My mother worked hard to be an attentive and thoughtful woman. While I lived in her home I watched her make decisions time and time again based on what she had observed would make others happy. Many of these decisions were made in the kitchen. She enjoys cooking and showed her love to us through her time spent there. When someone was to be celebrated, their favorite meal was on the table. If someone was especially stressed or under pressure, mealtime was tailored to his or her needs. If someone was knowingly going to be away for dinner, she would make their least favorite meal while they were gone so they didn’t have to eat it and the rest of us could enjoy it! She was able to take into consideration so many preferences because she paid close attention, she cared about others’ likes and dislikes, and she chose to remember those little details.
Not every effort of hers went noticed. Sometimes we were unappreciative. Sometimes there were complaints, but Mother’s responses were always worth noting and remembering. I learned that blessing others takes unselfishness, flexibility, and a humble heart; and I learned this on one specific occasion not easily forgotten.
It was my junior year of high school. My younger sister and I were eager to welcome an Australian exchange student into our home. It was thrilling to have a new friend to learn from, to hear about her culture and music and perspective—and her lovely accent! An exchange student had stayed with us years earlier, so we knew what to expect, and we waited with anticipation.
She was a nice girl: sweet, appreciative, and very warmhearted. She fit well in our family, and we soaked up each day we had with her in the few short weeks. There were many things to learn from her, including her strict vegetarian diet. Though we had eaten many vegetarian meals before, her needs were different from our own. My mother had a way of making any vegetable taste delicious, even desirable, and so we enjoyed eating this way while she stayed with us.
On one of the first days after her arrival, we prepped and planned our evening with lovely activities to do together. We wanted her to feel comfortable and to feel at home. Being aware of her dietary needs and wanting her to feel warm and welcome, Mother spent all afternoon prepping and making a beautiful display of delicious vegetable dishes.
When it came time to gather for a blessing on the food, we heard a knock at the door. Our exchange student came running up the stairs with bag in hand, ready to be picked up for her exchange group’s dinner and orientation. My mother commented in surprise, “Oh! Are you off somewhere? I hoped you could enjoy this meal, made with love just for you!” Communication had been poor. She would not be joining us for dinner. It was the only time in my recollection that I had ever heard my mother draw any attention to herself or her efforts. It was so rare, in fact, that it drew my attention to it.
My mother quickly waved off her comment and laughed in a reassuring way as the student apologized sincerely. The student left for her evening obligations, and we proceeded with dinner—without a single complaint from mother about what had just happened. We continued with our normal dinnertime discussions, but my mind wasn’t much on our conversations at the table. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and frustrated for my mom, for the time and effort spent that was then under-appreciated! Then my mind wandered to how many times I had been the mindless one, who hadn’t recognized a need to apologize or to thank my parents for their time spent in my behalf. I realized then that the situations were numerous, and my mother had never once said a word about them.
I became more attentive to my mother’s example after that evening’s exchange. I noticed her and my father’s mindfulness and grew much more appreciative of their quiet acts of thoughtful service. Although my mother may have been embarrassed at the time of her comment, I’ll remain deeply appreciative that it was said. It wasn’t that comment spoken, but all of the comments left unspoken that taught me how to be truly aware and mindful of others around me.
Today’s post and image are contributed by Seeing the Everyday magazine. Jenica Ostler’s story was first published in Seeing the Everyday no. 25. For more information, go to seeingtheeveryday.com