Sunday, May 12, 2013

Overdue Mother's Day Story

It's Mother's Day and once again I find myself in the position of the selfish son who can't think of anything to get mom to show her how much she means to me. True, the whole idea of commercial holidays still irritates me. How is a bunch of over-priced flowers supposed to really show appreciation to somebody to whom I owe literally everything that I am and everything that I have? It's too much. Usually I can't even wrap my head around it so I don't do much of anything. And in another month I'll go through the same experience with Father's Day. And then the rest of the year will go by with me not calling home as much as I should.

These people deserve so much more than a day. I work with teenagers now, and watching them interact with their parents has been horrific. Not just because of the bad attitude, the backtalk, the disdain, and the overwhelming amount of ingratitude on display, but because in their behavior I cannot help but remember myself at their age behaving in exactly the same way. I am ashamed by many of the memories of disrespect and disregard towards Mom and Dad that have come flooding back in recent months. I try not to be too hard on myself. I think maybe we all were like that as teenagers, even my parents themselves. That our parents keep loving us anyway is one of life's most profound miracles.

There's a story from the Bible that makes me cry every time I think about it. Every. Single. Time. It may be one of the most beautiful things ever produced by mankind. It is the story of a young man who figuratively spits in his fathers face and turns away from him. When the world turns out to be a rougher place than he imagined, breaking him down, he is forced to go back home in shame. What happens next is a miracle, but the kind of miracle that happens every single day in every single family:"
"And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." 
I'd like to tell a brief story about the lowest, darkest part of my life. Many know that my missionary work in the Philippines ended prematurely due to confusing medical circumstances beyond my control. The ironic twist in that story was that I was sent home at precisely the moment when I had finally and totally accepted my life there. What is less well-known is that after some time at home recovering, I was reassigned to finish my two years in an area near San Diego, a radically different environment than the one I had adjusted to. Despite my many misgivings and apprehension, I went, believing that a task would not be given to me that I could not handle. I was only twenty years old.

One week in this new environment broke me utterly. Each day was a drawn-out torture of one panic attack after another, and I did not sleep one peaceful moment at night. When it became clear that this was not normal and was not going to pass, the decision was quickly made to send me back home. Now, on top of the fear and anxiety that wracked me day and night, I had to contend with the realization that I betrayed everything my family had taught me, everything I had believed in. I could not bear the thought of staying in California one single moment longer, but I also could not bear the thought of going home a failure and telling everybody that I couldn't hack it, that I was too afraid.

I had believed my faith would see me through any trial, and I was wrong. And I was so utterly ashamed of myself that I wanted to shrivel up and disappear. This would not be the last time I felt this way, but this time was the most intense and the most painful. I don't know how I would have survived the burning shame of it all if it had not been for the absolute miracle that happened next.

When she heard the news, my mother did not hesitate for a moment. She jumped on a plane and came straight to California to get me. When she walked in the room, all I could do was apologize again and again through my tears, unable to even look at her. But she took me in her arms and I knew she loved me no matter what. No matter what. And then she all but carried me, a broken boy who had hit rock bottom, back home where my father did the same, where they killed the fatted calf and dressed me in the best robe.

Even as a child I had always felt close to my mother, but that experience changed everything between us, at least in my mind. It has lingered in the back of my head as the prime of example of everything I owe her, everything she has meant to me. I'm terrible at showing it. I don't even know where to begin letting her know how much her support and compassion in that terrible moment means to me. I've come a long way since that broken twenty year old boy, and what few triumphs I've savored and tough decisions I've survived are due to the strength their love has given me. Time and time again I've been forced nervously to put their unconditional love to the test, and they have never failed me.

As an adult, I know my parents aren't perfect and that they never were. I know they made mistakes and fell short, and still do, but to me that makes the things they did right all the more amazing. Like every other parent in the world, they were just two people doing their best for a child they loved more than anything. And while I don't particularly think much of myself, I can't look in the mirror and think anything other than that they did a pretty darn good job.

Happy Mother's Day, mom. You are everything to me, and I'm sorry I didn't get you flowers.