Photo by Gladys Chia via create.northridgepublishing.com
Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It’s a time to reflect on the precious mothers we have in our lives. When I was in my early twenties, Mother’s Day was approaching and it gave me a huge pit in my stomach. A day I once loved to celebrate became one of the most dreaded days of the year. My mom died when I was 16 from breast cancer. After that, holidays became extremely hard to celebrate – namely her birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
Every May, I took a few steps back in my life. As hard as I was trying to move forward, this day reminded me of all I had lost. It was overwhelming. I was thankful for the husband God brought in my life, and for the blessings He had given me (like the opportunity to go to college, good health, etc.), but three times a year I felt the enormity of all I had lost and this day was a big one for me.
Adding to my pain, watching the world of mothers and daughters continue was more than I could bear. The sappy commercials, the flower bouquets in grocery stores, end caps filled with chocolate displays in the drug store – the reminder of what I no longer had was everywhere! It crushed me under a weight of sadness so strong I could barely lift my head and function.
I was alone in my journey through this desert. My husband is a wonderful man, but he has never walked this road and, thus, can only empathize from the outside looking in. My friends back then had mothers who were either healthy or had been a survivor of cancer. I felt as if no one could relate to the long, dark, lonely journey of living without my mom.
I couldn’t bring myself to visit her grave just yet. It was too much. I know that is not where she is-as she is in heaven with Jesus planning parties and laughing with friends and loved ones like she loved to do. However, as a symbol of respect, I wanted to visit her grave, yet couldn’t find the strength to do so.
As Mother’s Day approached this particular year, I felt suffocated by grief. I was angry at all the other young and older women in this country who were about to celebrate their moms, and I had nothing and no one to celebrate. I felt guilty for feeling angry. I was angry for guilty for feeling angry. I was a mess.
One late afternoon, I finished up my classes at college and was on my way home when something extraordinary happened. (It had been years since Mom died, and I had endured many holidays at that point-mostly in a stunned blur.)
God spoke to me and said, Why not?
Why not…what, God? I asked as the bright Florida sun blinded my windshield on the long stretch of road leading home.
You feel left out of Mother’s Day. Why not go ahead and do it, He replied.
Do what? I asked, confused.
What you were just thinking about, He answered.
You know, God shows up sometimes at the most unexpected times. He knows our thoughts, reads our minds, and completely understands our hearts with its desires, motives, hurts, and blessings. He knows the total us, and this particular day He showed up right in the middle of a really sad moment.
As I was driving, I passed a Hallmark card store. Okay, I love cards. I love to give them and I love to receive them. Nothing, nothing brightens my day like walking to the mailbox and finding a card for me or a handwritten note from a friend or family just letting me know I was on their mind. There is something about being remembered that is salve to a soul.
I even have a strange idiosyncrasy that I’ve never told anyone, but will confess it here today. When I shop for a card for someone, I spend a lot of time going through the entire selection. Once I’ve found the perfect one, I pick it from the back of the stack. To me, that card was made just for me to give a certain someone-no one else. Therefore, I choose the last card in the pile because no one has probably touched it, handled it, bent the edges, or smeared sticky fingers on it. It’s most likely in the best shape. So that’s the one I take. Weird, huh?
Anyway, because I love buying cards for people, not having a mom here to buy one for breaks my heart to pieces. Throughout my childhood, I made her homemade cards-and she kept them all. I wrote her poetry, short stories and cards all the time. I tucked little love notes in her napkin at dinner when I set the table; surprised her with a note taped to her dresser mirror; and loved to make cards for her out of construction paper, markers and glue. She loved receiving them and left ones for me to discover around the house as well. It was our thing.
Because it was our special thing, not having a reason to buy her a Mother’s Day card nearly crushed my soul to death. For years, I honored my grandmother and mother-in-law on this day, but kept my grief, pain and sadness locked far away where no one could see.
God knew this.
He showed up in His gentle, quiet way and knew I had passed, yet again, another Hallmark store.
In our conversation, He nudged me to stop and go into the store. It was an odd moment. A revelation of sorts.
Why can’t I buy her one? I asked myself. Is there a law against it? No. Is it morally wrong? No. It is hurting anyone? No. Why can’t I buy her one just because?
I could not think of a reason not to, but could think of a million reasons why I should. I pulled into the parking lot and felt excitement build in my chest. My hands shook with adrenaline. I was, once again, going to be a part of this holiday that I loved, and get to buy my mom a Mother’s Day card.
