May 14, 2017                                                               John 14: 1-14;  29: 25-27

 

Prayer: Dear God, On this Mother’s Day, we thank you for good mothers and ask your healing for those who didn’t have them. Help us to be your tool when healing is needed. Help us to be your path when parenting is needed. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

 

Repairing Mothers, Saving Children  

 

           I received a newsletter this week from Safe Harbor, our community’s domestic violence shelter. Safe Harbor is one of our partners for those occasions when a woman has been beaten by her boyfriend or husband and agrees to leave him.

          The newsletter article was written by a woman named Amy. Amy had never been beaten and had no knowledge of the world of spousal abuse.

         But three years ago, in May, she received a phone call from her grown daughter who lived across the country. It was her daughter’s birthday, and Amy picked up her cell phone, thinking they’d have a birthday chat.

           Instead, her daughter said, “Mom, I have something to tell you and I need your help.” 

              Her daughter was calling from a Starbucks outside a hospital emergency room. She had a broken arm.

            She told a disbelieving Amy that her husband had pushed her against a wall at home. Her children saw it happen and began to cry.

         As she tended to them, her arm swelled. Finally she took a cab to the hospital ER. By then her husband had returned with flowers, apologizing over and over.

         Amy said she listened in horror to her daughter’s story. Then she booked a flight and flew to the city out West where her daughter lived. And she was shocked by what she found.

         Her formerly vibrant, self-assured, accomplished daughter was a shell of her former self. The controlling parts of her son-in-law that Amy had seen – such as dictating her daughter’s shampoo brand – had gone far beyond anything she’d imagined. He had physically attacked her daughter four times in the preceding two years.

          But her daughter was one of the lucky ones. She and her children accessed a domestic violence agency and got the support and the counseling they needed. Her daughter returned to her former personality, and the children found resiliency and healing.

            Having seen the value of such services first hand, Amy is now a supporter of Safe Harbor in our city.

            But reading between the lines, you could glean some of Amy’s ongoing trauma at what had happened, how she blamed herself for not knowing, not suspecting what was going on in her daughter’s marriage.  

             On Mother’s Day, we want to think of dinners out and flowers and cards and good memories. I know on previous Mother’s Days I have talked of my great grandmother and grandmother and mother, of Georgia and Carolina roots that run deep and strong. I have told stories of raising my own children, of how nothing in my life has compared to being a mom to Dustin and Taylor and Madison.

          For those of us who have those people in our lives, those healthy relationships, we are truly blessed.

          But not everyone does. Sometimes motherhood is terrifying.

          Sometimes mothers, like Amy, can’t protect their children from the nightmares of the world. That was certainly the experience of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

          The gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus was just eight days old, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There they met a prophet named Simeon who recognized the holiness of the child.

       But then Simeon turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed … and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” (Luke 2: 34-35)

               … a sword will pierce your own soul, too.

         All through the gospels, we get glimpses of Mary standing near Jesus,  attending a wedding with him, coming with his brothers and sisters to coax him  home, following at a distance as he trudges to his crucifixion.

          And then the gospel writer John pauses a moment during the last moments of the crucifixion to give us this scene:

       John 19: 25-27:

 

 

 

          Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 

 

          26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

 

         Three verses later, Jesus was dead. His very last act was to take care of his mother, to send her home with his beloved disciple. Because she’d experienced the one thing that can kill a mother’s soul – the death of her child.

 

             Mary may be revered as the Blessed Mother, but her time on earth was hellish. Sometimes motherhood is terrifying.    

 

         That’s the world our Playback Café plans to explore next Sunday night with “Nora Unchained.” Dale Savidge, head of the theater department at North Greenville University, directs Playback for us.

 

           He met with women at Serenity Place, for addicted pregnant women;   Shepherd’s Gate, which is the Miracle Hill shelter for women and children, and Renewal, Miracle Hill’s recovery program for women. I am grateful that our community has those places. But to be in them means that something has gone terribly wrong in a woman’s life.

 

           The ladies told Dale stories very much like the one Amy’s daughter told her:

 

      -- Of friends scared away by the abuser until the woman was isolated.

 

      -- Of churches who didn’t believe a woman’s story of abuse.

 

      -- Of families who asked, “What did you do that made him hit you?” or “You married him. Now do your best.”

