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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

No Sway?

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘

Honor your father and mother’

—which is the first commandment with a promise—

‘so that it may go well with you

and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the influence women have, sometimes intentionally, but also unintentionally, in the world. I don’t believe women truly understand the kind of influence they have on men or on their children or they would think and behave differently than most modern women do—including myself. However, this general topic needs to be saved for another time.

Still, on the theme of influence, something I’ve come to recognize is that although I missed out on a great deal because I was so ignorantly and zealously dismissive of my mother early on; nevertheless, her influence in my life has still been deeply real and good in many foundational ways. Even though some of those ways had more to do with God’s use of her influence, than with my own or my mother’s intentions, much good has come out of her being the person she was in my life.

This has given me hope regarding my own parenting “failures” and “successes.” Where I have seen myself as being in control, God has shown me that I was not. Where I would have seen myself as a failure or success, whether or not I was, chances are God saw things differently. Looking back, including on the faulty judgments I made in connection with my mother, I can see that God can and will step in and redeem anything, even things we don’t know need redeeming, with time, if we are open to Him and looking to Him to work in us.

Even when I was at my very worst in my teen years, my mother was still always sweet, with good will towards me, and wanting relationship with me. I know I must have hurt her deeply at times, but she didn’t lash out at me. Somewhere inside of me I wanted her to address my misbehavior. Instead, I believe she internalized my behavior and took responsibility on herself for it. Those must have been very, very rough years for her.

Through my overly harsh assessment of my mother as an immature youth, God helped me to value honest communication and seek to have it with my own husband and children in a way I never would have otherwise. One of the main reasons I was attracted to my husband, Bruce, in the first place, was because of his open and honest communication with me. I didn’t always “succeed” as I would have liked in communicating this way. Also, both Bruce and I had to learn how to communicate not only honestly, but also in the right time and way—in love—and not in the heat of the moment or when we were tired or otherwise ill prepared. But this tool has made a marked, positive difference in my own mind and life, and I hope to some degree in my relationships with my own family.

Even so, though this was a super helpful skill to learn, it eventually brought me around to the understanding that, in all honesty, the heart of most problems I had with other people had their origins in my own heart and not in others. Time in God’s Word (the Bible) being reminded of Who He is and His heart of love, humility, and gentleness; as well as time in honest prayer conversing with God (both expressing and listening) concerning what is in my mind and heart has generally been what was or is most needed when I’m feeling at odds with another person or with life in general.

Honest and heartfelt communication both with my family and with God through Jesus—despite my young, inconsiderate interpretation of my mother’s actions, which led to it—have ended up being some of the most valuable lessons I’ve been given in my life.

I’m sure my mother didn’t mean to have this particular kind of huge influence on me, but God used his sweet, daughter, both as she was (right or wrong), and as I brutally interpreted her to be (right or wrong) in a very good and wholesome way to bless my life and possibly the lives of my children and their families... Through His redemption of the situation, He gave her a much better, and much more far-reaching influence than she might have ever wished or dreamed to have in my life.

The person my mother was had other probably unintended, but more direct, complimentary influences on me as well. The bulk of my creativity, especially regarding practical matters, I’m sure I absorbed from her out-of-the-box problem-solving abilities. Also, my artistic bent. Her store of quirky, often unexpected, and usually “corny” humor—that both annoyed and delighted me at the same time—seems to have inadvertently seeped into my bones. She was an avid reader as well. It seemed she was always in the middle of a book. I am a hopeless bibliophile. These traits and characteristics of my mother’s, especially, have ended up contributing in large measure to who I am. They have been mostly a blessing. And they have been the source of a major portion of the enjoyments in my life.

My mother grew up in a small town, settled by her Mormon pioneer ancestors, as one of ten children. She grew up in relative poverty, while people were still recovering from the great depression and two world wars. These were all things that majorly shaped her life—and in many ways shaped mine as well.

