Calling All Moms

Calling All Moms

Calling All Moms for Urban FaithWhether you’re a teen mom, a divorced mom, a stepmom, a stay-at-home mom, a foster mother, a mother of a special-needs child, a mom who has lost a child, a mom who is struggling with addiction, or a perfectionist mom who’s realizing she’s not perfect, here’s the most important thing you can do to be a good mother …

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. If we’re not careful, this commemoration can go the way of other annual observances — like Earth Day, Columbus Day, and Presidents Day, to name a few — and become nothing more than a perfunctory nod dictated by the calendar. Moreover, with all the intense concern about teenage pregnancy, abortion, foster children, child abuse and neglect, and single parenting, the significance, honor, and privilege of motherhood can get lost in the mire. I’d like to make a concerted effort to not let that happen by sharing some thoughts and giving some shout-outs on motherhood.

Being a mother is a biological fact. Being a good mother is extremely challenging, especially in the face of so many competing priorities, societal pressures and cultural shifts. Everything from the price of diapers to how much water we drink can impact our effectiveness. And I’ll be honest, there are times when I’d rather not be a mom.

I have a reputation as a serious, self-sufficient girl and that often clashes mightily with the goofy antics of a teenager and the occasional depression of a chronically ill young adult. Right now my biggest private joke is what a motley crew my sons and I are: a prematurely menopausal woman, a hormonal teenager, and a twenty-something with a brain injury. Sometimes I count my blessings just to get everyone where they’re supposed to be, and that I haven’t given my oldest son my estrogen pills instead of his own medication. Did I mention I also have a teenager? Hmm … where was I??

Anyway, all of the pressure and responsibility sometimes weighs on me and distorts my view of what it really means to be a successful mom. I get caught up measuring myself against the typical litmus tests: attractive, winsome kids who are good students and active in many extracurricular pursuits, and who don’t smoke, drink, curse, or have sex, who are respectful of authority, and who love church and youth group; a family that follows an orderly but appropriately busy schedule; a great looking house that shows little to no evidence of children even being present … on and on it goes.

When I feel myself sinking under that load, I remember an internal conversation I had with the Lord when my oldest son was still in high school. Long story short, God reminded me that He’s looking for faithfulness, not perfection. For someone who profiles as a perfectionist on just about every personality assessment known to man, that’s a hard message to internalize. But I believe it, and I encourage other moms to believe and internalize it, too.

That leads me to my shout-outs.

To all the teenage or premature moms: It doesn’t matter so much how your journey of motherhood began, but it matters tremendously how you navigate through it, and how it ends up. Whether you’re 15, 17, or 22, be faithful. Love yourself and your children one day at a time, or one minute at a time if necessary.

To all the moms struggling against addictions and other life issues: Whether your bondage involves drugs, tobacco, sex, alcohol, partying, self-pity, shopping, depression, rejection and abandonment issues, dangerous relationships, or some combination of these, be faithful. Dig deep and change your focus from feeling better, to being better. Give your undivided attention to recovery so that your mothering can improve. And don’t be afraid to tell your kids your story.

To all the moms in difficult marriages: Having a bad husband or an unfulfilling relationship doesn’t mean you can forego your responsibilities to your children. Be faithful. If you have to read bedtime stories, review math homework, or braid hair with tears in your eyes, do it. The tears and your kids’ childhood will pass sooner than you think.

To all the stepmoms, play moms, foster moms, godmoms, and adoptive moms: Thanks for not letting the absence of a biological tie keep you from being faithful. You’re a wonderful example for us all.

To all the church mothers: Thanks for faithfully showing us the way to God like any good mother should.

To all the moms who have lost a child: Whether it was a miscarriage, an abortion, a stray bullet, friendly fire, an accident or something else that took your child from you, be faithful to remember that progeny and to thank God for the privilege of being the mother of that child.

To all the single moms: Even though you can’t be mother and father, be faithful. Pray hard, because their lives — and yours — depends on it. I’m a witness that God really is a father to the fatherless.

To the moms of special-needs children: You may not be able to cure their disease, raise their IQ, or prolong their life, but you can be faithful. Give them the best physical and emotional care you can, and you’ll have the peace of a job well done.

To all moms out there: Celebrate yourself this Mother’s Day. If you haven’t been as faithful as you should be, it’s not too late.

Happy Mother’s Day, Ladies!

