Mother’s Day was the worst day of the year. I dreaded it. Most years on Mother’s Day, I sought solace in the cold darkness of my bed, where I wouldn’t have to see the flowers…the cards…the social media pictures of friends with their own mothers. I wouldn’t have to face imminent tears at a church service honoring motherhood. But under those sheets, I wrestled with painful, antagonizing reminders that I was motherless…and that was exactly where God wanted me.
Two months after my twentieth birthday, a rare brain tumor sent my mother home to be with Jesus. She was fifty-two years old, a wife of thirty-two years, and a mother of three. I was eighteen and about to begin college when they discovered her tumor. As I tried to cope, I took on a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” persona. I would harden my heart, and hoped that my durability would get us all through it. I was proud of my “strength.”
When it became clear that she wasn’t going to live, I began to search for a reason. What reason could the Lord possibly have for taking her from us? I was not a believer when she became sick. Yet, Jesus was merciful enough to call me to Himself in the midst of the pain and loss. When I realized He was pursuing me through the death of my mom, I assumed that was the “reason” I had been searching for. That was the redemptive end to the story I needed, and since I had my happy ending, I could go on with life. I didn’t grieve or even slow down as I forged ahead into my new Christian life, and I considered that chapter of my life redeemed and closed.
I lived life proud of the efficient way I had dealt with the loss of my mother. It wasn’t until years later, when my pastors gently called me to take a closer look at my heart and story, that I realized just how damaging my bootstraps persona was. I would have described myself as tough, resilient, and strong, but in reality I was wounded, damaged, and emotionally unavailable to anyone, including myself. I had been living life void of emotion, which worked because it enabled me to live without pain or disappointment. What I didn’t realize was that by living with my heart buried, not only was I numb to pain, I was numb to joy. As I started to look at how I was living, I saw a traumatized little girl inside the shell of a tough girl. I had refused to let anyone really know me for fear of rejection or disappointment. All my relationships involved me sitting in the driver’s seat and only giving the part of myself I felt like I could control. Managing my grief had led me to be in relationships that could never be fulfilling or authentic. I began to hear Jesus invite me to get out of the driver’s seat.
Through pastoral care, faithful friends, and Barnabas counseling, Jesus pursued me and slowly softened my true heart of stone. I felt Jesus asking me to trust Him for sustainability. I felt Him inviting me to a place of hurt and promising to meet me there. One of the most tangible ways He proved faithful was by calling me to revisit some of the grief I hastily suppressed when Mom died. I reluctantly started to grieve her death years after the fact, and it hurt terribly. As hard as it was to feel that pain, it was so comforting to feel something instead of nothing. I truly felt like Jesus was there, agonizing alongside me. Even though I was grieved, I knew I was not alone.
The first few years after Mom died, Mother’s Day was just another day. Because I was tough, it didn’t faze me. But after the Lord began working in my heart, helping me engage my grief, Mother’s Day became extremely painful. It was more than I could handle to go to church and face the celebration of mothers everywhere. It was almost paralyzing to be motherless. But, even as I hid under the sheets knowing I was motherless, I also knew I wasn’t fatherless. I had a Father that empathized with my loss, my grief, my ache, and my pain.
In November, I became a mother. I gave birth to a beautiful son, and proverbially, in line with every adage about parenthood, life immediately changed. I had anticipated most of the changes that came along with becoming a mom, but Jesus slipped in a sweet surprise on May 11th. I woke up on Mother’s Day and didn’t dread the sunlight; I didn’t groan and hide. I jumped out of bed and ran to hold my child. He met me with a smile and a giggle that morning. I didn’t just see my baby in that crib; I saw Jesus. I saw Jesus smiling and reminding me that He loves me enough to redeem my story years after I thought it had been redeemed.
While Mother’s Day is set aside to celebrate mothers, it will now be a sweet reminder of the pursuant, redemptive mercy of my Father.
Christy Smith received her Bachelor of Arts from The Florida State University and graduate degree from UNCC. Her relationship with The Barnabas Center began at Hope Community Church, where is she is a member. Christy is a high school English teacher in Rock Hill, SC, where she lives with her husband Bryan and son Waylon.