Though my father made fairly good wages, my mother remained highly creative in her ways of getting the most out of everything. Her method of what is now called “recycling” was to use things—in one way or another—until they wore out or ran out. She didn’t like to see any food, cloth, or other material wasted at our house. Many containers of all kinds were recycled and repurposed. I inherited this “gene” from her for sure. For example, I’ve never owned any Tupperware on purpose. Why should I when the supply of plastic containers foods come packaged in is never ending. And old cookie sheets have worked just fine for setting out (my husband’s) tomato and green pepper starts in the spring.

My mother was also very creative and resourceful in what used to be called “homemaking.” She hung clothes on the line to dry whenever the weather would permit (which it did much of the year in Colorado). She used cloth diapers even when disposables started coming out—which at the time was considered helpful to the environment by creating less waste. As a nine or ten-year-old child “helping” my mother with this, I would plug my nose with one hand, while holding a tiny corner of the diaper with the other, while ineffectively swishing it in the toilet, to “rinse” it. As I got older, I got better at rinsing diapers. They never got less stinky; but God somehow helped me to develop some fortitude and willingness to help.

When I was little, my mother sewed cute little dresses for me with bric-a-brac or lace on them. I was so happy about, and proud of, some matching dresses she once made for my sister, Karie, and I. These dresses “proved” to everyone that we were sisters. (Though there was a time or two, when I was mad at Karie, or embarrassed by her, I wasn’t sure I wanted to own the association.) Grown-ups gave us a ton of positive attention when we were wearing them—which I also liked, for the most part, until I didn’t (when it got super tiresome).

When I was a teenager my parents told me I had to buy my own clothes aside from those they bought for me for church and school, but they’d pay half for any material I bought for making my own clothes. This was good incentive for me. I took a sewing and a tailoring class in school. In time, I made several of my own prom dresses and dresses for other similar occasions.

For a while my parents saved a lot of money as I became obsessed with clothing and the latest fashions. During high school I worked in a couple of clothing stores and my paycheck never made it home. For a relatively brief period, I became enamored with designing clothes and considered becoming a fashion designer. Eventually, however, other interests took precedence and this absorption waned away.

Later, things came full circle when my mother made my wedding dress, and again when I began sewing dresses for my own daughters.

As part of feeding me and my six other siblings, my mother bought many foods in bulk (far less expensive that way) and canned fruits, vegetables, and pickles in jars. She stretched our budget by using things like “Hamburger Helper” and soy when those items became a “thing.” She would make “new” casseroles or other dishes and even cookies or other deserts from leftovers. Most of the time these experiments tasted really good (I wasn’t the only one who thought so)! She made her own variations of granola, dried fruit, fruit leather, and jerky when those started to become popular treats. She still often uses zucchini to help her fruit leathers remain moist without changing the flavor.

In the summer and fall many of the vegetables we ate came from the garden my parents cultivated. I think my mother spent half her life in the garden weeding and watering, from late spring to the end of the season in September, while I was growing up. Mainly because of the eventual disdain I held towards her, weeding, especially, became one of my least favorite past-times. It was something I often found every way possible to avoid.

As a result, one major thing I did not inherit or develop to any remarkable degree, as my mother did, was her notable knowledge and skill in gardening and raising plants. She has always had the greenest of green thumbs. She can keep any plant alive. I, on the other hand, mainly, cannot. Whatever survives at my home, still, survives mostly by default. My mother has always known a great deal about plants and herbs almost intuitively. I have had to work at any knowledge I have acquired.

My mother was a very literal “homemaker” in that she also helped my dad in almost every aspect of building our new house in the country, beginning when I was around seven or eight years old. She was hanging drywall—with my aunt’s help, while my dad was at work, and we were at school—when she went into labor with one of my younger siblings, Celeste. This fact significantly raised my estimation of my mother at the time. Though I still mainly attributing the building of that whole house to my dad. Still, later, when I had my own family, I also followed her lead in this as well—except I wasn’t pregnant while building any of the several homes I helped to build!

