This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. Earlier in the week, as I was driving my mom to get groceries, she took me by the hand and said, “You know what I would like most for Mother’s Day? For all of my children to come to church with me.” Three of us joined her as the pastor preached about mothers who pass on faith in Christ to their children.

I have not given much credit to my mother for passing on her faith to me. There is a reason for this. For much of my childhood and up until very recently, Mom has battled with various ailments that have consumed her attention. Shortly after I was born, she started taking “nerve” pills, like Valium, and “pain medicine” like morphine. This was common practice in women of her generation. Rather than listen closely to the needs of women, doctors shut them up by drugging them out.

For much of my life, I have blamed my mom for her emotional distance, how much time she spent taking naps, how quick she was to let others care for us. I assumed this was a character weakness. But to her credit, she was not always this way. She went to all my basketball and baseball games to cheer me on. She encouraged me in my studies. Looking back, there were plenty of times she was there for me, likely more than I noticed at the time. But…

Mom has a nerve problem. She feels much pain. God only knows how this impacts her.

From my son’s perspective, I grew weary of mom complaining of pain, smoking cigarette after cigarette to ease her nerves. I felt lost in the vague gaze of her eyes. I sensed she wanted to care, but it was so difficult for her. Still, this didn’t stop her from going back to get her G.E.D. at age 42. From giving up cigarettes after 40 years of smoking. Even from bravely admitting herself into a geriatric psych unit to get weaned off benzos and opiates.

After she got out of the hospital, I enjoyed a good year getting to know Mom as a friend. She has a good sense of humor. A firm faith. A humble perspective. She likes Westerns for their clear moral compass. She now relaxes at night by listening to Alan Jackson. She loves ice cream bars. Maybe too much.

I’m very proud of my mom. Many women diagnosed as “hysterical” would not have advanced as far as she has. Many would have given up long before her 74 years. Many would be lost in a drug-induced stupor. Mom may not be where I want her to be, but she is a long way from where she used to be. I can see now how she has set an example for me of holding onto hope when I want to let go. She has passed on faith in Christ to me not through superhuman deeds, but by simple acts of kindness.

As I left church last Sunday, Mom introduced me to her pastor. I shook his hand and thanked him for all he was doing for Mom. He gripped mine back and said, “I can’t tell you how much this woman means to me.”

Mom may have a nerve problem. She may be in unrelenting pain. But she is still passing on her faith to others.