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Reflections on Mother's Day

Some of our favorite writers try to answer the question: How do you celebrate Mother's Day when you're no longer a kid?

Mother’s Day is fast approaching (it’s this Sunday!). In recognition, we asked some of our favorite writers (from the Burnside Writers Collective) to reflect on this most important of Hallmark Holidays. After you read their reflections, we’d love for you to share your own thoughts in the comments. You’re not a kid anymore—do you still observe Mother’s Day? How do you honor your mom?

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” These are the words of Anna Jarvis, founder of the Mother’s Day holiday in the United States. It seems within a decade of creating the holiday, Ms. Jarvis was already soured by its commercialization, and I can’t say I blame her.

Here’s the thing, go check out a human physiology DVD from your local library and watch the section on birth. Yeah, your mom endured that so you can be here today, so a $3 card every 12 months doesn’t really compensate her for the effort. In fact it’s almost an insult.

That’s why I don’t buy my mom cards, and I don’t send her flowers, at least not on the second Sunday in May. Instead I usually make her a ridiculous drawing that depicts Lando Calrissian and me playing golf. And I do this without a trace of guilt, because the rest of the year I make a conscious effort to give my mother all the love and honor she deserves. I think Ms. Jarvis would approve.

—Chad Gibbs is the author of God and Football (Zondervan, August 2010).

Our first child was born last July, so this Mother’s Day will be my first as an actual mom. As a child, Mother’s Day consisted of making homemade cards, taking mom breakfast in bed and doing what we could to give her a “day off” from mothering.

I think, when God looks at my relationship with my mother, He sees an old blanket full of holes. Some of the holes have been patched up, but gaping ones remain. I often wish my mom and I could go back and stop the tears in our relationship when the damage was still minimal and easier to repair. I worry about the hurts my son and I will inflict on each other in the years to come and how holey our blanket might look when he is my age.

I’ve spent the last several days with my mom and her family, mourning and celebrating the sudden loss of her father. In light of his unexpected passing, I’ve decided that the best way for me to celebrate my mom this Sunday is to get to work on some of those bigger holes in need of mending in our relationship, in hopes that our son will see us offering each other grace for past wounds and do the same for me some day.

—Sara Sterley is Deputy Editor of the Burnside Writers Collective and a regular contributor to RELEVANT Magazine.

C.S. Lewis counted four; but what's the word for a seemingly insane Love? Love that incites bitter arguments, only to dissolve them within seconds? That cheerfully inflicts pain, however deserved? As a stay-home dad, I enjoy that part: "My ears can't hear ugly talk." "Supper will taste that much better."  "Why did the cat bite you? Maybe because you poked her with chopsticks?" Mom taught me how to speak: LIKE A MOM.

 For a long time—until I had a child, right—I imagined Mom was the insane one. What else could explain a Love that so deranged my plans? Mom's Love didn't make demands, exactly; but if I forgot to call, Love deftly conjured Guilt. "Sounds like you're keeping busy." I meant to call! "We probably wouldn't have been home anyway." I'M SUCCESSFUL—ISN'T THIS WHAT YOU WANTED??? "What I want isn't important." 

Time to chalk up Mother Love on the big board, along with ... Agape! Eros!  Storge! Philia!  (Give your Mom a call, now, will ya?)

—Josh Langhoff lives in Chicago. His writing has appeared in the Village Voice, Decibel, the Minneapolis City Pages and the Burnside Writers Collective.

I called my mom this week. The word “flabbergasted” most appropriately captures her response. It took her around 20 minutes to figure out who was calling.

When I was a child, honoring my mom meant obeying her (e.g., I would keep my shoes on at all times to avoid the life-threatening bite of the deadly fire ant). Now I’m 28. Am I supposed to obey her "strong suggestion" that I leave my city and friends and job because I have seasonal allergies?

Maybe humility is a good place to start; maybe acknowledging that my mom might know some things I don’t. Maybe honoring her means inviting her into my life as if God actually appointed her to be the means through which life came to me. 

This Mother’s Day, I’ll call my mom. Because the truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing down here. And, it might just be the grace of God to provide someone a little further ahead on the trail to help me navigate this crazy terrain.

—Fabienne Harford lives in Austin, Texas where she works on staff at The Austin Stone Community Church.

Allison, my wife, each minute for 20, 60, 90 minutes, screams, bears down, holds her breath—push! A minute later, she begins again. And again. Jonah, our son, is so close. I look at Allison’s face, at her body, at the shaking, the exhaling, the begin-again. This is the making of a mother.

