A Mother’s Love Letter to Her Son
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
After my doctor confirmed we were having a son, I read every book I could find to learn how to be the best boy mom I could to our future bundle of joy. As an only child, and being a very frilly girl, these little creatures were totally foreign to me. The thought of raising a little lad was exciting, but also frightening. I remember one passage in a book from a well-respected child psychologist that said, “As the parent of a boy, your main goal is to get him to adulthood…alive.” I may be paraphrasing a bit, but that is what I took away from this statement. How was I to sufficiently take care of this precious life that was about to be given to us? Feeling helpless, the only thing I could do was fall to my knees and pray for guidance, strength and wisdom. I learned to relinquish control, because in the end, God knew what was best. By letting go, I was able to truly enjoy every aspect of being a boy’s mom. I learned to see the world differently, and I learned raising a boy means days filled with laughter. I have often said a person must know God has a sense of humor because He created boys. They are funny creatures and fill your heart with happiness.
It’s a boy!
This week, my 24-year-old son married his high school sweetheart. The wedding celebration that had taken sixteen months to plan will take place at a future date due to the coronavirus, but Caz and his bride were determined they would not let this ruin their day. Knowing that marriage is about joining two people, and not all the bells and whistles, they exchanged vows in a very private covenant ceremony on April 4th. I have been so proud as I watched both navigate this constantly changing event.
Although we presented each of them with a wedding present, I felt the best gift I could give my son was to share some of my thoughts and memories of what it was like raising him. As readers of Lisa Lou’s, I hope you will indulge this mother’s love letter to her son.
As A Boy Mom You Learn to Toughen Up: Broken Bones; Staph Infections; Concussions; Risk-Takers; Adventurers.
One Monday I was preparing to do the laundry and, as most moms do when they have a 4-year-old, I stuck my hand in your school pants pockets to make sure nothing was left behind that would ruin the other clothes. On this occasion I was rewarded with a very flat, dead lizard staring up at me! I asked you how that creature had ended up in your pocket, and with a big grin on your chubby cheeks you said, “We were walking to lunch, and I saw him on the wall, so I thought I would bring him home!” Forgetting the lizard was in your pocket, a few minutes later you sat down to eat your lunch. Thus…the flat reptile now in my hand.
I remember one spring spending the weekend at our ranch. Enjoying the beautiful weather, we were all outside soaking up the sun. Suddenly, Dad and I heard calls for help. It was a distant cry in the wind, but we looked at each other and knew immediately you were in trouble. We sprinted over the hill to find you, then 7-years-old, waist deep in a sinking mud pit! Hearts racing, Dad sunk his long arms as far as they could go deep in the mud, until he could feel the bottom of your boots. With my arms wrapped around your chest, I began pulling with all my strength while at the same time Dad was trying to free your legs. We could feel the bones in your little body separate from their ligaments as we struggled to free you from this enveloping sink hole. Although the adrenaline was rushing through our bodies, I remember after you had been rescued how funny the scene was as you stood stark naked, surrounded by the cattle, while we hosed you down head to toe trying to get mud out of every crevasse of your body. What a mess!
You cleaned up nicely for this cowboy picture!
The minor emergency visits were not an un-frequent event. One appointment resulted in watching the medical professional jab the biggest needle I had ever seen into your thigh (I know you may not believe this, but it hurt me as much as it hurt you). Although I remember being desperately concerned as we prayed God would stop the spreading staph infection that had immobilized your arm, I also remember laughing uncontrollably the next day when you regaled me with the story of how the athletic trainer at your high school was able to get the wound to open and push the infection out. I won’t go into the ugly details but you found great humor in watching all the big, tough linemen on your football team, who were watching the trainer, begin screaming like little children while turning pale as they witnessed what was coming out of your arm.
One of the all-time best books I read when you were five is called Wild at Heart, written by John Eldredge. This author, more than any other, helped me realize the special gifts that God has placed in each boy, and it taught me how to give you the freedom you needed to grow. (I highly recommend this book for all females, because it helped me understand my husband better, too!)
