My momma has moved so many times in her 58 years that she has lost count. As a young girl, she lived in a house with dirt floors and cracks in the walls. After my parents divorced, she moved my brother and I into a four room apartment where we shared the bedroom. Most recently, she moved into a home built to her specifications and paid for with money that only she had earned.
While the physical moves mark the journey of a turbulent life, it is the emotional moves that shaped who she is. Close friends and lovers entered and exited leaving bruises that will never heal, but the gaping wounds were caused by the death of both her parents and saying good-bye to two husbands.
She has a heart etched with the pain of loss and moving on.
That pain is something she never wanted for her children. Sometimes when I was growing up, she would hold my gaze with a determined look that is reserved for the two people she loves most in her life – my brother and I – and say, “Listen to your momma. I won’t ever steer you wrong.” I would not understand the full depth of emotions that tinged those words until I became a mother myself.
At the time, I thought she was offering simple advice: “A real friend wouldn’t treat you that way.” “That boy is trouble.” “When it comes down to it, family is all you’ve got.” “Wait!” “You can tell me anything.” But to her it was a pleading prayer.
I followed her lead out of love and respect, and the one time I attempted to rebel against her well-meaning intentions I ended up being wrong.
“Jennifer, there is the cutest, nicest boy where I work. You should meet him.”
I rolled my eyes (because I had my back to her) and huffed in the put out way only a 16 year old can manage, “Mother! I can find my own boyfriends!”
She invited me to a Christmas party and tricked me into meeting that cutest, nicest boy. After we had been dating for three months, she spilled the beans about my new boyfriend, but by then it was too late. My rebellion was squashed.
After high school graduation, I jumped head first into adulthood by getting married to that cutest, nicest boy before ever taking a semester hour at college. I know she worried, but the lessons she had taught me in those first 18 years stayed strong. I finished college and was well into my career before finally trying to have a child of my own.
David and I suffered through infertility for seven years before deciding to adopt. I called her one day to tell her that I had found the perfect crib, but I was too scared to buy it because, “what if…” There was no guarantee that we would get a baby or how long it could take.
I have learned that even as an adult her advice has a place in my life, and the guidance she gave me that day still sings through my ears, “Sometimes you have to step out on faith and trust that God will take care of you.” I bought the crib, and less than a month later, I learned that I was pregnant with my daughter.
After infertility struggles and a pregnancy fraught with problems, I lay in a hospital bed staring at my precious baby girl. Love of unspeakable volumes flooded my heart and raced through my veins to every cell in my body. I thought that no one could ever know a level of love like what I felt for that tiny baby laying in my arms.
I looked up from my baby’s face to see my mother watching me hold her first granddaughter. Her eyes gleamed with that special mother wisdom that had been passed down for generations from mother to daughter to granddaughter. A clear note of understanding rang through my mind, and for the first time, I understood the depth of her love for me, and I wept.
It has been just over eight years since my daughter was born. She now has problems and issues of her own, from mean girls who pretend to be her friend to difficulty in school to not understanding why she isn’t old enough to wear lip gloss to the mall.
I feel desperation well up through my soul as I carry her pain in my heart. I hold my daughter’s gaze with a level of intensity that I sometimes don’t understand and tell her, “Listen to your momma. I won’t ever steer you wrong.”