The Mothering Space

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My mother was my first country,
the first place I ever lived. 
(Nayyirah Waheed)

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Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and, like most of us, I’ve got some feelings about it.

It’s a day some people love and other people would rather skip over. A lot of us, I suspect, are caught somewhere in the in-between. Sometimes, it brings up painful memories surrounding our own mothers, or how we have mothered our children. Sometimes, it reminds of us of that which we lack or have lost. Sometimes, it’s a day to sleep in or receive flowers or go to brunch as a family. Sometimes, we skip church on that morning instead of trying to hold it together through the traditional Mother’s Day sermon.

Sometimes, it’s beautiful. Sometimes, it’s messy. Sometimes, it’s downright brutal.

“Motherhood” is a complex place, after all.

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Five years ago, I went to an unfamiliar church on Mother’s Day, and I stayed in my seat, applauding, when all the mothers in the congregation were asked to stand and be recognized. I remember looking around the sanctuary to see who hadn’t risen to their feet–the men, obviously, and a handful of us women, of varying races and age, who were halfway looking down at the floor as we clapped. The ushers handed out pink roses to all the mothers. On my way out of the church an hour or so later, one of them invited me to take a rose along with me. I smiled, picked one out of the jar, and watched out of the corner of my eye as another usher led him away by the elbow, sharply whispering, “These ones are for the mothers only.”

I threw the rose away in a garbage can in the Wawa parking lot. And I never went back to that church.

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Last year, my husband, son, and I went for a picnic in a nearby park on Mother’s Day. We ate crusty bread and soft cheese, strawberries, almonds drizzled with dark chocolate. I wore a navy dress and a pink cardigan, and my husband snapped pictures of me with my son nuzzled into my shoulder, and playing on the blanket by my feet. I got cards, and flowers, and a home-cooked meal.

Last year, Mother’s Day was one of happiest times of my life. Life was sweet, and I had been given good gifts. It was easy for me to celebrate.
Five years ago, it wasn’t. Not even close.

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This year, at MOPS, we made a craft. It was our last meeting before summer break, only two days before Mother’s Day, so it was the perfect activity. We made bird’s nest necklaces, and the beads in the middle were supposed to represent our children.

I hesitated for a minute as I decided how many beads I should choose.
In my hand, I held two. A pearly blue for Atticus, and a soft pink for J.
I contemplated putting the pink one back. I listened to the fear and doubt, the impatience, the worry. She’s still not here. Something is going to go wrong with the adoption. You’re not going to be her mother. And, the voice that seemed louder than all the rest: You already have one child. You’re being selfish. Greedy. You don’t deserve another.

Did I already mention that motherhood is such a complex space?

Because truthfully, if Atticus were the only child I’d ever have, my heart would be full. He is my joy and my delight, and I thank God all the time that I get to be his mama, that at the end of the day, he is mine and I am his.

And yet…
I know, in the deepest part of me, that we have been called to adopt J. That though my body did not grow her or give her life, she is still my daughter. Even though she currently lives on the other side of the world. Even though the paperwork is being processed at a slower-than-molasses pace. Even though…But God…

My God is a God of extravagant goodness, and I trust that the ancient paths he leads us on is the good way, where we will find rest and fullness of joy (see Jer. 6:16).

So I kept both beads. A pearly blue for Atticus, and the soft pink one for J.

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This year on Mother’s Day, I celebrate, but with the memory of the recent years’ longing still burning like a fire, hot in my bones. This year, I celebrate, but I remember what it’s like to lack, to yearn, to ache. This year, I celebrate, but I am aware that this sea of motherhood and womanhood and giving birth and being given life, it’s intricate, and it’s complicated, and sometimes it’s hard to sort out how we’re feeling about it.

I’m reminded of a prayer that Sarah Bessey recently shared, a prayer which was originally written by Amy Young and then adapted by Heidi Carrington Heath

“I want you to know I’m praying for you if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.

I want you to know that I’m praying for you if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.

I want you to know I’m praying for you if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child’s death.

I want you to know I am praying for you if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your Mom has died.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if your relationship with your Mom was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn’t parent you the way you needed.

I want you to know I am praying for you if you’ve been like Moses’ mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.

I want you to know I am praying for you if you’ve been like Pharaoh’s daughter, called to love children who are not yours by birth (and thus the mother who brought that child into your life, even if it is complicated).

I want you to know I am praying for you if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if your children have turned away from you, painfully closing the door on relationship, leaving you holding your broken heart in your hands. And like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.

I want you to know that I am praying for you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.

This Mother’s Day, wherever and whoever you are, we walk with you. You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy.

And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know.

Amen.”

This year, I will celebrate, and I will think of the women I know and love who find themselves all across the spectrum of “motherhood”, both by choice and by circumstance. And I will pray for all us, that we would know God’s extravagant goodness, and that we are seen, and we are deeply loved.

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