A lot of people have complicated relationships with their mothers. I’m often amazed by the powerful influence mothers have even on their adult children, whether for good or ill (just read this letter). In general, it seems like many people love and appreciate their mothers, but think them old-fashioned, or don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of things, or have very different personalities and interests, or would prefer to experience them in rather limited doses. In that respect, I’m very blessed to have a mother who I not only love and appreciate, but whose company I truly enjoy. If she showed up unannounced at my house for a month-long visit, I’d welcome it!

My mom did the typical things that all good mothers do – nursed me and changed my diapers, brought me up and disciplined me, packed me school lunches and nagged me to get my science projects done, helped me move into my college dorm and sent me care packages from home – but in my opinion, she goes above and beyond the “normal” duties of motherhood, and here’s how:

I’m convinced that my mom’s talking constantly to me when I was a baby, reading to me, and playing with the alphabet magnets on the refrigerator was largely responsible for my learning to read at such an early age. She taught me so much outside of school that I feel like I was half-homeschooled, and this gave me an academic advantage that carried through elementary school, high school, college, and beyond. Her love of learning, making it fun and doing it together, inspired me to excel in my studies without any of the excessive “Tiger Mom” pressure.

My mom handled the process of my growing up, leaving home and eventually leaving the country with such grace that these years were sweet rather than stressful. She neither pulled the apron strings too tight nor threw me out of the nest too soon. During my first year of college, she was not one of those overbearing mothers who calls their kid’s professors and plans their classes for them. She did, however, write to a hundred friends and relatives informing them of my address at school and the date of my birthday – resulting in my mailbox being stuffed day after day with dozens of birthday cards.

My mom is an off-the-charts extrovert, whereas I’m on the border but tend more towards being an introvert. She is the type of person who can – and does – engage absolutely anyone in conversation. I never felt embarrassed about my mom being at my high school or inviting friends over to my house, because I knew my mom would go out of the way to make the person feel comfortable and welcome. She does not judge on appearance, skin color, clothing, social class, religion, country of origin or anything else – she talks to everybody. I try to imitate her example in order to help me overcome my shyness.

There are some things one rather dreads telling one’s mother, such as “I got a tattoo,” or “I’m turning down my acceptance and scholarship to grad school,” or “I’m moving to Brazil.” Yet my mom has consistently surprised me by reacting better than I’d imagined. She does not freak out. She does not exercise subtle emotional pressure and guilt-tripping in order to manipulate me into doing what she wants. Instead, she raises good questions and gives good advice in order to help me think through my decisions – and she supports me (as long as I’m not doing anything illegal, immoral, or fattening :-p ) You have no idea how freeing and encouraging this is!

My mom is a courageous and adventurous woman. She has served in the Navy, she has lived on a bus for 18 months as a traveling music missionary, she has traveled to a poor community in Brazil to build a house and engage in other social work, she has fought and won the battle of completely changing her lifestyle in order to achieve physical and emotional health. Sometimes I swear my mother has more energy at 56 than I do at 26. She loves learning new things, trying new foods, and making friends with people of all different backgrounds.

Do you imagine all Christian housewives as being quiet, passive, long-skirt-wearing women whose only interests are Bible study and church brunches? If so, then you clearly have not met my Zumba-dancing, classical-music-singing, sushi-loving mother, who passionately loves God and loves others while bursting all the stereotypes. She has shown me that being a dedicated follower of Jesus does not result in a stale, boring, dry existence weighed down by “religious rules” – but rather a colorful, abundant, quirky and joyful life.

Thank you, mom, for going above and beyond and for raising me “outside the box.” Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Birthday next week. I love you!