It’s Mother’s day, and I am looking outward instead of inward.
Rather than looking at what I don’t have, I choose to claim the blessings that are mine. I realize there are women who feel pain over being single or childless, especially on Mother’s Day.
There are other women out there who have prodigal offspring and wonder if they are ever coming home. Other moms have buried offspring. I recognize that pain.
I know the pain is real and realize, (not to be cliché), that only God can heal.
I have learned that healing can be expedited if I look outward instead of spending too much time looking in.
I was one month shy of thirty when I got married and a little over thirty-one when I had my first child. Ten years later I had my sixth.
I can’t identify with mothers or women who have had miscarriages, suffered infertility, or buried a newborn. God has not taken me through those valleys although I could write a book about valleys of my own.
I cannot empathize with women who wanted to adopt but couldn’t, or with single mothers who gave away their newborn for adoption and don’t know whether or not they should consider themselves a mother. (I think they should.)
I’ve never had an abortion either, so I can’t relate to mothers who crave to hold the baby they chose to abort. I have never buried a child.
Walking with friends who are living that grief has made me more certain it is something I hope I never experience, even though I well know it could happen to me. Nor have I felt the rejection of a mother who didn’t want me, or wondered if she wished I had never been born.
Sure, there were days I didn’t think there was a lot of love to go around. Yet when the sticks were down, I knew where I belonged.
Don’t think for a minute I think I have achieved, or that I have it all together, or that life is perfect for me. It just isn’t so. Yet because of others who have experienced heartache and grief, this year I choose to look outward instead of in.
Mothers and Motherhood Should be Celebrated
I remember Sunday mornings when my church celebrated mothers – those days when I wasn’t a mother and had not yet found my Prince Charming. I wondered if I would ever be a mother, yet I was glad to honor the mothers in my church who did all the things that mothers do.
Some of those moms were pretty awesome, and some would probably have benefited from some parenting classes. Some of those moms were the best Sunday school teachers I had, possibly because they had children of their own. I had other teachers who never mothered their own but became that image to their students and gave a security that some of them had never felt at home.
And the Menu Was?
I had a teacher who, on a whim, invited her entire Sunday school class of girls home for Sunday lunch. She had forgotten that it was Children’s Day, and she wanted to do something special for us.
I can’t tell you a thing that was on the menu that day, but some forty-five years later I still remember the warmth and love I felt as well as the fun we had at her house that afternoon. She didn’t have to teach about hospitality; she modeled it. Because of women like Mary Anna Yoder, I choose to look outward instead of in.
Mothered by Others
I had aunts – sixteen of them – who were so busy raising their own children and (by the time I came along) being a grandmother that they didn’t have much time to be an auntie to me. We didn’t do sleepovers and those things one would think aunties should do.
We were expected to finish the food on our plates and help with dishes when we visited for Sunday lunch. They critiqued what I wore or didn’t wear and things I wrote and how I combed my hair and the friends I called mine.
They modeled courage and hard work and following God’s Word instead of the world.
They never funded a vacation for me or gave money towards my college education.
But I knew then that, if I ever needed a place, I would be welcomed and loved by any one of them.
Sure, some seemed more generous and loving than others and I definitely had my favorites, but I knew I belonged. Each one of them claimed me as their niece. Each of them is now gone, and I wish sometimes, like Emily in Our Town, that I could have just one day to visit with them. Because of my aunts, I have chosen to look outward instead of in.
A Special Aunt
One of those aunts was single and, although she never bore any children, she was Aunt Kate to children and adults alike in her community in Appalachia Maryland. She was Tante Kate to children in Luxembourg and Germany where she worked for several years as a missionary.
I never considered Aunt Kate less of a woman because she didn’t have children or wasn’t married. She did some fairly prolific things in her life. Her sisters, all of whom mothered five to ten children of their own, admired her for the woman she was. Aunt Kate chose to look outward instead of in.
She gave her heart to children and to adults, and I considered her a woman of wealth because of who she was. If Aunt Kate had spent her life bemoaning her fate of singleness and childlessness, she would never have become a favorite of all of us.
In Aunt Kate’s later years, she had plenty of nieces (many of them nurses) who gave back to her because of all she had invested in them. Because of Aunt Kate, I have chosen to look outward instead of in.
