You were 42 when you died. I am 39 and painfully aware for the first time how young you were.


Young enough to love Bruce Springsteen and dancing with Dad in the living room or out on the driveway as you waved us off to school. It’s frozen in my memory. The outline of you in your light-blue sleep shirt dancing barefoot in our driveway as Dad pulled out of the garage and into the street.

You would wave and dance us good-bye almost every morning that I remember. Dad called you Jo-babe, and you were a wild mix of who I have grown up into. You’d send us out by bike late at night to pick up a Coke and a slab of chocolate for you when you were working into the wee hours. Firstborn. Gypsy yourself. You were a mother to kids born in three different countries. Lover of books and stories, you had me at the same age I got married. I still have all your books, and they’ve been good friends to me in my homesick years.

How you loved languages!

You spoke German, Dutch, English, and Afrikaans, and you taught Latin. I got the best parts of my mothering from you— and also the worst. How I find my comfort in books and familiar words because of you. How you would lock yourself in the bedroom and refuse to drive me to drama practice and insist I had to take my bike instead because you were stuck near the ending of a good book. Jackson has inherited the same gene — the love for losing yourself in a story.

Oh Mom, I’ve missed you.


Lately I’ve missed you more. I’ve cracked open a door to remembering what life looked like with you in it, and all kinds of strong feelings have blown in along with the memories. I parent deliberately these days. Less fly-by-the-seat-of- my-pants, more thought. You would love my sons.

Jackson wears your name and your love for story so close to his skin, I’m amazed to watch how DNA can move through the generations.


He eats movies, and imaginary characters loom so large in his mind that I know we will have to guard what he consumes. Today he was looking for something to eat and informed me all he wanted was some junk food. It would make you laugh how passionate he is about chocolate.

Micah challenges me. People tell me he looks like Luke, and I see it — all Dutch-born genes looming out of his blue eyes and fair skin. He is built for rugby, but if he grows up stateside, I’d say football is in his future. Some days the juxtaposition of his temper and bulk with his sensitive spirit can make it hard for him to navigate his world.


He pours so much love into his puppy that I know the rightness of agreeing to add a dog to our circle of crazy despite what it costs me in irritation.

I want you to meet Zoe, Mom. She has unmade me and then put me back together again. And this time the parts of me that got broken after you died seem to have jigsawed themselves into place.


I can see the whole picture, and I am surprised how beautiful it is. She takes my hand, and her chubby fingers fold my soul into her palm. Zoe is teaching me how you loved me. That you loved me much deeper and longer than I could possibly remember.

That you loved me at midnight and for three years in Zululand and during our stint stateside and even in standard six, when my skin broke out and you tried to take me for that facial. Everything I can’t remember about you I see reflected in Zoe’s eyes.

I am terrified by how much I love her.

How did you bear the good-bye? Twenty years. Twenty years. It hurts to type it. Twenty years ago I sat in a pew and sang the last words you left for us:

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

One week after I’d turned eighteen. I’m thirty-nine today. And I’m still singing it, Mom. I’m singing it still, and I still believe every hard, awful word to be true. That we can sing though the heavens crash open and the world comes pouring down around us. We can raise our eyes and our voices to the hills, where our help comes from, and sing. Even when all that comes out is a whisper.

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

I bought knee-high boots last year — the first pair since the ones I owned when I was eighteen. I think you’d like them. They’re a burnt umber kind of suede, and they make me feel brave.

Like riding bareback in the karoo.

Like walking the ridge of Table Mountain.

Like taking the train from Ukraine to Hungary.

Like changing my first diaper.

I am growing into brave, and I have two sons and a daughter, just like you did. We would light your smile on fire.

All the frenetic life in this small house, all the clamoring to be loved. It makes crying okay.


Because you can be sad and you can be well at the same time. Kingdom kids, Mom. I’m working hard to raise Kingdom kids with eyes for more than themselves.

Past Jackson’s tae kwon do and Micah’s soccer, past what I haven’t decided to make for dinner yet, past Zoe’s looming terrible twos, and past the last of the needles from the Christmas tree that are still buried in the carpet months after the tree got thrown out.

We’re looking and listening past it all, holding on to your second chance with both hands.

And we are so well.

Written with love by Lisa-Jo for all the motherless mothers today. And the motherless daughters. And the women who were meant to be mothers and aren’t yet. And the moms whose laps are full of kids celebrating with them today.

Every single one of you is braver than you know.

{To see the video click here}.


If you haven’t already – treat yourself, your mom, your sister, your BFF or your grandma to a copy of Lisa-Jo’s new book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom. No matter what stage you’re in when it comes to motherhood, we promise it will encourage. And remind you that you are braver than you think.

