Mother’s Day and I have had a very rocky relationship the past 6 years.
Six years ago, my mama died two weeks before Mother’s Day. I can’t recall what we did on that Sunday, but I’m sure my soul was in a million tiny pieces. I ached for her.
The next three Mother’s Days, I sat in church and cried as I thought of her, wishing I could bring her the customary Mother’s Day Frappuchino on the back porch before serving her our tasty daughter-made lunch. I would have paid any ransom just to hug her again. The ache of being motherless on Mother’s Day brought with it a newfound loneliness. Am I still a daughter if I no longer have a mother? Oh, the ache.
The fourth Mother’s Day after her death was filled with additional grief over a baby that wasn’t to be born. I smiled politely while watching friends celebrating their joy-filled first Mother’s Days all over the church lobby and quickly scrolled past the similar stories on Facebook. I was certain all pregnant people were purposefully sticking their stomachs out extra just to brag. There was no single thing I wanted more than a child, and that year I began to wonder if it just wasn’t “in the cards” for us. More ache.
And then there was last year.
After so many horrible Mother’s Days in a row, last May, I got to dress up our sweet 2-month-old Baby Tage in a spring green bow tie and hold him in my arms for the taking of our first (pretty) family picture. From the moment I woke up that morning, my heart swelled like it had never before, and I reveled in the sleep deprivation and the dirty diapers as I experienced a joy I had never known. I was made for this. I am finally a mother. The ache had vanished.
Later that day, on what might have been the second best day of my life (right after marrying Josh Monroe), I stood next to Josh at the front of the church while we dedicated our son to our God. I cried happy, overwhelmed, deeply grateful tears over the fact that the Lord had turned my many years of mourning into dancing.
I loved that little Tage person so much, and I had a new, priceless sense of the way God loves me. I knew Tage belonged to God, and in my heart and with open hands, I surrendered Tage to the Lord that day, promising I would do anything for that boy’s good and certain down to my bones that Tage was an unmerited gift the Lord had given us to raise for the rest of his life.
I just didn’t know his life was going to be so short.
And so now here comes another Mother’s Day, and once again, my arms are empty and a cavernous hole is all that’s left from where my heart was ripped out almost six months ago. We are not dancing or smiling or laughing, and I am haunted by the fact that I may never hold another biological child, or maybe any child, in my arms.
Today, it all seems like a really cruel joke, and I have nothing to say to God right now.
The ache is the deepest it has ever been.
It would be accurate to say that I am depressed. It’s not the mental illness depression that lingers with someone their entire life, but rather a dip in mood and soul that is natural after a loss – a sad, gloomy, dejected, and downcast season of existence. I’ve felt this way since Christmas. I feel no “joy of the Lord”.
Is that okay for a Christian to admit?
I guess that’s why the Bible is filled with scripture about fear, despair, and crying out to the Lord.
The piece of scripture I cling to like my childhood blanket this week is from Psalm 77:1-8
“I cry out to God without holding back.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, pleading,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help.
You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs (as I rocked Tage).
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?”
Life is HARD right now. Harder, darker, more hopeless than it has ever, ever been.
I am numb. I am angry. I have never really doubted God, but now I am besieged with questions. I have always easily trusted God, even in hard circumstances, but now I struggle to claim His goodness and sovereignty over my upturned life. For weeks, I have been unable to open my Bible, and I have rolled my eyes when I see His promises in other books or hear them in songs. Singing in church feels like a lie.
I don’t recognize myself anymore.
It was with the weight of all of these feelings that I attended a brunch with Josh on Satruday morning at the home of one of our former pastors, Jim, and his wife, Carol. I had half invited myself over because I knew I had some spiritual questions that I needed to vent to a God-expert.
Soon, our plates were almost empty, except for the crumbs from a Roselyn’s pastry. I knew my opportunity was waning, so with a final fork full of Carol’s decadent sausage casserole, I went for it when she asked, “How are you guys really doing?” Within two seconds, the tears pooled in my eyes.
“I’m gonna cry,” I warned them as if they didn’t already know. Then, I began to unpack my questions.
