What is a mother?

Mother’s Day: We think of a mother and young child – it’s a classic image; but of course it’s only one of many ways that we experience ‘mothers’ and motherhood. Here are just some of the mother figures I could come up with:

  • House Mother in a Boarding School
  • Step-mum
  • Mother-in-law (or Mother-Outlaw?)
  • Adoptive Mum
  • Birth or Biological Mother
  • A neighbourhood ‘adopted’ Mum
  • The ‘mum’ of the friendship group (the sensible one who has tissues in her bag, a shoulder to cry on and chicken soup at the ready)
  • Mother Earth
  • The mother-heart of God – who longs to gather us in, like chicks sheltered under their mother’s wing

The whole concept of ‘Motherhood’ can evoke strong emotions. It may be that you never knew the woman who carried you in her womb. There is a disconnect there: a cutting off, a dislocation, a rootlessness, even rejection. 

…the egg from which we developed was formed in our grandmother’s womb…

It is strange to think that the egg from which we developed was formed in our grandmother’s womb…growing in the unborn child that would become our mother. There is such a deep sense of connection running through – or sometimes we feel at least that there ought to be. 

‘Motherhood’ may sum up for you a host of hopes unfulfilled. Something you imagined would always ‘just happen’, and for one reason or another, it has not come to fruition. In fact, often times, it’s something that was very carefully avoided – even feared – until the ‘right time’. For people who haven’t experienced this emptiness it can be hard to comprehend the depths of grief it evokes. The complex bundle of relentlessly regular cycle of hope and disappointment; the sense of failure or even (self-)blame; the questioning of identity – if not a mother, then who am I?

What about ‘Mothering’? 

After all, this day was originally known as Mothering Sunday? “Stop mothering him! He’s got to learn to stand on his own two feet!” It can bring to mind the so-called helicopter parents; the idea of the apron strings being firmly tied on; or even the umbilical cord not yet cut! Perhaps the phrase is redolent of over-protectiveness, or even cultivating dependence. 

Can you be maternal without being a mother? 

Of course! I was always very maternal growing up – despite being a younger sister, the role of big cousin came very naturally when there was something of a baby boom in the wider family. In fact, I was always the ‘mum’ of our friendship group – and still friends from the school gate, who aren’t really that close, will confide in me their heartbreaking dilemmas and worries. Someone to listen. Someone who won’t judge, or preach. Someone to comfort and hold. Someone to gently guide, inform or advise; or someone just to sit alongside. 

Carrying a child is only a very small part of being a mother – as many friends who have struggled with infertility; have adopted; or who were given up for adoption; and many who got pregnant just fine, but found the reality of having a tiny person entirely dependent on them completely overwhelming (not to mention the pervasive post-natal depression that may strike at anyone, no matter how sunny their character or strong their faith). 

Perhaps we grieve a mother who has left this earth (lost too soon, or even at a ripe old age – as someone said to me last year, their elderly mum having had a stroke – it doesn’t matter how old you are, you still need your mum) Wheyher or not you agree with that sentiment, I think there are certainly times when we wish we had someone to hold us, love and comfort us, even simply reassure us – and often the shorthand name for that person is ‘mum’.

Sometimes it’s more the case that we feel too keenly the imperfections, or absence, of parents still alive. My hope is that each of us will find someone around us to be a mother-figure; or perhaps a collection of friends whose sum total represents the family we would wish we had had. 

The Hallmark profit-generating shindig that is Mother’s Day is largely an artifice – with saccharine pseudo-poetry gracing a £4.50 card adorned with flowers – and armfuls of teddies, fridge magnets and fresh flowers at the ready. Yes, it’s a good thing to take time to honour mothers – but not all those who are mothers to us, are ‘mothers’; and sadly not all mothers are kind or even loving. 

My parents aren’t perfect and my biggest learning on this journey we call adulthood has been to learn to accept them as they are – and not to dwell on who I might have wanted or even needed them to be. They are who they are – and acceptance is a powerful and ongoing gift. I won’t buy a card whose words I couldn’t, hand on heart, say face to face to someone. Words are important to me, as a linguist I suppose that should be no surprise.  So, I won’t be a hypocrite for the sake of a retail event. I do however look for those things for which I can be truly thankful, and do my best to show my appreciation accordingly.

