Tag Archives: Mothers

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Fashioned by family

Last weekend, I drove my 91-year old mother to northern Michigan to visit her younger sister. I hadn’t been up north for two years, and my aunt wasn’t doing very well then. Now, though, she is doing remarkably well; it is amazing what a few medication tweaks and some lifestyle changes can do.

They caught up on news of family and friends, and we played cards in the evening. My cousin visited and brought pumpkins from his garden and apples from his tree.

Conversations with my mother and aunt gave me family details. I learned which uncle was my grandmother’s favorite and which uncle was lazy. I learned that my Aunt Betty’s real name was Scholastica and that we were never close to my grandmother’s side of the family, but they did not know why.

My mother and I visited the cemetery after Sunday Mass, but it was drizzling and windy so she stayed in the car while I collected the flower-covered crosses my cousin had put at our relatives’ graves last spring. Most of my relatives are buried there, including my grandparents and my dad. It is the place my mother wants to be buried.

These days went the way so many others have during past visits up north.

While we were there, I kept thinking about how much of our lives are shaped by our families—and where God’s grace enters the picture to enable us to become more than our pasts. Like most women, I have watched myself become my mother and sometimes I rejoice in that, and other times I rebel.

My mother is one of those tenacious, feisty, determined elders. She does her own grocery shopping, tends her garden and cooks; she is strong and fiercely independent (and, yes, she still drives).

She taught me to be resilient and persistent.

A friend in college said to me, “I wish my mother had taught me to be as persistent as your mother taught you,” when I refused to quit looking for something she had lost.

Never give up could be my mother’s motto.resiliency-faith-cancerMy father used to tell us, “If you come home and think I am dead, go out for another hour to make sure.” He never wanted to go to a hospital, and when he had a major stroke, my mother had the inner strength not to call 911. She gave him the kind of death he wanted—at home with family.

My father died ten years before Jim’s death, and I know that her example gave me the strength to give Jim the kind of death he wanted.

For example, when his oncologist insisted Jim be hospitalized for a blood clot, I said “No,” because Jim was done with hospitals by then. I was terrified, and I remember thinking about my mother in that moment and how terrified she must have felt when my dad had that stroke.

I am grateful that I can see the blessings in how my family shaped me.resiliency-faith-cancer

 

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Lost and found

…this son of mine was…lost and has been found. (Luke 15:24)

I once had a job recruiting community members to be volunteer advocates for people who have disabilities. At monthly Board meetings, I would report on the people I had met who needed advocates.

Ellen was thirteen years old when I met her, and she lived in a group home

Her parents lived in the town where I worked, and I called her mother and told her I was going to recruit an advocate for Ellen. The mother told me how Ellen had become severely disabled as a young child; she agreed it would be good for Ellen to have someone in her life.

When Ellen’s name appeared in my monthly report, a board member asked if she was related to a family he knew with the same last name.

“Yes,” I said, “she is their daughter.”

“No,” he replied, and he named Ellen’s parents.

“Yes,” I repeated,” she is their daughter.”

“That’s not possible,” he declared and explained that he and his family knew this family very well. “They have two daughters,” he insisted.

“No,” I said, “they have three daughters.” In that moment, I realized that I had just exposed a family secret.

Ellen’s mother was quite upset with me after that. Prickly was how I described her. “I was just doing my job,” I declared defensively, but my heart broke for her as I imagined how I would feel if someone had inadvertently revealed something I had kept secret.

I started to avoid Ellen’s mother whenever I saw her, crossing the street or ducking into a shop.

A young woman named Geri became Ellen’s advocate and they formed a deep bond.

About ten years after I had left that job, I drove past Ellen’s condo one day and wondered if Geri was still involved.

Just days later, Ellen’s mother attended a fund-raiser for my current work. When I saw her walk in, I hid behind a pillar. What is she doing here? I silently shrieked, a knot forming in my stomach.

Fortunately, the venue and the crowd were large enough that I was able to avoid her.

When it was time for me to speak about my work, and as I was waiting for a final microphone check, the crowd seemed to part and Ellen’s mother walked straight toward me. Oh, God, no, I prayed. Not now. I had no place to hide.

I smiled, said hello and told her how I had recently driven past Ellen’s condo and wondered if Geri was still involved.

“Yes, she is,” Ellen’s mother said. She went on to explain that watching Geri with Ellen and seeing how Geri saw Ellen changed how she saw her daughter. She told me that Geri and Ellen had become an integral part of their family. “You gave me back my daughter,” she said, “and I want to thank you.”

Tears filled my eyes as she hugged me.

***

Have you ever been lost or found?

 

Becoming my mother

The Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer starts with a line from Psalm 51, “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Every morning that lines prompts me to ask if my words are declaring God’s praise.

It is just one of the me­­asuring sticks I use. Others include Ephesians 4:29-32 (“Never let evil talk pass your lips…”), 1Corinthinians 10:31 (“…do everything for the glory of God”), the Golden Rule and the Rotary Four-Way Test.

Giving glory to God is more difficult for me to evaluate than whether I treated someone well because I am not sure how things look from God’s perspective. But I have to believe that fostering positive thoughts and actions (rather than negativity) is a great way to glorify God.

Recently, I have been thinking about the mother-daughter relationship and how we are influenced by our mothers’ examples. I have been pondering the ways our mother-daughter relationships give glory to God.

So many of my friends fret about their children and worry that they did not do good jobs as mothers. Mom-guilt abounds.

Those same friends have/had mothers and some are still working through issues from those relationships.

Our mothers are easy targets to blame for the problems in our lives. Their flaws and faults are so visible to us. “I’ve become my mother,” is usually sighed in exasperation.

My own mother is a great “doer” and rarely sits still, so it is no mystery to me why I have the work ethic I do and why I have difficulty “being” rather than “doing.” I learned at the feet of a master “doer.” That has made me a good employee because I tend to get a lot accomplished. People who follow me in jobs have commented that they don’t know how I did all I did. “If you knew my mother,” I tell them. If ever I want to slack, I hear my mother’s voice in my head urging me to keep going. It is an ongoing, internal conversation.

I remember when I graduated from college and started working in the nonprofit sector, my mother questioned the wisdom of that decision. Couldn’t I make more money if I went corporate? Wouldn’t that be a better use of my college education? I replied “yes” to the first and “not necessarily” to the second. “I just don’t understand you,” my mother said.

I then explained to her that I learned from watching her take in sick relatives and caring for them, listening to the hardships of women at our kitchen table, and visiting friends and relatives who were ill or lonely. She had unknowingly been preparing me for a nonprofit career of caring about people who were disadvantaged, marginalized and disempowered. It was not the answer she wanted to hear. She had not consciously set out to shape me for a nonprofit career, but that is what she had unwittingly done.

It has been a good career, one that I believe gives glory to God.

Becoming my mother has many positives, but too often, I let the difficult parts of our relationship overshadow the positives. To counter that negativity, I want to focus on the positive character traits my mother instilled in me—resilience, determination, perseverance, compassion and hospitality among them. I want to celebrate all the good things my mother taught me, and I want to use those positive attributes to give glory to God.