If Mother’s Day hurts

Beasley girlsI’ve looked, but I’ve never found a greeting card that says, “Mom, thanks for not killing me during one of your hallucinations.”

Complicated, striking, unforgettable: my mother. She suffered from schizophrenia and obesity, both conditions that made her a constant target for our society’s criticism. I was her shy, mortified child who trailed behind. With her loud breathing, she could have supplied the soundtrack to a horror film. She dressed in clothes that were too bright and shiny even for the 1970s. The volume of her voice dominated a room.

There was hell to pay if she didn’t receive a card for Mother’s Day. While she was alive, I browsed through hundreds of cards to seek the one I could honestly give. Most were sappy, and included sentiments like “Best Mom” and “Thankful I grew up to be like you”. I sought only the vague wishes that seemed truthful. Most years, I got something floral and noncommittal; “Thinking of you; happy Mother’s Day.”

I’ve been a mother myself for a decade and a half, but I don’t feel like I own the day. Mother’s Day belongs to my mother.

Gone for five years, she is still with me

I think of her most days. She would be so proud. She would delight in knowing that I spoke at the conference in Jeff City. She would put up this photo of my son with his state champion medal. She would love these artificially dyed fresh flowers in the grocery store.

Sunday is a day to celebrate motherhood for what it really is: snotty, competitive, clingy, exhausting, drippy, strengthening, messy, aggravating, holy and more fulfilling than anything else. All at the same time. It starts with babies who both smell like heaven and have a tendency to projectile vomit. It only gets more demanding from there. Motherhood isn’t neat enough to fit on a card.

You might miss the mom you had, or the mom you wish you had, or the mom you wish you could be, or the mom who remembered you before Alzheimer’s took her from you. Give yourself permission to make the day as comfortable as possible. You’ll reminisce. Indulge in what eases your mind. Do puzzles. Binge watch TV. Take a hot bath. Give extra smiles to everyone you see.

To the single moms out there whose kids won’t get it together to bring you breakfast in bed…

To the women who wanted to become mothers, but couldn’t…

To the stepmoms doing their best…

To the women who have lost a child…

To the ones who have lost their mothers…

To those of you who have a difficult relationship with your mom…

To all of you, I wish you an OK Mother’s Day.

If Mother’s Day hurts, remember you’re not alone.

 

Blessing

Lord, bring your mercy and forgiveness
to our relationships.
Ease the ones who struggle.
Bless all of us, your children.

Tell me your thoughts!

How is Mother’s Day for you? Do you have plans? Do you have a favorite memory?

Crying at the water’s edge

baptism

baptismThe baptism was over. The newly baptized teenager in a wet, white robe was welcomed with whoops, clapping and a big towel. The pastor stepped out and left to dry off. The little children who had gathered around the baptismal pool got up to return to their parents.

The worship service continued. My eyes stopped running and slowed to a trickle, just enough to wet my cheeks instead of my neck. My shakiness eased. I blinked a lot, still woozy from so much crying. My eyes felt replaced by sandpaper globes. The tip of my nose gleamed red like Rudolph, tender from tissue wiping.

I’d started crying an hour earlier, even before the service started. When I was out in the narthex—full of anticipation about the moment to come—my friend Carla approached me. We faced each other and she took my hands.

“How did your son come to this decision?” she asked, her eyes tearing up. “I didn’t think he was headed in this direction.”

“This summer, he had a revelation. He stayed up all night and wrestled with God,” I said. I could feel the pressure building behind my nose, my own eyes starting to pool.

“Like Jacob!”

“Yes, exactly! Wrestling with God like Jacob. He went through all his feelings and thoughts. For hours—all through the night—he struggled. He found answers for all the reasons he didn’t believe. As morning came, it hit him. He realized he did believe in God and he was a Christian. He even changed his status on Facebook.”

“So then it was really official!” she said and we both laughed. “How amazing that God worked in his life this way!”

“So amazing! It made me feel like God is working in everyone’s lives even when we can’t see it. We just don’t know,” I said. “I could have never guessed this.”

Grace and faith

After the baptism, as the service continued, I sat in happiness, knowing the pews around us were filled with friends who loved my son and took delight in seeing him get baptized.

Love flooded the sanctuary.

What is more precious than a child?

What is better than a child who dies to his old life and gives his new one to the service of the Lord?

He is a new creation.

As I sat, my son rushed up the aisle to me. I seized my still-damp son tight and wept fresh tears. We held each other and both shook from crying as the congregation sang.

Our pastor, Tim, explained at the end of the service that grace is God’s love given to all. Faith is our response to it. With faith, we start our relationship with God.

Ordinary moments and God moments

Most of my time is spent in ordinary moments. I copy and paste for hours at work. I disinfect the sink. I heat up chicken strips. I ride in an old car on a long commute. I crochet stitch by stitch on an afghan that seems like it won’t ever get finished. I let out the dog—again—even though she just went out!

But a few of my moments are God moments, when the holy light of God shines warm and clear. I can see and feel God with a palpable sureness, like my bare arm feels sunlight on a cool day.

I want for nothing. I feel complete, content and timeless. All is perfect. All is well. The tent door between our world and heaven is slid open so a sliver of light comes through. I look out. I get a glimpse of glory.

This moment—this hug from my son newly born in the life of Christ—was a God moment.

The last time I cried so much was from sadness: years ago when my brother died of suicide, a culmination of loneliness, desperation, mental confusion and drug addiction.

It was his death that made me want to go public with my faith as a Christian. It was his death that drove me to seek a church. Resa, the friend who sat at my side during my first visit to church, was again at my side, holding my hand while my son was baptized.