The bells chimed against the glass door as I entered, and the sales clerk asked if I needed any help. No ma’am I didn’t. I could hardly wait to get to the Mother’s Day card aisle.
It was a busy aisle with men, women and children perusing through the selection of mom cards. It’s hard to describe, but I felt in that moment like a wrong had been righted. Something that was
taken from me ripped from me had been given back to me. Something that I cherished every year had been stolen, and now it was recovered and returned to me. It was the experience of buying my mom a Mother’s Day card. It gave me a reason to stop life and simply think about all she had been to me, done for me, and how much she loved me-and I her. It was moment to reflect on the good times, all she taught me about life, and the blessing she was to me. It was a chance to say thank you, something I never got to do one last time.
Until that moment in the card store, I had no idea how much grief I carried with me every day of my life since she died. The weight of sadness nearly buried me, and I didn’t realize it until that moment.
I picked out several good cards and sat down on the floor-right there among everyone else in the Mother’s Day card aisle. I lost myself in experiencing pure joy getting be a part of an event I once thought as normal. It was an extraordinary moment of healing for me. I spread the cards out all over the floor, making people step over me and my mess. I sat there for at least 30 mintues reading and re-reading them in search of the perfect card.
At long last, I found it.
I carefully put all of the other cards back in their places and proceeded to check out. Typically, I put the card face down because (a) it makes scanning the bar code easier for the clerk, and (b) I don’t want anyone knowing what I am buy because it’s not their business (part of my weird card fetish, I know). Standing at the counter, I handed her the card face up – on purpose – because I wanted the clerk to see that I was buying a Mother’s Day card for the first time in years. I wanted the whole world to know! The huge smile on my face probably gave it away.
The bells chimed against the glass door as I left the store.
Want to know something? I never wrote in the card. Nearly two decades later, the card sits untouched in a special place. I have come to the conclusion that the joy of card shopping was enough to heal a deep wound in my heart. How does one write on a simple card a lifetime of gratitude; describing the benefit of every lesson she taught me; every thing she wound up being “right ” about; that every time I laugh at something I know she would also laugh at, I smile and think of her. How does one write how much she is missed, loved, and appreciated? Even if all of that could be written on a simple card, she is not here to receive it.
I am saving all of those words in my heart, like a child gathers wild flowers in her arms, and will share all of my “love notes” with her when I see her again in heaven.
That ordinary day, turned extraordinary, change my life. God used this small act to heal a big part of my heart. I, once again, got to be a part of something I desperately missed.
I still have the card. However, God did something even more amazing. My need to buy her a card (a need I didn’t know I yearned for until He revealed it to me in the car) was fulfilled. I’ve never bought her another one. All is well. But, God showed me that I can buy Mother’s Day cards for the special women in my life. My mother-in-law, stepmother, sisters-in-law, and my special girlfriends.
Only God can be so creative as to give me this idea! Now, every year, I get to go to the store and buy a ton of Mother’s Day cards. I get to write and tell them how much they mean to me and what great mothers they are to their families. It is one of the highlights of my year! In fact, the sweet friend at church, our special widow friend, will receive flowers from us this year-along with my mother-in-law and stepmother. I had a total blast ordering them for our special ladies.
Mother’s Day has once again become something I smile about.
Also, I hope it goes without saying, since I became a mother myself I relish in time with my husband and children on this day. I love that they make it all about me and spoil me rotten with breakfast in bed, fresh-picked gardenias from the backyard, and a family walk (my very favorite thing to do on a holiday). They surprise me with a corsage to where to church, just like I used to do for my grandmother and mom. It’s a family tradition-one I am grateful to continue. They shower me with love and affection, and my children now bring me homemade cards-oh the circle of life! God abundantly blessed me with a loving family whose priority is to make me feel like a queen on this special day.
I have enjoyed many beautiful Mother’s Days since the special visit to the card store. However, until that visit I wasn’t capable of finding joy in this day. God healed something deep inside me. He redeemed a devastated part of my heart. He turned my circumstances around and gave me eyes to see the joy in every day that He has given me. Only God can do that.
I still miss my mom terribly, but, I have a whole lot of love notes written on my heart that I look forward to sharing with her one day. If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, ask God how He can help. You might be surprised at His answer.