I learned that God has placed a warrior’s heart inside every male. This shows up in varying degrees. In some boys it is very apparent, and in others it is subtle. Some have a burning desire to join the military, others have a deep need to dominate at a game of chess. Each heart is different, but almost all have a desire to engage in the “battle.”
You dressed up as a soldier any chance you could get. You were always looking for the next “battle.”
I learned males naturally want to go on an adventure, and if one is not readily available, they will create their own (which is what often leads to the emergency clinic visits!).
I learned boys really do want to “save a beauty.” They have a heart that pursues true love.
As moms, our desire is to protect our children from harm, but we need to learn to allow all aspects of our children to flourish, even when that takes us out of our comfort zone. While allowing these natural boy traits to grow and mature, at the same time we must teach discipline, respect for others and manners. We must guide them to learn proper boundaries and how to function in civil society.
With this in mind, I was adamant you would learn etiquette and protocol so you could thrive in all social situations. When it came to dining etiquette, we played a game I nicknamed The Quarter Game. You loved it! If Dad or I caught you in a dining etiquette mishap, you had to give us a quarter. What made this game fun for you, was it worked both ways. If you caught Dad or me “forgetting” something, like putting our napkin in our lap, then you could call us out and we had to give you a quarter. You mastered your dining skills very quickly!
You perfected your social skills at a young age. So much so that Dad often took you with him on business meetings (when appropriate!).
I taught you good manners, but I also taught you how to burp. Yes, friends, you heard that correctly. Lisa Lou taught her son how to burp, and to burp well. After all, we do not do anything in our family halfway. Caz, you were trying so hard to learn this boyish right-of-passage, so we sat in front of the mirror and mastered the art of the belch. I was good, but it did not take long for the student to surpass the teacher!
Because of you, I learned to swim with sharks. After all, that’s what cool boy moms do.
The two of us spent our days together. We played basketball and street hockey, we swam and had endless ice cream outings. We went to the movies together and played hide and seek. We spent hours at the park and experienced endless adventures at the museums. Football was your main sport, but I like to remind others that I was your first receiver.
St. Thomas High School Football Game.
You have a mischievous side. I could always tell when you were up to something, because you would get this twinkle in your eye and a quirky half smile. It also meant I was about to be on the other end of whatever prank you were pulling, because the odds were that your target was me! By the way, that twinkle still shows up today. So be careful, I’m watching!
Even at 2-years-old you had that twinkle in your eye when you were up to something. It was always a dead give-away!
We had a lot of adventures together. This was us in Turkey.
You Have Always Been Independent: You have always been able to entertain yourself and find joy and happiness in almost any circumstance. I remember one time putting you in time-out. A few minutes later I walked by your room, where you were obediently sitting in the corner, but you were singing to yourself while playing a make-believe game. I thought, “That stinker…he is having fun! Time-out is not supposed to be fun.” I was fit-to-be-tied by the time your dad came home that evening. I met him at the door almost in hysterics yelling, “I can’t make our son miserable! No matter what punishment I dole out, he’s always happy!!” As frustrated as I was in that moment, I learned this was a great gift God had given you. I knew that no matter what life threw at you, your joyous attitude would serve you well and get you through difficult times.
When you were three, you attended Mother’s Day Out at church twice a week. Being an extrovert and extremely social, you exuded confidence and usually had a smile on your face. You also assumed everyone was your friend. One day after picking you up, I turned around to realize you were no longer by my side. Where could you be? I searched the other classrooms, to no avail. I enlisted the other teachers for help. After five minutes had passed panic began to creep up my throat. The principal quickly contacted campus security and the call went out over the speaker: “Lost child. We are looking for Christopher Zook.” That name meant something, because most of the security personnel knew you. You had an affinity for adults and would often rather spend time with them than your peers when we were at church.
With every minute passing like an hour, we eventually heard an officer’s voice on the speaker, “We found him!” Having walked across the 40-acre campus, by yourself, you were surprised when we hysterically rushed up the stairs to the church’s Family Life Center. You knew this is where you would find your best friend, and you did not understand why we were all so upset by your absence. In your mind, you had simply walked over to share a bagel with your buddy. You looked at all of us in surprise, almost to say, “Where else would I be?” It reminded me of when Jesus’ parents were franticly looking for their lost son and found Him in the temple. Jesus responded, “Why are you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Caz, you were also found in your Father’s house, but at that moment, you were in my DOGHOUSE!
It was important to Dad and me to teach you the value of a dollar. We taught you how to run your own business, how to work with your hands and how to save money. This way, we felt, no matter what life threw at you, you could always take care of yourself and your family. It was also important to us that you always have some skin in the game when it came to certain things. One way we did this was by requiring you to pay for your gas money. So, each summer you operated a power washing business that would earn enough cash to get you through the school year.
This was another skill you learned. Starting at fourteen you began blacksmithing.
We also held this philosophy when it came to purchasing your first car. Knowing it would take a while to save up enough money for a vehicle when you turned sixteen, at age nine you began a gumball machine business. We made a deal with you. Whatever you saved from the gumball business, we would match it, and this is what you would use to purchase your first truck. You learned to love saving!
You have a keen business mind and are always looking for a way to make a dollar (including constant negotiating with your dad and me!). Unrelated to the gumball machine business, in middle school you would race to the vending machines between classes and buy stacks of gum for .50 cents a pack. You would then stand in the hallway and sell the individual sticks to classmates for .25 cents apiece. Although a small dollar amount, you were making five times your money! The entrepreneurial bug struck you young.
Your ability to see what you want and aggressively pursue your goals is something I greatly admire. Sometimes the road traveled has been bumpy and dangerous, but you have traveled it nonetheless, even when it meant going alone. You have never been afraid to break with conventional norms and follow the track God has put you on. In your mind, there is more than one way to solve a problem and reach the destination ahead. You do not let society dictate your path. You have aggressively pursued your dreams, and today you serve as Political Director for one of the most hotly contested congressional races in our country. Sometimes I just look at you and say, “Wow!”
You are Strong and Walk into the Battle:
We saw early on that you had a fighter spirit. It took five years to get you here and the first two weeks of your life were spent in ICU with doctors telling us they did not know if you would survive. You overcame, and life with you has been an adventure from the moment you took your first breath.
When you were three, you and your dad were walking side-by-side having a conversation. Actually, it was a debate. You are very strong-willed (as is your father) and you can sometimes be stubborn. I was behind you walking with your grandmother, Nonie. Nonie looked at me and said, “I do believe your husband has finally met his match.” That strong will has carried you through many situations in life. Sometimes it has caused you pain, but more than not, it has served you well.
You are greatly loved by your father, Caz. I think these are two of the sweetest pictures that capture this love. Y’all were enjoying a real cowboy cookout in West Texas.
Playing sports throughout high school and into college, I spent many hours in the stands cheering you on. I watched as you were beaten black and blue. I watched you play a full football season with a torn shoulder. I watched you suffer through severe concussions. When you joined the military, I watched you jump out of airplanes. I now watch as you build a career in the political world. Between football, jumping from airplanes and politics, I think politics may be the bloodiest of all three. Yet, as you have always done, you embrace the fight.
A photographer caught a picture of you right after you landed from a jump.
From a very early age, I have seen a righteous anger in you. I think this is a big part of what led you to join the military, which was a desire that surfaced when you were five. I remember one summer taking you to a water park. I told you not to leave the pool without letting me know. There was a girl twice your size that was a real bully. She kept picking on the smaller children swimming nearby. Eventually tiring of her shenanigans, she exited the area to go to the water slide. Suddenly, you jumped out of the water and chased after her. I caught up to you and said, “Caz, what are you doing!? You were told not to leave the pool without telling me.” You looked me in the eye and, with clenched teeth, proceeded to say with seething words, “She is a bully! Someone. Needs. To. Teach. Her. Some. Manners!” I said, “And you are the one that is going to do this? Caz, she’s twice your size and will beat you to a pulp.” We walked away, but your anger was real. I have seen this in you all your life. You get very upset when you feel an injustice is being done, especially to those around you that might be more vulnerable. Often you have stood in the gap for others, all the while knowing it could cost you a great deal. You stand up for what you believe, even when it means you stand alone.
