I have an amazing mother. I'm so grateful that God sorted that out. But Mother's Day was always a bit weird in our house, because both of my parents are orphans, of one kind or another. They both felt the sting of abandonment and rejection. My sister and I intuitively understood that our parents didn't have mothers, so to speak. We knew our mother was good, but we also knew that not all mothers were. We knew our mother was with us and for us, able to nurture us, but we also knew that not all mothers were present.

It's important to say this out loud, because in celebrating the greeting card version of Mother's Day—marketing triumph that it is—we can forget about the pain that runs right through the centre of it. That kind of pain is most likely why my dad always preached on Isaiah 49:15 on Mother's Day. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” The question seems rhetorical, as all of us long to answer with a resounding “no, never.” But we can't. Not if we are being honest.

Mothers are a lot of things, but one thing they are, without a doubt, is human. Shocking, I know. But it's true. Mothers are human beings who get it right—and wrong—all the time. Some mothers are selfless and sacrificial in their love for their kids and the world. Others are capable of great evil and pain. Mothers make poor decisions, face addiction, let abuse and fear dictate their actions, or lack of actions. They are real people with real problems.
Mothers are human beings who get it right—and wrong

Some mothers use all their energy to get out of bed to face another day. Others are Pinterest champions who keep perfect houses and cook like gourmet chefs. Still more work hard every day to pay the bills, and somehow find enough energy to play with their kids. Some are single, some are married, some are biological and some are God-given.

And some just didn't do any real mothering at all. I've known way too many people who were sold, exploited, beaten or simply abandoned by their mothers than I'd ever care to admit.

But I will admit it, because I serve a God who tells the truth. And that truth has power. God doesn't leave us to answer the question he asks in Isaiah 49. The question echoes for a while, as we review the mothers we know. But by some amazing grace—given just like the perfect mother would—God tells the truth. “Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).

And there it is. As a mother, I need to remind myself that God is the ultimate mother. God does what I cannot do. God has my children in his hands forever. God will never forget. Not ever. God will never give up. God will never let us down. And as much as I want to be the best mother I can, I will never be that good.

So, every Mother's Day, I take a deep breath to thank God for all the people I know who are doing their best to represent God's love through motherhood. I also breathe out a sigh of truthful relief that I do not, and will never, live up to some ideal that doesn't exist. I admit my human condition. And I remind myself that God is the perfect mother, who loves my children more deeply and perfectly than I ever could.

I'm not sure how Mother's Day left you feeling. But I hope you can take the time to breathe in and out some truth that might help set you free. Happy real Mother's Day.

Major Danielle Strickland is the territorial social justice secretary in the U.S.A. Western Territory.

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