Mom never allowed me to forget four things: I am beautiful, I am loved, I have gifts the world needs, and I can do whatever I set my heart on doing. Mom has spent her life teaching me these four core lessons - even when the community around me may have been saying something different.
While Mom cannot tell you where my baptism certificate is or what day it actually occurred, I realize today that Mom intentionally or unintentionally never allowed me to forget my baptism. She never allowed me to forget what it feels like to be cherished, adored, and called to illuminate the light of Christ within me.
It's been more than 20 years since I've lived in the same house as Mom. Since that time, there have been countless other women who have offered similar gifts to me. Many of them are women who have been part of the two churches I have served - women who reminded me that I am cherished and loved, women who called forth my gifts and continued to give me the courage to claim them. Other women are dear friends, especially clergy sisters who have journeyed this road that is filled with both blessing and challenge, never allowing me to forget God's presence in my life and God's call upon my life. Some of these women are my mother's peers. Others are my peers.
I've never given birth to a child. While Craig and I started talking about "Grace Ivy" and "Joseph Donald," the two children we believed would come into our lives, before we were even married, we have yet to behold Grace or Joseph. They never entered the world - something that causes me to wonder if we have made the right decisions on some days while giving thanks on other days. And still, I've been wished a "Happy Mother's Day" several times already this week - from the woman behind the seafood counter at the grocery store, the woman at the Hallmark store, and the woman at the shoe repair store. Rather than saying, "I'm not a mother," I've learned to say "thank you" with a smile on my face as I continue walking.
As a pastor, I know Mother's Day can be painful for women who are struggling with infertility or waiting for their life partner to come along. I know some women will intentionally choose to stay away from church tomorrow, not ready to face the ache that comes with visions of mothers being recognized or celebrated in worship. I long to be as sensitive as possible to these women. I pray every single day for women in our church who are longing to be moms. And yet, I'm learning more each day why we are are called to be moms - no matter what our wombs have held or not held. We are all called to help children of all ages to remember their baptisms: to remember that they are beautiful, to remember they are loved, to remember they have gifts the world needs, and to remember they can do whatever they set their heart on doing (okay, maybe not always on that final one).
Our church is located in the middle of pain and possibility. Each night, there are boys and girls right outside our walls who are victims of sex trafficking - individuals who have been lured into this business by people who have often noticed a vulnerability, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of claiming their belovedness. We are seeking to fully discern our role in ending sex trafficking on the streets of our city. A police officer suggested that one of the things our church can do to help the most is to pray. We will pray - and we will keep on praying. But I also cannot help but wonder what would happen if faithful communities everywhere did their very best to show up in the lives of young people - to mentor young people - to stand alongside young people in an effort to remind them that they are beloved, cherished, adored, and instilled with incredible gifts the world needs. What would happen if we all sought to show up and remind children of who they really are - especially if they are hearing something else at home, at school, or on the streets?
I think the church fails when it asks women to stand who are mothers while allowing those who have not given birth to sit silently in the pews. I think the church fails when it promotes fertility as a blessing God has given to some while withholding it from others. I think the church fails when the focus becomes the fruit of our womb instead of giving thanks for all the women who have been like mothers to us. But what if we took it one more step.
What if Mother's Day became a time for us to all hear the call placed upon our lives to show up in the lives of children - especially vulnerable children? What if Mother's Day was the day we invited the congregation to remember the vows we make every time a child is baptized? What if Mother's Day became the time when opportunities to mentor young people were presented? What if Mother's Day became the day when we all sought to do everything we can to help our children - all of God's children - remember the things my mother taught me:
- You are beautiful - yes beautiful! no matter what others might be saying.
- You are loved - and there is nothing you can do to make us love you any more or any less.
- You have gifts given to you by God - gifts the world needs and gifts you are called to share.
- You are called to become the fullest expression of Donna that you can be - which will sometimes mean doing whatever you set out to do - and other times mean continuously being true to who you really are.
Thank you, Mom, for all you have done to make me who I am. Thank you, women in the United Methodist Church, who have continued to make more of me than I could ever be on my own.
God, help me be the most faithful mother I can be to all the children you have placed in my life. And help me seek out opportunities around me to instill within young people the lessons my mother instilled within me. Thank you. Amen.