When I was living in Boston working toward my master’s degree, I spent the summer in Tanzania, Africa.
We spent one day volunteering at Mother Teresa’s orphanage there.
Sometime around mid-day when lunch was about to be served, I found myself in the back corner room where there was just a couple children and a sister. The sister was getting ready for lunch and asked me if I would feed one of the boys. Of course, I would. Yes.
I can not remember his name- which kills me because this is one of the sharpest, clearest heart memories I have in my life. He was about 15 years old. And he was severely handicapped. He was tall, but since his arms and legs were crippled, he was long and curled. His neck permanently stuck in an upward thrust. He had a hard time controlling his tongue and so feeding him needed to be slow and careful.
I sat on the floor and we arranged him to lay across my lap, with his head cradled in my left arm.
I slowly fed him oatmeal and lovingly held his glance the whole time. God, I wish I could show you his eyes. They were the largest, brightest, deepest, most GRATEFUL eyes I have ever seen. I could hardly handle the ache that collapsed my heart.
As we gazed at each other, I had an open smile and tears kept rolling from my eyes.
I had never experienced anything like this before.
He didn’t seem to feel awkward that I was smiling and crying and fumbling with his food. He just lay in my arms, with the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen gracing me with his gratitude and love for being there with him.
After lunch, I was a bit on emotional overload and needed a little breathing space so decided once he (can we just call him Matthew so he has a name as I tell you this?) once Matthew laid down for a nap, I moved into the room with all the infants.
One of the most pressing needs for visiting volunteers is literally to just hold these babies. Because, while the sisters can keep them clean and fed, there are just too many babies and the sisters couldn’t possibly hold them all for the amount of time a human baby deserves, needs, to be held every day.
So I just picked these babies up and walked with them and snuggled and whispered prayers into their necks and kissed their heads and rocked myself to calm as I held them close and breathed in their beauty.
About 10 years after that summer work trip, I would become a mother myself.
I think back to that day often now. I had no idea at the time that I experienced a glimpse of the depth it takes to really love someone.
What you get when you choose to let love come pouring through into the awkwardness, the brokenness, the imperfections, the ugly, the difficult.
It was my first glimpse at what you receive when you love the hard to love– and that really there is no hard to love- once you make the choice to love, it is all easy. It wasn’t hard to love Matthew…what was hard was to soften into the experience, to be there, truly be there- to let my tears come rolling down even though I felt self conscious and uncomfortable.
In my everyday life when I’m so caught up in my head and my to-dos and the busyness and my need to control the day; I find myself resisting when my kids look “ugly”. When they have attitude. When they are fresh. When they aren’t listening. When they are rude or arrogant. When the level of chaos is giving me heart palpitations and I think I’m going to fly into code red.
I often don’t soften, I try to control and force everything back into order again.
Matthew wasn’t able to mask his needs- he was bare to the world. Just like the infants I held and rocked. Like my own children when they were babies. And now as they grow and assert themselves I get tricked into thinking they are not deserving of my compassion, my love when they are at their roughest. I get tricked into thinking they aren’t needy of my love exactly when it feels hardest to give it.
I think love has a whole lot to do with cleaning up your own heart so that you can have the courage to meet someone where they are. To see underneath their exposed edges. To not take everything so personally and escape yourself for just a brief moment long enough to have your heart break a little for them.
I know that Matthew healed me that day..in fact I know that he LOVED me that day as much as I loved him.
And when I let it, motherhood heals me all the time.
We are all needy. We are all difficult. We all have rough edges and scratchy spots that don’t feel good to rub up against.
What if we loved our own broken parts? What if we didn’t spend all our energy trying to hide them…to be the perfect mother, the one who never needs or asks or requests for anything? What if we simply were who we are, did the work to keep ourselves growing and healthy and allowed the flow of life to take over a bit more?
Wouldn’t that make it so much easier to let our kids be who THEY are?
Wouldn’t that let love soften us when they needed our love the most? When we needed our love the most?
I’m willing to bet it would heal us in the process, too.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…and if you are inclined I’d be grateful if you’d share this with your community. We are all in this together!
This is a beautiful post Lisa.
“And when I let it, motherhood heals me all the time.
We are all needy. We are all difficult. We all have rough edges and scratchy spots that don’t feel good to rub up against.”
That part felt real good to hear.
And also I can totally related to how one can feel like a mother even before having kids, like you did when you held Matthew and gazed into his eyes.
Thank you, Bahieh…and yes, there are many ways to be a mother. 🙂
Oh goodness, how beautiful and inspiring this morning. I’m so grateful for this post! (Weeping!)
This is a beautiful post. Love is an act of will, not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. And I do think it’s harder for mothers to learn to love themselves…and to forgive themselves. Thank you for reminding us to journey in love, not in fear!
Mmm, isn’t the journey so delicious in love? And it is always right there inviting us no the path.
Thank you for this inspiring post! Love is supposed to be easy but yet, it can be so hard.
“What if we loved our own broken parts? What if we didn’t spend all our energy trying to hide them…to be the perfect mother, the one who never needs or asks or requests for anything? What if we simply were who we are, did the work to keep ourselves growing and healthy and allowed the flow of life to take over a bit more?”
This is a lesson I’m learning. I’m learning that in order to love my kids as they are, I need to first love myself as I am. Thank you for the reminder.
Beautiful post and timing. Thank you, Lisa…
Wow, beautiful, powerful post. Thank you so much. Needed to hear this today.
I would go as far to say that “healing” is what we are here for. We have pieces of ourselves that are begging us for more love and more light and a healing. Those places within us that seem “sick and tired”. Those places that we don’t want to show our closest friends. But those are the places that the love needs to touch most. The same is true in our world at large. there are places like the broken down neighborhoods, where crime and drug abuse is ramped. those places need healing, love and light. But instead, just like we do in our own personal lives. we hide that aspect of our culture. We pretend it doesn’t exist. We showcase the suburbs and the wonderful cities in our country, and pretend that poverty does not exist. To answer your question. I believe that if we were compassionate enough to expose and then heal our own broken parts within ourselves. We would all love everyone “outside” of us, that much more fully and that much more unconditionally.
Yes! So so true…when the places that most need to healed are brought to light they can no longer steer the ship, we are set free.
It was hard for me to read this post. All my vulnerability and compassion surfacing as I read. I am from India so I grew up watching a lot of poverty and deeply challenging situations. Its hard to watch that daily without steeling yourself on some level to cope with it. With my kids I see that its extremely difficult to watch their vulnerability which is so open, just as is their joy, frustration, anger and most especially their love. I find recently as I have subscribed to the Aha! Parenting newsletters by Dr. Laura Markham, which are so wonderful because it really helps parents connect with and understand this very vulnerability and compassion both within themselves and their child that makes it possible to love unconditionally. Also a delightful resource which is completely hilarious and heartwarming and so easy to read but so deep and clever in its simplicity is Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginott. Thank you for reminding us to keep our hearts open to vulnerability as a necessary emotion that will help us live life more fully and wholeheartedly.
Love your recs – thank you!