My Many Mothers…

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Don’t get me wrong, my mother was an amazing woman. Growing up, she came home every afternoon from school, saddle up her horse and rode out with her brother Pete to doctor screw-worm calves across 10,000 acres of marsh and swamp.  She was the most popular girl in her graduating class at Lake Placid High School (of course, there were only six).  She married my father, who though a tough cowboy, still lived with his mother. When Daddy died, Momma resisted all suggestions that she sell the ranch, move into town and live a life of ease.  Momma had strength.

I suppose Momma once had a nurturing side, but when Daddy died, something inside her died.  I remember Momma as fun and strong.  As I look back, the weight she carried was unreal.  But she didn’t have time to explore her feelings; there was work to be done and she did it.  She had a lot of steel, not much cushion.

But God put other mothers in my life.

When I went to my Aunt Frieda Gill’s house, the rules were different.  We could have cokes and Hershey’s Chocolate Bars.  Comic books were forbidden at our house.  Not at Aunt Frieda’s.  There was a stack of comic books you could read till your eyes hurt.  Aunt Frieda gave me a lot of joy.

My aunt Faye Shackelford owned the S&S Grocery Store in town.  Whenever Momma went in to buy groceries, Aunt Faye would call me over and tell me to get a candy bar – but not to tell Momma she let me have one.  It would be years before I realized you had pay for candy bars.  Aunt Faye taught me grace means something you get, something really good for free.

My aunt Mildred Hadsel (we called her “Aunt Mooie” for some reason) would pick me up and go riding around the county to look at new houses people were building.  I can still see her, in her heels and holding her purse, exploring Adrian Chapman’s house while it was under construction.  “Good Lord,” she said, “You’d have to ride a bicycle from the bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast!”  Then we’d go to Senterfitt’s to get a cheeseburger and fries.  That was the best part of all – I didn’t have to share fries with my brother.  Aunt Mooie gave me taste for exploration – and she spoiled me a little too.

My aunt Neta Prescott kept me often when I was small.  Every afternoon she would settle into her recliner for a nap.  I would watch “Let’s Make a Deal” and she would emit gentle snores.  About four in the afternoon, a thunderstorm would come up.  Thunder and flashes of lighting could scare a five-year-old boy, but Aunt Neta would sleep right through the storm.  Something about her steady breathing made me feel safe in the storm.

My aunt Iris Hendry was my defender.  Once she told my brothers to stop picking on me or she would sit on them.  They did not heed her warning and keep it up.  The next thing they knew, Aunt Iris had picked them both up, put them on the couch, and sat on them.  Aunt Iris was not fat, but she was also not small.  The couch erupted with cries for mercy.  Aunt Iris protected me.

Bert Calder helped my Momma at home and watched over us.  I loved Bert.  All I had to do was tell her Steve was picking on me (whether he was or not), and she would get on to him.  Bert was always on my side.

Somewhere in college I learned that parents were supposed to be perfect.  Any problem in your life could be traced back to your parent’s failures, according to Freud.  I spent too much time being angry at my mother for not being perfect.

As I matured, I realized Momma did the best she could.  Given who she was, what she was dealing with, she did what she could.  It’s not fair to be mad at someone for not giving what they don’t have.  One the most important things I did as a follower of Jesus was to forgive my mother for not being perfect.

God was gracious enough to give me other women in my life who filled in the gaps.  I’m not sure Hillary Clinton is right, that it takes a village to raise a child, but I know it took a whole lot of women to raise me.  God provided many mothers for me.

This Mother’s Day, forgive your mother for not being perfect.  She probably was doing the best she could.  I’ll bet God sent some other women into your life to mother you in the best sense of the word.  Give God thanks for the many mothers in your life.

And if you are a woman, chances are pretty good someone besides your own child needs you to pour into them.  You might be the mother God sends to help someone know they matter, they are safe, and someone is on their side.



What I wish Mama Could See and Hear…

Kong and Sissie

It’s been almost five years since my mother died.  She really left us years before, as Alzheimer’s robbed her of her mind.  Sometimes her eyes would lock on you and you could almost feel the part of her brain that was clear of memory robbing plaque trying to communicate.

People ask me from time to time if people in heaven know what’s happening on earth.  The honest answer is “I don’t know.”  God didn’t make that clear.  I do know when people die and go to heaven, they are not converted into angels.  That’s folk theology that isn’t taught in the Bible.  Sometimes I pray and ask God to tell my mother some things I wish she could see and hear.

I wish Mama could see her grandchildren now.  They are all grown and very good looking (some too good looking for their own good).  When Sarah and my niece Katie graduate next year, all of her grandchildren will have graduated from college.  She would be thrilled.  A college education to her represented a real achievement.  She’d be even more amazed that three of the eleven have Master’s degrees.

