The Best Mother’s Day Gift Ever

momkids

It was always fun to pick out just the right gift for my mother on Mother’s Day when my brother and I were young.  In retrospect, I’m not sure we always did that great a job, though.   There was the year of the hand mixer, which I thought was a great gift because my mom did quite a bit of baking when I was a kid and our old hand-mixer broke.  To my mind, it was both a thoughtful gift (because Mom liked to bake), and a useful gift (because how do you mix things without a mixer?).  Then there was the year of the new dishes.  My mom had been coveting new, plain white dishes for a while since our old dishes, a wedding gift when my parents were married, were becoming fewer in number as, one by one, they were broken, mostly in dish-washing accidents.  Mom loves dishes; she did then, and she does now.  So, I felt like this was definitely something she would appreciate, and certainly not be expecting.

Then, there was the year my brother and I hit it out of the ballpark.  Our mother is an avid recreational gardener who is always happiest when she can be playing outside in the dirt.  One year for mother’s day, my brother and I scrimped and saved our money to buy her a potting bench.  We were so excited to give her the gift, and she was equally excited (I think?) to receive it.  It was always so important to me that my mother know how much she was loved and appreciated because I knew we kids didn’t always communicate that very well through word or deed.

Now I am a mother myself.  I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough to think up ideas for how they can celebrate Mother’s Day with me.  I’m not gonna lie.  It’s not about the gifts themselves, it’s about the thoughtfulness that those gifts represent.  I know it can’t have been particularly exciting for my mother to have opened that hand-mixer all these years ago (although, I will say that she is still using the very same hand-mixer nearly 25 years later), but I imagine that she was tickled by our excitement to give her the gift, and touched by the thoughtfulness and intentionality that inspired us to choose that gift over all of the other ones we could have chosen.  At least, I hope she felt that way.

What Mother’s Day boils down to for me, is not so much that is an opportunity to receive a gift from your spouse and/or children, but it is an opportunity to see yourself through their eyes.  I tend to be pretty hard on myself sometimes, only able to see my shortcomings both as a mother and a wife.  I love my kids and husband so much, and hope that I am able to give them what they deserve as far as a mother and a wife are concerned, but more often than not, I worry that I’m not good enough for them.  I wonder if I’ve made the right choices on behalf of our family.  I feel guilty for taking time for myself, especially when I know I haven’t been around much because of my work obligations.

On Mother’s Day, I want to see myself the way my husband and kids see me.  Whatever means of celebration they choose for that day are a window into how they see and understand my life and values.  They help give me perspective on myself as a mother and as a wife.  I see their love for me in the ways they interpret what would make me happy and make me feel special.  I need that gift, the gift of perspective, more than I need any thing they could ever give me.

A Mother’s Day gift isn’t important because of what it is; it is important because of what it represents.  And for me, it represents the intentional forging of a deep, loving family relationship in which every member is honored and celebrated for who they are, not who we wish they would be.

So for all of you celebrating Mother’s Day this year either because you are a mother or because you have a mother, happy, happy day to you.  May you give and receive the best gift ever: the gift of being seen, understood, and loved anyway.

 

We are the Church Together

we are church

There are times when I long to go back to being a layperson.  I sometimes wish I could un-know, un-see, and un-hear some of the things I have witnessed in the church over the years since I became a pastor.  These past seven (almost) years have robbed me of my innocence and have revealed to me the existence of the Church’s dark underbelly.  Manipulation. Selfishness. Greed. Short-sightedness.  Close-mindedness.  Bigotry. Hate. Intolerance. Exclusion. Self-righteousness.  It is easy to understand how people, both inside and outside of the church, may become disenchanted with organized religion, abandoning it for the “spiritual, but not religious” stance that so many have adopted in recent years.

As messed up as the church can be and is, the church can also be a place of forgiveness and reconciliation, a place of welcome and inclusion.  The church can be a place where people are able to work through their differences to learn from one another, and where they can put aside their own desires and dreams for the sake of those around them and for the sake of God’s mission in the world.  The church can be a place where broken people band together, committed to living as though they are God’s precious, beloved, chosen, and holy people, not because they have declared it to be true themselves for their own edification, but because God has already promised it is true and demonstrates this truth through the  forgiveness, grace, and mercy God shows to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t give this up for anything!

The hard thing is that while I understand that the church exists simultaneously in bondage to sin, and freed from sin, I still don’t like the sin.  As a mother who wants her children to grow up in the church, to be fed and nurtured by it and the God it proclaims, I want to protect them from the ugliness.  I don’t ever want them to see the darkness of the church for fear that it would sour them not only to participation in the life of the church, but that it might also harm their relationship with God, lest they should decide that since God is in the church, and the church is a hurting, hurtful place, that God is also hurting and hurtful.

Sometimes I wonder if my husband and I were both laypeople it would be easier to shield our children from the things we don’t want them to see or know of the church.  Perhaps it would be. But in order to protect them, we would have to keep them away from the Church and not participate in it ourselves.  And what would that accomplish?  It would teach them that the best way to navigate rough waters is to run away or hide from them.  I don’t want my children to fear the church or be resentful of it. I don’t want them to learn that it’s okay to hide or run away from our problems because then they will never be resolved.

Instead, I choose for my children to be active participants in the life of the church no matter how ugly it may be at times, because as much as the church has to teach about sin, disagreement, pettiness, and the like, it has more to teach about forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. My children can learn from church how to welcome strangers, how to seek and offer forgiveness, and how to be generous with their time, possessions, and talents.  My children can learn the challenging lessons of diversity within a community: how to disagree without judgment, how to be flexible when others want different things than they, how to embrace new experiences as opportunities to grow and learn, and how faith is lived and expressed through the lives of the people with whom we learn, worship, and fellowship in the church.

The existence of sin, brokenness, disappointment, and disagreement in the church shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, though.  The church is not a meeting place, the church is the people, and people are as broken inside of the church as they are outside of it.  As Christians, we are all hypocrites: people who profess an ideal of living in Christ that is peaceful, loving, forgiving, and merciful, but who fight, hate, judge, and condemn.  We live broken lives, are in bondage to sin, and despite our best intentions, are not always successful in dwelling together in community. Such is life. Inside the church, and out.

We are the church together, better in community with other broken people than we could ever be alone, and better in community with God than we ever could be in community without God.  The church isn’t perfect.  But the search for a perfect Church isn’t what inspires us to remain active in congregational life; the calling of our perfect God is. For me and my house, that’s as good as it gets.