Lessons from our mother

The whole Kehr family

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and [God] bends you with . . . might
that [God’s] arrows might go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as [God] loves the arrow that flies,
so [God] loves also the bow that is stable.”
-Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet  

These last few weeks and months, as we have begun preparing in earnest for the arrival of our own Baby H, motherhood has been on my mind. In fact, I have been more aware of the coming of Mother’s Day this year than in perhaps any year in the future (sorry, mom, for my general lack of preparation in the past).  

So, for today’s post, my siblings and I each decided to share some lessons that we learned or gifts of wisdom that we received from our own mom. Feel free to share your own learnings from your mothers, as well.  

From Maya

I must admit that personality tests fascinate me. There is an almost-captivating joy in reading a detailed and structured analysis of how I function. Psychologists can predicate my response in situations of stress, creativity and discernment. Since my freshman year of high school, when I first took the Myers-Briggs (E/INFJ), something I sensed was articulated: I am a blend of the spirit of my mother and the thoughtfulness of my father. Yet only in recent years have I recognized in myself, without the help of unknown psychologists, a pastoring soul.

I’ve easily accepted aspects of my father in me (gentle introversion, athletic passion, stubbornness/perseverance), perhaps because I’ve always been told we share a similar physical appearance. My mother was harder to find in my inner self–more elusive in my self-analysis.

Maya and Mom

But I find her in images and instances:

Boldness. I remember an afternoon conversation in our Elkhart kitchen–my mother was graduating seminary and searching for a congregation. I sat in our kitchen, with sticky fingers from an afternoon snack, and listened as Hannah (my sister) and mom discussed the reasons why a particular congregation in Pennsylvania might not accept a female pastor. The idea that some believed women were unfit for ministry was foreign to me–it was not a part of my worldview and I was too young to realize the thought existed.

“But why?” I asked. My mom tried to explain carefully, how some interpreted the Bible to arrive at such a conclusion. I thought that was ridiculous and rebelled–of course that is wrong! My mother will be a pastor–and if God has called her to that, how could it be wrong? I still find myself asking incredulously at times, “But why?” to such hermeneutics.

Only reflecting as a woman later in life do I realize my mother was and is brave. Occasionally I see that bravery in me.

Physical presence. Sports were a major part of my activities in high school and carried with them extreme highs and lows. I remember coming home after games, still stinky with sweat, dirt and tears. I remember feeling bone-tired and lying on the couch and then feeling my mother’s hands rubbing my back or rubbing my feet. She would listen and ask questions, but it was the presence of her body that brought me comfort. I could rest on her lap and feel once again safe and loved. Coming home from college on long road trips she would do the same. And every night, before going to bed, she would kiss the top of my forehead. That spot is marked forever as a sign–letting me know I am loved.

I see my mother in me through the beauty of my body and the possibilities it provides for me to nurture those around me.

The written word. My immediate family is full of great thinkers. I remember being 15, being boy-crazy and being scared to show my full intelligence (upon reflection, I think this was subconsciously caused by an unhealthy association between intelligence and lowered attractiveness/femininity). I was receiving a B+ in English and my mom swiftly stole my instant messaging privileges. “This in unfair!” I shouted, “other parents would be perfectly happy with a B+. Why should I be treated differently?!?”

You are a writer, she told me, and a B+ does not show what you are capable of.

Throughout college and beyond, my mom and I have exchanged essays and sermons, each giving the other feedback, ideas and editing advice. For years I have kept a journal and recognize in myself the need to write. Writing provides a peace, balance and steadiness.

Thanks mom, for helping me find confidence in my gifts–I see you in them.

I feel as though I’ve already used up my fair share of words for this blog, so I’ll end it here.

Anita Denise Yoder Kehr: thank you for bringing me into this world and walking with me through it.

I love you.

From Elias

From mom I learned that it is definitely important to have high standards for yourself for how things will go, but that it is equally

Elias, Maya and Mom

important to be flexible and to respond to other people’s expectations and needs.

I’ve also learned more about how you deal empathetically with people who make decisions that are different from the ones that you would make. 