I wish Mama could hear me say to her, “The older I get, the smarter I realize you were.”  Like every adolescent in the world, I was convinced I knew more than her.  Now I know she had a wisdom that let me try and fail; that spoke her mind when she thought I was making a mistake; and that supported me even when she wasn’t sure about the path I was taking.  I also know that she must had many conversations with my step-father I never knew about, pleading my cause: “Lawrence, don’t make him go fishing again.  That’s just not him.”

I wish Mama could hear me say, “I forgive you.”  When I hear people talk about their perfect mothers, my skepticism kicks in.  I don’t know any perfect mothers.  My Mom had a wounded soul from a father who fell short and from losing a husband far too soon.  She could lose her temper and be very judgmental.  But in many ways, I think she did the best could.  She was like the injured runner who persevered, and finished the race.  As I’ve gotten older and faced my own shortcomings as a parent, I want to apologize for being so judgmental toward her and tell her “I forgive you because I know you were doing the best you could.”

I wish Mama could hear me say “Thank you.”  I never said it enough.  Maybe you don’t realize how much you have to be thankful for until your mother isn’t there.  I want to thank her for reading stories to me, for pushing me to be all I could be, for taking me seriously when I said at four years old, “I want to be a preacher.”  I want to thank her for her imperfect love, the best she could offer.  I want to thank her for being courageous after my father died.  I want to thank her for letting me go explore, which was really the beginning of my passion for next steps.

I wish I could give Mama a Mother’s day gift one more time – like the coffee mug I made for her in 3rd grade that looked like a piece of mud with a handle.  She kept it all her life, ugly as it was, because I made it.

But for me, the window of time has closed.  I can only pray that God lets my mother know these things – and lets her know I still miss her.  I don’t know if God passes on messages, but I’d like to think he does.

And if God passes on messages, I hope he passes on one more.  There’s one more message I’d like Mama to hear:

I love you.  Happy Mother’s Day Mama.

Who Weeps with You?

Jesus weeping

It was one of those uncomfortable moments in the store.  A young mother with three small children was trying to get her shopping done.  The middle child by size (about two, I’d say) was not happy.  She was ready to go home.  I understand that feeling.  After about thirty minutes in a store, I’m ready to go home, too.

Two year olds have surprisingly big voices in little bodies.  This little girl started to tear up, and scream, “I want to go home!  I want to go home!”  Everyone in the store heard her.  Everyone in within a ten-mile radius heard her.  Everyone knew she wanted to go home.

Her mother tried all the standard techniques: “Shhh!  Be quiet.  We will go home in a few minutes;” “If you stop crying I will buy you some candy (that would work for me);” and, as the mom felt the stares, “Will you stop crying!”

None of the strategies worked.  The little girl upped her decibels.  Dogs began to howl outside the store.  I think I saw a jar of pickles start to vibrate.  More people were coming around the corner in search of this awful sound.

The young mom had reached her limit.  She pulled out the nuclear option phrase: “If you don’t stop crying this instant, I will give you something to cry about.”

The two year old looked at her mother with non-comprehending eyes.  You could read her thoughts on her furrowed forehead: “I already have something to cry about!  That’s why I’m crying.  What part of “I want to go home Momma” do you not understand?”

My heart went out to the little girl and to her overwhelmed Mom.  How do you reason with a two year old whose emotions have torn her away from whatever reasoning  ability she has?

Jesus once encountered people who were weeping because their friend Lazarus had died.  Jesus, who could have healed him, didn’t come in time.  Now Jesus was on the scene.  He could feel the accusing eyes and read their message: “He was your friend.  Where were you?  You could have done something.”  Jesus does not tell them “Don’t cry.”  He does not tell them he will give them something to cry about.  Instead, he joins their grief.  In the shortest verse in the Bible, we told one of its great truths: “Jesus wept.”

Jesus understands the moments in your life when you are overwhelmed with emotion.  Jesus, with infinite patience, stops to feel with you.  He shares your tears.  But he also will share your joys, your anger, your anxiety.  To your joy he brings song; to your anger, perspective; to your anxiety, peace.

I give the young mom credit.  Realizing what she said and how it sounded, she stopped her shopping, picked up the two year old up out of the buggy, and held her while she cried.  She let her daughter cry out her frustration.  Then she tickled her and made her laugh.

I think that is what Jesus does.  He holds us when we are flooded with emotion.  He cries when we cry.  Then, when we least expect it, he brings something good, he brings joy.  Jesus is the God of the morning when night turns to joy.  Whatever your tears, he will hold you.