As I look down at my ever expanding belly—at the marks which stretch across my skin like red lightning bolts, joining with the other silver marks from earlier growing seasons with other children—I can’t help but think about how love is always expanding us.
I think when I was younger, I was afraid that if I loved with all my heart any one person, there wouldn’t be anything left. There wouldn’t be any of me left to give. And of course there is wisdom in knowing limits and setting boundaries; but this does not apply to those I have been given to tend, to love, to grow.
It changes based on the season. Before I had kids, I was a young married college student with a Mother’s heart—and God told me I didn’t have to wait to be a mom to nurture and nourish those in my life.
So I began inviting people for dinner, and cups of peppermint tea. I carried Ibuprofen in my backpack in case my headache prone friend from Pilates class forgot hers at home. I began seeing people more clearly—because the truest heart of a Mother is one who sees and understands the child better than anyone else. She is first and foremost a student of those for whom she is given to care.
Yesterday my daughter was out of sorts. She had been short with her brother’s all of breakfast, she was getting annoyed about the tangles in her hair and was convinced that she didn’t have anything to wear. (She’s 7.) And in a moment of wisdom that I wish was more common than rare, I asked her to sit by me and tell me what was really bothering her. I boiled the water and made her a cup of black cherry tea, and I tried to listen to the heart in front of me instead of only seeing the irritating struggle and unpleasant behavior.
It turns out, she was under the weight of grief. For some reason that morning she was worrying about the day she would someday move out and leave home. She was telling me that she didn’t want to leave me, that she was afraid to go out into the world on her own. I told her, I thought that when the time came she would be more than ready, but that I would never make her go.
“You can live with me as long as you want,” I said. “You can go to college from home, you can live here into your twenties when you have a job—you can stay as long as you want. It’s not my job to kick you out—as your Mom, my job is to let you go when you are ready.” And there were tears in my eyes of course as I told my highly independent daughter that the day she moves out will probably be one of the hardest days of my life. This seemed to comfort her, as a love strong enough to break a heart always does.
As I find myself thinking more and more about the Mother Love of God lately, I think about moments like these. Moments of wisdom and tenderness; the reassurance that comes from being heard and your heart held. I think about how God has already been preparing me to do the hard work of letting go.
My mother’s heart attaches easily to those it cares for. My college-pre-kid days are no different than now. The people I let into my deepest heart’s circle, the place I reserve for those for whom I truly and deeply care, have had to leave me often. Be it a job change across country, a drifting apart that neither of us can seem to control, or perhaps a more painful rift that has broken between us—I sometimes feel like a woman who has lost too much. It makes me want to close down. To shut the door. To stop letting the love and the loss pour in and out like the tide.
But I’m learning that whatever the season, perhaps it is my job to love without constraints, no matter the pain. To dish the soup and pour the tea. To cut the sandwiches in triangle halves and pick out any less than perfect grapes—and still be the one standing on the porch waving with a smile, and tears in my eyes saying, “Come back anytime. You can come back anytime.”
These loves don’t make me less me. These losses hurt, but they don’t take away from who I am. Because true love expands. Love grows us and stretches us beyond what we could hold before. And yes it leaves us scarred—but not in the way you think. It leaves us larger as we remember that we too are the child being fed and held; the soul God loves and listens to with patience and attention. We are the ones coming and going, our Father & Mother God on the front porch waving with a smile and tears in his eyes saying, “Come back anytime. You can come back anytime.”
The skin of my belly knows, there is power in a love that is strong enough to break you—like flashes of lighting cutting through gathering clouds in the hot and humid summer sky.
Photo c/o Arteida MjESHTRI on Unsplash