In any storm, a mother's love never gives up

SnowsuitWith the newest snow storm upon us, I am reminded of winters in upstate NY and a mother who dressed me reminiscent of the younger son in The Christmas Story – stuffed into a snowsuit like sausage into a casing and double wrapped with scarves and gloves, and mittens on top. My dad wasn’t so tough a clothing task master. With him, there was more chance of bending a joint, and
getting frostbite.  I think it had something to do with a mother’s love.

To be sure, one of the constants in my life growing up was my mother. I never doubted for a moment that she could move mountains for me if I needed them moved. Yes, she had the “snowsuit” tendency to be overprotective, but in the important times she allowed me to fly, in spite of the pain it caused her. And in all things, she was always there for me when I needed her, perhaps not happy with my choices, but always offering her love, none-the-less.

Lately, when the local Christian radio show plays a song by Passion, “One Thing Remains,” I find myself thinking of her, and of Mary, especially as Mary followed Jesus during his years of ministry, right up to his death on the cross where she stood at his feet, held fast to him, in his agony and hers, by a mother’s love. His thoughts could have been similar to the words of the song:

 “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me … And it’s higher than the mountains that I face and it’s stronger than the power of the grave and constant in the trial and the change, this one thing remains. … your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me…”

May the love of Jesus and Mary be ours to give.

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Never underestimate the power of spit

MomspitOn the way to work I heard a woman caller to a radio station  respond to the question, “What have your children taught you?” She shared the story of her two daughters, one 4 months and one 19 months old. When the younger one was crying, the older one tried to comfort her by calling out her name and making cooing noises. When that didn’t work she went to the crib, took the pacifier out of her own mouth and plopped it into the mouth of her baby sister.

 The mom said she learned that sometimes words are not enough when it comes to comforting someone. Sometimes it required a personal touch, real presence.

 The radio announcer said the story reminded him of mother’s spit, a reference most moms would recognize immediately. Whether I was a toddler, teen or know-it-all mother of my own children, my mom wouldn’t hesitate to use one of the chief weapons in a mom’s arsenal of kid care – spit. And though I grimaced and squirmed and pulled away each time, I relied on the same tool myself as a mom of often dirty, scratched, bleeding or bitten sons.

 Mom’s spit is a healing, cleansing balm, intended as a course of care, contrary to the insulting practice of spitting on someone.

 Spit works. Jesus knew it, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he learned it from his mother, Mary. So when two blind men, and a third with a speech impediment, need healing, Jesus uses divine spit to release the men from their disabilities – a personal, intimate touch to be sure.

 Theologians are likely to interpret the story with more exacting attention to doctrine and prevailing customs of Jesus’ time, but for me, it’s enough to remember the miracle of spit – and the power of love made known through a mother’s caring, albeit sloppy, touch.

A mother's appreciation for Inspector Gadget

Inspector_Gadget1While babysitting for my delightful grandson, Jacob, my oldest son was showing me where to find all the accoutrements for making coffee. Much of what I needed was on the top shelf of an upper cabinet, difficult for me to reach.

“How does Nikki reach these things,” I queried, referring to my petite daughter-in-law who stands at least several inches shorter than me.

“She has go-go gadget legs,” he quickly retorted. “You should remember that; all mothers get them in the hospital when the babies are born.”

Thinking back to the popular cartoon show, Inspector Gadget, which my sons often watched, I had to laugh at the image, but also at the fact that he was basically right. New mothers seem to find a way to do anything they need to do, as if they have been given superpowers, or at least outfitted with a never ending supply of James Bond paraphernalia.

Certainly, I had my own version of go-go gadget legs, arms, fingers and eyes while raising my six sons. But I’ve been noticing the past few years that the warranty must be up, because my seeming superpowers have, for the most part, petered out.

I think it goes hand-in-go-go-gadget hand with the empty nest syndrome; the many legged version of the supply and demand principle.

But things are looking up. Today, when my grandson was moving precariously towards the edge of couch, my go-go gadget knees kicked in and I lept across a space insurmountable just months ago. I actually beat him into the kitchen when his two- year-old legs propelled him too close to the hot stove. Even he was shocked.

And now that grandchild number two has arrived, I’m sensing a resurgence of power.

