Souvenirs or Baggage?

My Mom died recently, and my brother and sister and I are cleaning out her estate. This is by no means a small task, as my Mother saved EVERYTHING! All of our elementary school report cards, 4-H Awards programs, class play programs, thousands of photos (mostly unidentified), post cards from all of our vacations (including places we re-visited!), ticket stubs from movies and football games and banquets, our old baby shoes, broken toys, recipes clipped from magazines and old boxes, letters we sent from college, and letters sent to her when she was in high school. She even saved such things that her own mother and grandmother had saved! Souvenirs and memories, all tucked away or piled up throughout her house.

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My mom was what is known as a “hoarder.” She was pathological in her collecting bits and pieces of everything that went on all around her. She had clothing she had never worn. She had Christmas gifts she had opened and put back in their wrapping, but never enjoyed. She had books she had never read, DVDs she had never watched, and pots and pans she had never used. She had stacks and bags and boxes of memories she always meant to sort through– someday.

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As she grew older, she sometimes would lament that we, as her children, would be burdened with the job of sorting through all her “stuff.” Even so, she wouldn’t let us touch any of it until the last months of her life, when it was obvious that she would never be able to do it herself. And we weren’t to throw anything out– only make an attempt to organize it all!

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Of course, now we are throwing out the majority of what she kept. Much of it was damaged by being stacked and stored in the haphazard way it was. Some was damaged by a leaky roof, or mice. Many of the things that are damaged were once useful, and might have been useful yet if they had not been hoarded and held back. Blankets and towels that might have been passed on were left to be chewed up or rotted. Books and photos are warped or stained.

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I loved Mom, and she was a great woman of God– a prayer warrior and evangelist. But she was human. In this part of her life, she missed some great opportunities to bless others with the resources she had. She even missed the opportunity to enjoy many of the things she obsessively stored for “someday.” Moreover, she saved many things that weren’t useful. Old boxes and jars of spoiled food, old bills and advertisements, expired credit cards and driver’s licenses.

I have been reminded of many things as I’ve helped go through Mom’s “things.” There are many wonderful memories that still can be found in all of her souvenirs. I found an old storybook– one of my favorites–about a Mama Bear and her naughty, curious little cub. “Why do you love me?,” the cub asks after getting into trouble yet again. “Because you’re my little bear,” she answers as she cleans the wounds and lovingly carries her cub home. Love transcends mischief. It transcends things like lost opportunities and hoarding tendencies, and the frustrations of life.

But sometimes we hang on to things, not out of love, but out of pain or desperation. Mom was a child of the Great Depression. Her family had to move a lot when she was younger. She was forced to give away toys and clothes she wanted to keep; forced to leave old friends and make new ones; forced to make things “last” when new things couldn’t be had. She spent many years having to be frugal and careful to make small memories last a lifetime. She became obsessed with collecting “souvenirs” of even the smallest events, even tragic ones, and holding on to what was “good enough,” even if something better was offered.

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Many of Mom’s “souvenirs” have become baggage for those of us who follow. And many of our “souvenirs” will be baggage for those who follow us. Some of our scars will be passed down to our children. Some of our hopes and dreams will be unrealized–unopened and unused gifts that “might have been.” Others objects and experiences will be pleasant reminders of the love that lasts beyond our own lives and limitations. But objects, in themselves, cannot take the place of the actual experiences of joy, love, and peace they are meant to represent.

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God wants us to hold fast to certain things. Truth. Hope. Love. Faith. But He calls us to let go of other things. Bitterness, resentment, anger, self-pity. I know that in my final days, I will probably find that I am still carrying some baggage. But I hope that I will find more souvenirs– good memories of a life enjoyed, goals accomplished, and relationships that have stood the test of time. Mom had those in abundance. But some were hidden among the baggage–treasured memories of those who loved her, and those whom she loved, surrounded by the baggage of heartache and longing. I pray that those who follow me won’t have to search among the ruins to find my souvenirs, or hunt through piles of souvenirs to find my treasures.

Vending Machine Prayers

As I write this, my mom is dying. We don’t know how much longer she has, but we’ve asked for prayers as she takes this journey toward death and resurrection. These are sometimes difficult prayers to make. We don’t like to see Mom suffering, but we don’t like the thought of separation through death, either. Our initial prayer would be for complete healing. But that’s not realistic, given that Mom has heart failure and is almost 90 years old. That doesn’t mean that God cannot or would not grant total healing. But we aren’t expecting that kind of miracle when we pray today.

