For me, there has been no other day of the year so fraught with emotions and complexities as Mother's Day. The landscape of my own journey is a tapestry of heartbreak, heartache, sorrow, disappointment, joy, anger, and gratitude. Add to it my role as a female clergy person for whom Women's Day and Mother's Day have often made up the vast majority of my invitations to preach. The invitations to preach Mother's Day have often forced me to preach past my own pain while simultaneously articulating the pain and celebration that coexists in any given congregation.
If Mother's Day and I had a relationship status it would be: It's complicated.
A Motherless Child
I was not reared by my biological mother. Instead, my father and paternal grandmother reared me in a household where 5 generations lived together. In so many ways, it was a wonderful experience. I had family all around. I had cousins that were like siblings and aunts and uncles who looked out for me. I received wisdom from my great-grandmother, grandparents, and great-aunts. I learned to pray kneeling beside my great-grandmother each night before bed.
So many mothers, but none really mine. A girl whose mother was alive, living less than 10 miles away, yet absent. Then, she was dead. And that complicated things even further. She was dead at 26. She died of a heroin overdose. As a child, I felt ashamed. Ashamed for not being enough for her to break the addiction like my father did to rear me. I felt ashamed that I never really knew her and so I was not like other motherless children, I knew or encountered
On Mother's Day, I never knew what color carnation to receive: the red one for the living grandmother who was the only mother I knew or white for deceased mother who bore me.
While others grieved what they had lost, I grieved what I never had.
Motherless, Childless, and Single
As I grew older, Mother's Day became even more challenging. For the majority of my 30's I still had my grandmother. But by the time I was 37, she was gone, too. I was motherless motherless. And I was childless. If I were to be honest, this was perhaps the darkest period of my life. There was a void within me that constantly ached to be filled. It was not simply about the love I wanted to receive, but the love I wanted to give...safely. I wanted to love freely without worrying about being used or hurt. I did not want to be a single parent. Yet, I was getting older and felt like my time was limited. I worried that I would be alone for the rest of my life.
Mother's Day was a reminder of everything I longed for and emphasized my empty life and my empty womb.
Motherless, Childless, and Married
I married at 41. In my humble opinion, there are 4 M's that are rarely talked about. Perhaps, I should say talked about honestly. The M's to which I refer are marriage, motherhood, miscarriages, and menopause. Each of these M's can be a very lonely place. But I digress...I had never been pregnant prior to marriage so (my gynecologist informed me) there was no way to know if I could conceive. It turned out that conception was never a problem. I have been pregnant at least 6 times; only one was a viable pregnancy. 3 times, I carried past 8 weeks and the other 3 were a fleeting + sign on a pregnancy test that disappeared a week or so later.
One year, I had accepted a preaching engagement for Mother's Day. I became pregnant prior to the engagement. I was several weeks along, but no heartbeat had been detected. The chances for a viable pregnancy were becoming very slim. We were losing hope. I had forgotten about the Mother's Day service and when the date finally registered to me, I felt it was too late to cancel. I had an appointment on the Friday before, still no heartbeat. I flew out for the Mother's Day service that Saturday. Sunday morning, I began spotting. I preached for Mother's Day while I was miscarrying.
That Mother's Day, I wondered if my only value to God was what I could give no matter what it cost.
Motherless and Married with Children
Having children completely reoriented my life. At 43, after a couple more miscarriages, I gave birth to healthy baby boy and had a 3 year old little girl (my niece who would become my daughter). They were twins of sort, having come into our lives the same year. That Mother's Day, I was a mom-to-be. I had completed my first trimester, but I was still worried. As I matter of fact, I lived in fear of losing this child for his first 18 months. It was not the usual parental worry, but a fear created from so many losses that made it hard to believe that this one would not be taken from also. It took me a long time to believe that I "could keep him."
Now, it is almost 7 years later. It seems quick when I write it, but painstakingly slow in real life. We have 2 healthy, happy, sometimes hard-headed children. My primary identity is no longer "Rev" or "Doc" but "mommy," which I hear about 50 'leven gazillion times a day. The days begin and end with them in mind. We spend the majority of our time keeping them alive, whether it is providing for them, taking care of them, or preventing them from killing themselves or each other. During the course of writing this blog, Luke has fallen off the swing and monkey bars onto his face twice and Lydell had to yell at them not to crash into each other on their bikes as they raced around the pool full speed, way too close to each other as the entered the curve. They are our greatest challenge and our greatest joy.
Once I had children, Mother's Day no longer signified loss. My children have been one of the greatest sources of healing on my life. I rarely accept engagements for Mother's Day because I do not want to "work" on that day or leave home to guest preach in another's pulpit. (This year, I will preach since I can pre-record for a streaming service). My plans for the day usually include not cooking, only urgent questions, and a minimal of amount of calling "mommy." Daddy keeps us ALL alive.
This Mother's Day, I will run through the gamut of emotions and memories that tend to surface each year. However, the sorrow now passes quickly and the joy is what lingers. Well, that .....and tiredness.
Mother's Day can be complicated because life can be complicated.
Your story may not be mine. The places of pain and loss may spring from different experiences. The complications of this day may be different for you or not complicated at all. Perhaps biological motherhood is not something you desire or was achieved without ...complications. Whatever your story is, I pray that the day will bring you more joy than pain, more smiles than tears. If the story you are currently living is not the one you want, I pray that God will start another chapter so that you can write a new story. And if you are preaching Mother's Day, I pray that you will be bear in mind the complexities of this day and not ignore them. I hope you will give people space to grieve and celebrate, mourn and move forward.
Because Mother's Day is complicated.