Motherhood, Untimely Born

Motherhood, Untimely Born

A curious command and promise opens Isaiah 54:1-3. While Isaiah is speaking directly of the little post-exilic community in Judea, he is also speaking more broadly of the future glory of True Israel.  We just saw the anguished victory of the Suffering Servant in the passage before; now the Servant’s task is seen as fulfilled, and the prophet breaks into a hymn and shouts of praise from the “barren, childless woman,” welcoming the dawn of the New Age.

Hold up… did we read that right?  What reason could a childless woman possibly have to rejoice? It’s ironic that Isaiah uses a childless woman to illustrate Christ’s eternal covenant of peace for his Bride. In Old Testament culture, being childless was a shameful state, yet this was the culture into which Christ would come.  When God spoke through the prophet of a “redeemed barrenness”, he spoke directly against Israelite culture. It’s one thing to glorify motherhood, yet another entirely to idolize it.

Some of the greatest recorded blessings of God came through barren women; women who were tormented and marginalized by their own culture – even by those in their own households.  We need look no further than Elizabeth, Sarah, and Hannah; motherhood in each of their cases was a supernatural act of God, for God’s purposes alone.  Even barren places birthed great fulfillment – after all, can anything good come from Nazareth?  Yes, and amen! Christ himself didn’t come into Israel at a time of the great kings, or after a great victory in battle; he was born into Israel when there was no fruit on the fig tree; true to the words of Isaiah, he came to Israel after a lengthy silence from God, “like a root out of dry ground.”

In God’s economy, the barren woman so often receives a double portion; temporal blessing, as well as eternal. Sarah became the mother of nations, Hannah nursed the prophet who would anoint a king after God’s own heart, and Elizabeth reared the herald of the coming Christ.  All provided symbols of supernatural Kingdom fruitfulness and expectant hope beyond the temporal into the eternal.

Yet the fruit-bearing in view in Isaiah 54 shows an even greater miracle – fruitfulness in glory is promised from no birth process whatsoever, either natural or supernatural. This is truly worth noting then, as God specializes in creating ex nihilo – in bringing something from absolutely nothing.

Christ, the Greater Legacy

According to the 2010 US Census, the number of single fathers in 2010 was 1.8 million, compared to 600,000 in 1982.  About 46% were divorced, 30% were never married, 19% were separated, and 6% were widowed.  This means at the very least that 1.8 million children are growing up perhaps never having known “mother” in a functional sense.  Add this to the number of young men and women who have never rightly known “father”, and the social and spiritual opportunity grows in proportion to the crisis.

My husband raised two young children to adulthood as a single father.  Today, they are beautiful and Godly people, making their own way yet still in need of occasional ‘parenting’, guidance and mentorship.  I often wish that I had known them as little people, privy first-hand to the stories that now live fondly as exaggerated legends around our kitchen table!  The addition of our daughter-in-law has brought our number of children to three, increasing our joy exponentially. There’s a depth to their acceptance, love, respect, and care for me that I deeply appreciate, in part because I do not know what it is to have children of my own.  It is beyond precious, indeed.

“Reaching”, Ruth Naomi Floyd Images © 2013.

I feel a similar depth of love to the numerous and diverse young people who stream through our home on a regular basis.  They don’t look like me, and do not carry my name. I am learning their histories rather than having experienced them.  Yet when we who have known no children open our hearts to those who are seeking ‘mother’ or ‘father’, absence meets absence, longing meets longing, and love is born … ex nihilo.

Many of us will come to fulfillment in motherhood somewhat akin to the way that Christ met Paul, as to one “untimely born.”  Paul didn’t meet Christ in the natural manner of the apostles, walking alongside him on the crowded roads during his earthly ministry; yet his comparatively unconventional encounter with the glorified Christ on the dusty road to Damascus held no less value, meaning, or impact than that of the other apostles.  Such is it with spiritual motherhood, “untimely born.”

Spiritual motherhood offers an opportunity to become a wise and compassionate influence to our current “social orphans,” adults who have been left with a parental void of wise counsel, compassion, and/or love. When the Church steps in to address their spiritual and life issues, she speaks against a long line of opportunists offering an endless supply of false identities to while away their hours, days and years.

As spiritual parents, we anticipate Christ in glory as he gathers in the nations under his Name alone, the only Name by which we are eternally known.  We are able to enlarge God’s tent and ours far beyond parameters restricted by our own name or blood.  By intimately ushering the motherless through the practical and spiritual aspects of life, the “never-married” and the childless all participate in the redemptive Kingdom building process, and foretaste this joy that Isaiah has in view.

