Friday, May 12, 2017

When Mother's Day Hurts

I believe there is a certain amount of pain and regret associated with Mother’s Day for most of us. Our very existence proves a mother was involved.  And every single one of those mothers, steeped in imperfection, at times had the potential to affect hurt, anger, and resentment in us.

As women, that mixed bag of experience or lack thereof, is the tool bag we take with us as we navigate the waters of our own lives.  We are faced with a conundrum. Somewhere out there is this unwritten standard of motherhood perfection  And our glaring imperfections, and those of our mothers and grandmothers stand in stark contrast to that elusive model-- a constant nagging reminder of what we should be and aren’t.

My mother was born the fourth of six daughters to a German father and a Czech immigrant mother named Stella almost eight decades ago.  When she was only three her parents divorced, leaving the girls, the youngest still an infant, to be raised by a physically and emotionally absent father and a string of hired housekeepers.

It’s not that her mom didn’t want to raise her six daughters--she was never given the opportunity.  Forbidden to even visit her girls she suffered a complete emotional breakdown and spent her remaining years in a nursing home.  

Among the very few memories Mom had of Stella was the day Mom came home from first grade and saw a strange woman in her living room who refused to leave. “That’s your mother,” she was told. There was arguing, and a housekeeper proclaiming that the visitor did not have to leave until she was able to have dinner with her girls. Mom vaguely remembers being questioned at the age of three, prompted earlier to recite the phrase, “I want to live with my father.”  The other memory was when she and her sisters as teenagers arranged a secret excursion to visit Stella in the nursing home. Knowing they were breaking all of the established rules, they snuck out and drove to the facility, secretly hoping beyond all hope that the reunion would be full of hugs, tears, and words spoken they had longed to hear for almost fifteen years. Stella, bereft of all emotion, politely answered their questions as she would have any other stranger’s. The emotional breakdown was apparently complete.  

My mom was able to reconnect with her mother’s family a few years ago at Stella's funeral. Given documents of her family history, wedding photos, and naturalization documents, the sisters were able to connect a few dots of the history so long hidden from them. Mom and her sisters found comfort in the fact that a photo of the six daughters, now grown with families of their own, taken together at a reunion at a nearby restaurant  had been displayed proudly by Stella’s bed her last few years on earth.

She had remembered.

Although she hadn’t been able to express it to her daughters on the day of their visit, her connection to them remained underneath the huge wall of a scarred and fractured spirit. She really had loved them.

We often hurt those we love most.  Our capacity to love is proportional only to our capacity to be hurt. With love comes risk.   

I remember a summer day ten years ago, pacing up and down my driveway, choking back sobs as tears streamed down my face.  Three of my oldest children were overseas on several month-long missions trips, two in Africa and one in Macedonia,  Overwhelmed with the emotions of the moment, I thought about how privileged I was to have had the opportunity to love so deeply that missing them caused that much pain. I was blessed to be able to hurt that much.

Today, having packed lunches, pouring milk into cereal bowls, and saying goodbyes as my youngest venture off to school, I face the challenges of owning a business and balancing all of my spinning plates.  And I think of those I know and love that are struggling during this time of year.

Sons and daughters who never knew their mothers.
Those whose mothers are no longer here.
Those whose mothers hurt them and scarred them deeply.
Those who long to be mothers and aren’t.
Those who are neck deep in the weight of motherhood and feel choked by their own imperfections.
Those who live each day with glaringly empty houses, whose children have moved out of their homes and lives.
Those who abandoned their own children.
Those who sit in hospital rooms and nursing homes beside mothers and sisters and daughters whose days are numbered.

The broken.
The hurting.
The overwhelmed.
The forgotten.
The abandoned.
The guilt-laden.
The abused.
The lonely.

Amidst the heartache of a broken world there is still a flicker of redemptive light.  It’s the light of a new day and all of its possibilities. There is redemption. There is the possibility of forgiveness. There is the hope of healing.  And there is a Love that covers over a multitude of sins.

For those of you who dread this time of year, I pray that you are able to leave the weight of the past at the threshold of yesterday, and embrace the light of today and all of its possibilities. I pray that somehow you are able to...  

Focus on the blessing of being able to love deeply enough to be hurt.
Focus on the healing that is possible, the “I’m sorry’s” and “I forgive you’s” that are yet to come..
Focus on loving those who are near to you now.
And focus on lightening the load of someone who is neck deep in motherhood, who doesn’t have a mom nearby to help her.

You can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the broken and lonely.  And in the giving and letting go, you can find healing and joy.

This is my prayer for you this Mother’s Day. And even though for many of you, the pain of this particular Mother’s day leaves you beaten down and hurting, I pray that the Mother’s Days to come will hold much joy.