It seems the empty nest was just a time and space to refuel and recharge all the moving parts for round two.

Navigating the sea of change in an empty nest

Empty%20nestWhen the oldest of my sons was preparing to leave for college, I spent the last night of our family vacation sobbing like I would never see him again. Even as I cried, I tried to analyze why I was behaving so irrationally, considering he was only going to Pennsylvania.

 “It must be all about our mortality,” I mused soulfully, assuming there is always a profound, often obscure meaning behind all human behavior. It couldn’t possibly be as simple as I was going to miss him.

 By the time the third son was leaving, it was a quick hug and kiss at the dorm room amid piles of unpacked stuff, because my husband and I wanted to hit the local diner for lunch.

 When the fourth and fifth sons decided college was not their thing, I figured the empty nest syndrome was a vague promise that would never be fulfilled in my lifetime, though there was a sliver of hope when son number six went off to NYC to study drama.

When the revolving door began spinning with their subsequent (temporary) returns home in well-timed succession, some staying longer than others, I was certain I would never know the “pain” of having the house to myself.

But I have since learned, as so many before me, that the empty nest syndrome is not so much a physical space phenomenon as it is an emotional one, and no matter how many big feet are still roaming through the house, it’s possible, or more to the point probable that, as a mother, you will, at some point, feel alone. It seems the empty nest is not your house as much as it is your heart.

The beautiful thing about the heart is how it grows to hold more love, more people, new experiences and creative energies. If we open our hearts to all things new, it will never be empty.

For moms, even slippers can be running shoes

It seems to me the adage, “You can’t fool mother nature,” was really a take-off on the original, “You Girlonrailroadtrackscan’t run away from your mother.”

I will never forget the first day I really tried. I don’t remember the circumstances that initiated my bolt out the front door, around the corner to my cousins’ house. They lived directly behind us, our yards touching in a corner across a few feet of fence.

As I ran like the devil was chasing me, I remember thinking, “She’ll never catch me. She doesn’t even know where I’m going.” Silly me.

I rounded the second corner, up their gravel driveway and concrete porch steps to pound on the front door. “Let me in! She’s after me!” I yelled, certain my cousins would know who “she” was.

Relief flowed over me as I heard the click of the front door latch and a voice saying, “I’ll let you in.”

But it took only a few seconds for the emphasis on the “I’ll” to sink in, and to realize the hand reaching out of the door to pull me in was my mother’s.

I don’t remember her words after that, though I am certain there were many. I just remember thinking “how??”

I began to realize that you should never underestimate a mom when it comes to doing what’s best for her child, and that includes vaulting over a split rail fence in slippers and an apron so your daughter doesn’t grow up believing she can get one over on you.

With the wisdom of age, and being a mom myself, I’ve realized it’s not so much a matter of running away from mom, but of mom always being present, and unconcerned about the cost, when a child has a need, even a need for correction.

Thanks, Mom.


Image at Pinterest, Alida Bigham, Black and While photos, found at

Living big for God requires a forgiving heart

PrayerofjabezSome  years ago, hanging near my computer in the little cottage where I did most of my writing was a lovely ceramic carving of the Prayer of Jabez, a gift from one of my sons many Christmases ago A small children’s devotional refers to the short, but powerful, prayer found in the Hebrew Scriptures as “the little ancient prayer about living big for God.”

The prayer reads: “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil that I would not cause pain.'  So God granted him what he requested” ( 1Chronicles 4:10).

What still intrigues me most about the prayer is not its success in enlarging Jabez’s territory but, rather, Jabez’s request of God to keep him from evil so HE would not cause pain.  For me, his request has been the focus of many times of reflection on my own life and shortcomings.

Soon after receiving the plaque, when I was dropping one of my sons off at school, I witnessed something that made me very sad and reminded me that evil comes to us in little, unsuspected ways, not always in what we do but very often in what we fail to do – most often when we fail to love.

In the car behind me a mom and her daughter had stopped in front of the school, as well. The youngster, a girl of about 12, leaned over to give her mom a kiss on the cheek, but the mom turned her head away.

The look on the child’s face was heartbreaking and it became obvious, as I watched their exchange for the next few minutes, that the child had done something to anger the mom.