A Special Nurse Mentor
I worked alongside a nurse on the midnight shift at WVU Medical Center in Morgantown, West Virginia in the late 1970s. I was a new graduate and she was a pro. She was sweet, short and Chinese. I was not so sweet, not so short, and Caucasian.
She taught me about connecting with irritated families and frustrated doctors, and how to irrigate catheters and check equipment and how not to let my patients see that I was nauseated. Those nine months we worked the graveyard shift together, she modeled caring for the whole person.
Her patience was insurmountable as she birthed me into becoming a better nurse than I was when I arrived on her unit.
Because of mom-mentors like Lian Lee, I choose to look outward instead of in.
My Kids’ Aunts
I have sisters – five of them – who are single and have never birthed or raised a child. But they’ve been there for their nieces and nephews (as well as our foster kids,) and taught them to tie shoes, to read, to play fairly, and to enjoy nature. They’ve fixed zippers and played ball, patched up dolls and made or mended blankets. They’ve traveled to attend piano recitals and graduations and weddings and baby showers and livestock shows and cheered from a distance when they couldn’t be there in person. The aunties have had sleepovers and paid nieces and nephews to go to different homes to sing for older folks when the temperature was in the single digits.
They’ve allowed little ones to help bake cookies and driven to Tastee-Freez just to buy ice cream cones for good behavior. Their nieces and nephews are mostly grown, so they’re working on the next generation now.
They’ve babysat and changed diapers and picked blackberries and taken photos and read stories and had tea parties and colored Easter eggs and hidden Easter baskets. So on Mother’s Day, I choose to look outward instead of in and applaud my sisters who have helped mother our broods in ways we never could.
I had a mother-in-law who was the best a girl could have. She claimed me and cared about me. She showered love on me and she scolded me. She mothered me and she mentored me. She laughed a lot, prayed a lot, and loved a lot. She wasn’t perfect, either, but she was forgiven. Her time on earth was much too short; but because of this woman who loved red, I choose to look outward instead of in.
Yes, I have chosen, this year, instead of looking in, to look outward.
I had a mother. Imperfect – that she was. Old fashioned, I thought at times. Set in her ways, for sure. Mama didn’t like to have the furniture re-arranged. For goodness sake (words she would never have used), why not leave it just the way it is.?! If it wasn’t broken, she saw no need to try to fix it.
The music we enjoyed was not always what she thought was best. Some of the places we went, she never would have gone. Some of the things her grandchildren were allowed to do, she never would have done or allowed her girls to do.
She was a single mom for fifteen years and she was sometimes so busy making a living that she didn’t have much time to enjoy life. We didn’t have much when it came to counting material things, but we had security.
We were family, and we belonged.
Mama didn’t complain about needing to raise her girls alone. She just did it. She chose to work instead of sitting at home receiving government assistance. She might not have talked much about her feelings and we seldom saw her cry. But we belonged because we were family.
Somehow, after a long summer’s day when our mother finally came home from her bread route, everything was okay, because our mama was home. She was a woman of integrity and there was no shame in telling folks we belonged to her. She prayed – for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She spent time reading her Bible and when she could no longer read it herself, she wanted us to read it to her.
Looking back, I realize there are so many things she taught by her life – things I didn’t see at the time. Those things are part of me today, and I am the woman I am because of her.
Looking Out Without a Mother
This year, I don’t have my mother, but I am choosing to look outward instead of in. I had her for fifty-five years, and I am grateful. When I knew I would soon be saying goodbye, I couldn’t imagine walking through that valley or finding a way to say good-bye. But a friend helped me be realistic. “It won’t be goodbye. It will just be goodnight,” she said. “You will see her in the morning.”
I miss my mama. There are days I wish for one more conversation, for the opportunity to pick up the phone just one more time and call home. I’d like to hear my mama’s voice once again. There have been days when just hearing her voice would have made me feel like everything was going to be okay. I’ve imagined what it would be like to pick up the phone and call her. I can almost hear her voice. And then I cry, because imagining and remembering is as far as it can go right now, even though I believe she is in that cloud of witnesses cheering me on (Hebrews 12:1).
So I can look inward this year and bemoan that my mother is no longer here and that my kids don’t have a grandmother. Or I can choose to look outward and recognize the good things in my life because I had my mother and so many other women who have blessed me all those years.
I can covet accolades from my own brood or I can reach out to others who feel empty.
I am a woman, and I choose to embrace life, here and now.
That’s why I’m looking outward instead of in.