This time I cried so much from joy.

We can’t know what will happen. My son will take his own way with unseen hills to climb and curves to follow. I can’t make it smooth. But now he’ll travel with faith as a source of strength in a community of Christians all working our way toward God.

Our lives will end. But the love of Christ goes on forever.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water,
suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God
descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17 (NRSV)

A prayer for my father who has never been taller

Me and my dad

Me and my dadYou probably can’t predict when the reversal happens. I only realized it this week, after 44 years. The moment came when I was the one to worry about my father instead of just him worrying about me.

My father and I went out for a walk in his neighborhood to water plants for a friend who was away. As twilight fell, pastels spilled over the sky. The lake mirrored the dusky pinks and purples so we were awash in color as we strolled the half-mile distance to the neighbor’s house.

The path next to the lake was smooth with even, dark asphalt. His black-and-white dog sniffed and trotted by our side. She was not a puller. She gave him no trouble. Midway, I took her leash and it felt easy in my hands, as if I were just carrying a leash.

We crossed the road to walk up six blocks to the house where the thirsty plants waited. Cars started to use their headlights. Porch lights and street lights flickered on. We were almost to the house.

Once we arrived, he turned on the house and showered each plant in order. Marigolds, hanging plants, pansies, tomatoes. Each one got a drink. He looked at each plant as he watered it, letting the liquid soak into the soil.

There was no hurry in him. He focused and stayed quiet, moving from one to the next. He worked as if he had all the time in the world to care for this garden.

Once he finished, we decided to walk back through the neighborhood instead of walking down to the path by the lake. The sunset colors were gone. Every car had headlights on.

I listened to my dad’s footsteps. Worry gripped me. I saw uneven edges to the concrete sidewalk that could catch his feet. I noticed snake-like branches strewn about as tripping hazards. The curb seemed too high for comfortable stepping when we crossed streets. Grass patches threatened to be slippery.

***********

It was not always this way.

At 6’2”, he was a man others looked up to. He built a career that took him around the world from modest beginnings. His own father—my grandfather—had gone as far as 8th grade. My father hoped to finish high school and perhaps become a carpenter. A child of the Depression, he wasn’t afraid of hard work. He started delivering papers at age 11. Almost everyone took the paper in the 1940s. Then he worked as a brick layer and saved enough to buy his own car at 16.

He took a test in high school. Because of his test results, two people came from the school to his house. They told his parents—my grandparents—that he needed to go to college. He was too smart not to. My grandparents said OK and my dad enrolled at UCLA. Those two people—whose names we don’t remember—redefined his life.

After completing his engineering degree, he applied his intelligence to the world of work with a flourish. He holds about a dozen patents. During the years I was growing up, he was an executive.

In tailored suits and Italian shoes, he stood tall and strode with large steps. He took care of our finances and arranged multiple moves across the country when his work brought us to a new place. I was used to him being in charge. He was the most powerful person I knew.

Yet I doubt if he felt as powerful as he seemed. We’re hierarchical creatures, prone to look toward our superiors. Even as vice president of a company, he kept his eye on the president, board of directors and stockholders who wielded power over him.

I know he underestimated his effect on me. He had no idea that his influence was like the sun. I grew larger in his attention and wilted in its absence. Neither of us understood how much I needed him.

***********

It has only been the past 15 years that I have been able to see him for all that he is. He smiles and tells me how proud he is of me and his grandson.

Retirement has been good to him. Away from the pressures of rushing to catch planes and make meetings, he relaxes in the glider by the sliding glass door. He soaks in contentment. The sunlight drenches him while he sits, gliding forward and back, the lap blanket I crocheted for him on his legs.

A newspaper rests on the ground around him in sections. “This paper keeps getting thinner,” he says. But it doesn’t seem like he minds it. He accepts it as he accepts all the happenings of the world and in his body, including an inevitable skeletal shrinking. Now he grazes the 6-foot mark.

With every passing year, he becomes part of a rarer group, those who have seen more than eight decades.

Most of his friends are in their 80s like him so it’s getting harder to socialize. Some can’t make it up the stairs. Some are too ill to go out. Some struggle with dementia, day after day fading away from their own stories. About one friend, my dad says, “He used to be so witty. He used to make us laugh every time we saw him.”

That’s gone. Like the strength of youth we don’t know we have and vigorous relationships that feed us like thick oak tree roots.

With so many decades on earth, it gets harder to find the threads of thoughts and follow the strands of deep conversations. A quiet sets in.

“My mind isn’t what it used to be,” he says.

“Are you at peace with that?” I ask.

“Yes. I’ve had a good life. I accept that this is what it is to get old.”

***********

As we walk, I hear his breathing. The night announces itself and makes it known that the sun has left. My worry grows to uncomfortable proportions. I wonder how far away home is.

I take his arm to steady myself in my worry more than he needs me to take it. I want to be there in case of unforgiving sidewalks, slick grass and tricky sticks lying in wait to trip a gentle soul.

How much I wish I could always be there, at his side to defend against the ever changing world. It speeds up. Fat buildings crowd in against one another while the newspaper gets thinner.

We walk toward the house. I recognize the block and know we’ll see his yellow porch light soon to draw us near.

I can’t always walk with him. I have to go back to my own life of rushing and meetings. As I hold his arm and we walk toward home, I pray,

God bless this man, my father.
Keep him safe on his path.
Give him clarity and joy.
And if he must walk a difficult path,
give him strength.
And if he must face a blurry time of
fading,
give him peace.

God bless this man, my father.
May he know that his true home
is in my heart.