As a mother of one son (we would that there had been more children – but that’s in God’s hands and his timing), I recognise that however hard I try, someday my son will be disappointed in me – it’s inevitable. We joke that we’ve already put money aside for his future therapy! We are all imperfect and we’re simply doing the best with the resources we have available to us at any given time. Of course, the trick to finding a healthy balance of being a mother / mothering / being maternal – biological or not – is to recognise when things could be improved and go out looking for more and better resources for ourselves (professional support, advice, training, information, peer support), to do an even better job at this role we call ‘mother’. There are some great, free parenting courses available out there for instance.

Parenting: one long obstacle course?

My boy gave me the most wonderful card this morning – I was absolutely touched, but my reaction was also to say to him and my husband, “If I live up to even half of these claims, I’ll be doing well!” – I hope he knows I’ll always love and accept him – through my mistakes and his.

When reflecting on this subject I thought about the most famous mothers (famous for that title rather than just happening to have offspring) – I came up with two – so who you think came to mind ?
Mother Theresa – never a biological mother, though arguably (and I recognise that not everyone agrees with this) ‘mothered’ thousands of people.

And Mary, Mother of Jesus (likeness according to Leonardo da Vinci):

Let’s remember that Mary never asked to become a mother at all! It looked at one stage like she might be a single mother; she had to give birth in a strange place, amongst the animals, and away from family and friends. Then they had to flee to another country as refugees.  And later still her son clearly prioritised his God-given calling over his family. 

At a time when Jesus was persecuted and falsely accused, His mother and brothers were concerned about His welfare. They came to the house where He was residing:

 “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:31–35, New Revised Standard Version).

 Although Jesus loved and respected His physical mother, brothers and sisters, His primary concern was for the spiritual family that followed His teaching.

http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/mary_mother_of_Jesus_18542.aspx

Not quite the picture perfect nuclear family!

At the end of her famous (or at that time, more accurately ‘notorious’) son’s life, He looked down from the cross and called upon his best friend, John, to take His place, and become a son to Mary, and to take care of her as his own mother, 

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Jesus saw quite clearly that being a mother or son had less to do with biology, than it had to do with relationship, respect and honour; love, protection, acceptance and care (by the way, ‘woman’ was a term of endearment back then – just in case that jarred with you too?).

So a few thoughts to end. Perhaps this mothers day, as well as acknowledging the person in your life you call ‘Mum’…

  • take a look at the others around you who share in those attributes – honour them with thanks as well. 
  • look at who you know – could you offer some of these qualities, possibly as a mentor or even spiritual parent, to someone who needs care and guidance?
  • send a note of kindness to someone for whom this day is hard – either because of the loss of their mum, a great distance between them, or maybe the grief of their own motherhood denied.
  • lift up in prayer those who have lost children or unborn babies. A mother who loses a child, whether she has more or not, will always be a mother – forever changed by this monumentous experience. 
  • recognise those, known and unknown to us, who may be a biological mother, but lack the skills and role models to provide their child with the qualities we associate with motherhood. Rather than jump to judge, as we all too often do, look to offer a word of encouragement or solidarity. Parenting is a tough job, and judgment just makes it harder. 
  • if you are a mum, be kind to yourself. You may not feel like ‘Best Mum in the World’ or ‘Supermum’ whatever that shiny new mug might say, but remind yourself- ‘this is what it is right now’. Tomorrow can be different. If you’re feeling ‘under-resourced’ or drowning, help is out there. The first step is to acknowledge it, and reach out for help. 

If all that sounds too much like hard work, of course, feel free to make a cuppa, pop your slippered feet up on the sofa, and enjoy these flowers from me to you. 

Leave me your own thoughts below and in the meantime, have a…

Happy Mother’s Day

If you liked this blog, I would love it if you would leave me a comment of encouragement and share it too. Thank you.



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Tough times and tuning in

Flaming Christmas Pudding

From my list of posts on here I can see two things: that a year ago I had a number of pieces in draft, and that my last published post was in September. It’s been a tough time since then for lots of reasons and in some ways is at its worst just now, but I figure rather than ‘waiting for the storm to pass’, I must get back out and ‘dance in the rain’.

I didn’t consciously take a break from blogging, but having done so, I have decided to start back with some shorter blogs, pictures which occur to me when I’m praying or worshipping, or simply walking, doing every day things like washing up, tidying, driving, shopping, or playing the piano!

Tuner, radio, aerial

Tuning in?

The picture I’d like to share was one that came to mind when I was praying for a friend who has a very close family member in a hospice just now.

I’d love to say I was being super holy or spiritual, on my knees whilst fasting and praying…I was in fact standing in the queue for the checkout at a local supermarket, oh so glamorous I know! I started thinking that I’d like to pray for her – I didn’t know what the current situation was, but I knew the prognosis hadn’t been good the last time we spoke. So I wanted to be able to give her an encouragement of some kind, and to let her know she was in my thoughts and prayers.

