My Mama: The Icon


This Throwback Tuesday is in honor of my mother, Elizabeth, who celebrated her birthday on Monday. Read ahead to see why I love and revere her so much!


In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share this post I wrote about my amazing Mommy back in February. We had just returned from a weekend at her hometown of Slippery Rock, PA, where she had been inducted into her high school’s hall of fame for athletics. Just to brag, she has a 33 year old track record! But that’s not all that makes her amazing. Keep reading for more!

This weekend, I couldn’t help but think: My mother is an icon.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, members look at icons for hope, deep spiritual experience, love, light, and guidance. They’re beautiful, glitzy pieces of artwork that are made by expert hands to evoke a sense of wonder and divinity, as if by gazing into these portraits, we become closer to the divine and the saints who have gone before us.

And while this ideology struck me as odd when I first learned about it, this weekend it all made a little bit more sense. Although my icon isn’t a 2-D painting composed of oils with a canvas backdrop. This icon is the beautiful embodiment of grace, wisdom, love, and perseverance that is my mother.

I draw guidance from her stories of raising me on her own, of the nights she couldn’t sleep because she was worried that her last cashed check might bounce her whole account, of the days she went hours without seeing me because she was working and going to school to earn her degree, of the nights she woke up at 3 AM to study while I slept soundly. 

I draw hope from her resilience, her stubbornness, her work ethic, her trailblazing ways. I draw inspiration from the fact that she was one of the prominent athletes, male or female, at her high school, during a time when female athletics were in their infancy. I draw love from her undying devotion to me, all of the concerts and games and martial arts belt testings and plays and school trips and fundraising events  and horseback riding lessons she attended because she wanted to be involved in my life.

When I snapped this picture of my mom on Saturday night (as she made an acceptance speech that she did not expect to give for an honor that she never sought to receive), I captured an icon that even my iPhone 4 cannot fathom. The speech my mother wrote up in thirty minutes, which was more like a quick list of bullet points that she still presented better than the other people who had prepared their speeches days in advance, couldn’t even capture everything about her, her story, and who she is. Neither did the man who introduced her. 

But when I look at this picture, and the comments and likes and congratulations it generated on my Facebook account, I see my icon. I see her determination, resilience, grit, love, and all the good and bad times she went through to get where she is today. And I know that living through a lot of those days with her have been the food that has sustained my soul in my darkest hours. For all the differences we have today, for all the pain we’ve caused each other, my mother is one of the greatest icons from which I draw immense amounts of love, support, guidance, and strength.

I study her, and her life is the icon to which I often look to know what to do next. I wasn’t awake with her while she studied for classes. I didn’t wait tables by her side. I didn’t stay awake at night worrying about bills with her. I didn’t train my body to break track records and become an All-American athlete with her. I didn’t cry with her at her oldest sister’s first wedding when she realized the sister she loved so dearly was staying with a man who treated her awfully. I wasn’t in the car with her when she hit a deer as she was moving stuff from the house she shared with my stepfather to her new one in Inwood. I wasn’t there with her when she broke down after receiving the phone call that because my stepdad hadn’t been paying for their insurance, the damage from the aforementioned accident wouldn’t be covered by her policy.

But I was awake to hear her sing “Silent Night” to me so I would fall asleep. I have fond memories of books we read together at night that fostered my love of words and stories. I still have a photo booth picture of us at Jammin’ Jim, the Winchester version of Chuck E Cheese, that still makes me smile to this day. I remember squealing with delight as a four year old when we rode the Dumbo ride at Disney World, and I have fond memories of all of the Christmases and birthdays that she made so special. I saw her videotape all of my concerts and take pictures at all of my horse shows. I was in the car with her when she raced home from school and took me to Burger King on her way to tutor a student, and I was there when the person on the intercom told us that we were late for our regular dinner time. 

She was the first person I called after my dad contacted me. She was the one whose arms I fell into after my first serious relationship went to hell. She was the one who didn’t always understand my angst and anxiety, but always did what she could to make sure I got the support I needed.

I saw her cry when I tried to run away, when my Poppy died. I heard her cry over the phone when the insurance fiasco occurred, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was the one who needed to support her. I received her concerned questions and thoughts when I decided to study Philosophy and Religion, and I received her help a few months later when I was looking at seminaries to apply to.

Together, we have gone through transformation. We have pushed each other to become the people we are today. We have made each other grow and stretch and live lives we never thought we’d have to live, overcome obstacles we never dreamed would be thrown our way. It’s never been easy, but there’s been so much good in it. There’s a lot of beauty and love in our stories. And there’s always hope. Mom made sure to include hope for me, even if it wasn’t hope in its most cliché form.

The fact that she kept getting up and choosing to live and learn each day was hope enough.