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For some people, our prayers seem meaningless. One of my classmates from school reacted to my request for prayer by saying, “I just wish that prayer DID something…” I take this to mean that if we don’t get a miraculous outcome, she believes our prayers are wasted. I hope I’m misinterpreting here, but I know that this is a common criticism of prayer in tough times. It seems that every time there is a natural disaster, or a mass shooting, people who offer “thoughts and prayers” are roundly criticized for praying “instead” of “doing.” As though the two are mutually exclusive. As though prayer is an empty gesture in the face of disaster and distress. As though there is no hope, no comfort, and no help in praying.

There are others who will assert with complete confidence their belief that God will answer any prayer for a miracle, simply because they ask it “in Jesus’ Name” or because many people are praying for the same outcome. I call these kinds of prayers, and attitudes about prayer, “Vending Machine Prayers.” It is the belief that prayer must produce an immediate and positive outcome, or it is “broken” or invalid. If you don’t get what you were expecting, you must have prayed “wrong,” or didn’t have “enough” faith. Or your prayer just didn’t “work.” When someone puts money into a vending machine, and presses a button or punches in a code or pulls a knob, and they don’t get the expected item, some of them will kick the machine, or curse. Or they will try again, carefully trying to get the “right” result. Vending machines are inanimate objects designed to give a satisfactory consumer experience. If the coins or bills “jam,” if the knobs or buttons malfunction, if the product gets “stuck,” or isn’t available, the consumer feels cheated. Sometimes, they can get their money returned, but most often, they go away angry and unfulfilled.

God is not a vending machine. He is not “designed” to serve us or give us satisfaction. There is nothing we can “insert” in our relationship with God –even sincere prayer–that obligates Him to give us what we desire. God chooses to answer prayers in whatever way He knows is best for our eternal and overall well-being. God still gives miracles. I’ve seen it and experienced it. In fact, we could have lost Mom several years ago, when her heart failure put her in a similar state. God provided a miracle in the form of heart valve replacement surgery–and a cancellation that moved her surgery schedule forward before her condition was too far gone. I’ve seen people healed of cancer– and people whose prayers for healing ended in their rapid decline and death. But none of those prayers were wasted. Not one. God was working– sometimes on the sidelines, strengthening family members to deal with grief; sometimes providing testimonies to those with doubts and questions; sometimes planting seeds that would bear fruit years later in the lives of those left behind–sometimes God was working “sideways,” as He did with Mom years ago to give her several more years of life, even though she wasn’t completely healed, to grow and prepare for this next step and testify to God’s sustaining power.

God is not apathetic, and He certainly isn’t “happy” about Mom’s decline and her impending death. He shares our sufferings and our sorrows. But God knows and sees the “rest of the story!” Jesus wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, even though He knew that Lazarus would be raised back to life. Jesus was sharing the deep grief over the loss and sorrow felt by all of His friends, just as He rejoiced with them as Lazarus walked home from the tomb! (See John 11 for the whole story.) God doesn’t delight in death. He is the author of LIFE. But He is very present through every stage of life– even that last bitter taste of death we all must experience. And just as we pray for God’s miraculous presence, we pray for His guiding, comforting, and hopeful presence in ALL situations.

Prayer DOES something! Even if we don’t see immediate changes in situations; prayer changes US. It changes OTHERS. It changes our priorities and perspectives. It draws us close– to each other and to the One whose Love is Eternal and unchanging.

116 I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.

Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.

The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.

Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.

I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

10 I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted:

11 I said in my haste, All men are liars.

12 What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?

13 I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.

14 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

16 O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.

17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.

18 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.

19 In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord.

Psalm 116 KJV (emphasis added)
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There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people praying for my Mom (and all of us who love her so very much). And probably, there are some “vending machine” prayers among them. That’s ok. God hears them all. And I am so very blessed by them all. Because prayers DO SOMETHING AMAZING. They rise to a God who sees, who hears, and who LOVES unconditionally, eternally, and perfectly! We’re actively trying to do what we can do to make Mom comfortable and seeking treatment that will ease her last days, but we depend on God’s touch, His healing, His timing, and His good will to see us all through and keep us in perfect peace.

