Feature Stories

My mother, a woman of faith

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While my mother’s life was not easy, she maintained a hopeful vision and fighting spirit—relying on her faith in God and trusting that everything would work out.
Photographs courtesy of Astrid S. Tuminez

Editorial note: As we celebrate mothers and women who influence us with their vision and faith, we offer this poignant essay from Astrid S. Tuminez, who currently serves as the president of Utah Valley University. President Tuminez grew up in the slums of Iloilo City in the Philippines, and she credits her mother’s faith to pulling her family from poverty toward more hopeful and secure trajectories.

My mother, Redencion Segovia Tuminez, died in hospice in Las Vegas the morning of April 2, 2023. She was 89.

Every morning, as I walk down the stairs to my basement in Utah for my morning workout, I say hello to her. “Good morning, Nanay.” Nanay is “mother” in Ilongo, my first language.

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Photograph courtesy of Astrid S. Tuminez

I say hello to two pictures that bookend a window ledge of family faces. In the first picture, she is in her garden on the island of Guimaras in the Philippines. After some decades in the US, she returned home to a plot of land my oldest sister had purchased and built a house. This was the first proper house she ever owned, just for herself. Around the house, she planted trees, bushes, and flowers. Her hands rest on bamboo poles that are slung across tree remnants, the poles bearing desiccated coconut husks that function as pots for my mother’s plants. Her fingers bend a little with arthritis. She looks planted, certain, and rooted on the soil of her island, her face browned by the tropical sun. Her smile is not broad but confident. She knows she is home.

The photo reminds me of lines she had written in a green notebook more than 30 years ago, when I first asked her to tell me about her life.

As a young girl, I loved the green fields, bushes, and trees in my village. During harvest season the ripening rice was gorgeous and uplifting. The huge mango trees thrilled me during flowering season and fruit-bearing time. They had huge green leaves and cool shade underneath. As far as we can see, [these trees] were like Christmas trees because the fruits grew in clusters, like decorations.

My mother did not even have a high school education and grew up in a village of ignorance, but she was so smart she could write lines like these in a foreign language.

In the second photo, taken 10 months before she died, her lined, 88-year-old face fills the frame. She is wearing a tan anorak with a thick faux fur fringe. It was winter, a season she didn’t like. But we had just had a big family dinner at Utah Valley University, where I was the president, and my mother was so proud that her daughter was a leader. In the photo, a big smile radiates from her face, the faux fur striking out in all directions like rays of sun. Her face is lined with age, but her hair, slightly visible, is still mostly dark. Her eyebrows are dark, highlighted by the eyebrow pencil that was her favorite cosmetic item.

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Photograph courtesy of Astrid S. Tuminez

In the hospital, dying, she wanted to know where her eyebrow pencil was so she could fill in her brows. She asked for her dentures, too, because, without them, her cheeks became deflated and sunken. My mother insisted on quotidian habits, on life, even though death was already three-quarters through the door, urgently going about his task of upending everything about my mother’s daily living.

When I think about her now, I see a gardener who coaxed life from hard and bitter soil. While my mother’s life was not easy, she maintained a hopeful vision and fighting spirit—relying on her faith in God and trusting that everything would work out.

Rooted in Hope

I knew my mother from birth till about age five, when she left her family of seven children, the youngest only 18 months and the oldest a teenager. We had moved from the farming village (where most of us were born and raised) to a bamboo and grass hut on stilts in the sea in a filthy and violence-filled slum in the city. My mother had to leave because her marriage was over. She had to leave because my father gave her no choice. She had to leave because she was unhappy and knew in her heart that there was a bigger world where, vulnerable and poor as she was, her range of choices might just possibly widen.

We navigated life relatively successfully in her absence—i.e., nobody drowned in the sea, nobody died of tuberculosis, and we all kept going to school—in large part because my mother had raised us well, especially my second oldest sister, Marley. She was barely 15, but from childhood, my mother trained her to cook, clean, wash clothes in the river, iron with a contraption containing live coals, mend, scrub the bamboo floor with a coconut husk, sew, cut hair, hunt lice in her younger siblings’ heads, administer deworming medicine, and care for and discipline her youngest siblings. It all worked out.

