In two days our firstborn will be college-bound. In the midst of a busy summer, he and I have had to carve out intentional time to shop for dorm supplies, of which I know nothing about.
My husband and I got married young, real young. I was 19. He was 23. We were married on spring break and bought our first home when I was 21. That tiny foreclosure was the perfect place to learn power tools, how to be married students, and realize my own independence.
This dorm thing is new to me. I have fought the urge to over buy. Our son doesn’t want any bells and whistles, so when the school’s packing list mentioned house plants – well, he and I laughed out loud at that one.
He can certainly prepare for college on his own, but for me it’s extra time I get to spend with just him whether we’re in Target, Wal-Mart or beyond. We’ve shared laughs and memories on these shopping escapades that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I’ll do anything to steal time away with my kids.
Minus a couple of technical items, like finding the dreaded required calculator, he’s all set.
Today, however, it hit me. He’s leaving home.
Over the last few weeks I’ve washed his two plastic cups, cheap silverware and his one glass bowl for microwaving and packed them in his plastic college tub. I’ve also washed his sheets and towels and repacked them with the small arsenal of dorm items huddled in the family room.
As I went to tuck the crisp, white sheets in the bag with the other bedding, I noticed the pillowcases were wrinkled beyond repair from the dryer.
The looked like giant, used handkerchiefs.
I tried flattening them with my hands but it was no use.
I tried to just let it go, but I couldn’t. Before I knew it I was setting up our creaky ironing board and plugging in the iron.
hate loathe abhor ironing and avoid it at all costs, ask anyone who knows me – especially my family.
I’m neither patient enough nor good enough at it. For me, I’ve solved this problem by not owning anything that needs to be ironed.
So why on earth would I tackle horrendously wrinkled pillowcases that a steamroller couldn’t fix?
It’s my way of nesting a home I won’t live in for a boy I love with all my heart.
As the iron whistled and blew steam I thought of my firstborn lying down after a long day in a different state and resting his head on these pillowcases.
The same head that I oohed over in his sonogram when I was only 8 weeks pregnant. He had the cutest tiny bobble head with little nubs for arms and legs, but there he was, my baby.
The same head I cradled in the palm of my hand when he was born; that I watched my husband cradle as he swayed side-to-side in the hospital room, singing our baby boy to sleep.
The same head that turned away from baby food he refused to eat, donned silly Halloween costumes and proudly displayed lost baby teeth.
The same head that I held my breath over as he tumbled headlong into the opposing football player’s helmet in the game; that ducked and weaved through soccer players, using his head to launch the ball to his teammates; and that poured over the keys of the piano late into the night.
The same head that suffered a major concussion in Africa on mission and endured an injury at school that could have killed him. The same head I watched proudly drive away with his brand new license.
The same head that towered above the voting booth at his first election. Talk about making a mama proud!
I’ve watched my boy become a man and have learned a lot over the years about when to hold on and when to let go. Knowing time is short, I’ve not taken the days with my son for granted. I’ve counted each and every blessing of raising him.
And after a grueling senior year, we were both so happy to have it over with I shed no tears at graduation.
It’s time to let him fly.
Yes, the same little pumpkin that couldn’t reach the faucet on his own has grown into a tall body that stoops to hug me. As he rests his head on my shoulder, I am taken back to the days of rocking him to sleep in my arms. His long arms now wrap around me and I melt.
He has so many gifts, talents as strengths (most of which he doesn’t even see in himself, yet). I am thrilled he gets to enter this new phase of self-discovery.
But how I will miss him.
Fully able to fend for himself, I will miss kissing that sweet head goodnight.
Mothers grow and grieve in their own way. I never thought I’d feel so many mixed emotions about him leaving, nor find myself looking at him, holding his hand and leaning my head on his shoulder so much as I have this summer.
For me, a mom with a grateful, grieving heart, ironing the pillowcases that will soften his sleep is my way of wishing him sweet dreams – not only for a good night’s sleep, but as he works hard to make those dreams a reality.
And in his pursuit of this crazy thing we call life, I’ll be right here waiting to feel his precious head rest on my shoulders and tell him once again, You can grow up, but please don’t outgrow your mama.