From Hannah – Five Lessons from Mom

1. The understanding that dreams and callings take time to unfurl – I have great respect for my mother’s own journey towards her vocational calling, but watching her on a journey of discovery throughout my childhood has been helpful to me in understanding and knowing that I don’t have to have everything figured out right now. In her twenties, mom worked several different jobs at the college, through voluntary service programs, with our local church in San Antonio and through other outlets. She also spent time at home with the three of us. It wasn’t until she was in her 30’s that she heard the call to pastoral ministry in a striking enough way to merit moving our family across the country, from Texas to Indiana, so that she could study and eventually pursue a position in congregational ministry. This meant that I was old enough to watch and remember this calling growing and expanding, and to watch my mother on her journey towards more intentional ministry, and that in and of itself was a gift.

2. The understanding that hospitality means making space for everyone – I remember my mom pulling me aside after one particular party that I had hosted during high school. This gathering had been open to any of the women in my class at high school, but my mom had noticed that I had spent 95% of my time talking to a few select friends, and that I had not noticed several women who had been left out of games and activities and who were clearly looking for ways to get in on the conversation. In a gentle but firm way, she reminded me that part of being a good host means being sure that everyone who you have invited feels welcome, cared for and seen.

3. The understanding that chocolate and/or coffee can help in certain times of trouble– Maybe this one is self-explanatory.

4. The understanding that feminism is good – Things were not always easy for my mom and dad, balancing expectations of

Hannah and Mom

shared parenting and working very hard in jobs that often demanded hours well above and beyond what was written into their contracts. Add to that the challenge of becoming a female pastor in a church that had not yet (and still hasn’t) decided across-the-board that it is open to women in ministry, and the journey was certainly not always easy. I remember one particular conversation with my mom, at the end of high school, where I made it clear that, although I supported equality for women, I didn’t like the word feminism: it felt angry and irrelevant. She gently reminded me that feminism was, in fact, nothing more than caring about equality for women, and that I shouldn’t be so quick to write off a movement. Little did I know that this word and style of thought would, in fact, come to be so important to me, and that my mom’s own journey would be one of the key tales that I carry with me in thinking about what feminism looks like.

5. The understanding that I was and am loved, no matter what – I won’t lie and say that my mom and I always got along, or that childhood was always easy. If you asked mom, I’m sure she could tell you some stories about “the year Hannah was 12.” Apparently I was quite moody, although I seem to have resolutely blocked out some of those memories. We can both be stubborn, and we can certainly get emotional and carried away at times. I realized just recently once, while in an argument with Justin, that when I make a certain sort of exasperated comments and throw up my hands in a gesture of frustration, I am mimicking a pattern that I sometimes saw exchanged between my mom and dad. That’s weird.

But even in the midst of these times when there were disagreements, when I would dramatically retreat to my bedroom or out to our backyard swing set in tears, my mom would come find me, eventually, and would sit beside me, smooth my hair back and we would talk through things. My mom has always been the person that I vent to, which probably hasn’t always been easy for her, but I know that her love has been big enough to hold and help carry all of my angst. And in recent years, it has been a gift to feel like we have moved into a new stage of relationship, marked by a deep friendship, where she can share frustrations and excitement with me, too. Talking to my mom always makes me feel safe, loved and at home.



Filed under Motherhood

4 responses to “Lessons from our mother

  1. Denise

    A beautiful tribute to a beautiful person, someone I am privileged to call my friend. Thanks!

  2. Pat Hershberger

    It takes a few years for us to see our parents in ourselves and when we do, it is a discovery of what is valuable. Last evening my sisters and our extended families shared memories of our mother who died 6 years ago on Mother’s Day. Stories of courage to be a Mennonite woman in the church during the 1940’s and 50’s. Her hospitality to those beyond the usual circle (outsiders) which added another family to ours that blesses us to this day. And her love that taught us independence that in her older years she wished for more often contact and then she’d say, “but I raised you that way!” She did say one day, “you are doing more than I ever did,” but then that way was never open for her. We have learned much from out mother.

    • Hannah Heinzekehr

      Thanks for sharing, Pat. I think you are right that it takes some time to come to a place where we can name the influences of our parents on us and also understand all of the ways that we have been shaped by them.

  3. Melanie Zuercher

    As someone who went to Goshen College with your mother (and father), came to appreciate her (them) in later adulthood and had the privilege of having Maya serve as my excellent student assistant at Bethel College, I can only say: Amen, sisters (and brother)!

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