This Mother's Day is weird, and it feels different from the rest. It's the first one I'm celebrating with faith as my stronghold, and it's the first one I'm celebrating with my mother in a couple of years where I'll actually be within her presence. This year was one in which almost every part of my values system and identity were tested in a manner I didn't think possible before, and to be with the core of the person who made that identity in the first place is a valuable experience.
Being with my mom this Mother's Day, for the first time in four years, teaches me that the suffering I travailed in my valley of the shadow of death, cited in Psalms 23, wasn't unnatural, wasn't wrong, but the plan for God. God guided me and led me the entire time. Phrases from Psalms 23:1 and Psalms 23:4 are perhaps the most famous in Biblical literature: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want" and "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." But often, Psalms 23 is misinterpreted as a verse for how to numb pain and escape from the valley in a misguided interpretation of theology. No, Psalms 23 might not make life better, but it may change us in how we confront life.
I was fortunate in having a good mother, a great one, and in my opinion the best in the world. But it's important, at the same time, to recognize that Mother's Day is a day of pain and anguish for a lot of people. Some people, on Mother's Day, are reminded of traumas, deaths, or absences that make them walk through the valley. But I can only speak to my experiences in realizing I'm the luckiest person in the world, and I hope that everyone in this world has found a maternal figure that has fulfilled that obligation in a manner their mothers possibly couldn't.
I watched a sermon by Margaret Reynolds of Grace Midtown, in which she spread the message that the joy of Psalms is not in withdrawing and escaping from the valley, but confronting it full-force with strength. And what gives us that strength is the "with-ness" of God and God's gifts of unconditional love, particularly our mothers when they are with us through our storms and struggles. The true story of what defines and charts our lives is not when we try to escape the valley, but when we are deep in the valley, wondering whether God truly has given up on us.
When we are suffering, the important thing is that our mothers are also suffering in anguish for us, as much, if not even more than we are. The closest thing we have to God and God's sacrifice and forsakenness of his son in Jesus Christ are our mothers in those moments, and sometimes the femininity in Christianity is ignored and overlooked, but after all, it was women who first found the biggest miracle in the world: the resurrection.
In Allison Woodard's moving poem, "God Our Mother," she states that "to be a Mother is to suffer." I know of this firsthand, that the suffering of my mother was profound in acting upon me and my brother's measure -- the multiple jobs and sleepless nights she endured to make sure we had food on our plates were things we always neglected and underappreciated.
"To be a mother is to...[be] subjected to indignities for the sake of new life," and although this connection may be obvious, I wonder what my mother could have been or done in her life, independently, and could have been had it not been for how much she had to take care of myself and my brother. She is the one who told the world and told our family, in response to the world's primal hunger, "this is my body, take and eat," because the cruelty of the world ate at her body and all she did in response was suffer and endure it.
"To be a Mother is to...offer the...assurances of 'I'm here,'" and if I didn't know you were here and always here for me this whole time, I don't know where I'd be. I don't think I would be alive, and I don't think my brother would be either, so thank you so much for everything you did for us. "To be a mother...[is to] long for reconciliation and brotherly love," and I wish your frustrations from all those years of us getting into spats and fights were worth it because we have a bond that is unshakable now.
And to be a mother, mom, for you, is to "gather all parties...and to whisper in their ears/ that they are Beloved," because that's what you've always told me in my times of desperation and need. And to be a mother is to be "vulnerable --/ To be misunderstood,/ Rallied against,/ Blamed," and that's what you have always been to me and to us, when we didn't give you the benefit of the doubt on minor things like dishes or the right way to merge onto a highway. You were the just the target for "the angst [we] feel/ over [our] own existence/ in this perplexing universe."
And to be a mother "is to be an artist/ A keeper of memories past." In the past, mom, I had frustrations over how many photos you would keep and hoard of me and Raymond, of seemingly terrible and unuseful photos of us framed on the doors. You are "a Mender of broken creations/ And Comforter of the distraught children." You are the mender and the comforter of my struggles and my life, whether I realize it or not, and to that I pray for your continued good health and peace.
You are a "Bestower of names,/ Influencer of identities;/ Life giver/ Life shaper,/ Empath,/ Healer,/ and/ Original Love," and in what I'm struggling through right now, mom, you are what has taught me what it means to have a friend through the valley.