She runs. [How moms are like Marines.]

_DSC2358 bwWhen I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and No fear in love.splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

My belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.

If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.


  1. Wonderful tribute, Ashley, not only to your mom, but to all moms.
    BTW, just like there are no “former moms” there are no “former Marines”.

  2. This is so good and true! I’m sitting her in a coffee shop crying a little thinking about my own amazing mother. It also made me think about a quote I read recently preparing for my PhD exams. It is from a Senegalese female author who writes a loosely autobiographical novel about rebuilding her life after her husband left her. She writes:
    “We are mothers to understand the inexplicable, We are mothers to stand guard, when lightning slashes across the night, when thunder shakes the ground, when the mud rises. We are mothers to love, without beginning or end, to make of our bodies a defensive wall between evil and our children. We are mothers to fight back the flood.”

  3. Best

  4. Julie Rode says:

    This caught my eye. Very well written and your mother sounds amazing! I do appreciate the imagery and I used to use as an example an Army add…”they do more before 9 AM than most do in a day…”when I would describe motherhood. Our jobs as mothers are amazing,wonderful and challenging! I’m a mother of 4 adult children and grandmother of 3. But now that I have had a daughter in the Marines, Captain, deployed to Iraq, just retired after 8 years I respectfully disagree with the comparison of Marines to motherhood. I actually take offense to this comparison of motherhood vs. fighting, sacrificing ones life for people you don’t know and going through some very grueling training among many other things. I see the heart behind this article and I get that we do fight, sacrifice and would even die for a child. But I know first hand what a Marine goes through and I have respect for both motherhood and the Marines, but I would put them in their own categories and let each stand on their own. I have too much respect for the Military and Motherhood to mingle them together.
    ~A proud mother of a precious Marine daughter….this Marine is the mother of one and pregnant with twins!

    • ashleypdickens says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Julie! I certainly didn’t mean to offend with my comparison–indeed, the intent was to honor and elevate both motherhood and service in the Armed forces. I’m very grateful for your daughters’ sacrifice–both as a mother, and as a Marine! :)

  5. This is such a wonderful post. How blessed you are for such a force of reckoning in your life.


  6. Mothers are just the best; Thank you for this reminder. Also, your mother sounds like one brave soul! What a role model to have as your closest friend.

    • ashleypdickens says:

      They are, aren’t they?! And yes, while I MAY be a little bit biased, I think my Mom is the best. :)

  7. Debbie Birkey says:

    my mother to a t. spot on, ashley. you speak on all of our behalf.

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