Our paths connected through our children and so I didn’t expect to be sitting there talking about our mothers. Kelly is one of those rare, faithful confidantes who is an exceptional blessing to know, the kind who sees you through weary, complicated trials and you shake your head sometimes marveling at the loyalty and wondering how you gained such a friend.
Behind me a sheet of water was eternally cascading down an ornamental fountain. The small café was cozy with warm colored walls, burnt yellows and cinnamon, just big enough for a dozen or so comfortable patrons. I was late to our breakfast appointment and greeted her with a hung head. She laughed at me and was thankful I had still come.
“How are the kids? And your mom?” Kelly’s inquiring brown eyes searched out the answer, glossy auburn locks falling perfectly past her shoulders, and I remembered I hadn’t applied a spot of make-up in my hurry.
The waitress offered the special, eggs Benedict with Hollandaise lime sauce and cooked pears over sourdough, or something along those lines, I couldn’t remember but ordered it anyway. I squinted at her hard, trying to recall just where it was the previous day I’d seen her. It came to me, it was the library. Her son brushed past mine, my freckled boy who clutched the Scooby-Doo video in his little hands, utterly cheered to find it there, finally. This mother with son at the library – I’m always so happy to see mothers with children at the library, it’s my strange joy. And her son wanted that video, too, and he squalled to his tall, blonde and beautiful mother, “It’s not fair!”
And those were the very words I painfully expressed to Kelly over coffee and breakfast platters, just as petulant as that child. Why should I have to take care of my mother? She barely took care of me, I practically raised myself, and it wasn’t fair, and sadly it was only at the end of the meal I considered my unforgiveness.
It happened that some years after I met Kelly, her mother moved in with her, too, and like mine, has degenerative brain problems. She’s forgotten how to comb her hair and take a walk. Her conversation has dwindled to “no.” Kelly gracefully chided me with, “At least yours talks.”
And grace it is that I need at this moment, and the compassionate forbearance of mercy. I know it. I know it by its absence. I know it by the tightness in my chest when she walks into a room. Oh, grace to cleanse my irritated soul. The way she shuffles, asks again what day it is, tells me she forgot how to whistle, burps at the table, a thousand ways that need grace.
I mourn that I’m not doing this well. I mourn that my own children observe my lack of grace and mercy, because one day, they may need to draw on it.
Kelly explained how she came by new grace for her mother. “Last time,” she shared, speaking of her mom’s prior six-month stay, “it was really hard and I was always frustrated.” But then she returned from retrieving her mom from a sibling who shares the care-taking, and here sensitivity laced Kelly’s every word. The mother she knew had never a hair out of place and things ordered just so, but now her hair was stringy and unkempt, her clothes ill-fitting, and her exercise unattended to. Sometimes it is seeing the indifference in others that provokes us to tenderness.
“Is that honoring to my mother?” Kelly had asked herself with renewed humanity.
Those words tumbled around my head. Honoring. The sheets of water continued to course behind my chair, molecule after molecule, and I wanted to jump right in and wash away the vexation, the impatience, the anger. Could I replace those insipid characters with esteem, respect, appreciation, love? And how? One molecule at a time by the grace of God.
Is it fair that Jesus died for sinful me? Is it fair that I don’t deserve his grace but receive it freely and abundantly? I guess fairness really can’t be part of this equation, but forgiveness, yes, to forgive as I have been forgiven. And that will be another story, my friends.
He has show you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32