Have you ever seen a mother become a mother? Have you seen her giving birth? It is beautiful and mysterious, something from God. Her face becomes all things at once—curse, exile, vulnerability, weakness, pain, ruin and then among these she is life, is this life-giver, is this woman with strength enough for one more go. Now, here, looking at her, I believe that, while nothing is weaker, still nothing is more powerful, than this woman, this unity of all things, as, again, she screams, bears down, holds her breath. She looks at me, and I love her, and I hold her. God, in her face, has shown me things I have no name for, but for all time when I think of her, and of my own mother, and of all mothers, I am at peace—gratitude filling, filling, filling my body.

—Carlos Delgado is an Assistant Professor of English at Biola University.

Our mom likes to mess with us. At least, my brother, my sister and I remember her messing with us. Our favorite childhood memories are of her presumptions of our naiveté: she served us liver but told us it was beef; she gave out packages of pennies instead of candy at Halloween; most famously, she made Jello using vegetable water. I can’t tell you what a revelation my first cafeteria Jello was.

But she wasn’t out to connive us—she was out to improve us, by any means necessary. Pennies are infinitely healthier than candy, and making Jello with vegetable water offers far more nutritional value than following the instructions on the package. We pain Mom with our teasing about her well-intentioned deceptions, but we love her for the intention—and the deception. We like to mess with mom, but we know we are products of her benevolent trickery.

—David A. Zimmerman is the author of Deliver Us from Me-Ville.

I used to hate Mother’s Day.

The mylar balloons, the pink cards, the stories on everyone’s lips about their plans for taking their mom out to eat or to a movie. They all seemed to taunt me in a sing-song voice: look what we have and you don’t.

After a headlong flight from my stepfather at the age of 11, the mother I knew disappeared, retreating somewhere deep inside. In her place, a withdrawn but angry woman rose up to take over her beloved facial features and voice. By the time I was a teenager I had stopped caring, stopped listening to the woman who birthed me.

When I was 16, the severity of her condition hit home when a social worker drove up in a yellow Volkswagen bug several times a month. But there was still no explanation as to why Mom seemed to be losing her grip on reality, why she thought her mother was trying to kill her and the neighbors were Soviet spies. But at least there was this: the tall and kind woman who met with my mother gave us hope, “In my entire career, I have never seen anyone work so hard to get better.”

But she didn’t; the illness was just too much for her. Fifteen years ago, after threatening my grandmother with a knife, my mother became homeless and has gone without medication for the paranoid schizophrenia that had been taking over her mind since her 20s.

I did a fine job ignoring it—it’s easy to do when there’s no hope for recovery–and when I graduated from college, I planned to just get on with my life. My mother wasn’t in the picture anywhere, except for a visit here and a visit there. I wanted to be normal, like everyone else. At least I did, until my sister convinced me we had to help somehow. That’s how I ended up in Seattle, having lunch with my mom every week, for eight years now.

A typical lunch will include odd comments, but rarely any threats.

She’ll hand over something she’s picked up off the ground: “Here, take this rock/bottlecap/pamphlet. It’ll pay your rent.” Or she’ll hand me a piece of paper covered in handwriting and symbols, little snippets that read like code. “Put this in the reader [garbage can] outside and you’ll get fresh groceries delivered to your door.”

Whenever I think, “Oh, I wish I had a mom like yours,” (and I do), I remind myself that Mom does the best she can with the flesh and blood and mind she was given. I used to have high hopes that I could save her, could help her get medicated and an apartment, but now I just let her be who she is. Because here’s the thing: Most of the delusions that tear apart her mind are about us, her children, and about keeping us safe. Nearly every day, she faces obstacles nightmares are made of, fighting against the fear and the chaos to care for us. Because that’s what a mother does.

In many ways, she is the most loving mother I know. And this Sunday, I’ll bring her flowers and a cheesy card covered in cursive writing, telling her so.

—Penny Gruener Carothers is the Social Justice Editor for the Burnside Writers Collective. She's currently working on a memoir that chronicles her unconventional upbringing, her mother's descent into mental illness, and her attempts to make sense of it all when she discovers Jesus in her 20s.

7 Comments

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Jill commented…

Penny,

What an amazing piece. Thank you for sharing. You have a gift with words.

85,004

Mallory commented…

What a beautiful piece Penny. Moved me to tears.

Thank you.

85,004

Guest commented…

Penny, Thank you for letting us into your Mother's Day. Your insights have given me much to consider in regard to my relationship with my mother. She had a nervous breakdown when I was 12 and my relationship with her has taken more than two decades to mend. I relate to your situation on a smaller scale and I admire your willingness to communicate what you have learned. Peace to you.

agentverde

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agentverde commented…

Thanks for having Burnsiders work on this, Relevant, but would it be too much to ask for a hyperlink from time to time?

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Agutierrez commented…

Thank you for the beautiful piece, Penny. I've been a not-so-great mom, and my depression clearly impacted one of my children. I feel badly for all of my shortcomings as a parent, andI hope that my children will have the ability to understand and forgive as you have your mom.

Louise

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