I’m looking around, awaiting my turn at the checkout, and inviting God to give me some inspiration, and I see some holly on an overhead sign, and a picture of Christmas pudding forms in my mind’s eye. Great. That seems (a) quite likely just to be my brain telling me that Christmas is coming as it’s not an entirely unsurprising image to jump into my head at this time of year, in a supermarket! And (b) it doesn’t exactly seem too spiritual.

However, God does speak in mysterious ways, so I’m gonna go with it, so then I see the flaming bandy being poured over the pudding, and I can hear the oohs and aahs of the diners, as they watch the dancing blue flame transfixed in awe and amazement. Then swiftly followed by the ohhhh, when it peters out and is no more. A sense of disappointment and a wish that we could do it all over again, we don’t want it to be over.

I felt that this flame was like our life on this world. So captivating and sparkly, we get so engrossed in it, and yet…It is just the fanfare to the main event. The pudding is what it’s all about! It’s rich and delicious, multifaceted and complex, satisfying and substantial. The flame is ephemeral, magical even, but temporary and lasts no time at all.

My understanding of all this is that life on this earth is far shorter than we imagine, it seems like a ‘lifetime’ – that phrase we use to mean an unimaginably long time – but that this is just a foretaste of something far more significant still to come, that we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘this is it’. Both God and eternity are so much bigger than our human lives here and now, that it just blows our mind.

The best news is that eternity doesn’t simply start as the ‘afterlife’ when we pass from this mortal coil. But when we invite Jesus into our hearts, we invite the Kingdom, eternity itself, into our hearts too! We become citizens of heaven from that time on and we carry the Holy Spirit within us, as we are a new creation in Christ.

Isn’t it amazing what can happen when you take just a few seconds to choose to focus on, or tune into, God? He’s all around us, in us, speaking to us, will I make a little time again to listen today? Could you too?

I’ll be reminding myself to listen often, even when I’m busy, distracted, preoccupied, self-involved, or perhaps especially in these difficult times.

Poem: Dancing in the Spirit

My soul
The Holy Spirit
Entwined, in harmony, together.
At times joyous, riotous, exuberant, ebullient!
We’re spinning, swirling, dizzy, laughing, out of control, free.
A wonderful glow emanating…spreading…reaching out to others
With warmth, with love, with hope and peace.
And in the dark times?
He’s still there. Still, comforting, enveloping, uplifting.
I ache; He is with me.
He groans in my pain with me, he holds me.

Throughout the highs and lows He points my gaze to Jesus:
My Saviour, my Redeemer, my King,
My friend, my everything.
In Him, I am washed clean;
A slate made as new,
Ready to be decorated in the rich, wonderful colours of his love,
And the patterns of His purpose for me in this world.

img_6219.jpg

I am blessed to be a blessing.
A joy is planted deep within.
Once, I wondered – will it ever grow, transform from a dry dusty bulb,
Become lush and verdant, even bloom?
And now?
The joy bubbles up, it fills a room!
A laugh that carries – tinkling lightly?
No! A laugh from the depths, that cries out to be joined by other laughter,
Hoots of hilarity; irresistible, contagious joy.

Not ephemeral ‘happiness’, bought with money…
Or things, or promotions, or circumstances,
But coming from deep inside
Where the Spirit dwells within, entwined with my soul.
I am grafted in – He is in me, and I am in Him.
How wonderful to be so close to my Creator.
I am home.

And so I dance, in my heart, in my soul.
I sing out to The Lord
My very being is moved…must move!
In rhythm with Him.
He calls me, and my heart answers.
So through this journey we call life – just Part I –
He walks with me, leads me.
Sometimes I feel Him so close, as though his breath is on my very skin;
Sometimes more distant , more like an echo, or a memory –
But still there, still undeniable,
And still warm,
Comforting,
Challenging,
Loving.
Always loving.

Would you like to have that sensation of dancing with the Spirit? To feel so in tune with, in step with, Him in your life?