Looking Back

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Another year is nearing an end, and it is common to look back and take stock of what the year has brought to, taken from, or challenged us with…

It can also be a time of regret– things not done, opportunities not taken, mistakes not corrected, hopes and dreams unrealized.

I keep two journals– a daily planner, filled with goals I hope to accomplish and plans I hope to fulfill; and my prayer journal, filled with requests, praises, answers to prayer, and names of people and places I wish to lift up in prayer. I spent some time the other day remembering and reflecting on this past year.

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As I stop to pray over the next/last few days of 2022, I want to remember two things in particular: God knew everything that would happen this year. And God was “there” for everything that happened; not just aware of what was going on, but as close as our own breath–loving, caring, and providing strength and comfort in every moment. He shared our tears and our laughter, and sent us mercies in the form of friends, neighbors, and even strangers– “angels unaware.”

God knew that on January fifth, my mother would fall and break her leg, starting her on a sixth month odyssey of hospitalization, rehabilitation, assisted living, and finally, moving into a new living arrangement near my sister’s house. He knew that my mother-in-law would fall the very next day, breaking her leg and requiring a similar journey through hospitalization, and two nursing homes, before finally being able to return to her home before Christmas.

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God knew that I would be diagnosed with diabetes, and that David would face a challenging wound in his leg this year. Our lives and routines have been altered in ways we could never have predicted.

God knew that our extended family would face divorce, death, illness, job changes, and more. He knew that members of our church family would face cancer, heart disease, and death; just as many others would experience healing, weddings, and new birth.God knew what would happen worldwide– the death of a Queen, the changing of world leaders, war, famine, earthquakes and blizzards and hurricanes.

And God was there for every moment, joyous or terrifying; heart-breaking and uplifting moments, personal triumphs and worldwide tragedies. Miracles and losses, devastating news from the doctor, and joyous answers to prayer.

Looking back can be painful. Dwelling in the past–even on good memories, can be unproductive. But looking back to see how God has provided in our need, given us strength for life’s challenges, and brought unexpected opportunities gives us cause to sing praises and cause to hope for the coming year.

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Thank you God! Thank you for bringing us through another year– hopefully wiser and closer to You. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given, and those you will bring into our lives in the year to come. Prepare us to be patient, hopeful, strong, and kind in the time to come. And help us to share this hope and strength, kindness and endurance to those around us, by pointing them to You. Amen!

Of Broken Femurs, Hearts, and Toilets

The past two weeks have been just a bit chaotic for our families. My mother fell and broke her femur, near her hip–not the hip she broke over a year ago, but the other one! Less than twenty-four hours later, my mother-in-law fell–and broke her femur. Each mom ended up in a different hospital for surgery, and in a different rehabilitation facility, located nearly fifty miles apart. Last week, two members of our extended family died on the same day in the same city; their funerals were a day apart in two different parts of the city, but handled by the same funeral home. On the day of the first funeral, we found out that another member of the family died. That same night, our toilet broke. Water poured into our upstairs bathroom, soaking the floor, running into the next room, and dripping down to the floor below. In the middle of all this, I slipped on the ice, fell hard, and bruised my ribs.

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Where was God in all this? He was right there in every situation. God doesn’t disappear when the going gets tough– He is steady, sure, and faithful.

  • Neither of our moms suffered a concussion or any other major damage from their falls. They were able to get treatment and surgery, and they are receiving care and therapy. And, while this is something we might have taken for granted at one time, it is something for which we praise God, because it could have been much more tragic in both cases.
  • We live close enough to both moms that we have been able to help and visit (where we can because of continuing COVID restrictions). Though the facilities are fifty miles from each other, neither is fifty miles from our home. Also, both moms are able to receive phone calls, and we are able to receive updates from the staff at each place.
  • We have close families, and wonderful neighbors and friends– we are not alone in caring for our moms or grieving our loved ones, and there is a network of prayer, support and concern that staggers my imagination! I cannot imagine trying to navigate this without help– again, this is something we might take for granted, but God has been in the details long before any of this happened. Our families, friends, and neighbors represent dozens of church bodies from around the country and the world, as well as a significant group close to home– how marvelous that God allows us to work together as a body in every situation.
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  • Though we have lost three family members in rapid succession, all three were believers! All three left a legacy of faith, love, and hope. We mourn their loss, but we also celebrate their lives with joy and not regret.
  • David HATES plumbing, but he knew what to do to fix the toilet. The damage from the flooding was minimal, all of our towels are freshly laundered, and the toilet works again!
  • My fall could have resulted in ANOTHER broken femur– or a broken arm, concussion, etc.. While it hurts to sneeze or yawn or blow my nose, at least it doesn’t hurt to breathe, and I can move and go about my day, cautiously, but normally.

