My stuff arrived. About a week ago, all my worldly belongings arrived after a three-week trek across the eastern coast. It has been in storage for a year, so opening each box has been a wee bit like Christmas morning surprises. I find that my response to each thing is usually one of the following:
“WHY did I keep these?” (random fancy-shmancy drinking goblets)
“Oh, I am so happy to see this” (my favorite decorative, glass bowl still in one piece)
“WHERE am I going to put this?” (About half of each box I open!)
But last night? Last night I found a plastic bin with an odd assortment of items I hadn’t seen in a while. As I perused its contents, I realized this was a bin I had moved, unopened, from Texas to two different homes in New Hampshire and then on to Tennessee. Tucked along one side of the bin was an innocuous manilla envelope. It was addressed to me in my mom’s handwriting. Neatly scripted across the closure were the words, “I cleaned out the cedar chest!”
My eyes got a little misty as I dumped out the contents. Inside were all my old report cards, from the handwritten, elementary school ones, to the college transcripts printed on a dot matrix printer; my education all wrapped up in an envelope my mama had lovingly sent to me years ago. I scanned each one, a smile playing across my face as I imagined my mom taking them from me each passing year. Then the smile faded a little. A deep longing, an ache that had become as familiar as breathing raked across my heart. I have never had the joy of reading my own child’s report card or holding their little hand as we crossed the street, or smelling the sweetness of their post-bath tiny selves. There have been no children for me. It is an ache that always throbs a little stronger this time of year. Spring and mother’s day heighten my awareness of barrenness; mine and so many others.
As I let the feelings swirl over me once again, a smaller envelope fell out from among the report cards. It was my birth certificate.
My. Birth. Certificate.
I had misplaced it long ago. I had no idea where it had vanished to. It has been missing for over twenty years. It was a practical and timely discovery. I need it right now for some very mundane reasons – passports and driver’s licenses. But as I opened the ancient document, I realized how deeply my soul was also in need of this birth record. Gathered with the original document were my birth announcement and dedication booklet. I sat there, tears streaming down my face as I looked at the tiny announcement card written by my mom. My dedication pages contained Leon Smith’s name, my first pastor, and my parents first pastor.
I was born. I was born into a family where I learned about Jesus and serving the “least of these.” I was born into a family that always had its door open to all who needed to enter in. I was born into laughter and love and sarcasm and joy and struggle and wonder and conflict and challenge. I needed to be reminded. Right now. In familiar handwriting. I needed to be reminded that my parents celebrated my birth. Unlike the rest of my siblings, I have never brought my spouse or my children to the family table. There are so many reasons this has been true. Some of the reasons are ordained moments in my life and some of them are the stuff of nightmares. My single-childlessness , the empty arms I feel every day, was born of equal parts beauty and brokenness. Seeing my mama’s handwriting about her third-born child, me, was also a deep reminder that I can no longer hug on my own mom. She has been gone almost eight years now.
Mother’s Day. The Mother of all days for some of us. I sat there lost in the breathing and the pain.
Then God. He quietly and gently brought things to my heart and mind that are good and right. Things I can think on. Stuff of heaven. I have never birthed a child, but I have been given countless opportunities to mother children. It is a sacred privilege to speak truth and love into the life of a child. It is a joy to listen to a child’s hopes and dreams. I have never known a husband, but I have been loved, deeply, by my family and some dear, authentic friends who minister life to me. I am well-loved.
I have a birthright. And although my hopes and dreams of having children and grand-littles never saw the light of day, and there is no one by my side to grow old(er) with, there is life all around me to be lived and the “least of these” to be loved on and God who whispers hope and contentment to me if I will only listen.
So, this Mother’s day, please look around you and see who may be breathing pain. See who may need you to acknowledge the grief of a lost mother, or the grief of no children, or maybe even the deep grief of a broken mother-child relationship. Offer someone your heart a little and what hope you have.
And, this Mother’s Day, here is my prayer for you.
If you can, if at all possible, I pray you can hug your own mama, touch her face and look into her eyes.
If your mom has left this life already, I pray someone will hug you and that you can find joy in the remembering.
If you and your mother are at odds or she has hurt you deeply, I pray forgiveness over you, for you and for her. And I pray one day you will be able to hug her once again.
If you are a mother and your children are near, I pray you can hug their necks.
If your child has been taken from you far too soon, I pray an overwhelming sense of God’s peace and comfort that goes beyond your understanding. And I pray someone will reach out and hug you. And I pray you will find strength to be someone’s hug this Mother’s Day.
And if, like me, you have never birthed your own children or been given the privilege of adoption, I pray your heart will let itself love those around you and that this present love will far outweigh the loss of your empty arms.
For you see, we all have a birthright. We have the right be loved and to love. I am well beyond my child-bearing years, but I am smack-dab in the middle of my child-loving years. So this Mother’s Day, don’t hunker down. Don’t draw in. Remember. Breath the pain. And reach out to those around you.
Lastly, a special thank you to my family and dear friends who have given me the privilege of loving on your children. It is my absolute joy.
“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.” Isaiah 54:1