I can’t believe it. Six years.
The woman who let me live in her body for nine months (to say nothing of pushing me out). Who took me on my first trip to the library when I was just days old. Who let me taste the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough after each ingredient was added. Who introduced me to Deep Forest and Stevie Wonder and sang musicals with me in the car. Who cared for our ailing eighteen-year-old cat by cheerfully giving him subcutaneous fluid every day. I haven’t seen her since 2007.
It’s weird how comparatively easy my visit has been to set up, just a matter of train and hotel reservations and asking for a little time off from work. I could have done this sooner, but I didn’t.
Well, it hasn’t all been car singalongs and cookie dough. I can’t and don’t want to go into detail here, but suffice it to say that my mom’s had lifelong struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, each of them feeding off the other, and it’s hurt her and everyone who knows her in a million ways. In my childhood and teenage years, I often felt afraid and unable to trust her.
There was actually a period of about a year and a half, starting just before I turned eighteen, when I didn’t speak to her at all. I didn’t answer her phone calls or return her letters. I more or less tried to pretend she did not exist.
Then, about a year after my conversion, when the Midwestern spring finally burst through the snow, it was like Jesus tapped on my shoulder and said, Honey? It’s great that you accepted my forgiveness. Now it’s time to pass it on.
I think he’d actually been trying to get my attention for a lot longer than that. I can be really slow on the uptake.
At this point, we talk on the phone at least once a week. We mostly talk about little things: the latest cute thing my cat did, what I’m making for dinner, what she watched on TV, her roommate’s annoying antics. There are still topics I don’t bring up with her, but things are so much better than they used to be.
Until recently, I was feeling pretty awesome about this. I am such a great daughter! I call her every week without fail! I never bring up all that nasty stuff that went down in my childhood! Good job, Jesus, mission accomplished.
It’s taken me six years to realize that’s not the end of the story. I said I was slow on the uptake.
I have come a long way, and I don’t want to minimize that. But the mission is not accomplished. Calling once a week doesn’t mean we have The Best Relationship Ever and I can now check off the “honor your mother” box.
She lives in a group home, her daily needs in the hands of underpaid, overworked caregivers, and she hasn’t had a hug from one of her kids in years. I have not physically been there to celebrate a holiday or her birthday, to make a meal or take her out to dinner, to just sit there with her and be with her.
I had to get this out there in the open, readers. How can I say all this stuff about other believers being my family when my relationship with my blood family is still so messed up? How can I glibly talk about loving your neighbor when I’m not sure how to love my own mother some days? How can I say I believe the love my heavenly Father has for me is too strong for any other force in the universe to tear down, but still shrink in fear and distrust from my earthly mother?
These things are not unconnected. Relationship is relationship is relationship. Love of God and love of neighbor are echoes of each other. If I can’t or won’t offer myself in the fullest kind of relationship to my mom, I’m refusing a part of myself to God as well. Likewise, if my relationships with other broken people overwhelm me, I’m not leaning on God like I should.
There is room for compassion in these realizations. Jesus knows every childhood hurt that still lives in me. He was physically here for us on Earth, got to feel firsthand all our human emotions and the brokenness of our bodies. He knows choosing to be in full relationship with God and people is hard. And he knows it’s the only thing that allows us to fully live.
So, you praying types, will you please pray for me as I visit my mom over Labor Day weekend?