  • tami

    yep. even when all that comes out is a whisper. or a choked-out sputter of faith that it is true that eternity is long and my mom will be there and we will have great times together there. that relationships will last and all the bad will be undone. my mom died last may. thanks for this post!

  • Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)

    Thank you for this post. My biological mom passed when I was 7 years old. She died of Lupus. While my dad has since remarried and I have a lovely new mother who adopted me as her own, there is still not a Mothers Day that goes by where I do not reflect on my mothers legacy.

  • Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    Tears reading your letter to your mom…what a beautiful tribute to her…I know she hears from Heaven! How proud she would be of you!!

    Because of distance, I am unable to be with my beautiful mother who turns 80 today. How fitting that this remarkable woman would turn 80 on Mother’s Day. My heart yearns to celebrate with her even though we will celebrate in another month. As I get older, I am 53, I love, miss and appreciate my mom and her sacrifices even more. I don’t know how much longer I will have her with me on this earth, but I am trying to live life very intentionally when we get together – treasuring each moment God gives us.
    Thank you for a real post…for a day that is happy and hard to bear at the same time…

  • Diane

    Oh gosh, you brought a flood of tears to my eyes. So beautifully written. My mom is still alive, 84, and today I will spoil her to over-flowing with blessings and love. She’s failing in health though, and I am thankful for the time I have with her.
    Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

  • Penny

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother Lisa Jo.

    I too will be thinking of all the cherished memories I have of my mother today. And feeling blessed that I will be able to share this day with my boys. Although not with my daughter.

    all in all I feel as you quoted… “It is well with my soul.”

    Blessings to all this day,


  • Lisa Spidle

    LIsa Jo, thank you for your words. They are blessing me today. Happy Mother’s Day.

  • Renee Swope

    Oh Lisa-Jo. This is beautiful!! You make me want to be brave!!

  • Jacque Watkins

    Oh Lisa-Jo…so moved again by your words full of passion and heartache and the joy and truth of each and every one of them. I love getting to be invited on your journey through your words and I’m so SO thankful for you and how you are plowing the way to brave and how it’s making a way for all of us to follow. . .whatever that may be. Sending so much love to you and for you today, friend. xoxo

  • Kerry

    “…Because you can be sad and you can be well at the same time…”.
    Yes, indeed.
    This hymn holds a special place in my heart. You would add another category to the list at the bottom to include me, as moms whose laps are missing one. <3
    Thank you for sharing this from your heart.

  • Angela

    Maybe our mothers are rejoicing together in heaven as they join in that sweet cloud of witness of our lives. Beautifully written dear. Happy Mother’s Day! <3

  • Kathy Fallon

    Dear Lisa-Jo,
    I cannot thank you enough for your words and thoughts. Tears come forth as I remember my mother, dead now these past 33 years. She never got to enjoy her two granddaughters.
    The others have expressed how I feel and I do not think I could do any better, so again, thank you and God bless you and yours, always. Wish I had the money to purchase your new book, “Surprised by Motherhood”, I am sure that I would enjoy it and then I could share it with my daughter of two beautiful adopted children. Thank you for your words and memories as I spend this day alone.

  • Rachel

    Dear Lisa-Jo,
    I just finished reading Surprised by Motherhood yesterday as I enjoyed a pedicure all by myself (ahh!) while my husband watched our beautiful, spunky daughters (age 2 and 4)! Thank you for the gift of sharing your story with us and inspiring us to see God’s grace in the mundane, the miracles, and the frustrations of motherhood. I loved re-reading your letter to your mother along with the pictures of your children. Thank you, Lisa-Jo, for being a cheerleader for us who are in the trenches of mothering!

  • Sheri

    Lisa Jo, this is so beautiful. I also lost my mother 9 years ago. She was 44. I often think about if my life is cut short like hers then I only have 13 years left. My dad died at 41. So I completely understand the scariness of life with the unsurity.

    Ironically, I wrote a post last week titled “It is Well with My Soul”

    I guess that song really resounds with so many. Thank you for the beautiful post. It’s hard to miss my mom who was a beautiful and tragic soul all at the same time, especially on Mother’s Day.

    I bet your mother would be so proud and impressed with how amazing you turned out!


  • Wendy

    What a beautiful tribute…it moved me in so many ways.

    We all have different ‘mom’ stories on this day. Some, like you, had great ones that left too soon. Some have great moms with them today….moms who are all kinds of love & support. I have a different situation.

    She is alive, but doesn’t seem to like me very much. And that pain is all the more exquisite because it’s not that she can’t love: she gives of herself quite well to my brothers – but not so much to my sister & I. Don’t know why. It’s her issue I have come to realize. And I know she does the things she does out of some damaged place in her heart, so I do my best to forgive again & again. But it hurts.

