A Single Mother’s Greatest Gift

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The best gift that my mother ever gave to me didn’t need to be unwrapped. It couldn’t be driven. It wasn’t sold on TV.

She gave this gift to me in installments starting in my childhood. The last installment came when I was a grown man. It wasn’t long after that final installment that my mother died.

I grew up in a single parent family. My mom was great but she couldn’t do it all. She couldn’t teach me how to shoot a jump shot. So I secretly blamed my dad when I didn’t make the basketball team. She didn’t know anything about cars so I never learned how to replace a radiator or change the oil. Whenever I found myself broken down on the side of some road, I would automatically figure that it was my dad’s fault.

I was bitter.

My mom used to make me write letters. All the time she had me writing letters. Not just to anyone. To my dad. I can still hear her telling me to sit down and start writing. I can still hear her telling me to pick up the phone and call my dad.

But there’s one thing I can’t hear today. One thing that I never heard as a kid.

My mom never said anything bad about my dad. She never called him names. She never complained about being a single mom. At least not in front of me. When she did talk about him, it was usually funny stories or memories from happier times.

Each letter and phone call to my dad was another installment of the greatest gift my mother ever gave me.

She was giving me the gift of grace.

Something unexpected started to happen after a few years of those gifts. All of those letters, phone calls and funny stories were working. From a distance, I was starting to like my dad.

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that you think you don’t need. Left to myself, I would have left my dad to himself. I would have drank the poison cup of bitterness and allowed it to infect every other aspect of my life and every future relationship I would have.

I think my mom could see all of that. That’s why she made me write those letters. That’s why she made sure that I called my dad. It’s why she told funny stories about him instead of mean ones.

She was giving me the gift of grace.

I hear a lot of mothers who don’t give that gift. Even if their husband is still around, they use words that do nothing but foster bitterness and entitlement in the little hearts that are listening ever so closely. I wish that those mothers could see the damage that they’re doing. I wish that they could talk to my mother. In her own way, she would tell them that personal hardships are no excuse for inflicting more hardships on someone else, especially your own children. No kid needs the gift of hatred and future broken relationships. And yet their mothers give those gifts to them anyway.

My mother knew what she was doing with her regular installments of the gift of grace. But the last installment was different. It was the one that made everything come together. It was the one where my mother had no idea what she was doing.

I was living on my own. My mother was sick. Really sick. Through either the illness or the medicine or some combination of the two, my mother’s mind was starting to go. I would go to visit her at least once a week. Sometimes she would say things that didn’t make any sense. It was hard to communicate with her. I never really knew if I was getting through.

Until my dad called me.

One day, in her confusion, my mom called my dad to tell him that I was in some sort of trouble and needed his help.

That’s when I got the call from him. It had been a while since we last talked. Living on my own, there was nobody there to make me write letters and make phone calls. I had fallen out of touch with my dad.

Until the final installment of my mother’s gift.

I explained the misunderstanding to my dad. But our conversation didn’t end with that phone call. It led to many more conversations. All because of my mother. When her mind was strong, she was making sure that I respected my father. By the time her mind was starting to go, her plan was coming together. My bitterness was gone. I loved my father. I enjoyed being around him and talking to him. I still do. I’m almost 40 but I still look up to my dad.

The greatest gift my mother ever gave me couldn’t be unwrapped. It couldn’t be driven. It wasn’t sold on TV. But it was something I desperately needed.

My mother gave me the gift of grace.

After my mother died, I went for a drive with my dad. He played the part of driver and narrator as we drove through the flat middle Georgia landscape that he has always called home. He pulled over to tell me a story from his childhood. Sanders men have always been good storytellers. I was captivated.

When the story was over, my dad looked me in the eye. His face was serious. He had something else to say but it was no story.

He told me that he was sorry for the way that I had to grow up.

I told him that I had already forgiven him.

All because my mother gave me the gift of grace.

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