Children are a memorial, biologically and spiritually.  Naturally, my husband and I want see the name of Ellis continue after we are gone, but our desire is far greater to see the name of Christ magnified through subsequent generations.  The question then is, whose name will our children memorialize?  Our personal one which is temporal and will one day pass away, or the Name that is eternal and above all?

The Cause for Praise

Once one has borne children, one can’t know what it is like not to have borne them; bearing children and not bearing children are two different existential frames of reference.  Of course, the woman who has borne children can know what it is to mother one not of her own blood, if not through adoption then certainly through mentorship.  Conversely, the barren woman may never know the joy of bearing children, yet the joy in view in Isaiah 54 is apparently one that can only be known in the absence of natural child-bearing.  Through spiritual motherhood, the barren woman experiences a cause for praise that the natural mother will never know, receiving blessing in the temporal and storing up treasure in the eternal.

As I reconcile my own infertility and search for meaning and purpose within it, I begin to recognize the great Kingdom potential that lies within me.  Spiritually speaking, we are all barren apart from the regenerative power of Christ to draw us to Himself and make us new.  Motherhood – indeed parenthood in any form – should be life-changing for all involved as we  share joys and sorrows, disappointments and victories, and find meaning in them from God’s perspective.

Through the influence of older and wiser spiritual mothers in my life, my question has changed from “How does God fit into my infertility,” to “How does my infertility fit in with God?  Isaiah 54 takes me beyond wanting comfort for “what has not been”, and helps me resist those who treat my “untimely motherhood” as a mere consolation prize.  When I see the nations stream through my front door hungry for “mother” and Godly counsel, I realize that even my infertility may have a great and exalted impact on the Kingdom.

Truly, to be regarded as “mother” when one technically and biologically is not so is a simultaneously exquisite and humbling experience – in fact, it brings a surprising and unspeakable joy. Quite frankly, it makes me want to shout…

UrbanFaith’s 2011 Hit List

UrbanFaith’s 2011 Hit List

TOP READS: Stories about Father's Day cards for black moms, the mysterious death of Zachery Tims, and the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi all found their way into the most-read list of 2011.

Readers don’t always leave comments, but they do quietly let us know which posts capture their attention. For sheer volume of readers, these were the most popular UrbanFaith articles of 2011.

10.

All My Single Ladies: Before you give your heart away, check out these priceless pearls of wisdom for women who want to put God in charge of their love life.

09.

Is Gadhafi a Martyr? Some wonder whether the late Libyan ruler was unjustly overthrown — and whether the United States is complicit in the offense.

08.

Detroit’s Future: From Blight to Bright: How a grassroots movement of young entrepreneurs and faith-based leaders are kick starting the Motor City’s urban renewal.

07.

Venus William’s Toughest Match: Her withdrawal from the U.S. Open because of Sjogren’s syndrome brings attention to the plight of autoimmune disease sufferers.

06.

Steve Jobs’ Passion for Diversity: “Can you help us hire black engineers?” That unexpected question marked the beginning of Andrew B. Williams’ unique friendship with Apple’s late co-founder. His life, his students’ lives, and the life of Apple Inc. would never be the same again.

05.

Is That Hair Killing You? According to the U.S. Surgeon General, some women are jeopardizing their health in order to protect their hairstyles — and black women are at the top of the list.

04.

Man of God, But Still a Man: The tragic death of Pastor Zachery Tims reminds us that even our most gifted and passionate Christian leaders are imperfect human beings.

03.

Rick Perry and the “Rainbow Right”: Could a coalition of “Rainbow Right” supporters be key to victory for presidential hopeful Rick Perry?

02.

Zachery Tims Found Dead: A popular Florida pastor’s mysterious death in a Times Square hotel leaves unanswered questions, and friends and followers in shock.

01.

Single Moms Are Not Fathers: Contrary to a new cultural campaign by Hallmark and others, Father’s Day is not a holiday for black single moms.

What do you think?

Were these 10 the most compelling posts of the year or did something else we published capture your attention?

Single Moms Are Not Fathers

Single Moms Are Not Fathers

I have an idea for a good Father’s Day present: a Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Inside is the definition for father:

  1. A man who has begotten a child.
  2. A male PARENT.
  3. A father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.

I would give the dictionary to deadbeat dads, but I’d also give it to those being duped into honoring single mom’s on Father’s Day.

