Yesterday’s trek through the ghetto left a lingering question running through my mind. I probably would have been able to ignore it, except that this afternoon, I received the following e-mail. It is “copy and pasted” with nothing but the name of the sender removed.

Dear Mrs Tiffini

I have spent the last week reading two of your books. First I read Holding Home because it’s the one I found first. I finished The Character tonight. I have never written to an author before but I just really wish I knew you. I was nine years old when my stepfather started raping me. My mother is bipolar and couldn’t have helped even if she had known. He didn’t stop until I ran away when I was fifteen. I did drugs, I tried killing myself thirteen times before I was twenty. I swore I would never have kids because I knew I’d be the same kind of mother as mine was, and that any of my kids would probably be raped too anyway. I guess what I’m saying is that I never had hope. Ever. I remember being seven or eight and being happy but it was the only time in my life that I was. I never believed in Santa Claus or Jesus or any of that. I never believed anything except pain. Until I met my husband. I wanted him to like me and to love me so I cleaned up. I’m really happy now. I’m forty five years old and my husband has worked hard to help me forget and move on. But I read your books and was suddenly nine years old again and on a dirty carpet. Anna was me except I didn’t have an Ash. I just had the drink. All these years, I’ve had nightmares and bad thoughts that no one gets not even my husband. You do. So thank you for that. Just thank you.

Lots of thoughts swirled around in my head after reading that, but the thing that most captured me was the same question that my trek through the ghetto produced: How did I make it out okay? Why was I the lucky one?

In short, the answer is that God gifted me with the intense love and support of a mother who selflessly devoted her entire being to mine and my sister’s lives. She never let me go to bed without telling me she loved me. She read my books and conspired with me about their contents. She fought bad teachers and bullies on my behalf. She used to bring us a McDonald’s lunch every day because we didn’t like the high school’s choices, and she parked across from the school and waited for us to walk to her so that our peers wouldn’t see because our pea-green, broken down, almost-dead car embarrassed us. She slept on the floors and without food so that my sister and I could have what we needed. She made the incessant traveling bearable by cushioning our car with pillows and blankets and allowing us to lay the seats down so that we could lie down. She listened to us sing different songs at the same time because the headphones helped pass the time in the car. She refused to let us fight which made us closer friends as adults. She anointed our heads with oil and prayer when we were supposed to be asleep. When my heart was crushed for the first (and subsequent) time, she let me cry. And when I finally told her the truth, as an adult, she didn’t hesitate: the next day, she blocked my father’s calls and went on a crusade to help me keep him behind bars. No one, anywhere ever, has ever had a greater supporter.

I grew up believing that I was worthless but I also believed that, even though I was worthless, Mama, my sister and Jesus loved me. Even if to no one else, my life mattered to them. Because I believed that, I was able to grasp to the hope of all the Ash-like characters that comforted me in the darkest hours. Because I believed I was loved by someone, I never made a serious, well- thought out attempt to die. Because I believed that I mattered to someone, I always knew that the light existed at the end of the tunnel, even if I couldn’t see it yet. Because I had a mother who sang to me, prayed for me and supported my dreams, I learned how to cherish life, and how to make the best of awful circumstances. I have never used drugs of any kind–but I probably would have if my mother hadn’t been so involved and caring about my life. Yes, I was traumatized — but I was simultaneously being graced with love so strong I could feel it through the pain.

Mothers give. Mothers care. Mothers comfort, guide and hold in their hands the tears of their children. The bonds between mothers and their children are real, and precious. And, also, inspiring and life-giving. Mama never asked for anything for herself — her sole mission in life was to love and care for my sister and I. The only thing that came along with us was Jesus. And I have been the ones to reap the benefits. I’ve healed from some of my scars and am trying to use the rest for something positive.

Tonight, I feel overwhelmed with love for my mother. And convinced that, without her, my life would have turned out very differently. She is the silent but strong wind beneath my wings; she is my friend and ally. She is strong, she is fair, she is faithful. She is the place I call home, and the conversation that takes me there. The gifts and lessons of faithfulness, family, loyalty and hope have carried me through the pages of The Character and are what enables me to find joy after every storm. May it be that one day my girls are as sure of my love for them as I am of hers. I am proud of her, and I am proud to call her Mama. So, tonight, I tell God thank you. Thank you for a mother who gave me faith in You, and hope in others. Thank you for the memories of a supportive and caring parent, and for allowing that relationship to thrive even after I’ve been an adult for a long time. In short: thank you for Mama.