In the 1980s and 1990s, my mom and dad were my Sunday school teachers at different and repeated times throughout my youth. Their tenure was broken only by the occasional kindhearted and educationally minded church volunteer. In hindsight, this—by itself—was a pretty unique scenario even back then. Even more so, of course, if you go by today’s standards and expectations. 

More remarkable yet was they’d been doing it for a good handful of years before my brother and I were born, answering a call to help grow (and in some cases, plant) the seed of faith in the children entrusted to their care and teachings for the weekly hour their parents brought them to church. 

Church, the same physical church for decades where my children would eventually be baptized and where we’d finally hold my parents’ funerals, was just part of the weekly routine for my family. There was no escaping it, but we never really thought to, anyway. The deal was sweetened by my mother making sure I was in pretty, new if needed, custom-designed, handsewn dresses and all of us getting to go out to eat afterward at a different fast-food restaurant—a treat from the homegrown, homemade food we were subjected to for the other 20 meals of the week. Now and all grown-up, it’s homegrown, homemade food that has risen to treat status. 

My mother directed the choir in our very youngest years. Both of my parents sat on a number of committees and were active, vote-casting members of our church. My dad served as Sunday school superintendent for a time. We were always whiling away Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and the odd Tuesday night rehearsal or Sunday afternoon annual meeting, tucked into a pew with books and colors or roaming the ‘backstage’ and back-office corridors in a rich game of hide-and-seek. 

RELATED: Church is Not a Place, it’s a People

I am Lutheran, so while for some the smell of incense instantly transports them back to church, the smell of lemony-oiled wood, freshly vacuumed old carpeting, hot dish, church cookies, and the slightest hint of floral, old lady perfume does it for me. 

I am now in my late 30s, and both of my parents died recently of under-researched, and as-of-yet incurable diseases. But being on the upper end of the age spectrum when they began their family due to factors outside their control, when they died, it could have been considered somewhat within the realm of expectation for their ages. 

Still, it hurts no less

Especially since I bobbed along with the tide of current society and began my family late due to factors totally within my control, and I have no parents to turn to for advice or for a gauge of what to expect and why I should expect it from my own, very young children. 

I’ve unwittingly fashioned a life for myself that bears little resemblance to the balanced and bucolic home I grew up in. I struggle to feel oriented or like my time is being spent for its highest value most days. I miss the grounding effect of being in the presence of the two who quietly exemplified such lucid, magnanimous, and kind convictions. 

I miss the pace at which they lived their lives. I miss their reverence for the sublime minutiae of regular, old, everyday, good living. 

But I can still meet my parents in church. 

I can commune with their memory, sometimes more distinctly than what reduces to going through the motions of real communion. Those times I’m distracted by how my kids are managing it, or by thinking about how my husband has sat out of it since the muddled days of his youth, together with worrying my kids are going to think what is now a comfort to me may be weird to them later as a result.

I see the stitching of my father’s Sunday suits, highlighted in the morning sun as it comes slanting through the church windows, soaking the finely structured shoulders of the older men’s jackets, which are slowly disappearing from the church’s assemblage and being replaced with effortless jeans and t-shirts. 

I hear my mother’s voice in the old hymns, and I see again what the notes she would teach me with her singing look like on a page. 

I can still feel my father’s fingers rest on one of my shoulders like a phantom limb, so accustomed to his usual repose of having one arm strung along the back of the pew, gathering however many of his family he could reach within it, leaving his hand to gently embrace the furthermost family member on the other end while he listened to the sermon.

I can still hear the heartfelt lilt of my mother reciting what, for everyone else, was the rote text of the Lutheran liturgy, as she renewed her faith every Sunday with its mere utterance.  

Nowadays, I know that church is hard sometimes. It’s hard to rally my troops and get dressed (maybe even a little more nicely than we do otherwise). Sometimes it’s harder to believe in something I took as a given as a child, now that life has sucker-punched me a few times. 

RELATED: Sometimes Church is Hard

But I know now it is worth it to try to give my children a touchstone. A sense that as the world will continue to change around them in what may feel like a hopeless downward trajectory of abnormality sometimes, and that while they will have to adapt to thrive, I want them to have something in their lives that feels normal, wherever their feet take them and no matter how rocky the road. 

I want them to know of a place to go where the pace is always set to rest, joy, and hope. I want to give my children a one-string, tin-can phone to reach me when I am gone. Even when, and especially when, they are crying on the other end of it. 

 

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Carisa Peterson

Carisa Peterson is a mother of two, a worker bee, and a published writer and produced playwright who writes in the wee hours from her home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Her creative work can be seen on McSweeney’s, The Wisdom Daily, Her View From Home, The Refresh, Real Mom Daily, Elephant Journal, and in the successful 4-week run of Curves Ahead at Breckenridge, Colorado’s Backstage Theatre (2015). She enjoys doodling topiary trees in her spare time. Follow Carisa @LynnoType, see her on Facebook, or visit www.carisapeterson.com.

God Redeemed the Broken Parts of My Infertility Story

In: Faith, Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Two young children walking on a path near a pond, color photo

It was a Wednesday morning when I sat around a table with a group of mamas I had just recently met. My youngest daughter slept her morning nap in a carrier across my chest. Those of us in the group who held floppy babies swayed back and forth. The others had children in childcare or enrolled in preschool down the road. We were there to chat, learn, grow, and laugh. We were all mamas. But we were not all the same. I didn’t know one of the mom’s names, but I knew I wanted to get to know her because she...

