They say that charity begins at home and my mama is the perfect illustration of that notion. Since childhood, I’ve watched her go out of her way to sacrifice to take care of my brother, my stepdad and me without ever asking for anything in return. Indeed, we were always her first priority. But beyond the walls of our home, my mom was committed to making life better for those in our community who needed a little extra love and support.
Over the years, I have witnessed her wear many hats. She has been a babysitter for neighborhood children while their parents worked extra hours to make ends meet; she has opened the doors of our home to the sick, tending to their needs and nursing them back to health; she has shared food from her fridge and cooked extra to fill empty bellies; and she has shown empathy to the heartbroken and bereaved in the most genuine and selfless ways.
She’s been this way since I can remember and I’ve learned so much from her example. In fact, I credit much of my decision to take on philanthropic work to her. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I am sharing a few lessons I have learned from my mom that have contributed to my commitment to helping others. Some of these are universal truths, but have played out for me in real life through my mother’s actions. After all, old proverbs and sayings don’t mean a thing if you fail to put action behind them.
So here goes…
Family and community are one and the same.
My mom gives freely because she has a broad definition of family. The same things she’s willing to do for her brothers and sisters, she’d easily be willing to do for a neighbor, coworker or friend. The same way she allowed a family friend to live with us while undergoing chemotherapy, she also welcomed my uncle to spend the last days of his life in our home. The amount of love and care I have witnessed her share with others is reserved for ANYONE who needs it.
God has blessed us with more than we need so that we can share with those who are less fortunate.
My mother has come a long way from the conditions in which she and her siblings were raised. And the blessings that she currently enjoys are a constant reminder of where she comes from and how at any moment, materialistic pleasantries, good health and a stable job can be taken away from you. So, she focuses on sharing what she has with those who may need help getting through a rough patch. She may be the most empathetic person I know.
It is better to give than to receive. (And if you find yourself on the receiving end, do everything you can to show gratitude and pay it forward.)
Mama called me last week and advised me not to send her flowers for Mother’s Day this year. Knowing that I couldn’t be home for the holiday, she figured I was cooking up a plan to show her some love in my absence. Whenever you ask her what she wants for Christmas or her birthday, she usually has the same response, “Don’t worry about buying me anything. I’ll just be grateful to the Lord for allowing me to see another day.” And yet, she goes out of her way to make birthdays and Christmas special for those around her. She also makes it a priority to show how much she appreciates any kind gesture, gift or favor she receives.
Be kind to everyone, because you never know what someone might be going through.
I have learned that kind words and simple gestures are sometimes more valuable than anything else you can do for a person. I learned that from my mother. We have a running joke in my family about my mom attracting elderly friends. It seemed like, in every neighborhood we would move to, she’d find a sweet older lady or gentleman who just needed someone to talk to—and help them cook, or clean, or accompany them to the store or brush their hair—my mama always provided a listening ear and whatever else they needed. She treated them like they were part of the community, at a time when they were being overlooked, neglected and excluded. I try to show that kindness to everyone around me.
Protect children. Respect Your Elders. Help the Sick. Feed the Hungry.
I could go on and on, post after post, sharing examples of my mama caring for children, the elderly, the sick and the hungry. And she did all of this without a degree in nonprofit management, a general operating budget and/or recognition. Today there are thousands of organizations that are doing this work on a large scale, but I will always be inspired by my mother’s ability to do this alone, right from within our tiny Danville community.
Approach everything with a sense of humor.
If you ask anyone to describe my mama, they’ll probably use the words funny or hilarious in their list of descriptors. I have seen her smile through some really difficult times for our family, and I’ve watched her laugh and crack jokes after a long day on her feet. But I would say that she has more than just a great sense of humor; I would say she has a naturally positive about things and a genuinely optimistic outlook on life. I try to carry that same attitude with me to work, knowing that my situation could be so much worse and that I have so much to be grateful for each day. (Not to mention, sometimes when you’re doing nonprofit work, a good laugh is all you have to get you through the day!)
Obviously, I have learned much more from my mom, but these are the lessons that I apply to my professional life most often. Mama continues to teach me how to be a better person and a strong, graceful woman, year after year. And as I continue growing into this weird thing called adulthood, I am eager to follow in her footsteps and become more and more like her.
This post, and everything I do, is in honor of you mom! So, if you’re reading this—and I hope you are—thank you, I love you and Happy Mother’s Day!
Has your life’s work been influenced by your mother? Share some lessons you’ve learned from her in the comments below!