God allows difficult things to come into our lives– and I don’t have any definitive answer for WHY we have been experiencing so many trials all at once. But I can say this:

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  • Trials make us stop and look and question– and that can be a good thing. God is big enough, wise enough, and sovereign “enough” to handle our tears, our fears, our weakness, and our momentary doubts. In fact, it is in recognizing our limitations that we can focus more on God’s limitless grace and boundless love!
  • Trials bring us closer to each other. Our chaotic couple of weeks are just a drop in the bucket among all the other problems of the world, but so many wonderful people have called or sent messages of hope and encouragement over the past two weeks, my heart is bursting– not with the pain, but with joy and gratitude.
  • Trials teach us patience (see my post on “Be Careful What You Pray For.”) The toilet breaking was my low point this past week– even though it did not directly touch on our health or a loved one. But God sent friends and angels to remind me that this was a very minor problem– even among all the others– and that God was “flushing” away some unnecessary angst if I would just let it go!

There is nothing that takes God by surprise– nothing that causes Him to pause and wonder, “what happens next.” I can praise God in the hospital as I watch my mom cry in pain. I can praise God when my husband finds his mother “alive” (when he couldn’t be sure). I can praise God when I’m flat on my face on the ice, winded and sore. I can praise God when toilet water is soaking my socks. I can praise God when I hug cousins who have lost their parents to cancer or dementia, or age, knowing that God is with us every moment, in every tear, every hug, every shared memory, and every hope that our loved ones now experience what we will also know someday.

I’m ready for 2022 to calm down a little bit. But if it doesn’t, I’m also ready to be broken again– whether through broken legs, broken toilets, or broken hearts. God is in the business of repairing and restoring broken things and broken people. And no one does it better!

When Nothing Else Could Help…

Earlier this week, my mother celebrated her 88th birthday. Mom has survived more than most people can imagine. She was born in 1933, during the worst years of the Great Depression. She survived hunger and poverty, near-homelessness, and insecurity in her earliest years, despite my grandparents’ best efforts to provide for their family. She survived the upheaval of World War 2, when her father left to serve in the Navy and her mother worked long hours in a factory. She and her sister had to take on most of the housework.

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As a teenager, mom fell madly in love with a young man who convinced her to drop out of high school and become his wife. Her romantic dream quickly turned into a nightmare of abuse, heartbreak, fear, and starvation. Though he loved her, her husband could not control his own inner torments. He drank heavily and was very controlling. He insulted her, isolated her from family and friends, forbad her from going to church, and he sometimes punched her. By the age of 19, she was anemic, weighed less than 100 pounds, and had just miscarried twins– partly because she had been denied access to pre-natal care; partly because she had been beaten and malnourished. But she survived, and went on to have a healthy pregnancy, mostly because her husband was drafted and sent to Korea.

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Mom survived divorce, something to which she had always been opposed, for the sake of her son. She survived the threats against herself and her young boy. She survived all the court dates and new responsibilities. She survived working 10-hours days, six days a week, at a butcher shop, cutting, grinding, and packing up meat, so she could provide for her young son.

Mom remarried at age 30. Shortly before her marriage, she had found a better job; one with better pay and shorter hours. Shortly after her marriage, on her way home from work, she was involved in a horrible accident. She had a head injury, broken ribs, and a broken collarbone. She began suffering from headaches. She suffered another miscarriage. But she survived, and went on to have me and my sister, both healthy deliveries. She had stopped working to be home with us, but she was involved in multiply volunteer opportunities through church and in the community. But her headaches were debilitating, and with them came depression.

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Mom survived many dark days of pain and doubt. Though she was socially active, it took a great deal of energy and will to force herself to get out and keep going. Her doctor gave her medication for depression, and, thankfully, he carefully monitored what she took and whether it was effective. The headaches did not diminish, and mom treated them with massive doses of Anacin and other pain relievers.

