Love is such a difficult thing to describe; it is impossible to quantify. Rondel and Limerick have been attempting to articulate how much they appreciate or enjoy something by telling me they love it “even more” than they love something very special to them, including people (so one would say he loved Grandma more than Mommy, and the other one would state the opposite, or they would say they loved a new type of popsicle even more than swimming). They have also asked me a few times who I loved the most – talk about a question with no right answer!
What I’ve been explaining to them, and how I answered their question, was that I love all of them in different ways, because they are different people and our relationships are likewise different. I love them all just the same amount, but it looks different; in a sense, my love for each of them is a different color, but each color blazes with the same intensity, beauty, and brightness.
If they asked me which color represented my love for each of them, this is how I would respond…
Today I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the weekly Seven Quick Takes – head over to read the rest of the posts! And if you have time, catch up on Kelly’s May blog series highlighting different titles of Mary from around the world; it is undeniably worthwhile, simultaneously fascinating, inspiring, and convicting.
I first learned what it was to be a mother from watching my own mother. There’s a theological term kenosis which describes how Jesus emptied Himself out in accordance with His Father’s will out of love for us – and I think the commitment, self-giving, and love my mother shows for her children is a human reflection of that quality. If one of her children is sick, she will offer to help even if she hardly has five minutes available in the day. If one of her children suffers from physical illness or emotional pain, she suffers too, and wakes in the night to pray on their behalf. If one of her children makes a decision that confuses, hurts, or disappoints her, she responds with a genuine desire to understand, constant forgiveness and unconditional love.
I also learned from my mother that mothering is not limited to one’s own children. The posture of provision, nurturance, patience, and love can be extended to almost anyone – and she lives and has lived it in so many ways: with her struggling students as a professor, with other homeschooling families as a mentor and veteran, with kids at church, with her brother and nephews, with anyone who has ever entered the doors of her home, and more.
Motherhood is one of the hardest and best things in my life. Perhaps more than any other experience, it has given me a desire to truly strive for holiness and sainthood, while never failing to expose the weaknesses and sins that make me dependent on the grace of God for that holiness.
In addition to my mother and my own experience of being a mother, the person who has taught me the most about motherhood is (unsurprisingly) Mary herself, Mother of God, Mother of the Church. Ever since Limerick was born I found myself being drawn to her – finding peace in prayers inspired by her, finding comfort in sharing my struggles with her, asking her to lead me closer to her Son. And in every situation where I have turned to her – in labor with Aubade, in the depths of my postpartum depression, in the daily turns of life with young children – she has responded by opening and softening my heart to God, and by increasing my desire for and faith in Him. For Mary, motherhood is about bringing her lost and hurting children to their Savior and Healer through a relationship of love, compassion, hope, and connection.
A mother will never desert you, never give up on you, never stop loving you, and never stop praying for you. She will probably never stop teasing and/or embarrassing you either, of course! But this persistence and constancy is but an echo of God’s maternal love, according to Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, yet I will not forget you!”
If mothers are awesome, grandmothers may be even more so. I have to mention my own mother again here 🙂 because if it weren’t for her wisdom and support as the grandmother of my children, my journey through motherhood would be much more difficult. As it is, my children reap the full benefits of her experience and have a huge amount of extra love poured into them. We watched a documentary this week in which an elephant baby became stuck in deep mud, and her panicked first-time mom was just making things worse attempting to dig her out. Things were looking bad when the elephant grandma noticed the situation, pushed the mom out of the way, and helped the baby out. It just seemed so emblematic of every great grandmotherly relationship! Grandmothers are crucial to passing relational knowledge and experiential wisdom down through the generations.
Here’s an amazing quote – succinct and powerful – from St. Edith Stein to wrap up. “To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.” (The Significance of Women’s Value in National Life). There you go. That is what we do, fellow moms – that is why we pour ourselves out in all the little and big things of each day with these children we’ve been given, that we might nourish, protect, and bring to development the intrinsic humanity within each of them.
Once upon a time there was a church which had a female pastor. Now, this pastor wasn’t the lead pastor, or even the primary teaching pastor; she led the family and children’s ministries, actually, and spent most of her ministry time with women and youth. But she had the title of pastor – Pastor Barbara.
She was beautiful. She had long, curly brown hair and a nose with that perfect spark of defiance bringing its straight lines singing up from her face. She had a gentle way of moving – never too fast or too sudden – and a gentle way of speaking – never too loud or too harsh. And when she saw the children she loved and taught and prayed for, her whole body would glow with that love and light, like an emanation of the Holy Spirit through her presence.
There was a small girl at this church who adored Pastor Barbara wholeheartedly and unstintingly, although mostly from a distance as she was a quiet child. She enjoyed above all the new songs that Pastor Barbara would sing with them! For her, songs were a release from the uncertainty of social interactions, because the songs (at least the children’s songs that she knew) would specify how you were supposed to act. Take for example “Father Abraham:” no one would ever move that way in everyday life, but the song says to do it so everyone does it and no one has to worry about being out of sync.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest lately, in an effort to avoid Facebook (and while waiting for my books on hold to become available!), and I’ve found some really encouraging, helpful, and inspiring posts! I’ve also found quite a few off-the-wall recipes that I’ve made to varying familial approval… but let’s not dwell on that.
I think the following two images which I found there are amazing examples of the difference between awareness of autism and acceptance of autism (the first was uploaded directly to Pinterest by a user, and the second is from the Thirty Days of Autism blog):
Notice how in the first poster only the negative effects of autism are mentioned: meltdowns, avoidance, tears, frustration, worry, and stress. Autism is an evil, something that one needs to fight through with hope and prayer, like a sickness that needs to be overcome and that left unchecked would destroy one’s life. (And if it were a sickness, like cancer, that would be more than fine! As it is actually a neurological and developmental difference that is always going to be part of who a person is, however, this attitude can feel like a personal attack on an autistic individual’s identity.)
In contrast, the second poster focuses on the unique behaviors caused by autism – things that are different from normal, but neutral rather than negative: parallel play, a need for space, deep focus and passion, love of technology, and stimming. Autism is portrayed as a part of who that family is – something for which they love each other, not something despite which they love each other. Acceptance gives them the freedom to be themselves, however autistic that self might be, while still receiving unconditional love and support in the midst of their individual needs and struggles.
Let’s just say I know which lens I’d rather be seen through – and therefore, which perspective I want to take when raising my differently wired child.
I lie on the low bed in the darkness, and my baby curls against me, resting her head on my soft chest and stomach (the stomach I resent when I try to dress for adult life but which functions so perfectly as a cozy baby pillow). Our breaths are the only sound, her faster, shallower breaths a counterpoint to my deep and steady rhythm. I slow the pace of my breathing to guide her into sounder sleep, hoping her body will follow mine. She is warm and solid next to me, tangible physicality grounding me in embodied reality and relationship. There are books I wanted to read, projects I wanted to work on, chores I ought to take care of, but I stretch out this moment much longer than necessary. There is such immense privilege in being the one whose presence can calm her fears and dry her tears; there is such wonder in being able to soothe and comfort another when I cannot do so for myself. I recall her newborn months, when I sat in the hospital rocking her, deep into the darkest depression I have yet experienced, and yet somehow able to calm and comfort her anyways.
Maybe none of us can completely accomplish that for ourselves; maybe consolation and peace are gifts we can give to others better than we can create them for ourselves, and which we must in turn receive from others if we are to experience them fully. My baby cries out for me to come to her and restore her to peace, to console her in the loneliness of the night; we grow, and become independent, and pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and strength, and we stifle our own cries in the darkness. Maybe we have cried too many times into an unresponsive void, and have decided we don’t want to risk adding the pain of rejection and worthlessness to the burden we already bear. We forsake the openness and vulnerability of our infancy, protecting our hearts – and closing the door to the fullness of comfort and peace that only comes through the love and presence of another.
I come to my babies in the night, though I may be exhausted or frustrated, because I know the pain of crying when no one hears, and I don’t want that pain to be theirs. I lift them in my arms, my little ones wakeful and sad for reasons beyond their ability to explain. And in the teary eyes wiped on my shoulder, the little head laid against my chest, the arms wrapped around my neck, I receive gifts just as powerful as any I give: love, meaning, and worth. They remind me of my own need for love and connection even as they show my my own power as a giver of that love and connection. However weary I may be, all the sleepless nights, all the hours pacing and rocking and snuggling, all the worry and time and energy spent, are nothing compared to what I have received simply be being their mother.
Modern fiction brings out the evil in domestic lives, ordinary relations, people like you and me […]
Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination.
– Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
It’s easy to see evil as something distant, or something belonging to people “not like me;” it’s been especially easy, I think, in a politically polarized era to attempt to push our perception of evil off onto politicians or political enemies, the political and cultural “others”, instead of recognizing the sin that cuts through each and every individual heart. We ignore accusations of immorality against those whose ideology aligns with ours, or who benefit us in some way, while jumping at every hint of wrongdoing in those who disagree with us.
But a good novel will show us the hidden depths of goodness and humanity in even the people we dislike and disagree with, while exposing the foolishness and flaws within the people we most admire and who are most like us. By drawing us in emotionally through the story, it relaxes our defenses and allows new, unpleasant, or inconvenient truths to seep in. Our empathy for the characters can engender empathy for real people whom we may have overlooked, avoided, or misunderstood – and the realities that we see more deeply and completely by the light of imagination can spur us to resist the daily evil and pour out the daily labor of love in our own mundane lives.
In other words: let us go read great books so that our hearts and minds can grow in love and understanding – and maybe, as a result, evil need not win each hourly battle in our thoughts and interactions.
…the same thing that distinguishes addiction from passionate interest also divides unhealthy love from that which is the highest experience of humanity. That is, love is real when it expands and enhances your life – and troubling and problematic when it contracts or impairs it. Whether you love a person, a drug, or an intellectual interest, if it is spurring creativity, connection, and kindness, it’s not an addiction – but if it’s making you isolated, dull, and mean, it is.
– Maia Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction