This morning in church the worship leader mentioned that some people may find the holiday season difficult because of trials or hardships or strained family relationships. I thought about those strained family relationships, looked down at the date on my watch, and realized that today would have been my mom’s 73rd birthday.
After remembering that today was her birthday, I thought of my favorite picture of her. I misplaced it for a decade and then a couple of years ago I stumbled upon it in a box in the garage, the summer heat having left its mark. I’ve spent a lot of time tipping and turning the picture, wondering whether a different angle will give me a better glimpse of who she was. I don’t know who took it, I don’t know where she was. I can assume from her hair that it was the 70s, before I was born. She looks happy, but then again, it’s hard to tell. Of all the pictures I have of her, this is the one I most relate to. It’s not our features, although every year that passes I see her more and more when I look in the mirror. It’s the way you can see her, but not really. Hand up, guard up, same thing. I get her.
I’ve shared before that I prayed for her for 20 years. I asked God to surround her with faith-filled people who would care for her. He did. He wrapped His arms around her in the form of a husband, friends, a church, community, mentors, faith, all of it.
A few months ago one of her friends sent me a box of some things that belonged to my mom. On a ridiculously hot summer day, I snuck to a quiet corner of the house and opened the box like it was a treasure chest. There were several items, including a nativity scene that is displayed in my home, Christmas tree lights casting shadows of the figures against the living room walls. There was also a small card, printed by her church. On the top it says “High Five” and under that, in tiny print, it encourages the card’s owner to pray for the people on the list. She wrote down five names. My name is third. The card is dated Nov. 4, 2012.
How beautiful and how stupid is it that a mother and daughter were praying for each other, asking for things that had already been accomplished, but neither knew it because neither one dropped their guard long enough to pick up the phone?
Not only have I shared about praying for my mom, but I’ve also shared about how I ended up with her Bible. I’ve looked through the heavy book many, many times. In the beginning, I searched it looking for my name written in the margin or some note that would give me more insight. That’s why finding that small prayer card in the box last summer was such a gift. Then, on Thanksgiving, I was flipping through the well-worn pages and stopped on page 1,097. Something caught my eye. In purple pen she had underlined Isaiah 54:13b: …and great will be your children’s peace. This journey has amazed me; just when I think its slowing to a stop, that I’ve discovered all there is to discover, something propels me further down the road of understanding.
After she died I decided to attend a Bible study that was filled mostly with women my mom’s age, and I wanted to be surrounded by ladies who had lived the same years she had. Before we met each week in our study groups, the entire group of nearly 200 ladies would gather for food and to chat. Walking through the room every week I’d hear snippets of conversations; ladies throughout the room who were sharing their strained relationships with their adult children. Several said things like, “I’ve tried everything. I can’t do it anymore.” I wore those comments like a weight I couldn’t shrug off.
On the last day of the session I was asked to share a poem but when I stood on the stage, looking out at a sea of women, most of whom had been born the same time my mom had, I felt compelled to share my story. Through tears, I told them that I was that adult child many of them had given up on. I was the one whose mother had walked away. I was the one who had to learn about her mom’s life after she was dead. And I told them that they should never, ever, ever stop reaching out. No matter what. When I was done with my poem I walked back to my seat and a woman approached me. She told me that she has a wonderful relationship with her adult daughter but she lives far away and she often wished she had someone her daughter’s age to spend time with. I’ll never forget her words, “I can’t be your mom, but I can be like a mom to you.” I was floored, but it was what she said next that I’ll never forget.
“My name is Amelia,” I said as I stuck my hand out. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“My name is Vickie,” she responded, grabbing my hand with both of hers.
Few times in my life have I been without words; this was one of those times.
Vickie was my mother’s name.
I share all of this in case anyone needs to be told or reminded or encouraged — call your mom, call your dad, your son, your daughter. My experience has been a powerful force in my life and I believe I’ll see my mom again eventually, but I really wish we’d reconciled in life.
Just one phone call or hug or conversation free from resentment and anger. Just one Christmas. Just one birthday.
Just make the call.