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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Tuesday 21st July 2015

#TellHisStory: The Easiest Way to Let People Know They Matter

It’s my fourth birthday, and Mom stands on the hem of my memory. I’m playing musical chairs with cherry-cheeked friends in the next room. And I think I see Mom on the edge, putting candles in a cake while standing barefoot in the kitchen. But it’s all so fuzzy.

Fast-forward to another party: I see the faint outline of Mom in the foyer, where she’s taping a paper donkey to the radiator, so we can pin the tail to it. If I squeeze my eyes tight enough, I can feel Mom pulling a dish-towel around my head, tying it in the back like a blindfold. I can’t say for sure, but I think Mom is the person spinning us around three times before we shuffle forward with that tail.

I remember some details with clarity: gifts, the names of the guests, what I wore, the elaborate cakes made by a neighbor lady. I remember the way our dignified dining room table—with its chunky legs and swollen feet—would humble itself to serve duty for a bunch of frosting-fingered first-graders. And, whether it’s true or not, I believe there was always a magical snowfall outside the dining room window.

But Mom, the one who loved me most? On the playback of birthdays past, Mom is always this one long blur. She was habitually in the background, I guess, like the butter that made the whole occasion slide from cake to song to gifts. Maybe she was the one taking the pictures, the images that made the memories stick.

birthday collage first birthday snowy day birthday candles birthday candles birthday girl

I’m not sure that I even thanked Mom for making me feel special.

Months later each year, we celebrated Mom’s birthday, right as the summer’s first tomatoes ripened. Truthfully, “celebrate” is too generous a term. My little brother and I would habitually scramble to come up with a present at the last possible moment. Panicked, we would “borrow” a few bucks from Dad’s billfold and then pedal our Schwinn bikes like mad to the hardware store to buy something like a whisk or a ceramic knick-knack.

And if we couldn’t find Dad’s billfold? Well, we’d fish an old comb or Avon perfume bottle from the back of a bathroom drawer, wrap it up in newspaper and call it good.

It was the ultimate in “re-gifting.”

Mom always thanked us, like we had delivered her a crescent moon on a silver plate.

* * * * *

Mom turns 76 years old in a few weeks, while tomatoes ripen on vines.

For many years, our family of four has celebrated Mom’s birthday with her, at our parents’ little cabin on a quiet Minnesota lake.

Last year, I hastily purchased a necklace for her. I knew Mom would love the present, but I knew what Mom would love even more than jewelry. I knew, because Mom isn’t just in my DNA. She’s inside the folds of my heart.

And I knew, because most of the time, people give to others what they themselves would like to receive.

I knew that more than anything Mom would love a party.

So, on a whim, we invited a few of Mom’s friends from church to the cabin for a dinner party. The birthday girl would not be allowed to step one calloused bare foot on the kitchen floor, or dip one wrinkled finger into a sudsy sink—rules that are a bit difficult to enforce with a woman whose workplace has always been the home.

But my husband and I insisted she hold down the seat of honor. This was her night, and this was our turn to be the butter in the background, making all the parts slide.

We baked Cornish hens with rosemary. We stirred chives (and extra butter) into the red potatoes. We lit candles and served fresh peaches on ice cream. And we marveled, from the background, as that sparely-styled pine table, with its scrawny legs, made itself a stage for one of life’s simplest and grandest pleasures: the joy of giving.

birthdaycandles

The dinner was appallingly simple. It was one of those moments when a person stands back, shakes her head, and realizes how easy it is to let people know they matter.

It starts here:

Look for the clues. If people are givers, they would love gifts. If people make time for you, they desire to have time given to them. If they love encouraging words, they will want them in return. Give to your people what they tend to give. Most people give away what they themselves like to receive.

Yes, look for the clues. Light extra candles. Make spaces for conversation. Keep it simple, and use paper plates. Share your table. Add an extra chair. Turn your iPhones off. Turn the lights down. Turn the music on. Turn the joy out.

