Recently after I became a mom, my mother gave me a gold necklace with three little letters. M-O-M. I wear it every day, because it is a visible reminder of all that she gave up to shape me into the person I am. Three little letters in the word MOM, but a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, a lot of responsibility give import to that little three letter name. And as my own mom handed me that necklace, it felt like she was passing her promise on to me. A promise she made when she became a mom- to take on the job with all its challenges and sacrifices, all its sacred beauty, with as much courage and grace as she could muster. A promise I try to keep for my girls every day.
A couple days ago, my sweet baby E fell asleep with her cheek rested against my chest, drool escaping from a suckling mouth, the hair on her head curling from sweat. When she woke up her flushed face was marked with three bold letters M-O-M. I felt terrible. The whole time her cheek pressed against my metal charms, leaving an imprint against her precious skin. I didn’t notice that I was leaving a mark on her.
Looking at her emblazoned face I remember the Flannery O’Connor story I read in high school. A child loves to visit the monestary to visit the nuns, but each time she leaves, they give her a hug and their crucifixes leave an uncomfortable mark on her face. As O’Connor sums it up, whether we mean to or not, “love always leaves a mark.”
I run my thumb over the rivets in her skin and think about each imprint my touch makes on her tender soul. I think about how often my fingers touch her, to dress her, to wash her, when I rock her to sleep, when I tickle her soft tummy or trace her beautiful face. My grooved fingerprints marking her even when I don’t realize it.
Today my 2 year old brought home an art project. With her hand, and two small feet in first position, her prints made the “o” and “v” to spell the word “love.” I smiled knowing that she giggled as the teacher tickled her feet with the wet pink paint brush; I knew she clapped her hands when she saw the prints her little feet left on the paper.
With two square magnets I put her picture of LOVE on the refrigerator. My daughter pointed and shouted, “my hands and feet are in love!” Her words resonated truth in my ears.
Our hands and feet are the very center of love. Without them, love would be just a word; but with them, love lived out in walking beside each other, holding hands, and carrying each others burdens, in praying, in preparing food, in washing feet. Love made flesh in infant size hands and feet, in hands that healed, in feet that followed, in hands and feet with nail size wounds.
But whether we mean to or not, our love leaves a mark on the beloved. When I see my daughter smile beneath the glow of my attention, I know that my love makes a difference, but what I don’t realize is how her love for me frames everything I do. Even the ugly things I say, when I don’t have my mom voice on, or my heart is tired and patience is waning, even those things are on display in her pretty square frame. The stuff that she remembers, the stuff that makes an impact isn’t always the stuff I do when I think she’s paying attention.
The reality is, I’m always on the clock. And as her mom, her love for me is cut out from the scraps of every day life, not just church days, or holidays, or days when I put on my mommy badge.
Yes those three little letters matter a whole heck of a lot. Its easy to believe that we can wear it like a light sweater on a hot summer day, bringing it along, and tossing it off when we don’t need it; but the title wraps around us, giving us comfort and warmth, sometimes stifling us.
When I worry over the marks I leave on my daughters. How my every day words, the angry and the loving ones, will shape them into women, I remember God’s grace. How God could use the ugly nail marks of hate to write the most beautiful story of mercy and love. How God can use even my mistakes to form my daughters into the women that he made them to be.
There is no pride in love, there is no fear in perfect love. And love is something my girls cannot have too much of. God marks me as His child. He loves me as His child. He gives me my hands and feet and eyes and heart to look and love and serve and mark my children with my love, and with His love. I can look past my toddler’s paint smeared hands and bruised knees and cracked tooth and see pure beauty. My daughters look past my stretch marked skin, the wink of wrinkles peeking from the corners of my eyes, that will eventually become like ravines, they see me at my worst, and call me Mom. Because despite the marks that life leaves on us, love heals us. And God gives us each other to love.
Baby E’s eyes widen and sparkle under my attention. Her two toothed grin spreads across her face and she wraps her clumsy hands around my cheeks and leans in for an open mouthed kiss. My cheek is marked with her sweet saliva. My chest feels swollen and full. Under the warmth of her love, I am marked as M-O-M, and that mark makes all the difference.