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In her 50s, mom developed more health problems. She developed arthritis. She had a hysterectomy, and had to have her gall bladder removed. In her 60s, mom had cataract surgery. Then she had to watch as her husband’s health deteriorated, and she lost him just after their 35th anniversary. She survived, and had to adjust to widowhood. In her 70s, she had more surgeries– she lost part of her thyroid, and nearly died. She had surgery to “undo” some of the damage from her earlier hysterectomy. She was diagnosed with bone density issues, which caused a curvature in her spine. In her 80s, she developed a heart condition. She had to undergo heart surgery and have a pacemaker. She could have died, but she didn’t. She developed a series of infections from one of her earlier surgeries, and had to use a cane to walk because of the bone density and spine curvature. She was diagnosed with macular degeneration, meaning that she is slowly going blind.

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Last fall, during the height of the COVID crisis, Mom fell and broke her hip. She was in a hospital where there were COVID cases, and she was transported to a rehab facility that had 4 COVID cases. By the time she left to come home, she was one of only 4 who had NOT developed COVID at that facility! She continues to go to outpatient rehab twice a week, and now has to use a walker, instead of just a cane, to provide balance and stability when she walks. She no longer drives, and has trouble reading, due to the macular degeneration. But she survives.

I say all of this, not because my mom is tougher, or luckier than other folks; not because she is more worthy of life than those who have not survived such struggles, and not because her life is more tragic than anyone else’s. I say this because my mother is a woman of prayer.

Last week, for Mother’s Day, we took my mom to her local church. She no longer drives, and she rarely gets out because of her health issues. But she wanted to be in church that Sunday. The very first hymn they sang that day was “Love Lifted Me.” And I cried. That was the song she had used, fifty years ago, to rock me to sleep as a child. Sometimes, she would sing it out. Sometimes she would just hum the tune as she rocked me. She was often crying as she sang– exhausted, depressed, worried, or haunted–but those words imprinted themselves in my young mind:
Love lifted me.
Love lifted me.
When nothing else could help–
Love lifted me.

My mother wasn’t just singing those words, she was praying.

Mom has lived out those words. Crying out to “the Master of the Sea,” Mom has been lifted up time and again. She has been a prayer warrior, knowing that her prayers rise to the One who loves her best of all; the One who holds her destiny and her redemption in His hands. No matter her circumstances, she can sing, knowing that love will continue to lift her, and carry her through.

Praying in Heartbreak

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. And it was a good day. It started out cold and wet, but I got to spend time with my mother, my mother-in-law, several other family members, and some dear friends from childhood. It was a happy day, and it ended with sunshine breaking through the late afternoon clouds, birds singing, and a full heart of memories and gratitude.

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But Mother’s Day wasn’t always like that for me. For many years, it was one of the worst days of my year. No matter the weather or the company, there was always a shadow of barrenness and emptiness. Yes, I was grateful for my mother; for my grandmothers and aunts and other relatives; for my friends and their adorable children. But I felt shut out– I was not a mother. I would never be a mother. I was always on the outside looking in.

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My circumstances are slightly different now, but I am still not a “natural” mother. No one calls me “mama” or even “grandma.” But Mother’s Day isn’t meant to be a day of sorrow and emptiness, and after years of prayer and letting go of expectations, God is showing me how to enjoy and embrace the circumstances in which He has placed me.

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I am not alone in this struggle– far from it. For the past few weeks, I have heard from heartbroken people who dread Mother’s Day. Those who have lost their mothers face the reminder of their grief and loss. It is particularly hard on those who were unable to spend precious days with a dying mother due to COVID restrictions, or lost their mother to COVID. Some mothers are reminded of the wrenching loss of a child– still birth, drug overdoses, suicide, auto accidents, childhood cancer– gut-churning emptiness where once there was a promise of joyful life, grandchildren, shared memories, and so much more. Other mothers (and their children) face the pain of separation and severed relationships. Many, like me, face the reminder that they are NOT a mother– not a “real” mother–even if their circumstances or careers are filled with children “not their own.” And some people face multiple circumstances that cause grief, bitterness, alienation, anger, and despair.