We don’t have to complicate it.

Perhaps the most valuable thing we have to offer to anyone — to our aging parents, to our growing-up-too-fast children, to our churches, to our spouses, to our next-door neighbors — is our time. That’s the easiest way to let people know they matter.

I’m learning from people like my mother, how true this is:

At the heart of giving, is the simple act of opening a space, of making room. It is a quiet acknowledgement of the automatic sacredness of another human being’s life. It’s the easy dignity of sharing a table, of celebrating another person with simple acts of love.

All evening, my husband and I watched from the wings as a group of friends celebrated the life of one beautiful woman.

I forgot to take actual pictures, but this time, I made my brain like a camera, snapping each moment, because I didn’t want this birthday party to end up like so many others—with Mom’s part getting fuzzy around the edges.

The guests lingered around that table, while the candles melted down to nubs. And outside that little cabin, a wisp of a crescent moon hung itself in the sky.

#TellHisStory

Hey Tell His Story crew! It’s always a joy to gather here every week. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great. And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Our featured writer this week is Anna Rendell, one of my sisters at (in)courage. She is sharing the story that every mom of young children needs to read! Find Anna here. To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. 🙂 )

xo Jennifer


  • So sweet. <3 Happy (upcoming) birthday to your mom. 🙂

  • This is beautiful, captivating! I love the details and the imagery. I love the heart behind the words. Thank you.

  • Love this, Jennifer. Reminds me of Nester girl’s ‘come anyway’ attitude. Grateful to have had a few moments to chat this weekend – you are precious! And I’m honored to have been featured here. Thank you for constantly being generous with your platform; it’s a big deal.

  • So beautiful, Jennifer! I laughed that you didn’t take pictures at your mom’s party. I’m often the party hostess myself, which means I’m too busy to take pictures! (But I try to remember to snap a few.) Love the idea of looking for clues to see what people would like us to give to show them they’re special!

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  • Mary

    Beautiful, Jennifer! The memories of your own birthdays colliding with new memories of your mom’s 76th birthday bring me so much joy. Taking the time to really know someone and what their love language is can make all the difference. That is what you did for your mom. Thank you for telling your story so well.

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  • So lovely. Enjoy your Mother, Jennifer. That relationship is one that can never be replaced. I miss my Mother like crazy since she changed her address to Heaven Street in November of last year. I would give almost anything to hear her voice one more time. I know I shall one day.

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  • Jennifer,
    What a lovely memory to have and to create with your mother…what a precious gift 🙂 This: ”

    At the heart of giving, is the simple act of opening a space, of making room. ” Thank you 🙂

  • I’m sure your mother treasured every moment, Jennifer. Mine will be turning 87 on the 28th of this month. With a new grand-baby due to arrive any moment, I’m still hoping to make her day a celebration she will ever remember. Love and blessings to you and yours, and Happy Birthday to you Mom!

  • Nancy Ruegg

    “Share your table; add that chair.” Some of the most delightful occasions in my memory are the instant-entertaining moments, as in: “Come on over! Don’t mind the mess. We’ll throw some burgers on the grill.” Perhaps it was the fact there was no pressure. How can you offer a perfect meal in a perfect house with five minutes’ notice? And the relaxed atmosphere actually added to the pleasure of being together. What a memorable occasion you created for your mother! And what a loving nudge you provided for us to do the same.

  • Ruthie Gray

    Ah, Jennifer, this is simply lovely. So many pictures here – not just literally, but I can see it all in my mind. Turn down the lights, turn out the joy – YES! I love how you explained that the gifts we give are actually what we desire to receive. My mother always has time for me. And yet, I go rushing around from thing to thing, searching for time to fit in for her. Shame, shame. I so identify with this, as my parents are aging and living in an addition onto our home. Time has slowed for them, and when I’m with them, I find myself needing to slow to their tempo in order to connect and to give that gift back.
    I’m glad you had that birthday party. And I’m also glad you took pictures with your mind. It’s better that way.
    Thank you. And thanks for the link up, as usual.

