This is Sunday will be my fourth Mother’s Day with full arms. Each year my arms feel more full than the last, and this year is no different. But not every Mother’s Day has been this way for me. While this might be my fourth happy Mother’s Day, it is actually my sixth Mother’s Day. I remember that one so clearly. We had just passed the due date for our first baby. Daniel quietly celebrated me for the life I carried briefly, though my womb and arms remained achingly empty. I remember every quiet Mother’s Day after that, when I wondered if God would ever answer the cry of my heart for children this side of heaven. I remember the Mother’s Day after our second miscarriage, when my arms were full with the twins, yet I still longed for the baby I would never hold in this life.
Mother’s Day can be bittersweet for so many of us.
In the years between our first miscarriage and the birth of the twins I taught a Marriage and Family class at a Christian high school. I still remember how I felt when I took the job. I was defeated. This was not my plan. We had just moved to Little Rock, and all along I had thought I would have a baby by then. But I didn’t. Instead I had a classroom full of eager students, and all I could see was disappointment.
Earlier this year I was asked to speak to the women of Ouachita Baptist University. One of my former students was in charge of the women’s event and invited me to come. It hit me again, as I had dinner with my former student and saw others at the event, that God had not forgotten me in those silent years. These young women, now growing in their faith, getting married (way to make me feel old!), and navigating young adulthood were God’s good gift to me in my suffering.
I loved those years of teaching, I really did. I chaperoned the junior class ski trip, met with students for lunch, attended soccer games, listened to stories of struggle and hurt, and taught them the Bible. But what I didn’t see in the moment is that God was answering my prayer for children, just not in the way I wanted. I wanted diaper changes, a closet full of baby clothes, and sleepless nights. I wanted toddler crafts and story time. I wanted to hear a little voice call me “mommy.” Instead I got something else. I got textbooks and quizzes. I got tangential conversations on the image of God and abortion. I got flesh and blood people to pour into—and it was good. And I will never forget the joy those students had for me when I told them I was pregnant, and then the even greater joy they had when we all found out a few weeks later that it was twins. They were a bright spot in a dark time in my life, and I am eternally grateful to God for them.
What I didn’t have eyes to see then is that God was answering the cry of my heart, just not in the way I wanted. He was giving me children, just not in the way I thought I deserved. He was making me into a mother, just not in the timeframe I expected. And he was filling my life with good gifts, just not in ways I imagined he would.
Those years were not a waste. They were God’s gift to me. I was not in a holding pattern. I was not waiting for my life to begin. It was unfolding right before my eyes in the lives of students who needed God’s word implanted in their life.
Many will feel the same way this Mother’s Day—silent, alone, out of place, forgotten, or like less of a woman. I know. I’ve been there. It’s a hard day for the one with the empty womb. It’s a hard day for the one whose womb aches for a child lost or a child who is wayward. Sometimes the silence of Mother’s Day is screaming in your face. Sometimes the silence of Mother’s Day is not so silent after all. But I think heaven is celebrating you, even if no one else sees. For every life you pour into, every disciple you encourage, every student you care for, every brokenhearted person you love, you are, as Gloria Furman says, “nurturing life in the face of death.” And God sees that and is pleased with you.
As those who celebrate with loud homes this Sunday, let us also celebrate the ones with quiet homes, too, so that no woman has a silent Mother’s Day alone.