Our only daughter is turning 16. A milestone birthday, it has been celebrated in our society with cars and keys, and in movies and books. For me, it is a bittersweet event because of what my special gift to my girl is…
Every birthday since I was born, my mom gave me birthday angels. They are very fragile, delicate figurines with a number and a symbolic item for each year; a small girl holding a teddy bear, a teenager holding a phone, etc.
I have an angel for every year from birth to 16. This is where they stop.
On my birthdays, I always knew there would be a small, square box, light as a feather. I always opened it last partially because I was anxious to see what else I got and partially because I knew it could easily break in the festivities.
My mom was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer one month before I turned 16, and died eleven months later.
On my 17th birthday, my grandparents, whom I lived with after she died, did what they could to wish me a happy birthday. However, they had just buried my mom, their daughter. None of us were in the mood to celebrate. A small, square box was missing.
I can count on one hand items I have from my mom, literally. That season of life was absolute chaos and sadness. My sister and I lost our home and our stuff. My cat ran away and I had to put my dog of 13 years, my very best friend who was my 4th birthday present, down. She couldn’t handle the stress of everything and stopped eating. There was nothing we could do to help. My house of cards came down with a crash within a couple of weeks of Mom’s death, including a car accident I was involved in that totaled her car the night before her funeral. It was all too much.
I remember sparse pieces of those days. I do remember sitting in my mom’s bedroom, emptying out drawers of photographs into black trash bags and hauling them to the curb thinking, That life is over now. How I wish I hadn’t done that. My stuffed animal collection, bedroom furniture, everything went. My life as I knew it was erased and I was left numb inside and out.
My precious grandmother saved my birthday angels, though I didn’t know it for years. When she gave them to me, it was like opening a time capsule. There they were, all in one piece sans one. They still had thick dust on them. For the eleven months my mom fiercely battled cancer, we lived between two homes – my grandparents and ours. Nothing in our home was maintained between long school days and hospital stays. To see and touch the dust was like touching a piece of my living history. Surreal.
As soon as I found out my husband and I were having a girl, I thought about those angels. I would have a daughter to pass them on to.
Each year commemorating our daughter’s birth, I quietly travel to a secret part of our home where they sit in silence. Like a museum, they rest in a box with a toothbrush and all that dust. Holding them in my hand, I feel the grit of the dust. My heart can only handle cleaning one angel per year. What seems like a mundane task reaches to the bottom of my heart. Touching the dust feels like my hand has slipped through time and space. I am touching a piece of my old life, literally. That was dust from my room – the room stripped and taken from me before I was grown. With the toothbrush and warm, soapy water, I carefully clean each angel year-by-year. It’s a symbolic ceremony of one as I say goodbye to the old and welcome the new, preparing to give them away to my daughter.
For the past twenty-eight years (hoping since I was a child that I’d be a mom one day), I have wondered what would it feel like to give my daughter my last birthday angel.
The pain I feel rests in the decision I must make: Do I continue the tradition by scouring eBay (they aren’t sold in stores anymore) for years 17 to 21, and I even saw a marriage angel once, or do I let the tradition peacefully end with my daughter’s 16th birthday, however heart-wrenching it abruptly stopped with my mom?
I don’t know. I just don’t know.
There’s no right or wrong, but I don’t know what is the best decision. For anyone reading, I would deeply appreciate your input.
On one hand, I would love to continue the tradition and search the world over to find the missing angels. On the other hand, I am passing down a tradition that my mom began and couldn’t finish, and a part of my heart feels guilty at the thought of leaving her behind for the renaming years.
Honestly, I’m not sure either decision will ever feel 100% right, but then again few things in life do. Decisions are often a leap of faith, and we don’t know how they’ll turn out until the dust settles.
After touching the settled dust on my birthday angels, either decision still hurts. A decision I don’t take lightly. The point of keeping these birthday angels has been to pass a piece of my mom onto our daughter, who never had the opportunity to know her. If I buy her ones from me, it seems like my mom (her grandmother) would be left out and that makes me sad.
I have a piece of stone art in my office that sums up many thoughts in one sentence…
Anyone who had to finish growing up without a mom understands this. A grown daughter struggling to be her own person also understands this.