I became reacquainted with my mother at age 14 when my siblings and I joined her in the capital city of Manila. She was still poor, and so were the rest of us. But we had all joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over several years and were forming new habits, attitudes, and beliefs that would propel us toward more hopeful and secure trajectories.

Living with my mother was difficult. She scolded a lot and raised her voice. She struggled to support her children in a merciless metropolis where she had meager skills and no connections.

I needed to finish my last year of high school and had neither money nor transcripts. My mother said God would provide. We visited a Methodist high school where my mother humbly but confidently spoke to the guidance counselor, assured him of my talents, and promised to pay tuition installments. This man was religious, like my mother, and between them, I felt the electricity of the Holy Ghost, the light of truth and transparency, and the power of spiritual intuition. “Yes, absolutely, we will take her,” the counselor said, “even without transcripts.” I finished my senior year with my peers voting me “Most Likely to Succeed,” even though they had known me for only 10 months.

It all worked out because of my mother.

Bearing Fruit

Over the last three decades of her life, and after I became an adult and a mother myself, I came to know my mother better. She lived with me for two years. Sometimes I liked her, sometimes I didn’t.

Looking back now, I realize she understood the Buddhist maxim: No mud, no lotus. She made my diapers from sackcloth that once contained US-donated corn meal. She used eggs from her chickens to pay the doctor when my sister was ill. She hired herself out to farmers at harvest time, doing back-breaking work while pregnant. From all her darkness and suffering, she constantly affirmed God. She worked hard and believed that her labor would bear fruit—if not in this life, then in the next.

She was fervently devoted to her faith. Once, I made a day trip from business in Manila to the city of Cebu, where the Church has a temple. I found my mother in a rented room in what looked like the slums to me, and she had pictures of the general authorities plastered on her wall. “Why are you here, Nanay?” She said she wouldn’t move to a better place even if I paid for it because she wanted to be able to cross the street and be in the temple. She went every day. She went for months. Once, while living in Las Vegas, she jumped the fence that separated my sister’s yard from the temple so she could get to working for the dead more quickly.

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My mother was thrilled to meet President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Wendy Watson Nelson at my presidential inauguration at Utah Valley University.
Photograph courtesy of Astrid S. Tuminez

My mother talked to God out loud. She prayed when we left the house to drive somewhere. On arriving back in the garage, she would say, “Thank you, dear God, for letting us come home safely.” (Maybe it was just my poor driving skills that led her to pray.) I once visited her in Guimaras after I had been in the southern Philippines working on a peace project with the Moros or Filipino Muslims. I had just come from days of listening to 5:00 a.m. Muslim prayers in the mosque next to my hotel. In the haze of sleep, I thought I heard an imam’s voice, praising and supplicating Allah in Arabic. As wakefulness blossomed, I realized it was my mother, praising God and supplicating him for mercy and grace in the darkness in the room next to mine.

Reaching for Light

My mother saw spirits throughout her life. She spoke of them matter-of-factly. In her last days, my mother was visited by Nanay Juliana, her kind and nurturing grandmother. Nanay Juliana wore a kimona, a traditional blouse used for special occasions. In the vision, my mother ran, responding to Nanay Juliana’s invitation, “Come now, child. Don’t turn back. There’s no suffering here.” My mother was going to go in good company, her hand held in warmth and love.

“O death, where is thy sting?” That sting is in my heart, still wounding me every day. I miss my mother. I feel the hard door of death separating us. I regret not having been a kinder and more thoughtful daughter. Yet, I also feel my mother’s love and forgiveness. When I greet her in the mornings, the hard door of separation gives a little. A faint but perceptible light shines through. In my woundedness, I feel the salve of my mother’s presence.

She is still with me. She is also in her garden in the skies. She is dancing with her grandmother. Her face radiates like the sun. I see her now. And I will see her again.

▶You may also like: UVU President Astrid Tuminez on why who you marry is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make

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