It’s that time of year again…that time when mothers are celebrated and gushed over and sent flowers and chocolates and cards and Facebook GIFs and, if they’re lucky, get breakfast in bed and have the house cleaned for them by someone else.
I generally don’t get any of those; I am one of the non-traditional, alternative-type mothers: step- of three…
…adoptive- of one (who was a senior in high school when he joined our family)…
…and foster, for a brief time, to my nephew.
I haven’t birthed any babies; in fact, if I had to accurately describe myself, it would be like, “I’m not really the ‘mom’ type”. Not that I don’t nurture and love and get all gooey over babies and children…I just prefer that said babies and children belong to someone else. I actually love kids! It possibly explains my draw to helping children in other ways; I’ve been a youth pastor and a social worker, and am still in contact with many of my former church and foster youth. Now I’m a teacher. No one can tell me that teaching isn’t a maternal sort of vocation…
And I’m a granny now, too…I see my my grandkids, who live about 2 hours away, a few times a year, and that’s pretty sufficient to get my quota of hugs and kisses and then they go home and I have my house back. It works.
Now, with that lengthy introduction, I have to say that this post is NOT about why I’m as much of a mother as any other mother; I resolved that issue years ago and am quite comfortable with how my journey has turned out. I don’t get weepy on Mother’s Day and wish for cards and chocolates and breakfast in bed.
This post is about this daughter and her mother.
My mom and I have struggled over the years. Really struggled. I come from a long line of abuse; not intentional abuse, but abuse that happens when people get damaged, and thus marry damaged people, and thus create damaged people. I was very damaged growing up, and we didn’t talk about it. Talking about it might incur blame on someone, and there’s no way anyone was healthy enough to accept responsibility for the dysfunction enough to make conscious changes.
That damage leaked into my own marriage and my own attempts at parenting (already challenged by the step- issue).
That damage has impacted and shaped every decision and every turn I have made in my life.
That damage has caused, among other things, a long personal history of never really feeling connected to anyone or anything, a feeling of being rather “tribeless”. As a kid, I never felt like I belonged in my family. Holiday meals where my mom and her sisters and my grandparents and all the cousins gathered? I dreaded them, and tried really hard to hide in a corner with a book.
I left my hometown when I was 20 and didn’t look back. I’ve been back to Yakima, Washington, enough times to count on one hand since then.
I don’t have close sibling relationships. I haven’t seen my brother in 11 years. I hadn’t seen my sister in 8 years; we did, finally, meet for lunch last year. And contact with my mother has been rare and occasional since 2006.
I chat with one cousin, occasionally, on Facebook.
I’ve struggled with that lack of connection with my husband and his family; the fact that I’ve remained married for nearly 20 years is absolutely miraculous; it must be a God thing.
About a year-and-a-half ago, as I was undergoing intense spiritual work, I felt a deep urging, though, to make peace with my mother. To my clinically trained mind, that meant arranging long, therapeutic conversations about wrongs experienced, boundaries being laid out, and forcing the revisiting of things long past. It made sense to me; one can’t forgive unless the offending party admits guilt, right? And I felt there were so many things that needed to be redressed.
I had the opportunity to go to Portland for a conference last summer. My mom drove 5 hours just to have lunch with me. As I was driving to the restaurant, I started rehearsing everything I was going to say, and my anxiety grew and grew and grew. Then, right before I got out of the car, the Holy Spirit spoke, loud and clear:
“Just LOVE her.”
That was the first time I’d seen my mom in several years, and I nearly cried when we met. I was nervous, and felt awkward, but I started seeing her through new eyes that day.
This was a woman who had survived – a lot. My dad was mentally ill and terribly unstable; she kept their marriage together until he died and functioned very much like a single parent, before and after his death.
This was a woman who had sacrificed – a lot. One example: for five years she squirreled away grocery money so that she could finally buy me a piano when I was 14. That gift changed my life and really set me on my path towards discovering my purpose.
This was the woman who had successfully brought me, and two others, into this world, and had done her very best to guide us into adulthood.
This was the woman who introduced me to my Heavenly Father, and who taught me from before birth to love His Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ, and to follow Him no matter what. When I was away at summer camp, and after I left home, her letters to me always ended with, “Remember who you are, and whose you are.”
As I looked through that new lens, all the wrongs – wrongs not imagined, wrongs very much real and visited multiple times in multiple therapy sessions – suddenly became not so important. And that burden, the burden of finding my own sense of justice – fell off my shoulders. Forgiveness happened. I haven’t picked up that burden again, but keep working towards increased peacemaking and relationship-building; not just with Mom, but with my brother and sister.
But even so, connection with my family has been difficult. The feeling of being on the outside, looking in, has remained so very strong.
Over the last year, I’ve spent many hours on Ancestry.com, researching my lineage. Sent my DNA off to be analyzed and everything.
I started with my father’s side; I always felt more like a “Berko” than an “Ozanne”, so it was a natural place to start. I had a great time seeing pictures of relatives of whom I’d heard brief mentions growing up, and seeing pictures of the grandmothers whose resemblance I bear. Lithuanian (not Hungarian, like I’d thought) women are beautiful.
I went as back as far as I could. The records stopped in the late 19th century, probably due to the Jewish pogroms in Eastern Europe. I’d figured as much.
Then it was time to do my mom’s side.
Then I dove in…
…so far, I’ve made it clear back to 1801, to the Channel Islands between England and France. I don’t know any of the people that I’m finding…but they’re my people. One entry discussed my mother’s maiden name; the very surname Ozanne, given in the 15th century, from the Hebrew word, “Hosanna”, denotes a family history of being Christ-followers.
More recently? Quakers. I come from a lineage of people who took a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously.
The more I discovered, the more names that kept popping up, names and dates and births and marriages and migrations…the more I felt that sense of connection, of history, of belonging. These are my people, and I love them. I can’t wait to keep searching.
And as that sense of connection grew, my heart – so separated from and often cold towards my mother’s family – has started to warm, and I have realized that my mom, her mom, her grandmother and great-grandmother (and the paternal side, too, but this is about Mother’s Day), are part of a story that is so much greater than any one of us. A story so great that it makes miniscule the imperfections and slights that have plagued my own life.
For the first time in my life, not even knowing the particulars of that story, I feel proud to be part of it.
This is a work of God.
Malachi 4:6 says:
“…and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”
The heart of this daughter has been turned back to her mother.
It is prelude of greater things to come, a magnificent healing in our family. I know it.
Thanks be to God.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.