Keep Reading

God Has You

In: Faith, Motherhood
Woman hugging herself while looking to the side

Holding tight to the cold, sterile rail of the narrow, rollaway ER bed, I hovered helplessly over my oldest daughter. My anxious eyes bounced from her now steadying breaths to the varying lines and tones of the monitor overhead. Audible reminders of her life that may have just been spared. For 14 years, we’d been told anaphylaxis was possible if she ingested peanuts. But it wasn’t until this recent late autumn evening we would experience the fear and frenzy of our apparent new reality. My frantic heart hadn’t stopped racing from the very moment she struggled to catch a breath....

Keep Reading

My Husband Having a Stroke at 30 Wasn’t in Our Plans

In: Faith, Living
Husband and wife, selfie, color photo

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV) This verse in the book of Jeremiah has long been a favorite of mine. In fact, it’s felt relevant across many life events. Its simple, yet powerful reminder has been a place of solace, perhaps even a way to maintain equilibrium when I’ve felt my world spinning a bit out of control. In this season of starting fresh and new year intentions, I find great comfort in knowing...

Keep Reading

She Left Him on Valentine’s Day

In: Faith, Marriage
Husband kissing wife on cheek, color photo

“Can you believe that?” Those were the dreaded knife-cutting whispers I heard from across the table. I sunk deeper into my chair. My hopes fell as everyone would forever remember that I had left my fiancée on Valentine’s Day. Maybe one day it would just dissipate like the dream wedding I had planned or the canceled plane tickets for the Hawaiian honeymoon. Some bridesmaids and guests had already booked plane tickets. It was my own nightmare that kept replaying in my head over and over again. I had messed up. Big time. To be honest, if it made any difference,...

Keep Reading

God was In the Room for Our Daughter’s Open Heart Surgery

In: Faith, Motherhood
Child's hand with IV

I’ve had a strong faith for as long as I can remember, but I always felt bad that I never had a “testimony.” I had never gone through something that made me sit back and say, “Wow, God is real, He is here.” I have always felt it to my core, but no moment had ever stopped me dead in my tracks to where there was no denying that it was God. And then, that moment happened to me on December 5. After five months of fervently praying for a miracle for our daughter, the day came for her heart...

Keep Reading

A Benediction for the Worn Out Mother

In: Faith, Motherhood
Woman leaning against kitchen counter, black-and-white photo

Blessed are you, Father, for bestowing upon me the honor of motherhood. For allowing me to experience the deep joy of bringing forth life—a joy I often take for granted and instead choose to begrudge. My children’s cries and demands have worn me down. I do not recognize myself. I selfishly long for the old me. My thoughts are an intangible mess of never-ending tasks, self-criticism, and comparison to those around me. RELATED: God Sees You, Weary Mama But Your word says you are near to the broken-hearted and downtrodden. You do not forget the cause of the tired and the...

Keep Reading

God Doesn’t Forget You When You’re Lost and Unsure

In: Faith, Living
Woman looking into camera, color photo

I’ve been wandering around feeling lost for over a year. Wondering where I’m going, what I’m supposed to be doing. Nothing seems to make sense. I felt purposeless. I felt stuck. I questioned everything: my faith, my marriage, my career—if it could be questioned, I doubted it. And I was completely clueless how to fix the funk. For over a year, I’ve been in the wilderness. I’ve wanted to find my way, but every path seemed like another dead end. The wilderness. I’ve been residing there. Not feeling fed. Not feeling heard. Not feeling seen. Struggling to find a purpose....

Keep Reading

And Then, the Darkness Lifts

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother with baby smiling

Today when I woke, it had lifted, like sunshine peeking after rain. And as my toddler clicked on the lamp beside my bed to see her mama, I saw me too. I got out of bed and I walked down the hall. And the coffee pot sat there waiting for me, as always, like my husband at the kitchen table with his books. He smiled at me, and I think he could tell as I took my medicine, took down a mug, and poured my coffee. I opened the secretary desk and pulled out the chair and my Bible, like...

Keep Reading

Joy in This Stillness

In: Faith, Motherhood
Mother holding sleeping toddler, color photo

I woke up suddenly in a sweat while it was still dark. Except for the humming of the oxygen machine, the house was silent. For a moment, I thought I might have time to enjoy a cup of coffee before my son woke up. However, a glance at my daughter’s crib told me that feeding my caffeine addiction would have to wait. My daughter has a terminal brain disorder called Lissencephaly, a side effect of which is uncontrolled epilepsy. Many mornings, a subconscious recognition that she is having episodes of repeated seizures rouses me from my sleep. Throwing on a...

Keep Reading

Sometimes All We Can Do Is Say How Hard Motherhood Is

In: Faith, Motherhood
Tired mom with baby in foreground

I have been sitting in the peace and quiet of the office to do some long overdue Bible study for all of five minutes when the baby wakes up. With a heavy sigh that is becoming all too common, I go to the bedroom to pick up my fussy, probably getting sick, 8-month-old daughter who has been asleep for approximately 15 minutes. I bring her to the office and put her on the floor with some new books and toys. Sitting back down in front of my own new book of Bible maps and charts, I begin reading once again....

Keep Reading