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.
The newborn baby boy on my chest drowsily opened one eye.
That one eye of his looked into mine —- and I choked.
This baby — this human being — so helpless and fragile, was depending on me —- flawed, deficient, inexperienced me.
On Sunday, my husband would offer me my very first Mother’s Day card. We hadn’t been married 11 months.
I wasn’t ready for any of this.
I had never shaped another person before. Really, I hadn’t even taken care of a fish or a dog or a cat before. Didn’t someone at least need a license or something before taking home a swaddled — soul?
And I knew, far too personally, how the struggles of a Mother can affect a vulnerable child.
A mere seven days before birthing our firstborn, still lumbering under very pregnant, I had wandered down the hollow halls of a locked psychiatric ward.
Heavy steels doors had clanked shut behind me.
My mother was behind those steel doors.
I had left my mother behind those steel doors.
She’d voluntarily signed herself in for 72 hour lockdown behind those doors. I couldn’t have known that only 72 hours after those 72 hours — I’d go into labor to become a mother myself.
I had stood there on the far side of the those steel doors, one hand on my swollen belly, my other brushing away all this sadness and fear that brimmed, me right too full, and I’d prayed. Prayed that somehow her three days behind those doors might somehow bring peace.
Because my Mama hadn’t had much of that.
She’d been raised by an angry alcoholic.
She’d suffered the unimaginable at the hands of the unsympathetic — who should have undone themselves to protect her.
She’d survived the stuff of horror movies.
Then, in the autumn of her 26th year, with two freckled preschoolers and one 3 week-old baby in her arms, she’d seen it happen right in front of her — her white-blonde 18-month-old little girl fell under the crushing wheels of a delivery truck right in front of her eyes.
Worst nightmares can become your life and there is no waking up but only living through.
In one catastrophic, cosmic moment — the haunting of her past fused with the horrors of her present.
And the demons that seemed to descend took beautiful my Mama away from me, from us — to hospitals and psychiatric wards throughout my childhood.
Standing in front of those steel doors, I was about to embark on this rite of passage from needing a mother — to being a mother.
How in the world?
How in the world could I have the wherewithal to lead another human being in the right way —when I was just making my way myself?
How in the world can a woman become a Mother and rightly raise up a child — unless by a miracle of the Father?
And that’s what I felt.
Not just the heaviness of my baby-swollen side — but something more…
The mantle of motherhood can feel like the weight of a universe and raising a child is to be entrusted with a bit of eternity. Would I be fool enough to take the matter lightly? The charge of a small child is no small charge and you’ll have to charge the gates of heaven to hold back the forces of hell.
My body answered the timing of it’s Maker, and against my will, I went into labor four weeks early.
I went into labor and I trembled.
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. Parenting is an experiment in radical grace and the work of every parent is to fully give to the child. And it’s the work of every child to fully forgive the parents.
I found it hard to breathe.
My Bible lay open on my side table.
I ran my hand over the crinkled page, knowing the words and the truth that whispered somewhere on that darkened leaf, the one I had left it open to.
… he gently leads those that have young… Isaiah 40:11
In the dark of that room and all the years that lay before me, that and only that was all I had to cling to:
The gracious Shepherd would have to lead this little babe and me on.
The weight can fall away if we keep our feet on The Way.
In Him, nothing stays heavy and in the Lord we might live light.
Could I stay in Him?
Could I count on Him to lead the way?
The next day dawned Sunday — Mother’s Day.
My own glorious Mama knocked gently at my door.
I smiled shyly as I pulled back the blankets to reveal her first grandchild.
We cried as she rocked him close.
“This is for you,” she quietly offered.
I took the bag from her outstretched arm.
Inside, an intricate, handmade cover for our hand-me-down car seat.
“Mama…you must have stayed up all night?!” I marveled. She had to have — no one was ready for this baby 4 weeks before his due date .
“Oh, Mom, you’ve got to be so tired. You shouldn’t have. Really, Mom.” I reached out to hug both her and our swaddled boy.
She pressed her cheek close to mine.
“Relationships cost,” she whispered.
In spite of her own past, Mama chose to pay the price of relationship.
Late nights, she’d poured over study notes with me, proof-reading essays, prepared me for university interviews. She’d driven me to piano lessons, cheered me through track meets, sat up with me through growing pains in my legs and heart and head. Mama had earnestly tried. She’d tried to lay aside self and invest into relationship with me.
I gently took our little boy from Mama’s arms and bundled him into Mama’s made-with-love car seat.
This little person wrapped in her selfless love.
Already the Shepherd was leading me—through the willingness of one broken, surrendered mama.
Turning to Mom, I managed a laugh, hoping levity would mask the doubts that had me in this choke hold.
“Think I can do this, Mama?”
She took my hand and squeezed, a woman who knew how to hold on.
“It’s not that you aren’t going to blow it. It’s what you do with it afterwards.”
Over the years, my Mama had often blown it. Though good intentioned, she had missed significant events, spoken harshly, been unavailable… disappointed me.
Yet my love for her was large 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 massaged hope into my scared stiff heart:
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 Himself… even 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.
I felt the strangling terror give way to realization.
No one gets it perfect.
And that’s exactly why we sing Amazing Grace — and it really is!
Motherhood does not require complete perfection and a Superman cape.
It simply requires an imperfect commitment and the surprising humility of Christ.
I took one last glance around that hospital room before stepping out that door and into motherhood.
My first Mother’s Day card was sitting on the windowsill.
I picked it up. Half-smiled.
Why feared I’d never be a Mother’s Day card Mother?
Hadn’t my own beautiful Mama shown me I didn’t need to be?
The Shepherd leads those with young not to be Hallmark versions of perfection — but rather persevering versions of humility.
Grace stands in the gaps.
Mama, she held open the door with a brave smile.
And I nodded sure and I carried our son out into the world.
And I could feel the carrying — how underneath us all are His everlasting arms…
edited from the archives
This post is part of The 1000 Moms Project:
Oh, do read the posts below for all the excitement about The 1000 Moms Project!
Thank your Mom for her sacrifice?
I wrote mine for my mama here: What all the Mothers Need to Know
And if you thank your mama on your blog and link up here — you will help support a mothering educational project in Haiti just through your gratitude.
The 1000 Moms Project is about 1000 people standing up and thanking their mom publicly (what mom doesn’t want a gift like this for Mother’s Day?) — and we’ll match your honoring of mothers by funding a Maternity/Child Survival Program in Haiti for a whole year. (You can read all about it here)
Thank your mother publicly — & we’ll join you in honoring her by helping a Haitian mother in need!
It’s a way of passing on the loving legacy of your Mama — her sacrificial love going on and on and on
(And you can print out a free Mother’s Day card for your Mother, sharing with her what’s been giving in her honor, in this post here. }
So — what important gift or sacrifice did your Mom make for you? Link up with your story/letter of thanks to your right here.(May we humbly ask you to please grab the button or the banner for your post, and link back to The 1000 Moms Project? Thank you! We can’t wait to read your thanks to your Mom!)