It wasn’t the preacher. It wasn’t the music. It wasn’t the theology, or the length of service, or the comfort of the seats.
It was the pink carnations!
It was Mother’s Day and I didn’t want to go to church. I had declined the invitation to join my parents and planned on meeting up with them for church after they concluded worship. I didn’t want to sit surrounded by all of those happy mothers and grandmothers. I didn’t want to hear a sermon about how our great God created mothers and what an honor it was to be one. I didn’t want to force myself to sit in torture for an hour being reminded, moment by moment, that mine were empty arms.
I had wanted to be a mother has long as I could remember. As people around me were becoming parents with little effort, I had spent years being tested, treated, and labeled broken. The shame I felt for not being able to have a child was overwhelming. This, I thought then, was what God created me to do, and yet, I was failing at even that.
My dad called and begged me to go to church. What my mother wanted for Mother’s Day was to sit with her whole family in worship. The parental guilt trip is a powerful thing. I went to church.
As predicted, it was a mommapalooza at church that morning. The church was decorated appropriately. The bulletins had flowers on the front cover with a scrolling salutation, “Happy Mother’s Day!” The children went to children’s church and came back with gifts for mom. The sermon was about motherhood and how special God made women because we can be mothers. (That’s a topic for another day.) And then…
As you may have noticed in our worship services at St. Paul’s, I like to use props, hands on experiences, and sensory tools to bring worship to life for various people of various learning styles. Yet on this day, I despised the existence of interactives.
Beautiful, bubbly children of God walked up and down the aisles bringing gifts to mother’s. “If you’re a mother, raise your hand. We have a gift for you. You are special to us,” the pastor said. It had been nearly three years into my infertility journey at that point. I’d struggled a lot, but this time, I felt (in my interpretation, not the churches intention), that I was either being punished by God or shamed by God since I was not yet a mother. This, of course, is horrible theology and not at all accurate, but I felt it anyway.
The pain of my empty arms became overwhelming as those sweet children came to my row and one little girl reached out to hand me a pink carnation. With a piercing in my heart I took it from her and handed it to my mom. Then she smiled and handed me another one. I just couldn’t reject her gift. I took it, with eyes welling up. When she walked away, I placed that pink carnation on my chair and stormed out.
Mother’s Day is a joyous day. It’s a day to celebrate some of the most incredible women in our lives. It’s a day I now cherish as I’m surrounded by many children that God has placed in my life. I look forward to celebrating Mother’s Day now, but I remember how it felt to feel differently. And I know the emptiness of wanting to celebrate with someone who is not here. I’ve learned one can cry tears of joy and sorrow at the same time.
During my empty arms years, a woman said to me, “Tiffany, your arms are not really empty. You may not have a child of your own, but God will give you many children to share your love with. You are already a mother, you simply have to see how God has turned the prism to share your mothers’ heart with more.”
This did not always bring me comfort, but most of the time I clung to these words. In fact, I still cling to these words. There is no one way to be a woman, to express womanhood, and there is not one script for being a mother. Truthfully, ask any mother and we will tell you, we figure it out as we go.
Every child is different. Every mother is different. Every family is different. With God’s help, we are doing the very best we can and striving to be our best selves in the roles we have. I’m a biological mother, a step-mother, a mother-in-law, a pastoral mother, a Godmother, an adoptive mother, a spiritual mother, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a daughter-in-law, and an imperfect example of all of the above. Only one of God’s children who I have been blessed to mother actually came the “traditional” way and even that owes a lot to science. I have been blessed with a wonderful mother and grandmothers, but I have seen those blessings multiply with every woman who mothered me in one way or another. Both of my grandmothers are no longer living, and yet, I have been able to share my empty arms by adopting more grandmothers to love.
Mother’s Day is hard for many. It brings up complicated feelings, grief, worry, unforgiveness, joy, longing, hope, loss, apathy, and questions. Some women do not want to be mothers. Some women are desperate to be mothers. Some of us have lost our mothers and grandmothers or even children, their absence looming large in our lives. Some of us were raised by grandmothers, aunts who stepped in as mothers, siblings who stepped up as mothers. Some of us long to know our birth mothers, desire healthy relationships with our mothers, or never want to speak to our mothers again.
We are birth mothers, step-mothers, mothers-in-law, women who don’t want to be mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, infertile mothers, mothers of the community, Godmothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, mothers to our children’s friends, mothers suffering with pregnancy losses, mothers grieving the death of their children, mother’s who have lost their children to state custody, incarcerated mothers, addicted mothers, married mothers, or single mothers. We are good mothers, bad mothers, indifferent mothers, mothers who yell, mothers who cuddle, mothers who work at home, mothers who work outside of the home, mothers who sew, and mothers who couldn’t put on a button to save our lives. We are mothers who pray and mother’s who curse. We are mother’s with stretch marks, wrinkles, and grey hair. We are mother’s with candy in our purses, boogers on our shirts, tears in our hair, and blood on our skin. We are mother’s to our students, our nieces and nephews, and children of our friends. We are so many things each and every day. We come from many places, emotions, and experiences to all arrive on Mother’s Day.
Yes, Mother’s Day is loaded and complicated and full of emotions. Yes, God gave women this incredible opportunity to be mothers. Yes, God was and is creative enough to expand the opportunity to love children with a mothering heart in a variety of expressions. God gives us beautiful examples of mothers, of strong and faithful women, of women who loved us not because they had to but because they wanted to. God equips and empowers us to care for one another’s children, the children of the church and the community, to celebrate the women around us, and to lift up with joy the ways that God blesses each of us through those who Mother well.
Mother’s Day is a day for us to celebrate how God desires to gather all of us, with all of our hurts and joys, perspectives and experiences, into the protection and comfort of the wings to the likes of a mother hen. (Matthew 22:37). Whatever feelings we bring to Mother’s Day, we are reminded by the words of the prophet Isaiah that God desires to meet us right where we are and comfort us. (Isaiah 66:13). God even speaks into our own rejections and broken places to offer us this promise, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
None of God’s children are forgotten. All of God’s children are worthy of protection, comfort, and love. In John 14:18, Jesus tells us that he will not leave us as orphans but will come to us. We will be remembered and we will have peace.
This Mother’s Day, share your gratitude with the mothers in your life who made a difference, and celebrate them gleefully. Rejoice and give God praise for those who have gone before you, leaving a legacy of love. Share your love with a child because you want to. Offer grace, compassion, and gentleness to those around you with empty arms where children and mothers once were, or where children are longed to be. For those who are grieving, show yourself love. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to struggle on a holiday. Be kind to yourself. You are loved.
Mother’s Day means something different to each of us and the meaning shifts from year to year. Whether you are celebrating or grieving this year, you are worthy of the pink carnations. I pray you do come to church. I pray you feel surrounded by love. And I pray you stay, with all of your feelings and emotions, right in the arms of God, where you may feel the enormous love of God for you, a precious and wanted child.
Happy Mother’s Day to you, where ever you are on the journey.