Few words are tinged with as much emotion as the word “mother” or whatever form of that word is what you call her. No Mother’s Day card can fully capture the significance of that relationship and when we come to celebrate that day, we each can have a variety of emotions.
Our mothers weren’t perfect even though some of us will tend to idealize them on special occasions. They were first of all human with all the weaknesses and fallibilities that can include. As a result, as we think of them, each of us can tend to wish there were things that were different, we wanted more of, or wanted less of.
Our mother’s stories come to us in bits and pieces. They come in what we see and hear as we grow up or what we think we see or hear and whatever those things imply to us. They come to us in what stories she may share with us as well as what other family members might say.
Over time we begin to piece these bits and pieces together much like a patchwork quilt that forms the overall sense of her that we have. We choose various colors and patterns in different seasons and decide we have a pretty good sense of who she is, but in between those bits and pieces, the colors and patterns we chose, are a great many gaps. So, what we know is far from complete even if we ask her to tell us about herself.
The lives of our mothers are a complex tapestry and despite some of you who might protest, she will always be a mystery.
My own mother went home to the Lord 25 years ago this June and I am more aware of these truths than ever before. And those gaps are key because they are often what most shaped who she became and what we believed about her. Those are things we wish we could ask when she is no longer here to answer even if she would trust us with those parts of her.
I know many key events in my mother’s life, but the gaps are ones I wish I knew.
One day when my mother was a freshman in high school someone came to her classroom door to tell her she and her two older sisters needed to go home because their house was on fire. I know that part of the story, but what I don’t know was what happened inside her heart and mind when she heard and later saw the place where all her memories had been made lay smoldering on the ground. I knew the fact and all that she and her family had were destroyed except what they were wearing and her saxophone that was at school, but what happened in her heart and thoughts that day are more of a guess on my part.
I wonder about that as I think about her and how she had no interest in older things or pieces of furniture or antiques. Was it because she had none of those that she decided she wanted only new up-to-date things because they could more easily be replaced?
Each of my mother’s family members stayed with a different person until the ruins of the home could be cleared and a new home built. That is a fact, but what was that like for her, with whom did she stay, and how often did she see her sisters or parents?
There are other bits and pieces of her story that I know well, but gaps are there for each of those as well. I believe that is true for most of us. We were the children and often we did not know her secret dreams and disappointments, her fears and regrets. The problem is that some of us missed there were gaps and chose to fill the gaps in with what we thought (actually guessed).
Too often that led to idealizing her or demonizing her. We too often made judgments about those gaps instead of letting grace fill them.
As we became adults some of those misperceptions changed or softened when we became aware of our own journey as an adult woman whether we had children or didn’t. Maybe that came because we were aware of our own failures. No one had ever spoken about failures except that they were to be avoided and were bad.
I love what Chris Fabry penned in Looking Into You:
“I think failure is the exit ramp just before the town of success…And it’s true. You take an exit. It’s the wrong one. You turn around and get back on the highway. Sometimes when you fail, you’re a lot closer to your destination than you think. The failure helps you understand this.”
None of us will ever know all of our mother’s stories, what shaped her into the woman we knew (no matter what emotion she stirs or stirred in us). What we can celebrate is that no matter what we missed or how she didn’t meet all of our hopes and dreams, the Lord met us in those and we discovered there was only One who is perfect and perhaps that is the point of the gaps, the “if only”, the disappointment, or the thought of joy about her.
I think if my mother could remind me of something this Mother’s Day, it might sound a bit like something else Chris Fabry wrote:
“The past is like grace. It’s not enough to know about it. We all know what happened back there. Grace allows you to see yourself in the light of the past, but not in the shadow of it. You see the truth about yourself, your need.”