  • This is an absolutely beautiful tribute to your mother, Jennifer! it is so true that we often give the gifts we would like, but I love your thought about giving what others give of themselves. Can you imagine how much better a place this world would be if we all slowed down long enough to bless others with the precious gift of our time? Thank you for sharing this touching story and sweet reminder to let others know that they do indeed matter. Blessings to you and yours!

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Jennifer,
    I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom lately and so your post is very timely. My mom is 81 and has always been there for me. There is this myth that lulls you into believing that our parents will always be there…that if we run out of time to call today, tomorrow will still be there. I’ve been feeling God’s calling to celebrate my mom more often and your beautiful post was another well timed reminder. Thanking God for my mom…and looking to give as she gives.
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • Susan

      Bev, your comment came in as I was typing mine…forgive me for butting in, but do it. Celebrate your mom NOW, while you can…these days are fleeting. xoxo

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  • Jennifer – this post just brought on the tears. The very thought of either of my parents not being here hurts to the core of my being. This is just a beautiful reminder for us all – celebrate the ones you love while it is TODAY. This is something my family has been talking about for weeks. Like you, I have been blessed with a most incredible mom. Thank you for sharing yours with us all. Blessings!

  • Susan

    I love this post for many reasons. First, mom’s. My mom went to glory in October 2012 but I remember full well the special parties we hosted for her at her church. On her 75th and then her 80th. She loved parties and being the center of attention. NOT because she was egotistical but because she loved her family, friends, and church family. My mom’s favorite gift was time and then jewelry!!! We gave her both. My mom was 86 when she went home, her worldly possessions were nil next to none because she stored up her treasures in that land far away! However, it doesn’t seem so far away any longer – with every home-going of someone special in our lives, it gets closer and closer and sweeter and sweeter. Wonderful story, Jennifer.

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  • Such a beautiful post. My mom is no longer here, neither of my parents are; so I can appreciate your message of love, giving and appreciation. Enjoy the moments that you have…make the memories that you will carry with you always. So important.

  • Oh, how I could relate to this post. My mom, too, is a giver. The one who gives the party. Who makes everyone else feel special and important while she serves and gives. She lies in a Skilled Nursing Facility today, too broken to do anything for herself. It is my joy to be there with her until I return to teaching next week. Thank you for this beautiful truth.

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  • This post really found its mark with me. I actually forgot it was my anniversary yesterday, not remembering until after my husband left for work! It did not even dawn on me to do anything special {sometimes I really act like “the dude” in our relationship} but he did and brought me home flowers and a beautiful card. Guilt-laden I am grasping at what to buy to make it up…your questions ask about what type of giver a person is helped me think of how to really show Tim my love and appreciation.
    Cheers,
    Leah

  • Lovely, Jennifer, simply lovely.

  • Meg Gemelli

    Your imagery is absolutely beautiful. I love that this is a blog, but you haven’t forgotten to share with us the beautifully intricate details. Your mother seems warm and wonderful and this is a fantastic tribute to her love. Thank you Jennifer! A first time visitor:)

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  • Susan Burfoot Mead

    Jennifer, Your words are so powerful, images of past birthdays are evoked. Of mine as a child, of the boys when they were little, of the boys at my mom and dad’s house for their birthdays. Thank you for evoking those memories.

    I agree. Things get broken, discarded or replaced, yet people matter. Making time for the people (and my God!) who matter is most important in life. I celebrate your mom with you. Thanks for sharing her with us.

  • Rachael

    I am making space right now to do just that Thursday evening for a group of women desperate for breathing room. I am praying laughter and fellowship will be a balm that relieves stress even if just for an evening. Thank you Jennifer for putting the perfect words down for what my soul longs for as I prepare this week. Blessings! Love Rachael.

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