“Be careful how you speak to your children. One day it will become their inner voice” –Peggy O’Mara.
This is not a story about perfect mothers raising perfect children. Rather, it features flawed mothers and grandmothers, broken relationships and the power of God’s grace to heal our hearts.
My mother was hard on me. As a child, and as I grew into an adult, she criticized and chastised, compared me to my siblings and to the smart/beautiful/talented girl down the street. I weighed too much, my clothes looked dowdy, my kitchen was messy. My mother’s mother spoke the same way to her and perhaps my mother’s mother’s mother did the same.
Over and over I heard, “No one loves you like your mother.” (especially around Mother’s Day) and I felt a certain sense of shame for my unlovable soul.
Until the day she was diagnosed with liver cancer.
My husband brought the phone outside where I was working in the garden, “It’s your mom,” he covered the earpiece with his hand, “it sounds important.”
Wiping my hands on my jeans, I took the phone and sat on the porch. “Hi Mom.”
“I have good news and bad news.” She chirped.
“I have the best, most treatable form of liver cancer. But I have liver cancer.”
Honestly, and I’m sure this sounds heartless; the news of cancer was expected. My mother’s health had been poor for a decade. She was the last of my children’s four grandparents to have cancer and her eventual diagnosis felt inevitable. But her next words could not have surprised me more:
“During this past week, as I’ve waited for the biopsy, I’ve been examining my life. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been repenting.” I heard her voice crack and strain.
“And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ever since you were a little girl I’ve been hard on you. I don’t know why. I know I made you feel unloved.”
I wanted to object. She didn’t need to apologize; our relationship has been fine for the past several years. It was OK; I understood, and I have made oh-so-many mistakes of my own. But her words split my heart right open and filled an empty aching hole.
“Are you still there?” she asks.
By now, my throat has contracted and tears spill relentlessly from my cheeks. The only reply I can manage is a sharp intake of breath, a fragment of a cry.
“And I want you to know that I love you. I’m proud of you. I cherish you. My time left may but short; but it will be….” Sobs steal her voice too, and as the sun sets on my porch we sit and cry together.
Finally, I find words, “I love you too, mom.” We both hang up, because it’s all we can take. I’m amazed and overwhelmed and frightened too because my heart has never felt so clean and soft.
Just forty days later, I lay at her feet as she died.
People tell me I’m lucky she went quickly and didn’t have to suffer, but I would have liked more time– one Thanksgiving, one Christmas, one birthday basking in her presence and the knowledge I was loved.
But as the months and years have passed, I’ve felt a change. I feel my mother with me, cheering me on, attending every birthday party, glorying in my childrens’ accomplishments, complimenting my dress and scoffing at the idea I need to lose ten pounds. Her voice in my head has changed from one of criticism to effusive praise.
Unhindered by earthly worries and stresses, my mother nurtures me in the way she always meant to.
I know her voice isn’t something I’ve created; I recognize her lilt and tone, her spirit. My bedtime stories sparkle with her magical and silly details, suddenly my jokes are funny to (almost) everyone and my parties glow with her elegant details and warm hospitality. With her nearly constant approbation, I’m slowly gaining the self-confidence I’ve always lacked.
My message is simple: you aren’t ruined, you haven’t ruined your children. All our missteps and weaknesses can be healed by true repentance and the atonement of Christ. I’ve witnessed it myself, I’ve witnessed it in my own children. True repentance lends to faster healing, but even if those who hurt you don’t repent, your heart can be healed.
If you need a kinder voice in your head, pray to God for help. He’ll send you people to buoy to up but He’ll also send His Spirit to comfort you. And the voice of God remains constant, strong, omnipotent—you are glorious, you are cherished, your worth is beyond measure, you are loved.