 

      For people raised in healthy families, the most difficult thing to understand is why women stay. We see that here. Very often we cannot get women to accept help, even when money is not an issue and no matter how obvious the abuse is.

 

           The violence and the chaos and the low sense of self-worth has been so internalized that we cannot break through. Indeed, our mental health counselor, Hal, tells me that abuse and trauma quite literally create new pathways in the brain that determine adaptive behaviors.

 

         And when our brains tell us that we are worth nothing, our actions are going to follow. Only by slowly, slowly, slowly establishing relationships can social workers and friends and counselors sometimes break through.

 

            I know that’s a downer for Mother’s Day, but it is the reality we live in here.  And so the message I want to proclaim today is: We have a parent whom we can trust. A parent to whom we can turn. A parent who came to us as human and has a full and intimate understanding of what we face – as broken parents, as broken children.

 

            That parent wants healing for us. However that looks.

 

           Please turn in your Bibles to John 14: 1-14. This is Jesus speaking to his disciples.  

 

                ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

 

            3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 

 

         5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 

 

       6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

 

         8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’

 

       9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 

 

        10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 

 

      12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

 

 

 

         If you go to many funerals, those words probably sound familiar. We almost always speak of our Father’s dwelling places at memorial services. It is a peaceful, hopeful promise that we will live with God the Father and Mother, Jesus the Son, in those dwelling places.

 

      Or, as the King James Version put it, in their “many mansions.”

 

      I truly believe that’s what awaits us.

 

       But I don’t believe it’s enough to ask people to wait until the next life to get the proper kind of parenting. If we are to live out the gospel, if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is our responsibility to nurture, to protect and to love those who have missed out on a loving earthly parent.

 

           And that includes not only broken mothers, but their broken children. Because sometimes mothers simply aren’t up to the challenge of motherhood. And so we have broken sons and daughters, abused sons and daughters, neglected sons and daughters, addicted sons and daughters. 

 

           Some of the most hopeful movement I have seen on this has come from some of our partners in the area of foster care and adoption. First Baptist Church of Simpsonville encourages its members to foster and adopt children.

 

           When they do, the church treats a newly extended family just like one who’s dedicating a baby. The entire congregation surrounds the family, promising to support them in the raising of these children.

 

         Our friends at Miracle Hill have been encouraging Christian families to foster since 1988. Their bookmark is in this morning’s bulletin as they seek to place more and more of this state’s hundreds of children needing care.

 

         Our friend David White at Fostering Great Ideas has all sorts of programs for mentoring and involvement even if you can’t take a child into your home. One of his programs is Sib-Link, which enables visits between siblings who have been placed in separate foster families.

 

          Brent, for instance, is 16 and autistic. His brother, Bryson, is 14 and has developmental delays due to the neglect he suffered early in life. They lived in separate families, and Brent frequently asked to see his brother.

 

         Through Sib-Link, the boys began monthly visits.  During one trip to a Goodwill store, Brent had only a few dollars but he was determined to buy a present for his younger brother. He proudly showed his foster mom the old set of playing cards he brought for Bryson.

 

         During another visit, the boys played at an outdoor park. When Brent’s foster mom saw how transformative those visits were, she made an offer: She’d take Bryson into her home as well.

 

          And that’s where both teens live today.

 

         David also has volunteer mentors who spend time with children in foster care. Often the relationships last for years, longer than any other healthy relationship in the child’s life.

 

         Last week, he told me, he sat in Family Court as one of his mentors, Tony, adopted the youth he was mentoring. Tony’s wife and daughters came out to support the decision.

 

         “Yes, bring Cody into the family,” said his wife. “Definitely!” said his daughters.

 

           .Surely, in the best of worlds, we would all have loving mothers who cherished us, taught us, nurtured us, and occasionally cut that switch from the sycamore tree. But we in this place know that isn’t always the case.

 

          I will never forget the woman who told me that when she was born, her birth mother threw her into a dumpster. Her grandmother pulled her out and raised her as her own.

 

          I will never forget the family of six who came to our old children’s clothes closet. The seven-year-old boy told me he hadn’t had a birthday party because his dad spent the money on beer.

 

           I will never forget the mentally disabled young man whose prostitute mother was killed outside a motel near I-85 and Augusta Road. He told us she had introduced him to drugs when he was 13.

 

         Good parents, loving mothers, are not a given. And so let us resolve to do what we can to provide that love for those who are making their way in a world without it.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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