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The presence of mothers among us

By REV. ROD SMITH - For The Courier-Times

Four women live in our three-male New Castle family home.

Mavis Iona Mulder Smith is here. Mavis was my mother. Mom fought valiantly against the breast cancer that took Mom’s life when I was 26. Mother was 54. Although gone more than half my life, Mother is far from absent.

Mom sang beautifully. On a clear day I can still hear “A Stranger’s Just a Friend You Do Not Know” and “He walks With Me and He Talks With Me” fills our house. Sometimes Mother corrects me when I am cooking – “There’s a better way to cook peas you know” – and she says things like, “There’s probably a kinder way to handle that,” more frequently than I care to admit. “Those shoes could use polish,” was whispered even this morning.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mavis. It’s today here on earth. I wish I could celebrate it with you.

The biological mothers of my sons are a strong presence in our home. How can each not be? Their willing, painful sacrifice resulted in cataclysmic grace coming my way. Their losses, pains, and traumas became my healing. Hardly a day passes when I don’t think of them and want to honor them. This is especially so when I see some act of vibrant goodness glowing from each boy that I know he didn’t learn from me.

A nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit in an Indianapolis hospital broke the rules and told me Nate’s mother sat with him for hours the very day I came to take him home. The nurse told me his mother kissed him tenderly on the forehead, then, without looking back, left the ward to return to a hard, hard life.

I am glad there are nurses who break such rules; that image has imparted great peace to me over the years.

Nate is 16 and 6’4” and a Trojan. There are times he’s playing in the Fieldhouse with the junior varsity basketball team and in my head he transforms into a 7-or-8-day-old, 8-pound baby in his mother’s arms receiving something from his mother in those treasured moments I could not give him in an entire childhood.

Both my sons’ mothers have painful lives: my older son, Thulani, now 21, made a very powerful and beautiful (3:18 second) movie to his mother while a senior in high school. He posted it on YouTube in an effort to connect with his mother a continent away. It’s still there: his mother can access it whenever desired.

Her response was terse, even cruel. He remained steadfastly kind to his mother and thanked his mother for choosing that he grow up with me in the USA.

Ironically, that’s a grace and a capacity he did not get from me. He got that from his mother. The grace he immediately expressed to his birth mother at that moment of rejection I know comes from the deep generosity I know she knows. I saw it when his mother made the painful, deliberate choice, to give him to me.

The other woman who “lives” in our home is my sister: Jennifer is kindness personified. I don’t know how Jennifer did it but it’s rare for adult sons and a daughter to want to talk with their mother as much as my sister’s children want to talk with their mother. Well done, Jen. You really have been a fabulous mother (and sister).

So why this column now?

Mother’s Day is here. I hope you’re having the best one you have ever known. Whether your mother is still around or not, I know you have or had one – and celebration is in order.

P.S. Whew! I got through this entire column and was able to honor my dad who told me, when I was at least 4 years old: Never refer to an adult woman as “she” or “her.”

The Rev. Rod Smith is pastor at New Castle First Presbyterian Church. He is a regular contributor to Faith Perspective.