You made this ceramic soldier when you were five.
A dear friend and high school counselor administered your Birkman test. As a reminder, this test explains your strengths and weaknesses and helps the test-taker gain valuable information that might help navigate personal and career choices later in life. Upon reviewing your results, I remember the counselor sitting across the table and saying, “Caz, you are off the charts in your ability to influence others. You are a leader. Wherever you go, people will follow.” Because she was a friend, she spoke with a freedom she might not take with other students. She turned to you, and with a piercing gaze said, “This is a gift God has given you, and you better use it for good. People will follow you. Do not lead them down the wrong path.”
You are a leader, Caz, and you stand up for what you believe, even in the face of adversity.
Freedom, Not Fear:
In raising you, I learned to walk in freedom, not fear. In fact, I pray this every day. Anytime fear starts rising, I pray, “Lord, let me walk in freedom, because fear is not from YOU.”
When you joined the army, I was so proud, but also scared. Remember, as I write this letter, I am showing you how I saw things through my eyes, not how you saw things through your eyes. The first ribbon a soldier receives is the National Defense Service ribbon. It is given to military who served during Korea, Vietnam, Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Since September 11, 2001, it has also been given to all military personnel that serve in the U.S. Global War on Terror. For a young soldier, this ribbon may be relevant or irrelevant, but for a parent, it says my son CHOSE, at any cost, to serve our country.
National Defense Service Ribbon.
As with anything in life, you can choose to worry, or you can laugh in the face of danger. Having the opportunity to watch you complete airborne school was something I will never forget. Seeing hundreds of our airborne soldiers jump from planes is a very moving experience. It should be on the “when I grow up” list of every American to witness one of the jump days during jump week. (Side note: I don’t call things a bucket list. That’s morbid, and my soul will never die. I call things a “what I want to do when I grow up” list. Just an fyi.) As a parent watching the jumps, you do not know which dot, out of the hundreds in the sky, is your son. And even when the soldiers hit the ground it’s like playing “Where’s Waldo,” because they all look the same in their ACU’s (army combat uniform). When you see boys being hauled off by ambulance due to injuries from their landings, you just learn to laugh and say, “Well, I hope that one wasn’t mine.” It was only after your graduation did we learn that one time, it was you. You were not hauled off in an ambulance. In fact, you did not tell anyone you had been injured, because you still had one more jump to complete in order to graduate. You were determined nothing would keep you from achieving this goal. After graduation, though, you endured a second shoulder surgery leaving you with nine anchors and a year of rehab. It was a difficult season in your life, but you survived, and it was from those experiences that you eventually landed into politics. Which happened to be one of your career goals. Life sends us curveballs, but you have always known how to keep your eye on the ball, even if the road you had to go down was not the status quo.
Five days post op after your second shoulder surgery.
You Have a Heart that Loves:
I had the flu when you were five. Our neighbor across the street had a daughter the same age as you, and she took you for the day so I could have some rest. I’ll never forget when you returned that afternoon. I opened the door to see two of the sweetest smiles standing on my porch. Both you and your sweet friend, KA, had picked flowers for me. When I looked at KA, her outstretched hand held a bouquet that was perfectly arranged, with a wet paper towel around the stems to keep them moist and tinfoil wrapped around the paper so the water would not leak out. I then looked at you. You were no less proud of your bouquet and began beaming from ear to ear when you reached into your pocket and pulled out a wad of broken stemmed flowers and said, “Here, Mommy! I picked these for you!” It was one of the most precious sights that is forever engrained in my brain. I was the mother of a little boy, and I loved it!
If any of you are familiar with The 5 Love Languages, then you know that one of the ways people feel loved is through gifts. At the time of this story, the number one love language of our future daughter-in-law was gifts. For my son, not only was gifts the lowest of his love languages, when he took the love language test, gifts did not even register!