Hopefully, I have successfully retained and implemented much of my mother’s wisdom. It’s been so many years, and although I cannot remember specific conversations she and I must have had (or the sound of her voice), the fabric of who she was is woven into who I am. Leaving childhood and entering adulthood has offered the opportunity to see what that will look like for the rest of my life.
In most areas, I have found my own gardens. She tilled the soil through discipline and planted seeds of God, love, laughter and forgiveness deep out of reach from the evil things in this world that would dig them up and and harsh weather that would scorch and starve them.
Her beautiful life watered the gardens in my heart in ways she’ll never know.
I was at my grandparents one afternoon right before she died when my ex-stepdad came to visit her. She was very ill and unable to leave the hospital bed Hospice had brought her. We lived at my grandparents’ home full-time at that point so they could care for her. I still showered and dressed every morning back at our home. The best way to explain what that felt like was to be “in between addresses.” On high school forms, I didn’t know which house address to write.
I didn’t want to see my ex-stepdad. He was a very scary man who left many deep emotional scars on me. But I knew he was there and, even at 16, I knew why. It was that visit that helped shape my relationships ever since. She allowed him to come, despite the traumatizing wrecking ball with which he destroyed her life and my childhood, and she allowed herself to have closure.
It takes a woman who has made peace with God and with herself to do that. I knew then that’s the kind of woman I wanted to be.
Where do birthday angels 17 to 21, and the married one, fit in my gardens? Where do they fit in my daughter’s gardens as she approaches adulthood?
Lord willing I get to celebrate many, many, many more of her birthdays, I will have to make this decision. A decision twenty-eight years in the making.
On her 16th birthday, there will be a small, lightweight gift that she will open last – just like I did and just like she has done all these years. When the box opens, memories will flood my heart of the day Mom gave this birthday angel to me, and how I secretly worried (only two months into her cancer battle) if this would be the last. I remember where I was sitting, what the weather felt like, and the nervous smile she gave me as, I believe, she worried the same thing. I drew no attention to the tears that I saw well up in her eyes because I didn’t want to ruin the moment for her.
I am blessed that my daughter and I have made it to this milestone. With every milestone in our children’s lives be it walking, talking, starting school, losing a tooth, making the team, learning to drive, SATs, etc. I turn my face toward heaven and thank my Father for letting me be a part of each one – for myself and for our children.
This birthday, I will focus on celebrating the life my daughter has been blessed to live, and will continue to dream with her, laugh with her and love her as she graces each milestone one at a time. We will sing, and she will blow out candles, and we will eat something fabulous and filled with sugar. We will dine at her favorite restaurant and we will make the night all about her.
A party of five that we are, we are often seated at a table for six. The extra seat at the birthday table is a visual reminder to me that my mom is still a part of our lives as she lives on in memory and legacy.
These days, I often find myself asking, What would Mom do? as we duck and weave through teen waters times three. This time I am asking, What seeds were planted in her garden that were meant to take root in mine?
After two separate 2-mile walks in the same day, I sat at my computer to take care of a few things when something unusual caught my eye. I looked over my shoulder and there, in the middle of the darkened hallway, laid our little dog completely passed out.
She kept the pace with me through both exercise sessions and was a real sport, but somewhere between her dog bed in the family room and her other dog bed under my desk, she just couldn’t walk another step and plopped onto the floor – mid-journey – to take a needed nap.
The good, bad and ugly all in, I looked at her and thought, If I could describe what being a mother feels like by the end of the school year… This. Is. It.
A picture really is worth a thousand euphoric, exhausted, hopeful, disappointed, excited, anxious, relieved, frustrated, happy, sad, and proud mamma words. It’s all worth it.
Now for that nap…
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. ~ Deuteronomy 10:17-20
I received a letter in the mail a couple of months ago. A letter that hasn’t left my mind ever since its words lifted from the page and inscribed themselves on my heart. We have a sponsored daughter through Compassion International. The letter we received from them announced her impending graduation from the program.
I knew this day would come, but I didn’t want to think about it. For her, this is incredible news! This means she made it! She has survived severely impoverished, third-world conditions and is now skilled in a job that will serve her for the rest of her life.
