The Mission of Motherhood & the Gray Areas














We all noticed it the year Patrick was fourteen. It seemed like overnight, but really, it wasn't. It was the whole fourteenth year. And my husband turned gray.

It wasn't all Patrick, of course. That was the year of the fragile pregnancy and the fragile baby, and the college athlete who spent too much time on the bench. And then there was Patrick.

Gray hair.

This has been my year to turn gray. My friend the stylist is out on maternity leave. My hair was long overdue for a cut, making me crazy, curls more out of control as they lose color. I couldn't wait for her to return (and I have a hunch she won't), so I went to see the lady who cut my hair last year. To remind her of how it is supposed to be cut, I showed her a picture from the wedding.

"Oh my goodness! It's turned so gray!"

Is this how they get people to beg for color to go with their cut? No, thanks. I work too hard to keep color and chemicals out of my food to pay someone to allow it to seep into my scalp. If it's going to be gray, it's going to be gray. And apparently, it's going to be gray.

It's not Patrick, this time. Well, there is that dang bench in college again, but no one thinks that will last long. He's discouraged, but he's just building character.

There are other things this time around, things that pull on a mama's heart. And things that make her hair turn gray. She wonders, remembers, that it's not all turning out the way we thought it would.

Way back when we thought life was black and white and there were no shades of gray...

Now? Now there's gray. There is the benefit of experience. It stands in the gap where once stood the confidence (and naivete?) of youth. 

And my problems? They are decidedly first world problems. In the morning, as I pull gray hairs from between my fingers and ask if perhaps today could be calm for my children, my neighbors, and my friends, my husband reminds me that life is hard. Really hard. Gently, he pointed to the idea that when it's hard, there are children and young adults who look to our home for refuge. They call this home. And I didn't give birth to all of them.

Life is hard and we are called to be Christ to one another in the midst of the hard. 

Later in the day, a friend reminds me that children are starving, wars are waging, young fathers are dying of AIDS. All a world away in a place that is not at all first world. That's hard life, she says. I am chagrined. And silenced.

The question burns though, all day, as I answer text messages and call in resources and troubleshoot and cry and pray and wait and worry on the behalf of people in my here and now: Is it somehow less when we suffer in the first world? Do those who suffer the pains of affluence--who know exactly how far their disease has progressed because they can afford a CT scan after they've drunk horrid yellow radioactive dye; those who struggle away from home for the first time because they've been afforded an education and tuition to university; those who wonder about paying the bills of a middle class lifestyle because suddenly costs will rise and income will decrease--is their suffering less worthy of my time and attention than the suffering across the ocean? 

St. Therese wanted to be a missionary to foreign lands. Instead, God called her to the cloister. Still, the Church calls Therese of Lisieux the patron of missions. Why? She shares the patronage with the great Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier. His spiritual principle was, to “love those people to whom we are sent and to make ourselves loved by them.”

St.Therese never left the cloister, never. Her motto? “To love Jesus and to make him loved.” She lived this mission wholeheartedly: “Just as a torrent, throwing itself with impetuosity into the ocean, drags after it everything it encounters in its passage, in the same way, Jesus, the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of your love draws with her all the treasures she possesses. Lord, You know it, I have no other treasures than the souls it has pleased You to unite to mine; it is You who entrusted these treasures to me.”

To other people He has entrusted populations of impoverished natives of foreign lands. 

Me? He has sent me to a small town in the shadow of Washington, DC. He knows this small circle in suburbia is all that I can manage. I'm sure He's wondering at how poorly I "manage" even that some days. Then again, He has numbered every gray hair on my head. Nothing surprises Him.

Mothers are mostly little and hidden. St. Therese had great apostolic zeal, yet it wasn't until after her death that the example of her life, the simplicity of her spirituality, and the intercession of her spirit, made her an apostle to the nations.

St. Therese is a good patron for mothers at home, particularly mothers at home who might occasionally be distracted by the proliferation of blog posts and books that urge them to move beyond their "comfortable selfishness" to evangelize and bring comfort to the remote corners of the world. 

Go! By all means, whatever it takes, if it is God's call, go.

It's not always God's call. Sometimes He calls us to quiet witness in our homes and communities. Sometimes He calls us to remain little and hidden in our domestic monasteries, nurturing the few souls in our spheres of influence. Loving them as unto the Lord. We can't bring healing to the impoverished masses huddled in their obvious suffering. We can't know what it feels like to fill the bellies and bind the wounds of the poor on foreign soil. Instead, we trust that giving a sippy cup of water to the least of these in our own kitchens is still doing His work.

Vatican II defined missionary activity in these terms: “The special end of this missionary activity is the evangelization and the implantation of the Church among peoples or groups in which it has not yet taken root.” By golly, I assure you, that work is not yet finished in my home:-). At first it seemed so black and white, but really, this mission is colored in shades of gray. A woman can feed them, clothe them, educate them, comfort them, but in this culture, she is not guaranteed that they will stay close to God all their lives. The thing about the first world? There is a myriad of shiny things with which the devil can distract. The mission field is physically comfortable and spiritually very, very dangerous. It is one that requires the constant care and attention of the missionary, lest they are all blinded by the gray. 

I'm not a very good multi-tasker. The task at home is quite enough. I cannot serve soup in Africa. Right now, I cannot even seek the suffering in the cities close to my home. I'm just a mom in the suburbs, ladling chowder at my dining room table. And my hair is turning gray. 

Now. Here. This is where I'm called. 

This is where I pray He finds me, offering hope, serving unconditional love, and counting gifts. I'm giving until I've nothing left to give. I have to trust His grace to fill in the large gaps I've left when I feebly offer these days of relative comfort. I have to hope it is indeed enough.

Click here for the  Recipe for Chubby Hubby Bars because someone in your household is probably in need of them;-)

About the photos: I have two friends who periodically encourage me to try to learn my camera and look at life through its lens. Independent of each other, they are firm believers that I am a very good candidate for this kind of Joy School. Today, I was a willing student of said school.

Late update: as I was uploading pictures, I was watching Paddy play. And there was this: