on them, too.
I remember one particular day after football practice when I had been complaining about the difficulties of the game. To be fair, I have never really enjoyed being an athlete, and have much more enjoyed watching others in their best form do amazing feats on the fields of battle. So, there in the yard, with my football gear still on, my mother stepped out of the car and called me over to her.
“Tackle me,” she said, her eyes narrowed, bracing for the impact.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I replied. Nothing could be further from my mind than hurting my mama. See, young men have a special bond with their mamas. You can insult them and disrespect their friends, and their patience will hold for a long while. Insult their mama, and patience will disappear into rage. With that in mind, my mama is standing there taunting me to tackle her.
“You’ve gotta be ready to take on anyone,” she said, trying to coax me into the action.
“I’m not even sure what’s going on anymore,” I said, refusing over and over to tackle her. If I remember correctly, she ended up laughing watching my terror-stricken face at the thought of having to tackle my mama. We had a conversation about not backing down and doing my best, as usual. I learned that I doubt myself overly much in physical endeavors and feel much more at home in mental ones. But the image of my mother in a linebacker’s stance taunting me to tackle her may never leave my mind.
A phrase that I often heard from the day I through the present day was, “Walk it off.” I know there are a lot of mamas who coddle, and mine did her fair share of that. However, my mama also knew that my brother and I would need to have some toughness and independence. So, if we fell or scraped a knee, and we weren’t bleeding profusely, she’d brush us off and say, “You’re fine. Walk it off.” When we faced a disappointment in school with a less-than-stellar performance, she would point out that we did our best, and, “Walk it off.” It was never a heartless, cold command meant to distance us. Each time she said it, we could tell there was a lesson to learn. Ok, looking back, we knew there was a lesson, despite the difficulty seeing it at the time. We learned self-reliance, determination, and became men that refused to quit because of one or two setbacks. And, as harsh as it may sound, I think I’ll be teaching my kids the same lesson. When they fall, or get their feelings hurt, I’ll brush them off, remind them of who they are and say, “Walk it off.”
Lastly, my mama won a battle that others have lost. Cancer is a dirty word. It’s a worse disease. My mama, though, took it on with the determination that brought her through life so far. Despite the frustrations, the treatments, and side effects, she kept fighting, and she won. She became a beacon of hope, regardless of how she feels about that status. My mama fought a battle that many soldiers would dread facing and walked out stronger for it. Mama’s strength comes from her love of her family and her faith in God. “God is good, all the time,” are words I remember from my childhood and still hear her say today. The God who started a good work in her, she believes and trusts will complete that good work. And, if I’m honest, part of that work He started in her, He’s continuing on through me. My mama is a strong woman who stands clad in the armor of God, determined to finish the race she started so many years ago. Happy Birthday, Mama.