    And I am also one of those women who find that today stings because I never had the joy of children of my own…so today is a day that is fraught with all kinds of feelings. Happy for all those who have wonderful stories, confused by my own.

    But I definitely holding onto hope ‘because you can be sad and well at the same time’.

    ‘ …and I still believe every hard, awful word to be true. That we can sing though the heavens crash open and the world comes pouring down around us. We can raise our eyes and our voices to the hills, where our help comes from, and sing. Even when all that comes out is a whisper.

    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

    By the way, I loved this thought: “I bought knee-high boots last year — the first pair since the ones I owned when I was eighteen. I think you’d like them. They’re a burnt umber kind of suede, and they make me feel brave”.

    *I can relate to the boot thing. Though it’s near summer, I may go buy a pair if I still can find some, just to remind me to continue being brave in this life of mine that doesn’t make much sense right now.

    Thank you for your words…I can’t relate to them exactly, but the beauty of word-art is that, if done well (and this was), you can find something to make your own.

  • KittysMum

    Wet eyes. Lost my mum too and am right with you on so very much of this. Huge hugs friend xxx

  • Sue

    Beautiful. No words.

  • Beth WIlliams


    From the moment I read this post I knew you had written it. Tears were streaming down my face as I miss my mother more this year than ever. (she died in 2009 from sundowner’s and dementia–was bedridden for 2 years prior. Basically I lost her in 2007 when I was 42.)

    This mother’s day weekend has been kind of hard for me as I’m now watching my almost 89 yr. old father’s dementia worsening. I guess it all seems surreal that I may be parentless soon.

    Blessings :)

  • Gaye

    Thank you Lisa-Jo for such an heartfelt post. I too sat in a pew and sang at my Mothers funeral….I was just 17 and I thought I would never heal again. I now have four beautiful children and one son-in-law. I often see my kids and think of how much joy and pleasure she would have found in them. She was 42 and far too young to die…I’m 47 now….yes, she was far too young to die. Thank you for making me think of and remember my Mum but more than that, for helping me to know that there are others out there who feel just like I do. Xx

  • Alice C

    Ooh dear. I lost my mom when I was 15 and so this brings tears to my eyes. My lively and lovely grandsons are here and you arent here to show me how to be a grandmother. I know God forgives me for not even being the best mother and yet my three adult children honored me today. So thankyou God and you Lisa-Jo. Alice Covet

  • Diana Trautwein

    Gorgeous, and heartfelt. Thank you.

  • Lori

    Thank you.. thank you for this. So beautiful. You’re mother would be.. no, she IS so proud of you.
    And I can relate to her.. I speak those languages.. love books. I wasn’t given children of my own in this life, my husband died when he was 45, I was 42. We were blessed with everyone else’s children, our lives overflowed with friends who shared their children with us. I want to thank you for acknowledging we “Mothers” we have no children of our own.. yet we are mothers to many in our own right. Blessings and peace to you Jo.

  • Bobbi Jo Smiley

    Thank you very much for everything you wrote. I will send this to someone (because someone sent it to me!) who would so much need to hear your words and the many comments. GOD BLESS.

  • Maureen


    What a beautiful post and tribute to your Mom. I love how you introduced her to your darling kiddos and see the connection in genes. My Mom died when I was 32 and I didn’t have my first son until I was 39, and the second at 41. I often think similar words to what you wrote, and I will copy your idea and actually pen a letter to her. It’s never easy to not have our Mom know our kids, but like you I am raising boys who will one day meet her in heaven!

    Thank you for such a beautiful and heartfelt post. I look forward to reading your new book!

  • Cate Pane

    An absolutely beautiful tribute to your beloved mother. Thank you for sharing her with us. It is a privilege.

  • Liss

    Tears here too… This was my first Mother’s Day without my mum, what an emotional ride that was… Thank you for sharing your heart so openly. X

  • Marty

    This post.

    Made me catch my breath. Made me remember. The way you write about your Mom…is like everything I feel and want to say about mine. I miss her so much. I AM sad and I AM well…I totally get that statement. Thank you so much for sharing today.

  • Paulette

    I absolutely loved your story! It will be 29 years since I lost Mama. She never got to meet her grandson. But what I do know is that her words of wisdom and humble spirit lives on through my son Rory. I still miss her dearly. I know in my heart that Mama & Papa are watching over us.

  • Cynthia McGarity

    Lisa-Jo, this touched my heart profoundly today. Thank you for your vulnerability, your color, and your wisdom. I pray your Mother’s Day was blessed…<3

  • Paula McLane Jennings

    That was an absolutely beautiful post. What a wonderful tribute to your Mom and what awesome memories you have. I lost my Mom in 2003 and I still miss her and think of her everyday. She adored my sons though they were so young when she passed. I had a wonderful Mother-in-Law also who passed in 2007.