For me, however, it means letting her go. As I’ve written before, I have a hard time with change, and this year has seen a lot of it. My father died nine months ago. Our senior pastor, who is my mentor and friend and someone I highly admire and respect, retired after twenty-one years of faithful service to our congregation. My husband’s aunt died suddenly, and her memorial service marked a new chapter in our family’s history. I closed a three-year chapter of homeschooling two of our children, and find myself missing my lunch buddies, their jokes, camaraderie and company in my days now. We finally sold my husband’s car – a 1997 Honda Odyssey. It was good to us, crossing 300,000 miles on the odometer, but it was time to acquire something that meets our current needs. Our eBay car purchase served us well for six years. Silly, I know. It’s just a car – especially for people who don’t place an unhealthy value on “things.” But, it was familiar.
Perhaps that’s what’s hard about change for me…losing the familiar.
Compassion’s letter to our family was a request to write our Compassion daughter one…last…time. Ug. My heart sank. I kept that request on my desk for four months. I simply couldn’t bring myself to write it. This is the last communication I will have with her this side of heaven. What do I say?
Compassion suggested we write words of wisdom, encouragement and Scripture. These are the last words our beautiful daughter will carry from us for the rest of her life. No pressure. She who can’t ever stop talking sat speechless at my computer with our daughter’s picture smiling at me while the curser impatiently blinked on the blank page.
Dear God, I don’t know what to say. Where do I begin? How do I end? Please help me give her the words You want her to hear.
As I began the letter, my mind flashed back over the 14 years she has been with us. I remember the night we found her. My husband and I were at a Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant Christmas concert in 1998. During intermission, we strolled through the arena, curious as to what this Compassion thing that Amy Grant spoke of on stage was all about. We came to a table and spread out on it were many children’s profiles. My eyes scanned their sweet faces; many of them revealing a deep hopelessness in their expressions and thin bodies clothed in rags.
My eyes wandered to a beautiful girl. Seven years old. Across the sea from us in a land filled with conflict – dangerous for any female. I picked up her card and read her story. Her mother dead, her father removed, she lives with her grandmother and brother. My breath caught in my chest and eyes stung with salty tears. This was my story – this side of the ocean. Replace the brother with a sister and she is me. Captivated, I held her card close to my chest and knew she was meant to be a part of our family. I wanted to offer her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that God gave me in my darkest hours of trauma and loss as a child.
Through Compassion, we could pay for her medical needs, clothes, food and education. Christian education. If she couldn’t live with us, this was the next best thing. We signed up immediately, knowing that we were committed to this for the long haul.
Over the years, we loved receiving her letters. We learned about her culture and landscape, farming and weather seasons. We learned about her life. We prayed her through the dry seasons and rainy seasons. We prayed every time her brother became ill and when she had trouble in math. She wrote her favorite Scriptures to us and told us about her friends.
Each Christmas and birthday, we were given the opportunity to send her a monetary gift. By American standards it wasn’t much at all, but it is reasonable for their economic geography. Every time we sent a gift, she wrote us and enthusiastically told us what she bought with it. It was always the same. She bought: a new dress for herself, a goat for the family and sweets for her friends.
Her purchases sparked great conversation in our family throughout the years about giving and receiving, thankfulness and kindness. The fact that she always shared her gifts with her family and friends touched our hearts in inexpressible ways. She was thankful. Can we say the same?
We told her about where we live, too. We shared favorite school subjects, hobbies, pets and what we do in a regular day. We shared our prayer requests with her, too. Having a pen pal across the world was priceless to my children.
One day, when she was about 15 years old, she wrote and told us that a preacher was visiting their village to evangelize in their community. She was asked to go along with him to preach the Gospel. I will never forget how I felt reading her words. Choking back happy tears, I said to myself, She’s got it. She has her own faith and is now able to share it with others. She’s going to be okay.
This news gave me so much joy and peace! Despite her bleak circumstances, she accepted Christ as her Savior and knows there is an eternal home waiting for her.
When Compassion expanded its ministry to include online writing, versus handwriting, I was so excited! Handwritten letters are always best, but not as practical as writing something online that could be sent immediately for translation. I remember writing to her telling her this news of online writing. I will never, ever forget her response. I was excited that this would be quick and easy, no need to hunt for a stamp and was technologically up with the times. Her response?
I thank our God that He has provided you a job so you can have the money to buy a computer to write me.