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These feelings of sadness and loss are natural, but they do not have to weigh us down or control how we face each day. God wants to share these burdens; He wants to carry the weight of our brokenness and free us to experience joy and peace– even in the midst of our pain! And on those days when our circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, God is never more than a prayer away. He doesn’t make our grief disappear; He doesn’t erase our memories. But He can redeem them with a changed perspective and new hope.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.– each can bring bitterness and heartbreak, as well as joy. We do well to pay attention to those around us who dread such holidays, and offer the comfort, hope, and encouragement of a listening ear, a loving heart, and, most of all, a loving God who longs for us to pray in and through our heartbreak.

Praying For My Children From Another Mother

(Dedicated to all those who are step-mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, or in other ways entrusted with children not of their womb.)

I did not give birth to them, Father. They are not the children of my womb; they are still the children of my heart.

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And I know you love them more than I do. That they are YOUR children first, last, and foremost.

God, Thank You for giving me the privilege of letting me be part of their lives; for allowing me to share their hopes and dreams, their failures and their struggles; their smiles and their tears. Thank you for their unique interests and personalities. Thank you for their laughter, and their questions. Thank you for their hugs, and their pouts, and more questions…

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Father, help me to see them with your eyes– not through the lens of my own hopes or expectations; or my inadequacies and fears–help me to see who they are, and who you created them to be. Help me to help them to see how special they are in your eyes.

Help me to honor these children by not dishonoring the mother who gave them birth. May I never cause her children to despise her–or themselves– because of what I say about her. But help me to protect these precious children from anyone–anyone– who would hurt, abuse, exploit, or endanger them. May our home be a safe place to learn love and forgiveness and healing in a world of broken families.

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Help me to honor my husband as the leader in our home. Help me to model how to be a true “help-mate” and partner– not a nag; nor a dishrag–a strong, compassionate, supportive, and respectful team player.

Help me to foster good relationships among all the children of this household– to love them each differently, and yet the same. To be fair to each individual, giving them guidance and “space” according to their needs. To do and say all in my power to help each child feel secure in our love and secure in their “place” as part of this family.

Help me to forgive and ask forgiveness freely– through outbursts, baggage, fears, and tantrums– theirs and mine!

Most of all, help me to introduce each one to Your all-encompassing love, Your wisdom, and Your eternal care. May they see you in the things I say and do; in the way we love and forgive as a family; in the way we seek the best together.

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In the name of Jesus, whose earthly father was entrusted with a similar gift,

Amen

Mama Said There Would Be Days Like This..

Yesterday was a roller-coaster ride–pain, annoying interruptions, difficult encounters, successful ventures, bad moods, beautiful skies. And I almost forgot to write this post. It was just one of “those” days.

I am comforted by three things, though:

God’s love is never a roller-coaster. It is steady, eternal, and extravagant. Even on days when I can’t feel it or turn my back on it, God’s love surrounds me. No matter what the circumstances; no matter what I’ve done or what’s been done to me, God’s love never changes– it never falters, it never diminishes. He loves me just as much as he would on a perfect day; just as much as He has on my “better” days. God’s love is not based on what kind of day I might be having. It is based on WHO HE IS!

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Jesus had days like this, too– he KNOWS what I’m going through. He knew pain, frustration, misunderstandings, betrayal, loneliness, grief, joy, struggle, success, and even “failure” (at least in the eyes of those around him). Some days, it feels like no one understands; that no one wants to listen. Jesus was a great listener during his time here; better than any of his friends or family. And when no one wanted to listen to Jesus, he simply found time to get away and talk with the Father. What a great example for us to follow. Better yet, Jesus is always on call to listen and advocate FOR us to the Father. And the Holy Spirit gets involved, too, helping us find words and expressions when we pray. God made us. He understands our weaknesses. He doesn’t condemn– He stands ready to help!

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God is Alpha and Omega. He is eternal, and He is God of the Past, Present, and Future. Today may be an awful day– or a wonderful day. Tomorrow is a mystery to us. Yesterday tends to haunt us. But God is present in all three times at once. Nothing takes Him by surprise or causes Him to wallow in worry or regret. And that should give us courage to live in the present (even if it seems chaotic or frustrating), knowing that God’s plans and timing are for our Good. Even if we “mess up” in the present, God has the power to redeem and renew our future– if we let Him.