Another thing my mother always enjoyed was called “arts and crafts.” She liked arts and crafts—of all kinds—from making things with Popsicle sticks to needle work to woodcarving. She seemed to always have a project going (and none of them finished). I liked it when, as a young child, she let me do “arts and crafts” of my own on a scale I could handle. As a result, I excelled at this subject beginning in elementary school.

It was in my elementary school arts and crafts workshops that my talents in this area were first demonstrated to my teachers and to me. It felt very good to excel at something! The walls, and even the ceilings, of the bedroom I shared with my sister were eventually filled with the latest crafts, drawings, posters, or collages I had made.

I finished high school with awards for drawing and drafting projects and a threat from my art teacher that she would hunt me down (and do what?) if I didn’t continue pursuing art. In the interim, I did artwork for program covers and flyers for my schools, worked for a graphic artist for a short time, did portraits for some of my friends, and was voted female class artist my senior year of high school by my peers. These were definitely highlights that shone through and made the darkness of some of those years more bearable for me.

I also inherited from the artistic soul of my mother, a lack of a sense of time that seems innate. It remains true that once I get involved in a project, the world goes away. My poor husband has had to help train me to be more aware of the time when I have somewhere I need to be. I am naturally, without being intentional, late to everything. But with his help, I’ve learned, instead, how to be a little early (which is his definition of “on time”) to most functions or appointments. I can no longer resent—but have to forgive, if I would be forgiven—all those times, from middle school forward, that my own mother was late dropping me off or picking me up from something.

Somehow my mother’s sense of humor ingrained itself into my subconscious brain, despite all my best intentions to completely avoid it. This becomes apparent when a “punny” observation or a very corny (or clever) spur-of-the-moment witticism sprouts up and comes out of my mouth without any effort on my part. And I know it even more certainly, and that it’s no one else’s influence but my own, when my dear husband or one of my children shoot off a comment like: “Oh, an escapee,” as a pea rolls off the table onto the floor, getting away. I know my husband didn’t start off cracking these kinds of jokes when we first got married, and even for some years afterwards. And now this kind of humor is almost more a part of him than me! Apparently, it’s unavoidable. When friends ask, “What’s up?” they still don’t expect me to look upward or to ask in turn, “the clouds?”. My family might. How did I end up with something very like my mother’s sense of humor after trying to avoid it or fight it for years of my life? I’m sure I don’t know. It makes me, and others, groan/grown.

When my siblings and me when we were very young, my mother read aloud to us. I’d sit snuggled together with them around my mother on the couch, one or two on a lap. From the very beginning, almost every story enthralled me, soaking up my whole attention.

My mother would also read her grown-up’s books and novels at almost every opportunity on her own. With so many children, this often meant that she did most of her reading in the bathroom or late a night.

As a child I wondered why my mother sometimes spent so much time in the bathroom. Once I was able to read on my own and had encouragement from my fourth-grade teacher and the library hours at school, I began to see what she was doing and to understand.

The habit of being an avid reader has brought a great deal of insight and joy into my life. Good books have always fed and nourished my soul. The habit of reading has indirectly, but deeply, affected my writing and what I appreciate in life. This is no small thing. It has been a huge blessing, but it has also been a curse when I’ve let it get out of hand.

At times I’ve stayed up too late at night and impaired my own health and my next day’s mental alertness or ability to control my own emotions or temper with my family. Or I’ve read a book instead of doing something else I really should have been doing instead but didn’t want to do.

It’s helped me to learn the need for a healthy balance, even in “good” things. In relative moderation, this habit’s been one of the most exceedingly helpful and rewarding practices in my life—even a very, very satisfactory indulgence with numerous wholly welcome outcomes in my life. I’m super grateful for the example of my mother that spurred me on in this habit.

Overall, both the things I thought I wanted and the things I thought I didn’t want from my mother, God has turned, used, and redeemed to my benefit so that her influence has ended up being a blessing—a huge and wonderful blessing in my life. And not just in my life, but I trust (assuredly) in some way it will be a blessing in the lives of the members of my own family and in the lives of their children... by God’s grace and with His help (if they will allow it).

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love,

so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding,

in order that they may know the mystery of God,

namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures

of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).


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