The need of a mother

They come through the church door into the foyer. At first my limited vision can make out only their forms against the sunlight, but I recognize those forms as desperate folks who stop by on occasion to check on the food supplies available that day, and to chat.
“Felix” and “Norma” accept my invitation to sit in my office. Felix, as usual, squats nearest the food box, and soon starts pointing out items that catch his eye, that would meet his need. His somewhat aggressive manner forms the question in me, “Who would I be in his shoes?”
Norma, meanwhile, has a need to talk. I am aware of hardships in their lives. The two youngest of their four boys have been apprehended by Social Services. Norma hopes to have them returned shortly. She is a mother with a passionate love for her children. The oldest is being raised by her father, so she currently has only one at home, about ten years old. Both Felix and Norma acknowledge their struggle with addictions, with Felix on a methadone program, Norma on a similar plan that she takes in pill form. They talk about how hard that is, and acknowledge occasional slip ups. They ask questions about the possibility of getting married.
Despite her love for her babies, Norma doesn’t express anger at the system that has removed her children. Repeatedly, she talks about her effort to live well, to live clean. A year ago, she determined to stop hitting her boys, and that has gone pretty well. They have both been alcohol free for years, but recalling the violence that their oldest witnessed from them brings tears of shame. Then she blushes with pride as she relates that her ten-year-old tells her she is pretty.
Norma proudly tells me that she is again pregnant. She is convinced that it is another son. She and Felix talk about their hope for taking anger management and parenting classes. My encouragement for that is as strong as appropriate. She shares the excitement she feels for this new one in her life, her hope that she can parent with love, with strength. Her story includes many painful and angry chapters, but whenever she refers to the new life within her, her eyes brighten with hope. In those moments, I, like her son, note her beauty.
Later that day, a small choir gathers at the church to practice for a Christmas program. A song tells the story of the angel appearing to Mary, inviting her to become part of the holy story, to have a role in offering hope to the world. The song ends with the words, “Tell God I Say Yes!”
As the soprano/alto voices close with that strong phrase, I am jolted back to Norma’s face. I see her bright and determined eyes. I hear her voice say “Yes!”
I don’t need my spirituality to be given legitimacy by magic, by assuming improbable stuff. I don’t need Mary to be virginal, pure. What takes me to holy places is the determination, the light in the eyes, the passion.
I also am aware of the dangers of pregnancy mixed with drug use. I have no quick answers, no naïve need to predict perfect outcomes. The road ahead for Norma and Felix will be continue to be fraught with hard realities.
But I sense holiness in the primal need of a mother to be a mother. I am in awe of the determination to nurture, to love, to protect. I am reminded of the Mary who stood at the foot of the cross in tears. Norma has spent time there as well. She will again. None of these pictures need perfection or a suspension of reality to leave me in awe of the one who says, “Tell God I Say Yes!”
It doesn’t really matter who says the words. They are holy.