I was eleven years old, and our family was late for church (again). It was a small neighborhood church that we had just started attending. The congregation had finished all the hymns. The pastor was already preaching. Everyone was listening. But my mom kept shifting in the pew. She looked at me with a nervous smile and then looked back at the pastor. Then she shifted again. And then she stood up.
As she made her way out of the pew, I figured she needed to go to the ladies’ room. When she turned and walked toward the pastor, I was confused. “Excuse me,” she said to the pastor, standing in front of the church. The pastor was shocked. This was a small, conservative denomination. I could tell he wasn’t sure how to respond to my mom’s disruption. Dumbfounded, he handed the microphone to my mom.
My jaw dropped to the ground. I had never seen my mom do any thing like this before. In fact, I had never seen a woman preach before.
My mom took the mic, cleared her throat, and thanked the pastor for allowing her to graciously interrupt. And then she started talking about youth, and how so many young people felt alone, afraid, and unloved. That if we wanted to show God’s love, we could start by loving the youth. She pretty much took over the whole sermon. You could tell the pastor wasn’t planning on handing over his sermon to a woman he didn’t know, but he also wasn’t sure of what to do–especially when my mom was getting a few “amens” in response to sharing her heart.
I remember sitting there, feeling mesmerized. My mom had something to say. And whether it was the appropriate time or not, something inside her couldn’t keep it inside any longer. She was in front of the church, preaching away. My mom had never done any thing like this before, and watching her that day changed everything.
As women, many of us have struggled to retain our voice. For those of us who were victimized, we lost our voice when the predator didn’t listen to our no. Growing up with a Korean father, I was taught that women don’t speak out of turn–or at all. But my mom changed everything that day.
Our voice is the most powerful tool we have. When we share our story, a word of hope, or a prayer of love for another–shame is forced to loose it’s hold and healing begins. It’s no wonder that so many women around the world have had to fight for their voice to be heard. The fight alone validates the sheer significance and power of our voice.
And yet, sometimes I feel like I’m being disruptive when I speak up. I find myself waiting for the “perfect time” to say something, knowing full well the time is now. I think back to my mom in church and how she embraced being the sheer disruption because she couldn’t stay quiet any longer.
My mom went on to create a home where teenagers were always welcome, always had a warm meal, and her listening ear. Her passion and love for youth only grew and grew.
This Mother’s Day Sunday I’m thinking about my mom, as the miles separate us. She and my dad are making a special trip to Korea, and my family of four are in Dallas for a speaking engagement. I’ll be speaking to a congregation of fifteen thousand people on Sunday–my largest audience yet. My daughter will watch her mom from the front row pew. And I will smile down at her, and speak with confidence. I will take with me the courage my mom gave me–teaching me that my voice is worthy of being heard.
And I will forever be grateful to her for that disruptive moment.
I love you mama. Happy Mother’s Day to the most beautiful, courageous mama.
More from Me Ra;
We’re celebrating Mother’s Day by celebrating leaning in to motherhood, and by recognizing the extraordinary women that are our own mothers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own mother, or the mother who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning into motherhood here. And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.