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My wise Mama told me there would be days like this–she knows from experience. And she also knows all the ways God is ever-present and ever-ready to give wisdom, courage, and comfort. Today, I want to pass along a little of that wisdom– just like she passed it on to me. I hope your day is not the kind of roller-coaster I had yesterday. But even if it is: God Loves you, He knows what you’re going through, and He is eternally present and powerful to give you all that you need to get through.

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Every Day Counts

Tomorrow, my mother will celebrate her 87th birthday. Her life spans an incredible period of history. She can remember times of poverty and hardship during the Great Depression. She remembers hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio, and worrying about her father in the Navy, and her mother working long hours in the factory. As a young wife, she sent a husband to fight in Korea, while she awaited the birth of their son. In her day, she cooked on a coal-fired stove, attended a one-room schoolhouse, wore poodle skirts and saddle shoes, and used outhouses. She has lived through the age of television and the internet– she watched a man walk on the moon (in black and white) and watched the World Trade Center towers burn and collapse (in color) on TV screens in real time. She learned to take shorthand in pencil, to type on a manual typewriter, and has done data-entry on a desktop computer.

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Mom has seen a lot of changes in her life. But years ago, she developed habits that have not changed. Every day, she reads a passage of scripture, and every day, she spends time in prayer and meditation. That doesn’t mean she is perfect–some days she misses, due to illness or unexpected interruptions–and this practice, in itself, doesn’t make her a “better” person than anyone else. But daily habits do matter. When Mom lost her parents and her only sister in a matter of nine months, and then lost my Dad just three years later, her faith was tested. But it never wavered. When she had to undergo heart surgery a few years ago, her faithful habits made an impression on the hospital staff, as well as her friends and family. Throughout the recent COVID-19 lockdown, when Mom has lived alone and had to deal with cancelled doctor’s appointments, limited access to medicines, changing her routines, not being able to socialize, not being able to attend worship services, losing a close friend, etc., she has shown resilience, patience, and faith that set a marvelous example to anyone who knows her. Whether her day turns out to be momentous, boring, disastrous, or just ordinary, Mom determines to spend part of it connecting to, and worshiping, her Savior.

This seems like simple advice, but it takes practice and determination, and help from the Holy Spirit. It is tempting to look at our lives in hourly increments, trying to fill each moment and each day with meaningful activity. It is tempting to make prayer and Bible study “part of the plan,” two of the many activities in our busy schedule. And when things don’t go according to our plan, we wring our hands and lament the “waste.” Even when things go “as planned” we still consider worship and meditation one of many routine practices, like exercise, or dusting, or taking a shower. But each day is a gift– each moment is more than an opportunity to be busy “doing” and “making plans.” Each day– even the ones we think of as failures and wasted time–matters. Every day is a new opportunity to see God or to hear His voice–whether in the beauty of a sunrise, or the tears of our children; in the aftermath of a disaster, or an unexpected promotion at work; in stillness, or the noisy commute; in success and in setbacks.

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Daily habits like prayer and Bible study won’t change the circumstances that come our way; they won’t necessarily help us make plans that make life easier or less frustrating. But they will teach us to place our focus where it truly belongs–on the One who is with us every day and every moment, through good times and bad–on the One who holds today (and tomorrow) in His hand. It doesn’t matter that we fill out a chart, or make a certain goal of pages read or half-hours spent on our knees– it DOES matter that we make it the cry of our heart to seek God every day that we can. Seek His wisdom, seek His mercy, seek His glory. Today.

Mothers and others..

Sunday will be Mother’s Day. People are already talking about how this year will be “different” because of COVID-19. They say it will be more difficult because of the social distancing measures in place. And it will be for many families. There will be few family gatherings, few long and happy discussions around a dinner table, fewer flowers, fewer hugs…Many will still have the opportunity to see their mothers/children via skype or zoom or through a window. Many can still hear a familiar and much-loved voice over the phone, and send messages via text, email or even a letter or card. But it’s not the same. There is something about a mother’s presence– her touch, her voice, her smile, the subtle scent that belongs to no one else– that we cherish and celebrate.