The gift idea came while I was in Wal-Mart to buy a card for my dad. My wife, as she shook her head sadly, pointed to the category “Happy Father’s Day, Mom” in the Mahogany section. Mahogany is Hallmark’s brand for African Americans. I looked through the general Father’s Day card section, but couldn’t find the “mom” category.

Hmmm. Why?

Some people insist on making a buck by selling the idea that Father’s Day is also for single moms. Hallmark has been offering the mom cards for a few years, and a Web search also revealed a few entrepreneurs selling T-shirts, mugs and the like. Being a dedicated black father of three grown children who looks forward to this one day that celebrates what I willingly do every day, I find this offensive and even dangerous, particularly for the black community.

Nationally, 1 out of 3 American children live in homes where fathers are absent, according to the Center for Disease Control. The black rate is 2 out of 3. The message to the black community is that single motherhood is acceptable, so celebrate with a Mahogany card.

Bull.

By marketing “some love” to single moms on Father’s Day, the role of dads is devalued, especially in a community that badly needs fathers to step up and be real parents. It’s also capitalizing on a self-inflicted wound. Society should be lifting men who are honoring their role. That’s what the National Fatherhood Initiative is doing. The organization, which promotes fatherhood among all racial groups, is targeting the deadbeat crisis with a Call to Action that aims to mobilize black churches. Urban Ministries, the parent company of UrbanFaith.com, is involved. I recently spoke with Roland Warren, the president of NFI, who agreed that celebrating single moms on Father’s Day doesn’t help. Warren, who like me is a product of divorced parents and was successfully reared by a loving single mom, is a married father of two. (Hear the entire interview on The Wil LaVeist Show on June 22 at Noon EST at www.whov.org.)

I called Hallmark to ask why they’re capitalizing on this crisis, but hadn’t heard back from them. (Update: Three days after this article was published, a representative from Hallmark did contact the author. See Editor’s Note below.)

There are many legit and even painful reasons beyond control for why moms end up rearing children alone: Abusive relationships that wives flee; rapes, where the woman (or girl) heroically presses through the pregnancy; fiancés and husbands who die suddenly. However, there are adult reasons that happen within our control. Since the 1960s, increased divorces and out-of-wedlock births have dramatically spiked the number of households headed by single moms. And, unlike my father who stayed involved with his children, many dads cut and run. It’s also true that many moms force fathers to stay away, reducing them to monthly paychecks.

I also understand that school children, whose dads aren’t around, are often led to make Father’s Day gifts for their single moms to make them feel better. Children don’t need pity. They’re resilient and can handle reality. Having them show appreciation for their next closest positive male role model—an uncle, coach, pastor, or neighbor—is a better option that could help replenish the value of men in the black community among future generations.

I respect dedicated single moms, but understand the definition. A woman can never be a father and a man can never be a mother. Both parenting roles are equally unique and invaluable. Even among same-sex parents, you’ve got two moms or two dads. The idea of Father’s Day was actually inspired by a single dad who reared his six children after his wife died. Mother’s Day is in May. You also have the lesser-known Single Parents’ Day on March 21.

A mother being celebrated on Father’s Day makes as much nonsense as telling a single dad Happy Mother’s Day.

I doubt you’d find a Mahogany card for that.

Why?

It wouldn’t sell.

*******

Editor’s Note: Following publication of this article, columnist Wil LaVeist did receive a response from a Hallmark representative. That email is reprinted below in its entirety.

Mr. LaVeist,

First, let me apologize for our delayed response to the question you left for us last week. We were unable to confirm facts with the Mahogany and Father’s Day card teams prior to the deadline you noted in your message, so we missed the opportunity to provide context. But I thought it might be helpful to share our point of view.

Hallmark’s goal is to offer cards for the wide range of our consumers’ relationships so that everyone who wants to connect with others in positive ways can find a card to meet their need. For years, consumers have expressed a desire for cards addressing this relationship, and we’ve offered them for the past several seasons. The Mahogany Father’s Day collection included 66 cards to help people honor dad and other special men in their lives, and that selection included two cards recognizing mom. Please note that our general Hallmark Father’s Day line also included a “To Mother on Father’s Day” card and several “Like a Father” cards to acknowledge those who play a father-like role in someone’s life.

We’ve shared your post and the discussion in the blogosphere with the Mahogany team. It’s always helpful to have insight from varying perspectives as we plan selections to meet people’s card-sending needs.

Thank you,
Kristi E.
Public Relations | Hallmark Cards, Inc.