I actually felt my throat tighten and tears form as I watched the daughter get out of the car and walk to the school building with her head hung low. And I wondered if I had ever done the same thing to any of my sons in a moment of anger or disappointment.

I wanted to run to her and give her a hug and tell her that her mom still loved her.

I wanted to explain how fear is usually at the root of anger and, for parents, the world is full of reasons to harbor fears for our children.

I wanted to make it all better, because that’s what moms are supposed to do, and it’s a hard truth for us to swallow when we can’t.

In that brief gesture of a mom turning her head away, a moment that child will most likely remember for the rest of her life, an evil triumphed over love. 

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

You see, as a parent, as a friend, as a child, and as a spouse, I have discovered another powerful little prayer that can keep us from evil: “Forgive me.”


Mary's wisdom is a mother's wisdom

Visitation, modern, fuzzyThere is an adage that the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. I would add, after raising six sons and being a wife, the best gift a mother can give her children is to love herself.

This is a wisdom that was long in coming for me, and even though my children are all grown, I am still struggling to learn how to take care of myself.

As mothers, we have a tendency to sink into the mindset that if we can’t do everything perfectly ourselves, then we are bad mothers. Nothing can be further from the truth.  There is not a person on earth who doesn’t have limitations, and to acknowledge our limitations is not to admit defeat.

It is to be wise.

Women helping women is an ancient tradition welling up from the truth that raising children and caring for a family is hard work. There is no work harder, no physical labor more strenuous, no emotional effort more demanding. Without help we can quickly burn out and our children are the ones who suffer from that burn out.

God calls us to one thing – to love as God loves.

This has nothing to do with how many tasks, dishes or children we can juggle at one time; how long we can go without sleep, or how many burdens we can carry on our very human shoulders. 

Love is about nurturing the seeds of potential God has planted in each heart through our patience, our presence and our prayer. It is about respecting the dignity of the life God has placed in our care. It is about giving roots and wings and abundant offerings of forgiveness – not just to our children, but to our “selves.”

 “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? … Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”  Luke 1:39-43,56




With love, we unfold from bud to flower

Sometimes you just need flowers.                                                                                                                                     Rosebud2

A friend told me that years ago, and I realized how right she was when I received an unexpected arrangement from my son at a time when I really needed some cheering up.

The arrangement arrived in an iridescent, translucent vase of eggplant. The flowers were glorious in varying hues of purple — indigo, violet and plum  — looking much like a Van Gogh painting of irises.

Throughout the day, and the coming week, I couldn’t help but smile whenever I looked at the small but breathtaking arrangement. Every time a new flower opened, there seemed to be new beauty in the room; a reminder of the expansive love of God.

But as one week moved into two, there were still some buds that hadn’t opened, and while they enjoyed a delicate beauty of their own, it seemed sad that soon the flowers would need to be discarded and the buds would end their lives without having achieved their full potential and beauty. People are like buds, I thought.

Certainly, we are each created by God for some purpose; we are planted here like seeds with the potential to blossom with a beauty well beyond that of any flower. But life itself often becomes the obstacle to full growth. Our spirits may flag under the consistent challenge of moving forward, of “becoming.” We become staid, even stagnant in our growth, afraid or unable to take whatever risks we need to take to fulfill our purpose.

That is where people have an advantage over flowers. We are reflective beings who have the ability to recognize our own needs, and we have others in our lives who can nurture our unfolding. We are capable of love.

Before I disposed of my lovely arrangement entirely, I did something I saw my mother do a hundred times with the forsythia cut from our backyard garden. I pulled out all the buds, without too much handling, cut their stems under water and put them in a smaller bowl on my desk. My mother would have added a drop of bleach or an aspirin. I added a little anti-bacterial mouthwash, courtesy of the Internet, and made sure I changed the water every few days.  Then I waited expectantly, having learned that encouraging buds to bloom takes time and attention.

It is no different with people, whether we are nurturing ourselves or someone else.

We do the work and then wait with expectant faith knowing a loving God planted the seed.


Never forget what is worth remembering

Throughout the years with an Irish father, I heard many an Irish blessing. He was fond of theseMuffinapron little lessons, and would often repeat one of his favorites over a cup of hot tea and a warm piece of apple pie: “May you never forget what is worth remembering, nor ever remember what is best forgotten.”

