On Mothering

From the archives… a piece that received Heather Ivester’s (of Mom2Mom Connection) beautiful book: From a Daughter’s Heart to Her Mom: 50 Reflections on Living Well

I became a mother on the eve of Mother’s Day.

And when they placed that vernix-covered , wrinkled babe into my 21-year old arms that muggy Saturday evening in May, no wave of relief, or ecstasy washed over me. Being the first to caress another human being’s cheek, I only felt raw, unadulterated, strangling terror. If I could have ran, I would have. My weak, rubbery legs failed me.

Newborn babe on chest drowsily opened one eye and looked into mine…and I choked. This person, so helpless and fragile, was depending on me—- flawed, deficient, inexperienced me.

Tomorrow, my husband would tenderly present me with my very first Mother’s Day card. And I wasn’t ready. I had never shaped another person before. I had my own issues, my own baggage. Didn’t someone at least need a license or something before taking home a swaddled bundle of precious humanity?

And I knew, far too personally, how the struggles of a Mother affected a vulnerable child. A mere seven days before, lumbering under the heaviness of pregnancy, I had wandered down the hollow halls of a locked psychiatric ward…having left my own mother behind the heavy steel doors for a 72-hour stay. One hand on my swollen belly, my other had brushed away hot, stinging tears. I ached with sadness for Mama, weary from battling her own demons, fighting for her own sanity…living out the consequences of a legacy bestowed by her own troubled mother. I had prayed that her three days of quiet might bring a measure of peace.

Mama had suffered through an abusive childhood. And I had suffered through my early years as she wrestled to lay her past down. Then in the autumn of her 26th year, with 2 preschoolers at her side, and a 3 week old in her arms, Mama witnessed her 18-month-old daughter fall under the crushing wheels of a delivery truck in our farmyard. Mothers never dream of tucking their baby into a shiny black coffin to bury in cold earth. The haunting of her past fused with the horrors of her present, taking Mama away from me… to hospitals and psychiatric wards throughout my childhood. About to embark on this rite of passage from needing a mother, to being a mother, I felt all too well the weight of motherhood’s mantle. How could I, in all frankness, have the wherewithal and competence to lead another human being into the good and right way when I didn’t know the way myself?

That first long night in the darkened hospital room, my hand traced the fingers and toes of this new little person. How could I do this? The lump in my throat grew. Failure was certain. I was going to let this little boy down. I found it hard to breathe. A Bible lay open on my side table. I ran my hand over the crinkled page, knowing the words that whispered somewhere on that darkened leaf.

Isaiah 40:11….he gently leads those that have young.

In the dark of that room, that was all I had to cling to: The gracious Shepherd would have to lead this little babe and me on. Could I count on Him to show the way?

The next morning dawned Mother’s Day. My own Mama knocked gently at my door. I smiled shyly as I pulled back the blankets to reveal her first grandchild. We both cried as she rocked him close.

This is for you,” she quietly offered. I took the bag from her outstretched arm. Inside I found an intricate, homemade cover for our hand-me-down car seat.

Mama…you must have stayed up all night?!” I marveled, knowing that none of us expected this babe to arrive 4 weeks early.

She nodded.

Oh, Mom, you’ve got to be so tired. You shouldn’t have. Really, Mom.” I reached out to embrace her and swaddled baby.

She pressed her cheek close to mine.

Relationships cost,” she whispered. In spite of her own anguishing battles, Mama, time and again, chose to pay the price of relationship. Late nights pouring over study notes, proof-reading essays, preparing for interviews, Mama had, to the best of her ability, laid aside self and invested into her relationship with me.

I gently took our little boy from Mama’s arms and bundled him into Mama’s made-with-love car seat. We stood back and smiled at this little person wrapped in such an expression of selfless love. Perhaps the Shepherd was leading—through Mama’s example.

Turning to Mom, I managed a laugh, hoping levity would mask the doubts that had me in a choke hold. “Think I can do this, Mom?”

Mama took my hand and squeezed.

“It’s not that you aren’t going to blow it. It’s what you do with it afterwards.”

Over the years, Mama had often blown it. Though good intentioned, she had missed significant events, spoken harshly, been unavailable… disappointed me. Yet my love for her coursed deep and sure…simply because she had listened to and heard my pain. And she had humbly owned her failures, apologized for the disappointments, and fervently attempted to pay the cost of relationship.

Mama’s refrain began to massage hope into my scared stiff heart:

Relationships cost.
It’s not that you aren’t going to blow it. It is what you do with it, when you do.

Perhaps there was something more powerful to experience than a perfect Mother: the wonder of a committed Mother who simply humbles herself. Like that Shepherd who knew the cost of relationship, chose to pay the price, and, staggeringly, “humbled Himselfeven to the point of death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

Out of the ashes and brokenness of our sin, rises the breathtaking exquisiteness of humility and grace, the Cross. And out of the anguish and woundedness of Mama’s life, surfaced a gentle humility and a dogged devotion to relationship. Regardless.

I felt the strangling terror give way to realization. Motherhood does not require, thankfully, perfection. It simply requires commitment and humility.

I was ready now to take our baby boy home and be a Mother. One last glance around the room found my first Mother’s Day card sitting on the windowsill. A smile tugged as I picked up the card. I had feared I would never be a Mother’s Day card Mother. Mama had shown me that I didn’t need to be. The Shepherd had, faithfully, shown the way.

He was not leading this Mother to be a Hallmark version of perfection.

But rather a committed, humble, real one.

Lord…let me sing the refrain this Mother’s Day: Relationships cost. It is not that I won’t blow it. It is what I do with it afterwards.