It was a struggle to find just the right kind of Mother's day card for my mama each year. You see, she wasn't exactly the Hallmark card kind of mother.
Mama wasn't the sort of mother that rocked her babies to sleep, read them bedtime stories, or sang them lullabies. She didn't verbalize her feelings very often, or smother us with kisses and hugs. Mama said I love you in the best way she knew how, by working morning to night taking care of the seven of us. She cooked us delicious meals and baked us treats. She sewed our clothes and kept them clean and ironed and well mended. She cleaned the house and washed our bedding every Saturday. She bathed us and made sure we all looked our Sunday best come the Lord's day, hair curled or slicked down, depending on our gender, and clothes washed, starch and ironed. She worked extra jobs on the side when the need arose to supplement our dad's manual labor job at the paper mill. When daddy left her when I was nine, she found a good job clear across town from where we lived, choosing to commute rather than to move us out of the only home we ever had known. She put us kids first, above her own needs and desires, choosing not to complicate our lives by pursuing her own social life. We never had to worry about where our mama was on a Friday night. When mama wasn't working, she was home with us.
There were times I wished God had given me a more greeting card type of mama. I wish she'd have asked me how I felt or how I was doing after daddy left. I suppose she was too busy treading water, just trying to keep herself afloat, after he walked away from her for another woman. As I journeyed through puberty, I wish Mama had been more open and able to talk to me about the strange changes happening in my body, happening in my emotions, instead of strategically leaving me a book on the topic, hoping that would suffice. I wish she'd asked me about the boys I liked, about the boys I dated. I wish she'd interjected some advice, some wisdom, instead of leaving me to navigate that whole minefield on my own. A curfew of what time to be home was the only boundary she set for me. By God's grace, He kept me relatively unscathed through those years, in spite of my own foolish naivety. To be fair, I don't think Mama had any confidence in her own judgement or wisdom, in her own ability to lead us, guide us, to teach us how to navigate through the ways of this world or to disciple us in the ways of Christ. She faithfully took us to church with her, and I think she just hoped and prayed that what we were getting there was enough.
When I was a teenager, Mama attended a class in which she was encouraged to communicate her love and encouragement to us. I remember the day she was dropping me off for a babysitting job and she asked me to sit there in the car with her for a minute. She told me how special I was to her and how much she loved me. It was a bit awkward, in the same way listening to someone try to communicate in a language that's foreign to them can be strained. Yet, I remember that as one of the kindest things my mama did for me, her trying to talk to me in my love language, words of affirmation.
In high school, a woman in the church we attended sent me a little note. She wrote words that, perhaps in a greeting card world, Mama should have told me a long time before. Instead it was this woman from church who wrote me a note that opened a wide door in my spirit, a wide door of hope and possibility. The note talked about God having a plan for my life, a calling on my life, perhaps a call that included ministry. So, I set my sights on attending Bible college. My ultra practical mama did not tell me we couldn't afford it, she did not tell me it was too far away from home, she did not ask me what I was going to learn in Bible college that would help me to make a living in the real world. She also did not help me navigate college applications, scholarship applications or any of those other things that were totally foreign to her. After all, she had just completed her own high school GED five years earlier, the year she turned forty five. God, in His grace, was there to help me where mama didn't know how. I managed to complete my first year of college with grants and scholarships and on campus jobs, with fifty dollars left in my checking account when I went home for the summer. That's one thing Mama did teach me with confidence, balancing a check book and watching her pennies was her specialty.
My roommate in college did have a greeting card kind of mama. The two of them were best friends. The fact that she and her mama phoned each other frequently was foreign to me. My mama had raised me with the notion that long distance phone calls were not to be made frivolously. Mama and I communicated mostly by letter. In letter I could venture in to deeper emotional waters with Mama than in face to face conversation or phone calls. This is a tendency I still have, to write the things I feel deeply with more ease than I can say them. I suppose, in some way, this is Mama's gift to me.
Mama died five years ago. I miss her still. She definitely was not a greeting card kind of mama, but she was my mama. She was the mama that God knew I needed to make me the person that I am today. She, like every human mother from the beginning of time to the present, made parenting mistakes. Yet, God's grace was there, covering her weakness. Really, isn't that the cry of most mothers? "God, please cover our mistakes with your grace!" was certainly my most frequent prayer when we were raising our girls, accompanied by, "God, please give us your wisdom!" The good news is, for all of the "not a Hallmark kind of mom" mothers out there, God really does have your back, He really will give you wisdom and cover your weaknesses and mistakes with His grace. He really does have His hand on your kids. I have a hunch that most kid's have, at one time or another, wished for a different kind of mom than the one God gave them. I imagine my girls did as well. But God, in His wisdom and sovereignty, gave my kids to me to parent and gave yours to you. We may not all be a Hallmark kind of mom, but we can be the mamas our children need, by God's grace and with His help.