|A mama Phoebe keeps watch|
I drive parallel to the railroad tracks alongside the muddy river—tucked down inside the embrace of undulating hills. There is wild-growing wisteria weaving light violet in and out of green budding trees along the roadside. I am mindful of the speed limit—having been warned. Clusters of tiny box-like houses give way to frocking trees and grasses as I pass through these towns that time has forgotten.
It’s a beautiful day for a drive and I am scouting two country churches, these small bodies of worship where I will preach come Sunday—Mother’s Day. I don’t know much about these small valley towns, so I figure I better have a dry run before the Lord’s Day. Wouldn’t do if the preacher gets lost.
I drive in quiet along this winding road that follows the river and it feels like time travel. The trees all unfolding and the bush bursting with fire and my cheek round and rosy as the years drop away.
Lately, I have been remembering the warm-cool of my mother’s hands.
Warm on a bruised knee, cool on a sunburned shoulder; wrinkled from washing potatoes or dishes or babies…scent of onion clinging to skin as she tucks covers up around my chin and the way her wedding band shone gold on a white finger.
I drive past mountains made of coal dust, an old alloy plant—remnants of once-thriving river towns. Now they nestle deep into these hillsides, rocked to sleep by the slow steady currents of the Kanawha.
These memories have been sleeping too. The waking up brings a tightness in my chest and I recognize it well. Regret.
When I was a young mother, I chose to put the good memories to sleep. In love with my new babies, too many questions haunted my mothering…how? Why? I couldn’t understand. I needed to live in this wrinkled skin of motherhood a little longer to understand how the passing waters of time baptize it all. How life is about choices and sometimes…sometimes we just do the best we can with what is given.
Grace is the lavish giving of love despite barbed words and actions of the past.
A sibling’s stony judgment puts my love on trial and words can bruise and cast long shadows but love is bigger than the darkness. And I have the chance to live this thing I preach—this thing about love and grace and forgiveness; the end of pride and the shedding of the old self.
This is how we grow. And I feel the sharp pains of the outside stretching against this inner expansion—how the heart presses against bone and flesh and tries to make more room. The flesh resists—stubbornly refusing to give way.
But this waking up yields other memories too—how we would nap together in the early days and the way he cried when he was angry. A freckled nose and quivering lip. The smooth surface of a newly opened jar of peanut-butter; the way I jumped on his bed to wake him up in the morning. Tough talk and the tucking away of feelings…the pretending not to care.
All the passing scenery writes my story in the sky and love swells bigger than any rift can overtake.
It may change nothing. Nothing except my heart. But suddenly, I know: the best gift a mother can receive is when her children love each other well. This is the hard work of loving; this is growing into His image.
When I find the first church, I park out front. There is a large cherry tree giving shade to the walk and I notice a mama Phoebe keeping watch in its branches. She flits nervously from branch to branch as I approach, but she never leaves. I poke around—try to find her nest—but she has hidden it well.
And as I watch her keeping watch, I give thanks for my mother and for all mothers who tend in love.