my inner voice: Mother’s Day edition

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“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.

About Michelle L.

(Blog Editor) never folds laundry and her car is a mess. She runs through the streets of Salt Lake City, UT, takes lots of photos, plays Uno with her five fabulous boys and buys way too many dresses for the little princess. Her husband is the most romantic man in the world because he does all the Costco shopping AND hauls it into the house (sorry to make you jealous girls). She writes at Scenes from the Wild.

34 thoughts on “my inner voice: Mother’s Day edition

  1. I was so touched. I am giving a fireside about forgiveness within families and I’m going to read this for an example. So beautiful. So real.

  2. What a real, loving, candid tribute to your mother – and also to you. So much love shimmers here. Thanks, Emily!

  3. Michelle, this is so lovely, so moving. My favorite line of all:

    “Unhindered by earthly worries and stresses, my mother nurtures me in the way she always meant to.”

    This brought tears. Beautiful.

    I, too, feel my mother with me. She is joyful, strong, tender, buoyant, and, yes, effusive in her love.

  4. So lovely. What a blessing that you and your mother received.

    I didn’t get the apologies from my father before he died. Unless, of course you count the awkward apology made as part of his 12-step-program. But we are still evolving after death and my father and I have made our peace decades later.

  5. Wow, Michelle. What a gift you’ve given to me on the eve of Mother’s Day. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for this. I searched for something that would help me feel better about this day, and here it is. Life is too messy to put anyone on a pedestal, (I don’t want to be there, not even on Mother’s Day) knowing that repentance is always possible helps me move forward with joy despite my flaws and sins.

  7. Wow. Michelle, thank you so very much for this. This is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for your forgiving, believing, gracious heart. This means so much to me today. Happy Mother’s Day to a mother I’ve never met but admire greatly and learn so much from. xoxo

  8. You are a remarkable writer with great sensitivity and insight. Hugs. And thank you for graciously sharing your gifts.

  9. Thank you for being so candid. Family is where we feel the most joy and the most pain. As a new mother who feels such joy and such a desire to protect my daughter, it makes me sad to realize that I will also inadvertently hurt her and disappoint her. I am grateful for an Atonement that will make up for these instances. I hope I can teach her to rely on the Savior.

  10. You have such a beautiful spirit in your writing and such a tender expression of God’s love through the Atonement and our ability to change. Thank you so much for being willing to share such a personal part of your heart with us and allow us to better understand ourselves and our own mothers through your experiences.

  11. Michelle, this is full of truth. So honest and beautiful. Your words lend hope to us all. And I have loved seeing and feeling of your mother’s influence in your life. I know she is proud of you, loves you, and is watching over your life. xo

  12. Sometimes there are just the right words that are found to aching hearts. I TRULY needed to read this today. Thank you so very much for helping my heart on its road to healing. Love you.

  13. This is beautiful, and hits far too close to home for me, except for the apology. I am so happy you have found peace. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. Michelle, my parents are both dead and I’ve experienced what you write about. The thing is, none of us is really the person we are when we are here—-we are much, much more. I don’t understand it, but I’ve experienced it, so I know what you’re talking about. Such a gift.

  15. Weeping right now . . . Thank you for your loving words. I feel like someone reached right over to me to say, “you aren’t ruined, you haven’t ruined your children. All our missteps and weaknesses can be healed through true repentance and the Atonement of Christ.”

    I know this is true, and often think of it with regard to the painful mistakes my mother made, but find such difficulty accepting that grace for myself. I fall flat on my face constantly as a mother and often look to the heavens in anguish. Trying to break free of negative patterns that are passed down through successive generations can be so difficult.

    Thank you for the reminder. It’s just recently I’ve begun to comprehend the significant role of hope when it comes to the sacred triumvirate of “faith, hope, and charity.” Hope is what comes from our realization that we are not enough, but can still be whole through Christ. It gives us reason to keep moving forward.

    Much love to you and your family–

  16. I know I’ve shared this story in a comment on another post on Segullah, but your post, Michelle remind me SO much of my experience that I want to share it from the actual journal entry I wrote, in a little more detail again:

    Over the years I have felt a lot of on and off frustration about my childhood and the way I was raised—mainly dealing with my parents’ imperfections. I am very aware that many other people have had much great obstacles and difficulties to overcome than me but there are still some hard things that I blame for creating “dead” spots in me—I lack some abilities in relationships—particularly close ones like motherhood and wifehood that other people seem to take for granted and I trace these “lacks” back to insufficiencies in my rearing. It wasn’t deliberate on my parents’ part, but the “lacks” are still there anyway. So I’ve been thinking about this lately and sometimes I feel angry about it. I realized recently that even though I’ve focused my anger/sadness/regret/disappointment on my parents, the real target for these feelings is God. If HE had sent me to a different family who would have taught me better, then many of my failings and struggles and disappointments would not exist. So this morning I was thinking about this as I lay in bed—not really angry with God, but wondering. (There is also an element of “maybe it is b/c I was not as good as some of his other children” to this which makes me feel very sad.) So I was thinking about it, kind of sad over what will lie unfulfilled in my future b/c of what happened in my past but is beyond me to fix when out of the blue and very clearly came a reminder of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus—how Christ got there when Lazarus had been gone four days and he was met with “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” implying that now there is nothing that can be done. For whatever reason Christ did not come or intervene and now Lazarus is dead. It is over and done and sad but there’s no help for it. Then Christ wept, then raised Lazarus and said “I am the resurrection and the life.”– “I am here. Whatever happened in the past does not matter. I have the power to recover dead things and bring them to life—I can heal anyone and anything.” I realized what this meant—it does not matter how things were. It does not matter what prayers were not answered the way we asked. If we turn to and rely on Christ, he has the power to heal and lift us over anything. So everything in my past (or present) has not been ideal. With Christ I can develop to my full potential anyway.

  17. Thanks for sharing this. And for all the comments (Ana of the 9+ Kids, lovely).

    I have great hope in the Atonement. Today is my father’s first birthday after his death. He never understood how his distance hurt his kids, so there were no apologies in the long years of expecting his death. I don’t feel him close now, but maybe I need to soften my heart more. I felt forgiveness after his funeral, but not closeness. Maybe with time.

    I’m impressed with your mother’s repentance an apology. I hope I can do better with my kids than I have. Some days are better than others!

  18. my father is currently on the long journey to death and like your father is taking the long path of many years. He also has hurt his children with his distance attitude and critical nature. Thank for your thought that your father never understood how deeply this hurt his family. That applies to my father too and I will stop waiting for an apology that will not come.

  19. Ana of the nine…I have never talked with anyone who understood feeling so “overlooked” by God as I always have. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Thank you also for this post! While I don’t anticipate an apology from either of my parents, I see that I can try to trust in God. It is so so hard some days. That inner voice can be so loud, while the still small voice so ignored.

    Again, thank you for sharing and thank you for hope.

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