Tribute to Mom

With Mother’s Day on the weekend for the majority of countries around the world, I pay tribute to my mother, who modeled for me living resilience with joy as an expat and ministry partner. She passed 7 years ago May 5th. There are times I sense she’ll just show up. Occasionally still, my chest constricts and tears come with her loss, especially when life’s hard. There’s nothing like mom when the going gets tough.

Mom’s Early Years

The 6th of 13 kids, mom was raised in a Mennonite farming family in Saskatchewan, Canada. She really did walk 5 km. to and from school! As a young girl she was feisty. When she started school, she only knew ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in English. She chose ‘no’ to answer all questions and wasn’t at all popular with the teacher. She loved learning and had a mischievous twinkle in her eye that always said she was up to something.

Mom lived as an expat missionary in 3 different countries over a span of more than 20 years. In 1949 she began her expat life in China, after a long boat trip across the Pacific. Not the cruise ships we enjoy today. Fleeing after only 6 months because of the communist insurgence, she moved to Hong Kong, continued with language study and served a city of people living on boats.

As if that wasn’t quite enough change in 5 years, she chose to work for another mission agency, which meant candidate school (so it was called then). There she met my father, an eligible bachelor. Both were assigned to Malaysia. The mission’s policy for outgoing staff was once engaged, wait 2 years for marriage. Determination and commitment followed and they were married in a little village church, far from their family. Four of her five babies were born in Malaysia.

Mom raised us through many relocations and 2 repatriations, between the countries of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Canada. 

3 Nuggets Mom Modeled:

1. Never leave home without a weapon and choose it wisely. When her farmer brothers and father found out she wanted to go alone to a “foreign land”, worried about her safety, they presented her with a gun.
“What’s this for?” she asked.
Please take it to China for your protection.” they begged.
She emphatically refused! Instead, she took `weapons` of love and grace. She saw the best in all – nationals and expats. Her belongings were stolen. She was mugged. “Foreign devil” was yelled out constantly. Yet she proved otherwise with her smile and greeting, while steeling herself inwardly from the insult. Mom taught me that love breaks down barriers and paves the way for authentic living. Because she had experienced grace fully in her life, she was empowered to pass it on.

What ‘weapon’ have you chosen to carry with you and wield where you’re living?

2. It’s not where you live, but how. Mom lived in different houses abroad – a boat house in Hong Kong; wooden house with dirt floors and a duplex in Malaysia; tiny apartment in Hong Kong; and a 3 bedroom house with fireplace in Canada.

If she complained on the inside, it wasn’t verbalized. With acceptance and creativity, she made each into a home. The wooden house had simple red gingham curtains that danced with the breeze. The old apartment was revitalized with brilliant red/orange furniture. Though not much to work with, mom added something. Colour. Pictures. Linens. And always a bouquet of flowers.

Mom found joy in beauty – sunsets, the beach, mountains. A small starfish or a large dragon-shaped cloud. She’d squeal, call us over, or point it out. Sheer delight in creation. A table cloth or placemats were set for meals. This is how she showed her love. When we’d visit nationals or expat friends, she’d bring a small gift of home baked goodness.

Moving to Hong Kong, we temporarily lived at the YMCA. Imagine 6 weeks, 7 people in 2 rooms, waiting for a shipment and apartment. Mom felt stress and longed for her own space. Yet I remember laughter in the midst of transition; sightseeing and walks when we were ready to kill each other because of lack of space and nothing to entertain.

Back from Malaysia to Canada, it was 3 months at her mother in laws’. Grandma was dear, yet she voiced what she thought. And she had many thoughts about how better we should behave. Mom took it like a metal shield that halted and dropped fiery arrows. She’d walk out of the house and take us to the park nearby. I brought home a handful of beautiful, bright yellow flowers. Grandma exclaimed “get those nasty things out of my house”. Dandelions are weeds, didn’t I know? Mom lovingly said “They’re delightful. Thanks”. She ignored my grandma, putting them on the dresser in the bedroom. She had spunk!

How are you living your life right now? What’s one small thing can you do to brighten today?

3. When blue, bake. Mom wasn’t perfect. She’d be the first to admit it. Her feelings included discouragement, loneliness and fear. She was a self-acclaimed ‘worry wart’. At times she was harsh and impatient. Exhaustion is how her body felt. And no wonder with 5 kids born under 7 years. Think of them all teens at the same time.

There was sadness at the distance from her beloved family in Canada. She’d cry her losses. Correspondence was limited to aerograms and telegraphs. My birth announcement was written on a blue aerogram by my father, and read:

Rebecca Anne has safely arrived. Anne (my mother) is fine.
Rebecca, 6 weeks early, is not quite 5 lbs. She looks normal.

Short and sweet and glad to know I looked normal! Thanks Dad. If mom were up to writing, it would have read differently.

Mom faced many hard things. When she did, she baked. It was her ‘me time’. Rejuvenation for her. Ahhhh, the smells of freshly baked bread, cinnamon buns on the kitchen counter and fruit pies just out of the oven! It didn’t stop there. We feasted as well. (Better Half, aka, my husband, was hopeful this would be passed on. Yet alas, I disappear into the garden or go for a walk to escape.)

Baking was much more to mom that this. It meant:
B – Be ok with what you’re feeling. Connect with yourself and your Creator.
A – Ask forgiveness. “Please forgive me for….” Mom modeled this so well. I suck at it.
K – Keep the big perspective. “This too will pass” was a phrase mom said often, reminding us that tomorrow was a new day.
E – Expectations set at the right level. Mom had high expectations – too difficult and demanding at times. She learnt over time to let go and chill out.

How do you react when life becomes too much? Need to change it up? If so, how?

Mom was an ordinary woman. She was without wealth, much education or status, yet she lived from intuition and contributed to many people globally through her gifts of attentiveness and compassion. She taught me passionate commitment to God and to those around me. She wore sacrifice beautifully. Not the doormat, lose-myself type. Rather the courageous, life-giving-and-finding type. I miss her presence, smile and special way of making whoever she was with feel uniquely magnificent.

This goes out to all the expat moms over the decades who have given who they are to their children and others. Where we as TCK’s have felt devalued, insignificant and unstable through our many transitions, we have been blessed to experience value, significance and stability from them.

A toast to celebrate mothers!

Becky Signature 2



Questions for personal pondering:

What ‘weapon’ have you chosen to carry with you and wield where you’re living?

How are you living your life right now? What’s one small thing can you do to brighten today?

How do you react when life becomes too much? Need to change it up? If so, how?

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