In time, this particular blessing took on new meaning for me, especially when, as a Hospice volunteer, I would visit patients during their final days in a nursing home.

It was here that I learned the often repeated lesson that life can be as difficult as it is beautiful, and where I began to understand the lesson my mother taught me over and over again as a child through her frequent visits to sick or lonely family members, friends or aquaintances.

My mother would enter a room with a smile to warm any heart, a plate of homemade Jiffy muffins and everyone would begin to feel better. She was love in a dime-store apron.

On one of the few occasions when I saw my dad get mad at her, it was because she had gone to the hospital to visit someone on Christmas Eve, and hadn’t returned before my bedtime. I couldn’t understand why he would be mad about that. Having my mom there, with muffins and presents, sounded to me like the best gift in the world for someone who might be facing Christmas alone.

That’s a heavy cross to bear, but life teaches us that crosses come in all shapes and sizes, some heavier than others, and we are all destined to carry one at some point in time. Perhaps the heaviest of all is loneliness, and the belief that we are forgotten.

When I was a catechist for children, I sometimes saw the fear of “forgotten” in the faces of students waiting for overdue parents. Often a young child would cry inconsolably believing they had been left behind.

But I saw this pain experienced most profoundly with a homebound friend—aged, infirm, fearful, lonely; a beautiful child of God who truly was left behind by family and friends.

On a particularly bad day she called to talk and her words will never leave me: “This is not living,” she said. “And if it is, I would rather die.”

She was living a forgotten life; one that was acutely empty and painful. For her, as for anyone who suffers from such loneliness, the pain is made worse, not simply by the absence of human love but more so by what that represents.

When we have been forgotten by family and friends alike it is not hard to believe that God has forgotten us, too.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote powerfully of that experience: "There is no human misery more strongly felt than the state of being forsaken by God. Nothing is so terrible as rejection by Him. It is a horror to live deserted by God and effaced from His mind.” 

His words recall the pleading, pain-filled cry of Christ as he hung dying on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

How often have we felt the need to speak the same words? How often and how deeply does the wound of loneliness rupture our hearts? In these moments of pain it is easy to believe that God has lost sight of, what we believe to be, our insignificant lives, but Heschel would not agree.

This prayerful man of God wrote of "Divine pathos," the grief and suffering of God with God's children and God's creation when they are in pain.

Anyone who has ever loved knows that this kind of suffering can only flow from love, for without love there can be no grief. The deeper the love, the more profound the grief.

It is comforting to believe that God knows our pain, feels our pain and holds our hearts and souls in the passionate embrace of divine love. It is from such an embrace that we are able to renew our strength and overcome our loneliness, so we can be God’s hands and feet and heart for people like my dear, lonely friend.

Even in the midst of our own pain, and sometimes because of it, we are all called to put God's love into life because every life is worth remembering.

How well we do that is up to us, but “forgotten” should never be anyone’s last memory.


In gratitude for a mother's love

For the past 20 years, I have written a column, Things My Father Taught Me, in memory of my
Mary_baby_jesus1dad, born out of the pain of grief following his sudden, unexpected death.

My mother, who died soon after, following years of fighting cancer, has waited patiently in the wings, as she did so often at my dance recitals, fully understanding how an only child, and daughter at that, can be so deeply attached to the most important man in her life. But, as I can hear her saying, enough is enough already.

She would point out, that as a mother myself, it is time to honor the ‘women” who have loved me, cared for me and led me to God more through their strength, their actions and their unassuming presence than through their words.

Through my memories of my own mother, I can imagine the memories Jesus must have carried of Mary – smiling, crying, cooking, telling stories, praying, singing, visiting the sick, always being there even when she couldn’t take away his pain.

Mary’s life made it possible for her to understand the heart of the mother and the wife. She knows our joys, our frustrations and our pain because she has shared in them all.

When I was younger, I didn't always appreciate that. I envied Mary more than honored her. But today, having grown older and wiser, and having raised six sons, I find myself turning time and again to the mother who understands both my tears and the heart that is often so full of love it threatens to burst.

Today, when life hands me more than I think I can bear, I remember Mary, standing at the foot of the cross that held her dying son, and I am grateful that Jesus’ words were not just meant for John: “Behold, your mother.”