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  • Rev. Sandra Larson

Even Imperfect Mothers

May 12, 2019

Even Imperfect Mothers

1 Samuel 1.9-28 and Matthew 15.22-28

Rev. Sandra Larson

For those of us who have children, our children and grandchildren are often a source of great joy …or pain.

As I try to understand the nature of God, the best analogy I can envision is that God is like an ideal parent—God loves people SO MUCH, and because of God’s love, God is grieved when people suffer or choose destructive paths.

As we observe Mother’s Day today—it can bring a wide range of emotions. For many of us, Mother’s Day reminds us to express our gratitude and why we are thankful for our moms, even if they are no longer alive. We also know that acknowledging both good and bad memories is healthy. So, for those who feel anger or disappointment toward their mothers--coming to terms with hurt, or guilt helps us forgive and learn life skills. For some, this day brings intense sense of loss because we sorely miss our mother. May we acknowledge feelings of loss or hurt and channel our experiences in productive ways. Each year, one young man hands out roses to all women grocery store shoppers – his gifts are in honor of his deceased mother.

For some mothers, memories or current motherhood is overwhelming and heartbreaking. Many moms anguish from not having resources to care for their children. Some women grieve because they did not have an opportunity to experience parenthood.

How can we to be supportive of people for whom Mothers Day is painful? Loving takes a lot of listening; and offering non-obtrusive listening to those who are struggling takes especially patient caring.

Julia Ward Howe established Mother’s Day of Peace in 1872 to honor motherhood ,women and peace… and to offset turbulence after the Civil War. Julia Howe wanted to highlight women in the household, AND to celebrate women’s vital work throughout society and in the political arena. Mother’s Day honors the passion of women who advocate for what is compassionate and right. Mother’s Day pays tribute to women whose ingenuity and sacrifices help people survive and thrive. This day set aside helps us consciously recognize women in our own lives, our communities and throughout the world who exemplify humanity at its best.

According to a Google comic, two children check the clothes in their mom’s closet and find a bright red cape with a big yellow S. Brother tells little sister, “See, I told ya, that’s how mom does it!”

Sometimes great role models are women of most modest means.

African American poet, LANGSTON HUGHES was a strong influence in the Harlem revitalization. Hughes highlights the strength of struggling moms in his poem, Mother to Son:

Well, son, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare. But all the time, I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark-- Where there ain’t been no light. So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps. ’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now—For I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Women mentioned in the Bible are stand-out women. Bible stories are also candid about people’s faults. Some women in the Bible, like Sarah and Rebecca seem to model what mothers should NOT be like. I heard from an unreliable source that when the geriatric Sarah heard she would be a mother, Sarah laughed and commented, “So much for the Golden years.”

Despite jealousy and deceptions of Sarah and Rebecca, Old Testament sagas recount that their sons become strong faith leaders. These women’s stories can inspire persons of faith today--even if we have made bad choices in our lives, God’s power can bring wonders.

In contrast to Sarah and Rebecca’s devious ways, Hannah was devout and faithful, even though her primary desire to have a son was un-fulfilled. Hannah prayed to give birth to a son and she promised to dedicate that son to God’s service. True to her pledge, Hannah’s son, Samuel became a novice under the instruction of Eli, and then priest and strong leader of his people.

Miriam and Huldah were OT prophets. The Book of Judges [ch4-5] tells of Judge Deborah, the leader of all Israel around the 13th century BCE.

In order to protect her people, Deborah led them to a military victory against the powerful army, of land-grabbing foreign King Jabin. Judges 5 refers to Deborah as a mother of all Israel. Deborah is not a Hallmark card mother! She even orchestrated hijacking of caravans traveling through their territory. Her people who had suffered serious economic, political and spiritual duress and Deborah led them to regain well-being through her fiscal insight. It seems that this nation’s “mother” used “any means necessary” for survival and welfare of many mothers’ children.

Can we learn from Deborah to use our talents for people’s wellbeing? Motherhood draws on emotional resources to love and nurture, and on ability to manage, delegate, budget, advocate and defend. Neighborhood or community ”mothers” seek to benefit vulnerable children. Countless women work for the good of children and communities, near or far. Many such women are members of this congregation.

Jesus and early Christian communities lifted up the significant contributions of women in their midst. The Gospels tell of an inspiring outsider, a Canaanite woman who literally stalked Jesus in order to get help for her mentally disturbed daughter. Jesus rebuffed her, but rejection did not stop this tenacious mother. She continued to advocate for her daughter, and even humiliated herself in front of a crowd by comparing herself to a dog begging for table scraps. Jesus recognized her faith in him and her devotion to her daughter; and she inspired Jesus to help her daughter. This woman remains nameless; yet her legacy of maternal strength and faith live on. Even if we are rebuked or shunned, persistent faith in God and commitment to help, we too, can accomplish amazing things.