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But for many people, this Mother’s Day will be no different. Sadly, there are many who will spend Mother’s Day alone. There is a visceral, painful place– a gaping wound– where there is no “Mother” on Mother’s Day. Maybe it’s caused by death–either the death of our mother, or the death of our child/children. Maybe it’s some other wrenching separation– Alzheimer’s, a ruptured relationship, addiction, mental illness, abandonment, deployment, rejection… We miss what once was, or we miss what we never had. COVID-19 may bring this horror to some this year, and it may leave some with that horror for years to come, but the pain and loss is no different for being caused by a virus. The pain of losing (or not having) a Mother runs deep. It may be felt more keenly on this day, but it aches and gnaws every day. Mothers give life. They nurture. They are the safe arms in which babies find peaceful rest (..eventually). They are the kissers of boo-boos; the proud recipients of our first attempts at writing, and drawing; our first audience for concerts and dances; our first teachers and nurses, police officers, drill sergeants, and life coaches; often our first playmates, too.

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For many years, I have lived on “the other side” of motherhood. I am a daughter– blessed with an amazing, kind, strong, wise and Godly mother. I cherish the relationship we have, and look forward to the time when I can visit with her in person, instead of over the phone. She spent long nights rocking me to sleep; hours praying and crying by my hospital bed when I almost died as a toddler; listened patiently while I ranted and railed in teenage rebellion; encouraged me when I was exhausted from work and frustrated about living alone; and taught me the joy of spending time with God and loving others. And I want to honor her every day for the Godly example she has been to me and to others.

But I have spent most of my adult life outside the experience of motherhood, watching others with tiny arms wrapped around their necks, others kissing boo-boos and receiving artwork, others taking pictures of their graduating seniors and swapping stories with other moms. And, I have been reminded– sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes with contempt–that I do not “belong.” “You don’t know what I go through.” “You don’t understand.” “Who do you think you are to tell me about my daughter? You’re just her teacher. I’m her MOTHER!” “You can’t tell my children what to do.” None of these statements are wrong– but they hurt. And most of them come from someone else’s pain– their fear of failure, their frustration, their guilt, even a lack of sleep or a migraine…

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Because of my experience, however, I have learned two things– a greater appreciation for my own excellent mother; and a new appreciation for the role I have been allowed to play as an “Other.”

Mothers are vital, but they are not perfect, and, especially where they are missing or rejected or removed, the world needs Others. Women (and men) who will stand as surrogates, substitutes, and valued helpers. Sometimes it is a thankless job; often it is temporary, even momentary, and unexpected. Throughout our lives, there are Others who inspire us, who have our backs, who cheer for us through track meets, or at dance recitals, or spelling bees. Others who may not kiss boo-boos, but patch them up in the moment. There are Others who are the first to spot our hidden potential, or warn us of dangers that no one else has spotted. Others who pray for us, cry with us, and share our smiles. Others who buy Girl Scout cookies, or magazine subscriptions, lemonade, or raffle tickets.

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It was not God’s will for me to be a Mother. I have been blessed in recent years to be a step-mother and -grandmother, and I adore my kids and grandkids. I am so grateful for the mothers and others who shaped their lives, and the honor of being part of their families. But God has also given me a lifetime of being an Other. I may not have the “normal” experience of Motherhood, but I’ve had my share of doubts, failures, “bad” days, and sleepless nights. And I’ve been blessed to get to know hundreds of children– through school, Bible School, Sunday School, mission trips, Story Hours, school visits, Summer Reading, camps, baby sitting, extended family, and more.

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If you are a mother– celebrate Mother’s Day this year. There are millions who have been denied the honor. And many who have lost the privilege.

If your Mother is still alive, but you can’t be with her– celebrate Mother’s Day this year. If you can’t be together in person, make an effort to be together in word and spirit. Flowers are nice; a fancy meal is fine, too, but your time– listening, sharing laughter and memories–it priceless. There will come another year when you won’t be able to be with her– and no phone line or video chat will be able to bring her closer. If your mother is alive, but your relationship is strained, you can still celebrate Mother’s Day. Use this day as a starting point to move forward– some relationships can be repaired if you are willing to take a first step. Others need closure. All relationships need forgiveness– for YOUR sake.

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If you are missing your mother or have no mother–celebrate Other’s Day this year. Look for the people who have encouraged or uplifted you– aunts, neighbors, teachers, college roommates–let them know they’ve made a difference.

If you are not a mother– and even if you are– you are someone’s Other. Celebrate the opportunity to be the best Other you can be. Someone needs an Other today!

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