Talk about perspective!!! Think about her response for a moment. Deeply ponder it. Without knowing it, she continually taught us so much about life, love, thankfulness, contentment and commitment.
When my husband lost his job in 2001, a week before 9/11 and in the middle of the .com crash (of which his job was directly affected), we had no idea how we were going to feed our babies 1, 3, and 5 years old. We had no health insurance, no gas money, no savings. We had nothing but our vehicles and our house – that we feared we could lose in a heartbeat. We never once considered stopping our sponsorship of our Compassion daughter. This is no kudos to us. Through sponsoring her, we learned even more what commitment looked like and what trust in God felt like. We could no more stop feeding and clothing her than we could our own children, because like our own children, if we didn’t meet her basic needs – who would? We totally relied on God to provide for us, and for her, and He did. She never knew any of this. Her life is one of great struggle and hardship, and even in our most dire straight, we were still wealthy beyond measure simply because of the longitude and latitude in which we live.
In her last years with us, she wrote about graduating high school. This was quite an accomplishment! The letter came announcing she was accepted into nursing school. Nursing school! I remember jumping up and down and cheering with my children.
This meant, not only will she have a job she can be proud of, but she will be able to financially support herself and her family, AND it saves her from a dangerous and demoralizing future so many young women face trying to earn money to survive. Wow! Her future has never looked brighter.
She is truly a part of our family, and this final letter literally pained my heart to write. How do I tell her words of wisdom as a mother, when my own mother never had a chance to speak them over me? I feel like the blind leading the blind. I don’t know where to go with this.
As I struggled with my letter, my heart brought to mind a very special book* by Susan Polis Schultz. This book has priceless value to me. It is a book written by a mother to her daughter. It is full of letters, encouragement, love and advice. This is the last gift given to me by my mother. She gave it to me on Valentine’s Day, 1987, three months before she died of breast cancer when I was sixteen.
She wrote on the inside cover that she had a hard time putting into her own words what she wanted me to know, so she used this book to say it for her. In it, she starred, underlined – double underlined – words and phrases. These are what matter most to me. These are her words to me. However, I have only read this book a few times in 26 years.
I am unable to express my hesitation in words. It hurts to go back to the most painful time of my life. It hurts to hear her speak to me through writing, because once I finish reading it, I am again left with an emptiness that she is no longer here. The process of reading her words is emotionally draining, yet healing at the same time. That’s the best I can do to explain my feelings.
While writing to my Compassion daughter, my mind drifted to this precious book and with my mom’s inspiration I began to write. Space online is limited. It took me three letters to get it all in. Oh, I could have written more, but knew at some point, the end of the letter was inevitable – as hard as it was to admit.
I wrote how beautiful she is, and to never neglect herself as she cares for her patients. To love deeply, laugh a lot, and stay close to God. I quoted my favorite Scriptures and spoke blessings over her. I gave her practical advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom. I promised that, just as we have done for 14 years, we will continue to pray for her every day for the rest of our lives.
Wrapping up the third letter in the series, I told her:
I don’t like goodbyes. I won’t say it to you. Although we may never see each other on this earth, we are both Christians and will have eternity to spend with each other. Life on this earth is very short. So, instead of goodbye, I will say I’ll see you soon. Whoever makes it to heaven first, wait for the other at the gate.
I paused writing and broke down and cried. I cried happy tears for all she has accomplished and overcome, and sad tears because the season of her life entwining with ours has come to a close. However, Christians have a unique relationship. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are related by blood not of this world. Christ’s sacrificial blood pumps through our spirit, and this bond is something no one can take away. We are family indeed, and no amount of time or circumstance can separate us from one another – even if we are physically apart.
My children are still in my nest. She is the first one to launch into the world and follow her dreams and the destiny that God has prepared for her. I’m new at this launching thing. I have no idea what to say. I told her how much we love her and how incredibly proud we are of her.
It seemed that telling her how proud I am of her was a repetitive theme. Perhaps it’s something I long to hear myself. Both of my parents are gone and my biological father was only in my life for the past 8 short years. Maybe I spoke to her some of the words I have been starving to hear.
Upon finishing her letter, my heart was nudged to pull my mom’s book off of the shelf. I sat down and gazed at the simple artwork on the cover. I gently turned the yellowed pages and read every word she marked for me.