Each of us has known inspirational women and men of faith who make a difference in the world because of their faith and tenacity.

I am inspired by the tenacity and faith of Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda could have used their tremendous wealth for limitless self-indulgences. Instead, they focus on helping others in the most effective ways possible.

Melinda Gates has spent decades with women around the world. She is convinced, and independent studies confirm that when girls and women are educated and empowered, the whole community becomes more productive and harmonious. Unlike most charities, which offer medical or nutritional handouts, the Gates’ foundation works globally to change the root sources of extreme poverty and diminished lives. They focus largely on healthcare and empowerment of women. The Gates foundation demonstrates that a wide range of opportunities to change the world are available to us, too.

Why is lifting up women so important? Because women lift up humanity. If you want to lift a society up, the society needs to stop keeping women down ― including child marriages, violence, lack of access to contraceptives, fear in the workplace and gender inequity.

I know many mothers who change communities.

What exemplars of a faith-motivated moms do you know?

I’m inspired by Malvena Williams, a Presbyterian grandmother who offered weekly childcare for a mothers’ group, mentored at-risk teen moms and offered single moms a day to themselves by hosting their children for a play day. I’m inspired by Annette Stixrouda who used her faith and nursing skills to train Parish nurses throughout the Pacific NW and trained local women in Africa to administer vital medical treatments. I smile remembering an octogenarian who had no children of her own, yet ran a church Montessori school in a community with no other pre-K. A group of young moms started and staff an after school program in another Presbyterian church fellowship hall.

I gratefully recall a 92-year old woman who volunteered every week as church nursery attendant. I’m grateful to know a young mom with below poverty income and serious health challenges in her whole family. Even with these hurdle, she initiated and maintains an ongoing intergenerational faith program and a 3-x’s/week parent-child playgroup at her church. She also lobbies tirelessly for victims of autism and works tirelessly for criminal justice.

I recall another grandmother in a tiny church who was always ready to lead Sunday School if any children came that morning. I was among an inter-faith group of parents who successfully lobbied for better public schools in a town that did not value education. I’m inspired by many grandmothers who faithfully visit children in the hospital. And, I will always remember Mildred Coiner, who, despite debilitating cancer, accompanied me on church outreach visits to ALL new residents in Cottage Grove, OR

Even stressed, health-challenged or over-stretched moms and grandmothers, and all women (and men, too!) can advocate for children and the wellbeing of people. In God’s grace, even imperfect moms can make significant differences in people’s lives.

MORE (not preached):

Melinda Gates is such an inspiration for me. Perhaps because much of her focus is on empowering girls and women. I remember the uphill climb as a woman to gain respect as pastor in N Carolina in the 1970’s when in the southern US, there were virtually no women leaders, except teachers. It is appalling to think that women are still discounted and disrespected today.

I am inspired by the tenacity and faith of Melinda Gates. Melinda Gates is from a middleclass family and her father encouraged in science and obtaining a college education. Melinda then led development of multimedia products at Microsoft. This male-dominated experience in technology inspired Melinda to especially encourage women. Melinda married Bill Gates and they now have 3 children ages 17 to 22. Bill and Melinda could have used their tremendous wealth for limitless self-indulgences. Instead, they focus on helping others in the most effective ways possible. They have received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged. They co-lead the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private foundation in the world, deploying $50 billion to improve lives worldwide. Unlike most charities, which offer medical or nutritional hand-outs, the Gates’ foundation works globally to change root sources of diminished lives. They focus on healthcare and extreme poverty--often by expanding educational opportunities and access to information technology. They also fund research to benefit the world; and then offer unrestricted access to that research.

Melinda Gates has spent decades with women around the world. Bill and Melinda could have used their tremendous wealth for limitless self-indulgences. Instead, they focus on helping others in the most effective ways possible. Melinda is convinced, and studies confirm that when girls and women are educated and empowered, the whole community becomes more productive and harmonious.

Mrs Gates’ book, The Divine Openings opens the reader to the ever-present flow of God’s grace and our place in the center of that flow. Divine Openings focuses on letting go so that God can do the heavy lifting.

Melinda Gates’ newer book: “The Moment of Lift; How Empowering Women Changes the World is a NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. The Moment of Lift is an urgent call to courage in advocating women’s empowerment. Melinda weaves together true stories of vulnerable, brave women and compelling data to call for equal societies where women are valued and recognized in all spheres of life. Most of all, it calls for unity, inclusion and connection. We need this message more than ever. [Brené Brown, Ph.D., author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Dare to Lead & Malala Yousafzai]

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