“I’ve lost my faith,” I told them as a lump formed in my throat while I fought back tears. “I don’t know what I think right now about a God who would not only let my son die but also allow a genetic mutation that would cause our future children to die exactly the same way, especially when He knows a family is what I want more than anything. First Mom died, then our first baby, then Tage, then the dream for a biological family. That’s just too much. He’s taken too much. How can I trust Him anymore? I miss the faith I was sure of before. I want the faith I had last year.”
Jim looked at me gently. I could tell my tears and doubts did not scare him one bit. He put his elbow up on the table and pinched his chin with his thumb and forefinger as he thought. “Molly, what if you never go back to that faith again?” He paused. “But instead, God brings you through this to a new, deeper faith than you ever had before.”
I paused and nodded as I pondered his words.
“But I just can’t feel Him right now,” I said as the tears streamed down my face. I tried not to completely lose all control of my emotions. “Up until Christmastime, I could sense God was near me, walking beside me through all of this, but then, it’s like He just left. I haven’t felt him for months. Why would He leave me right now when I need Him most? I just want to feel him again.”
Jim, with his kind and always-thinking eyes, leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and started in on a story. “Molly, I heard a psychologist talk once about the security of children. Young childrens’ closest bond is to their mothers. When they are very young and their mother leaves the room for a moment, they cry because they can’t see her and are afraid she has left them. Then, as they grow up, they grow comfortable with her absences, knowing she is just going to be gone for a moment. Soon, they are comfortable with her leaving the house for an evening because they know she’ll back. Then, they are comfortable going off to Kindergarten, then summer camp, then college, then they move out of the house entirely apart from their mother. They no longer need to have her right next to them to be assured that she loves them.
“That’s the process of maturation,” he said. “And I wonder if we could make some ties to that with God, too, as we mature in our faith and come to learn we were never meant to base our beliefs on our feelings. God is with us whether we feel Him or not. And He is with you, Molly, whether you feel Him or not. If Josh said he was going to go out in the yard to work for a while, and you could no longer see him, would you think he had left you, or would you trust and know that he was still close by?
I asked many more questions, cried a lot more tears, and left encouraged after spending almost three hours with our friends Jim and Carol. What would I do without the wise and loving people in my life?
As I recounted that story to my friend Candice two days later, I had been mulling over the idea of maturation, and had a new question.
“What I wonder now,” I asked her, “is why God would ever not come when I beg Him for His presence? If Tage cried for me because he was scared, I would never say, ‘No, Honey. I’m not going to come comfort you.’ So why won’t God let me feel His presence when I ask Him for it?”
Candice, a mother of two young boys, thought for a moment and said, “Well, unless it was something I knew they could do themselves.” My head cocked.
She continued, “If Isaiah was climbing a jungle gym and got scared about going higher and called for me, but I knew he was safe (because I was watching him the whole time) and I knew he could do it even if it was a new challenge for him, I’d say, ‘You’re okay, buddy! I’m watching you. Use your strong legs and see if you can go a little higher. You can do it!’” She paused before adding, “Maybe God’s letting you go a little higher, Molly, because He knows you can.”
Gosh, I have wise friends.
And I’m so glad God never intends for us to walk a grief journey, or any journey, alone.
“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.” Proverbs 27:9
I’m still mad. I still cry at the mention of Tage or motherhood. I’m still bracing for Mother’s Day and will be avoiding all church services this weekend. The pain is not gone. The hurt is still deep. I have no answers for my whys, what ifs, and whens. But the loving words of my friends this week were enough to allow me to finally crack my Bible again this morning, and its words surprised me with their truth and comfort. Psalm 77 speaks for me what I can’t say today.
Then, after all the lamenting, the second half of chapter 77 invites us to remember what great things God has already done in our lives.
“But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.” (vs. 11, 14)
I sat quietly in my chair in the sun room, a place that has become almost holy to me. The window was open just enough to let in the spring breeze and the sweet songs of a bird in the nearby tree, and I wrote out all the ways God has blessed me personally over the years of my life and recounted especially the bitter things He turned to sweet.
And slowly, somewhere deep, for a few precious moments, I felt a Voice oh-so-silently whisper like a loving mother, “I’m still here, Molly. I haven’t taken my eyes off you for a second, so don’t give up. Use the faith I have given you, Honey, and keep climbing higher. You’re gonna make it.”