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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thank You, Jesus and Up Yours, Hallmark (On Mothers and Non-Mothers and Orphaned Hearts at Mother's Day)

(Stick with me through this one, friends. It's long, but I hope it's worth it.) *All names have been changed.

It's approaching that time of year again…the day of breakfast in bed, greeting cards, and grocery store floral arrangements.

Mother's Day.

It's a day for mom to bask in the glory of the day reserved just for her, a day for acknowledging the sacrificial love of mothers and showing our appreciation.

My youngest son, Caleb, was born on Mother's Day weekend, and I couldn't have prepared myself for the absolutely spellbinding glow which surrounded us the weekend of his birth. Family came from far and wide and we passed around the baby bundle, mothers and grandmothers, in-laws and sisters, overtaken and bonded together in strength and fragility, a veritable village right there in the hospital suite. We huddled in circles and gave each other knowing glances, uttered thanks to Jesus and cried for the way perfect, tiny fingers can level a person with gratitude.

The weekend remains in my memory a sort of Ebenezer, an altar of remembrance. It's a place where the veil between natural and supernatural was so papery thin I could peer right through it. It was otherworldly and I think this must be what heaven is like. Quiet strength, a sense of absolute perfection, unrestrained awe. I wonder if the drugs had anything to do with it. The weekend of Caleb's birth was self-contained, a capsule of ethereal beauty, wistful and glorious. My own mother was there, and my mother-in-law and her mother, too, loving on our other kids and forming between our hospital room and home a bridge of matriarchal love, a family bond like I haven't experienced before or since.

I thought my skin might split open for its inability to contain the magnificence of those moments as they unfolded. The raspy whimper and rattled breaths of this new human, learning that he had lungs. The perfect, jaundiced skin that made him look like he'd been lounging on a beach in Florida for the last nine months instead of wriggling around in my guts, swimming in placenta slime. He was my only planned pregnancy of the three, and I wasn't so scared this time around, having a pretty decent grasp of what all I was in for.

Every year when Mother's Day rolls around, I am transported back to the hospital room with it's aura of wonder and gratitude. It is a gift in itself to have this memory, to commemorate my day of mom-appreciation by celebrating one of my own personal best moments of motherhood. But the truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with Mother's Day. I mean, don't return the chocolates or anything. I'll roll with the Hallmark holiday like any good consumerist, but the day is a little bittersweet for me.

I am gun-shy to celebrate motherhood as a singularly wonderful experience when I have lived in the land of unfit mothers. I was a housemom at a children's home. I am involved in the foster care system. I have seen the way a wounded child curls up on himself at the realization that the entire world goes on believing that mothers are good and careful and sacrificial. What about the mothers who aren't? What about the children of the mothers who aren't?

Last year we attended the Mother's Day service at Podunk Baptist. The kids crafted wire crosses and construction paper cards in Sunday school, then filed to the front forming a conga line in front of the baptismal. The pastor asked the mothers to stand and their prospective children honored each one of us with a single carnation and their handmade gifts. I was quite the spectacle, a mother hen surrounded by eleven little chicks, standing in substitute for the real thing. I received my carnation bouquet and gushed over hand-crafted goodies in place of the mothers who couldn't or wouldn't be there, those that were in prison or inpatient centers or graves.

It was sweet and it was beautiful, but it was gut-wrenchingly awful at the same time. We listened to Pastor go on about how wonderful mothers were and the boys sank deeper and deeper into the pew. I kept my eye on Levi, just praying he could tune out the words. It would be his first mother's day since his own Mama passed away. The kid had a reputation for explosive tendencies and I was sure we were about to experience one, right here in church. It was all just too much and tension like poisonous gas filled the sanctuary.

Minutes, then hours, dragged on with painful delay and I suddenly hated Mother's Day. I hated the whole idea of it. I hated the way well-meaning words and pink carnations stripped these kids of security in an instant, that a day on the calendar, just another Sunday, could spiral us all out of control.

After church, the day went downhill. One by one, the boys each lost their cool in a sickening domino effect. Blowups, meltdowns, slammed doors, hot tears…and that was just me. By bedtime, I never wanted to celebrate Mother's Day again.

Up yours, Hallmark.*

I don't know how to feel about things, now. I am not the mother hen anymore, and the construction paper cards I collect this year will be the happy type, the type that symbolize what motherhood is supposed to be. But I haven't forgotten what it looks like for the other half, for the children whose hearts are left aching and empty on a certain Sunday every May, and a big space for these boys is still reserved within. I have a child of my heart, this year, who is not yet where he belongs, and even in the best case (if the adoption goes through without a hitch), I will be a forever substitute for the mother that should have been, the one who lays in eternal sleep.

I think, too, about several friends who are struggling with infertility, one of whom has fought her body for nearly a decade, trying for the precious new life she longs for and, if you ask me, so totally deserves. I want a baby for her so badly I'd extract my own uterus and give it to her if I thought it would help. Though I see her so clearly as a mother who doesn't have kids yet, but will, and though she'll be celebrating her own mother on that day, I am angry on her behalf, at the calendar and even a little at God, because surely this must be an oversight, a mistake. Surely, with so many mothers who can't and who won't, there's room in the Mommy Club for this woman who is mindful and wonderful, educated and faithful, capable and so much more worthy than me.

I struggle to find solidarity with my infertile friends under the guilt of having healthy, happy children, and two of them while actively trying to prevent pregnancy. It matters and though there is nothing I can do about it, with Mother's Day looming, I am aware for the others, the folks who are cringing from under the covers or behind mimosas in a restaurant full of beaming mothers effortlessly sporting spring fashions, telling labor stories and basking in the glow of their reward, a brunch smothered in Hollandaise sauce.

As ever, the lack of control over the whole roulette wheel of it is maddening. I celebrate the beauty and amazement of a day that brings pain to so many and know that I just don't see the whole picture. I grip tightly to that and whisper thank yous to the heavens even while crying out why? I weep with gratitude and shake my fist at the brokenness of this place, hit my knees and lift my hands, all at once.

Maybe it's all we can do in this world, lift hands, cry out. Say thank you and why and oh, wow. Wrap wings as hens around little chicks, and let the hurt transform.

(*Disclaimer: This is not a dig at Hallmark directly. I, actually, am quite fond of Hallmark, particularly of their Dayspring division, and actually hold them in high esteem as one of the most generous, authentic, compassionate companies I'm aware of. Rather, it's the "Hallmark culture" we're probably all guilty of buying into, to some degree, the way we think a holiday is supposed to make us feel, etc. Seriously, love you Hallmark folks. For real.)

Linking up to Imperfect Prose over at Emily's place... my *favorite* way to spend a Thursday-ish.


  1. Oh goodness. Having had my share of Mother's Days just outside the Mother's Club, with no visible children to speak of yet a Mother's heart all the same, I share your hate/love relationship with it. I know of women who don't go out on Mother's Day at all, and I've wished I would have had the sense to be one of them. I can say, though, that now I can see those days, as hard as they were, as just another reason why I'm so grateful for my daugher (and my soon-t0-be-here second daughter). There is joy after sorrow for me...but I can't imagine the hearts of the children whose mothers aren't there for them.

  2. You have me in tears! I've had many of the same thoughts just begin to surface in recent years about many of our celebrations...where do we find the balance of celebrating the blessings in our life, but also paying mind to the equally important hardships and u answerable questions. This post is beautiful, heart wrenching, amazing. Much like the day you describe.

  3. every celebration has a shadow side, doesn't it, a place where wounds are slow to heal.  i love your heart for the hurting. we should all be so sensitive.

  4. I'm so glad you wrote this. I steeled myself for many Mother's Days before adopting my children, I suffered through a couple of years' worth when I felt unworthy to receive gifts and chocolate and acknowledgment.

    My heart breaks for those dear ones who surrounded you last year. I think about the scripture that asks how a nursing mother could forget the child at her breast and I know, some do. My children's own mothers did, and they have missing pieces in their hearts because of it.

    All things, even the beautiful things like motherhood are all. messed. up. So when Jesus says he is making all things new, I'm so thankful that includes motherhood.

  5. All Things New. Yes. 

    Thanks, Nancy for your encouragement. So glad to see your name over at "imperfect prose" today!

  6. Thanks for your words Suzannah, for coming and reading the ramblings of my heart, for appreciating them. <3

  7. Thank you, Jennifer. I'm glad that I'm not the only one torn about this...but wish it all wasn't so very broken. Grace to you today, friend!

  8. "Joy after sorrow..." May all those who aren't on the joyful side of things this mother's day wait ever in hope for that. Thanks for your words! 

  9.  Many times we celebrate all of the ladies at our church on Mother's Day...as Christians we produce children whether they are physical or not...I could feel your pain, and your pain for others in this post.  I hope that I will be more sensitive this Mother's Day and every one hereafter...

  10. Mothers Day is hard for me because I think about my step daughter whose mother wasn't ever there for her, so I filled the void throughout her childhood, yet now that she is 24 {and arguably easier to relate with} her mother is back in her life and I've been "kicked to the curb."  I also think about missing my own mother who because of lack of funds and her absolute fear of flying, I haven't seen in person in over 2yrs.  Mother's day breaks my heart when I know I can't put my arms around her and feel the hug that only she can give back.  And Mother's day is hard for me because I so often feel like I don't deserve special treatment when it feels like most of my days as mom are filled with mommy meltdowns rather than Mrs. Brady moments.  Of course, I know I'm far too hard on myself.  But I do love the adorable hand drawn cards from my daughters telling me how much they love me and the sweet Hallmark card my husband always gives me, thanking me for being such a great mom and wife.   

    I do thank you for reminding my heart of those children who are hurt by the very "big deal" made out of mothers day when they don't have a mom there to celebrate. 


  11. Grace to you, grace in motherhood and with your stepdaughter and all those things that make this world a fallen one. But by all means, celebrate! Celebrate the gifts, even in the midst of imperfection. Thanks for coming by!

  12. And celebrate we shall... Mothers are worth it, we work harder than anyone on earth, we pour out love with every fiber of ourselves, and we screw up. All of us. We need his grace to cover. Yes to being aware, to being sensitive, but yes also to celebration, to loving on those who give sacrificially every day without fanfare. Thanks for reading, friend. 

  13. I understand completely. I have similar thoughts when we read "Just in Case You Ever Wonder"  by Max Lucado (which is one of Lizzy's favorite books, and I do love it for HER). There's this one part of the book that talks about how God made "just the right home" and parents for you, "where you would be warm when it's cold, where you'd be safe when you're afraid, where you'd have fun and learn about heaven."I totally get the sentiment behind it, and like I said, for Lizzy I think it's an accurate description. But not every kid has good parents. Some kids have parents who are downright terrible to them, and even though they may love their parents, they know it. And we can talk about "forever families" and all that jazz, but every time I read the book to Lizzy, I can't help but wonder if there's some kiddo out there who read "Just in Case You Ever Wonder" and deduced that maybe God just didn't love him or her since things don't look like that in THEIR life.

  14. Yes, Meredith. I think we take these things for granted so often. I want my kids to know how secure their family life is but also be sensitive to those around them. Tough balance, just like celebrating motherhood and all that comes with it. Thanks for stopping by!

  15. This was downright real, Cara.

    Thank you for being who you are and not being ashamed of the process of becoming.

    Oh, the pain that transforms . . . just yes.

    I have lived it.  And that gives me hope for the ones still living it.

    (Btw, it wasn't too long of a post.  Def. worth it. :))

  16. oh girl. this brought tears, thinking of my beautiful joey and jin and the angst they go through daily, the confusion, not knowing who to call mama... i love everything about this post. i love everything about your heart.

  17. Tara_pohlkottepressApril 25, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    oh yes. yes. yes. hearts heavy for the hurting. banding around one another to lift us all up, not just those that have been blessed with children. love it.

  18. Oh yes...I stood today with a friend who revealed brokenly that she had put her child temporarily in foster care.  And I ache for her, for the deep love she has for her child and also the deep deep hurt.  Motherhood isn't anything like the cloying sentiments put on cards or preached from pulpits.  It's raw and broken on both side of the path.  And yet, there is so much beauty, so much redemption. 

     Thank you for these beautiful, honest thoughts! 

  19. Oh...there are no words. Worse than the child having to endure is the parent who knows they have to do this, to do what is best for their child when it is so, so hard. Grace to your friend in this time, prayer for her journey and her children and for you, knowing how to best be a friend to her in this difficult time. I can't even imagine. May she walk through the time free of judgement (NO condemnation in Christ Jesus!) and her family can heal in the way only God can orchestrate. Thanks for your words here. 

  20. Thank you, thanks too for visiting. Hearts heavy for the hurting, yes, even while they celebrate in the lightness of our burden before the Lord. 

  21. And I yours, Emily. If there was only a way to make it easier on these little hearts... thankful to have the Father to point them to. There is simply nothing else, nor would we want anything else, I suppose. Love and grace across the miles to you and all your four littles, your brood of bandaged family making it through every day. You and your husband are being Jesus with skin on, Emily, and it is so beautiful that you take the time to share it with us. I know I say that a lot but I don't know that you know the impact you make to your readers, at least to me...who I can speak for. Thank you, a million times. 

  22. Thanks, Kelli! We are all orphaned hearts in one way or another, aren't we? This side of eternity, anyhow. Thank you for your kind words. They brought me joy. :)

  23. What a good reminder to think how others are affected instead of being wrapped up into our own breakfast-in-bed wonderment.  It's also a reminder to reach out to my non-mother friends to tell them how special they are, even if they haven't physically brought children into this world.  We all have our own roles. 

    Found this website through The High Calling and I'm glad I stopped by!Amanda Hillwww.hillpen.com 

  24. I'm glad you did too, Amanda. Thanks for your kind words. 

  25. Thank YOU, Leigh. <3 Love to you, friend. 

  26. I was one of those kids, Cara. It was a long time ago, but I remember how odd it was to be in church on Mother's Day without a mom.



Your comments are such an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your valuable words.