It is hard for people to speak in a language that they, themselves, do not speak well. The language can be learned, but it takes practice. Caz, I remember how proud I was of you when you came to me, after seeing Cecelia for the last time before heading into a 9-week blackout period with the army, and said, “Mom, I need your help with delivery since I will be cut off from the outside world for a while. I have nine gifts that I want to send to Cecelia every week that we are apart.”
You arranged for her to receive a gift every Monday night, at her sorority house, in front of all her sorority sisters. Wow! That even impressed me!!! (Needless to say, many of the girls asked if you had a brother!) Even though the language of gifts was not high on your list, you knew this would speak to Cecelia. Caz, you have a heart of gold.
Caz and Cecelia at Easter.
You also have a love for God. You have always been bold in your faith. Not in a pious way, but in a very matter of fact way. You never saw the story of Jesus as a pretty story with a sweet baby in the manger. You see it for what it is. I remember you asked me one Easter if you could paint a ceramic cross for your Bridge teacher (the grade between PK and K). I remember thinking how pretty the cross would be with all the colors of the rainbow and glittery accents. Instead, you painted your cross brown. Ok, I thought, that is a realistic artistic rendering. The cross, indeed, would have been brown. You did not stop there. You then grabbed the red paint and put a dot at all four corners of the cross and proceeded to brush red paint down the middle. The reality of what you were doing set in, but I asked you, “Caz, tell me about your cross.” You said, “Mommy, the cross was not pretty. It was covered in blood, because Jesus had to suffer and die so I could go to heaven.” Trying not to cry, I just stared at you. You have always seen life in a very realistic way.
You would sit in your rocking chair by the fire on Christmas Eve and read the Christmas story to the family.
We have two angels in our yard at Christmas. Between the angels stands a cross that is lit with tiny white lights. That cross is there, because when you were four you said to me, “Mommy, why do we have two angels but no cross?” I told you that the angels announced Jesus’ birth, so that is why we have angels. I then said a cross is for Easter, because that represents Jesus’ resurrection. In your sweet, childhood voice, you said to me, “No, mommy. The reason we have Christmas was so Jesus could be born, so He could die. We need a cross at Christmas.” Because of you, every year, we reverently display our cross between our two angels to celebrate the true reason for Christmas.
Dad and I said your prayers with you every night before you went to sleep. We had been trying to get you to say your own prayers for quite a while, but you never would. When you were three, we had just returned home from the hospital due to a miscarriage of your baby brother or sister. You had been with us at the hospital, but even at your young age, you knew something was not right. I proceeded to crawl into bed while Dad took you to your room so you could go to sleep. As always, I had your baby monitor on so I could hear you if you needed me. You and Dad knelt to your knees, and Dad began to pray. Out of the blue, I hear this sweet voice interrupt and say, “Daddy, I want to pray.” For the first time you spoke to God yourself. I felt like I was listening to the voice of an angel.
Throughout your childhood, my number one goal was to teach you to love God, but my next, most important responsibility, was to raise you to become someone's husband. I needed to instill in you the understanding of how to love your bride, treat her with respect, take care of her and be her partner in life. My job, all along, was to raise you so one day I could let you go. But by letting you go, you now return, not just as my son, but also my friend.
Caz and Mom.
For a longtime what you have wanted more than anything is to marry your high school sweetheart. That beautiful girl that you pursued. That you adore. That you would give your life to protect. For a young man, you have already walked through many fires, yet you rise again each day to walk through more. The great pleasure I receive watching you grow into the man God created you to be is indescribable.
My prayer is that you will always keep Christ at the center of your life and your marriage, because, only then, will you know the true joy of a covenant relationship.
My other prayer is that God blesses you with children. Not so I can be a grandmother (although that will be pure delight), but so, for the first time in your life, you will truly understand the depth of my love for you.
Caz, I am so thankful you are my son. God blessed me immeasurably when He gave you to me. I love you!