Come explore with me this experiment, this adventure in imperfection…

An experiment in imperfection

So I’ve been wanting to start this blog for almost two years (I even set it up over a year ago!), why the delay you may well ask? Indeed. It’s something I’ve wrestled with over and over again; I’m a confident, strong, outgoing person, this should be a walk in the park for me…surely? And perhaps that’s where the problem lay. The more I told myself I should be able to do it, the more the fear of not being able to do this rose up. First the fear, then the shame. I felt that The Lord had been leading me to write since an amazing prophetic encounter at Wick Court, down near Bath, and the more I put it off, the more I worried that it had got to the point of disobedience. Then came in the voice of the accuser, that malign voice in my head,

You call yourself faithful? You can’t even do a little thing like this – all kinds of people, all over the world are writing blogs! You’re rebelling against your ‘Lord’, that’s not obedience is it? Mind you, it’s probably just as well, as who would want to read your thoughts, who says you’d be any good as a writer? And if you do wear your heart on your sleeve, and be open and honest about your faith then you’ll face all kinds of criticism and opposition, how would you ever cope with that??!

And so it went on, and on, and on. I tried reasoning with it, and I’d make a decision to write something…but just in my notebook for now, so nobody else could see, then later I’d put it out there – out on the big scary World Wide Web! Somehow, do you know, I could never quite find the time to do that! Procrastination is a cunning enemy to be sure.

Painting of Wick Court by JSAKnight

So now that I’m here and really doing this, and accepting that it will be an experiment and there will be much imperfection, since everyone loves a list perhaps I should tell you 7 things about myself:

1. So, most importantly, I invited Jesus into my life when I was 10, then wandered away from my church and my faith in my teenage years, only for God’s sense of humour to come into play when I was 22, when he used a very recently reformed atheist to draw me back to Him, oh, and for that brave guy to become my husband!

2. I’m absolutely passionate about people. About making connections with people from all walks of life, all ages, all countries, faiths and so on, even if it’s only a brief conversation on a coach with a man researching his grandfather who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli; or a server behind the counter in a posh bakery desperate to decide what to do with his life and his zoology degree; or a lovely, slightly tipsy, gay guy who was so intrigued/perplexed by my faith; or an elderly lady who had knee-replacement last year, but who wasn’t going to let that stop her clambering all over tall ships; or a beautiful single mum of a 15 year old daughter, who had just been diagnosed with Ménière’s disease and who so graciously allowed me to pray for her to be healed, (and all that was just this weekend!).

3. I also love helping people, helping them to release the untapped potential in their lives, for them to have that fullness of life that Jesus talked about, whether they know him or not. I tend to do that through listening to people, by coaching individuals to find and fulfil their purpose in life, and through learning and development which is my day job.

4. We have a 5 year old son, who when he was 6 months old we said put the boy in boisterous, so he keeps me out of mischief on the two days I don’t do my other ‘day job’!

Daddy and son

5. When I considered my interests I realised that I’m quite a creative type of person: I play violin and piano to a fairly decent standard, have been to a couple of drawing courses in the last year or so, and enjoy having a go at creative worship, mostly with paints and canvas (I’m fairly sure, if I’m honest, it’s just my inner big kid coming out!).The energy of the Holy Spirit I really enjoy cooking, again, with all kinds of different world influences, and I have a cupboard full of spices, and my husband would tell anyone who enquired, that I’m creative with recipes and very rarely follow one to the letter! I’ve started crocheting in the last year as well (my rows tend still to be a bit wonky), having been invited by a school mum to a local ‘hookers’ group – I was intrigued (albeit slightly nervous) from the start!!Ripple baby blanket - first crochet project!

6. There’s a big charity called Compassion, which I’m a child advocate for – quite simply they help children, their families and their communities out of poverty. In supporting that charity two of my great loves: children and East Africa have come together (it’s a global charity, but East Africa is a particular part of the world the Lord has really put on my heart since I was a kid). We have three gorgeous sponsored children with Compassion: Samson who is 5 in Kenya, Mercy who is 12 in Uganda, and Joyce who is 15 in Tanzania. We consider them to be part of our wider family, and I would just love to meet them one day!

Precious Kenyan Girl7. On this blog you’ll probably find me writing about any and all of my passions as above. if you’re into Myers-Briggs type profiling, then you may already have realised that I’m an extrovert and feeling kind of a person. So I can’t really help it – I’m a passionate person and all these things overflow from me and are interwoven together in me! And after all I am who I am, and the Bible tells me that, I am (and you are) fearfully and wonderfully made, so who am I to argue?! With this blog I have felt an insistent and persistent prompting to write about how we can partner with the Holy Spirit through every aspect of our lives, like a dance partner, trusting Him to lead us and to create beauty in our lives, hence Dancing in the Spirit and living life to the full.

So now you know a little about me, I’m curious to know, what are your passions? And where are you already experiencing that fullness of life, or perhaps, in what area of your life would you like to see more of that fullness?