I have felt a little lost with my writing lately. Perhaps recovering from surgery has dimmed my creative juices, and I am physically more tired as I heal. Ironically, my eyes fixed on one particular passage she underlined…
“Write your feelings down. Create something based on your feelings, but do not keep them inside.”*
I soaked in her encouragement and let it penetrate my soul. Her words were perfect timing for my life.
Through committing to child sponsorship, I thought we were rescuing a child and offering her opportunities to realize her dreams. I hope we did just that, but I can tell you that this journey has rescued me and sparked hope for my dreams. Even down to the last letter, when I was drawn to the words my mom left for me so many years ago for a time today when I really needed to hear her voice.
My mom left a legacy of a letter in the book she gave me. We left a legacy to our Compassion daughter through the letters we wrote to her. She left a legacy to us in her letters. Her perseverance and hard work inspired us to continue with Compassion.
In her honor, we now have two more sponsored children each in a different part of the world. They are young, sweet children who have their whole lives ahead of them. I close my eyes and imagine the years of letters we will, Lord-willing, have to share with each other. I look forward to expanding our family across the seas and investing spiritually, financially and emotionally into these two lives. I smile with anticipation of all we will share.
It is easy to be discouraged from sponsoring a child because the financial commitment seems scary in this economy or we believe one person can’t make a lasting difference. However, I know firsthand that our family can’t afford not to. I am hopeful we made a difference in her life – but I am absolutely certain she made the world of difference in ours. We are changed by her selflessness, love and tender spirit. We are challenged by her resolve, strength, optimism and determination. We will champion these same qualities in our new Compassion son and daughter.
If our paths do not cross in this lifetime and I reach heaven first, I will eagerly wait at the gate for my Compassion daughter. I have a big hug I’ve been saving up a lifetime to give her.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Sitting on the beach, I was quite content to people watch for a while. My youngest son and I had finished playing a fun game of frisbee and other beach games, so he set off to try to make a home made kite from a plastic bag, 2 boogie boards and red plastic string.
A family nearby had also enjoyed a full day playing in the sun – mom, dad, toddler and grandparents. Nearing late afternoon, the mom, grandmother and daughter ventured into the surf together – hand in hand. I watched them with curiosity. Then, it happened.
My heart sank, and I instantly knew why I felt like my heart weighed a 1,000 pounds. There were 3 generations enjoying the beach together. Something I will never have with my mom and children. Once again, reality has a way of sneaking its way into a dreamy moment. One moment, the grandmother and mother were swinging the toddler above the waves with me blissfully watching on the sidelines, then, in the next breath the stark reality of what I will never feel, hear, see or experience hit me like a roaring wave of sadness.
However, what happened next totally caught me by surprise. As fast as my heart sank, it was as though a life preserver had been thrown my way. With fresh eyes, ones given to me by believing God in all things and living by faith, what I watched through a grieving filter of a hollow past was now something I could look forward to enjoying in the future.
I may not be able to have this kind of beach moment with my mom and daughter, but hopefully I can have it with my daughter, or daughter-in-laws, and grandchildren.
Ah ha! Everything looked different.
It is our choice to walk backwards on the path of life on which God has allowed us to journey. It is also our choice to walk forward. I was caught up in a moment of walking backwards over things that have already taken place, and in doing so I temporarily forfeited the opportunity to get excited about what I hope is to come.
Is there a guarantee that I will ever get that moment? No. But, without hopes and dreams, the reality of life can mercilessly pound us like relentless, crashing waves. For today, I look forward to the many moments God will prayerfully give me with my family – but I will also treasure the ones He’s given me right now.
Yesterday, we had an awesome day together. In the sand, sun and water, we made the most of the day and went to bed delightfully exhausted and a little sunburned.
I snapped a photo (above) of the family, our sandy neighbors, whom I had the pleasure of watching. Instead of bringing despair, they offered me hope. Instead of walking backwards, I will walk forward to whatever awaits on my path. And, I will soak in every laugh, every hug, every tender moment with my family that God gives me right now. They are balm to my heart and water to my soul. I have a smile on my face this morning, over precious memories made thus far on this trip and with hope for more special moments to come.
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.