I wrote this article several years back when I was writing and editing for Pastors.com. It describes the feelings I wish I had shared with my pastor back when I was the woman crying in the pew. Now that my husband is the pastor, we handle Mother’s Day differently. We don’t single out those who have been blessed with children of their own. Instead, we celebrate all the women in our church — all the sisters, the aunts, the Sunday school teachers, and yes, the moms. We acknowledge the gentleness, the compassion, the love and the nurturing spirit that God has poured into them, and that they share so freely with all the children who cross their paths.
* * * * *
“I’d like to have all the mothers stand for prayer,” the pastor said.
The sanctuary rustled with movement. On my right and my left, in front of me and behind, a sea of women stood to their feet. For the first time ever, I was allowed to join them.
Rising, I clutched Zachary close. He was 4 days old.
From his seat next to me, Dave reached up and laid his hand against my back. At his touch, I turned my head and we caught each other’s eyes. No one else but he understood exactly what this moment meant to me.
One year I had fought tears all the way to church – dreading what I knew was to come – and cried all the way back home again, reliving the long, awful moments when I’d stayed glued to my seat while seemingly every other woman in the church rose to the honored position.
Another Mother’s Day, though I’d tried hard to keep my eyes locked on the hymnal in the pew rack before me, compulsion made me look. Scanning the crowd, peeping between the rows of standing women, I’d spotted only girls sitting down, only girls too young to bear children. When I realized I was the only adult woman not standing, I had to drop my head to hide my tears.
One year I almost couldn’t sit through the prayer. I almost left.
I wanted to be happy for the other women, and I’d try to agree with the words the pastor prayed, but all the while I’d be missing my mother – and all the children I couldn’t have. During those unbearable prayers, sitting in a seat of shame, I’d pray too. I’d pray it would all end quickly, and we’d be equalized again in the pews.
Dave knew every part of that. He knew how long I had waited for this invitation.
The pastor began. “Lord, we ask that you equip these women for the task you’ve laid before them. Fill them with your wisdom.”
I need your wisdom, Father.
“Bless the children you’ve entrusted to their care.”
Yes, Lord – guard him and bless him.
“And bless these mothers for the sacrifices they’ve made.”
I hadn’t sacrificed a thing. All the sacrifices had been made for me, by a birth-mother who was undoubtedly, at that moment, grieving deeply.
While the pastor continued praying, I snuck a peek at the people on risers at the back of the stage – who were all sneaking peeks at me. Those members of the choir, those friends, returned my look with congratulatory smiles. They’d prayed Zachary into my arms.
The pastor began to wind down. Zachary made a small noise and popped one arm out of his blanket. When I turned to my left and tilted my head to tuck his covering closer, my gaze landed eye-level with a woman in a pew across the aisle, a woman I knew, a woman who was sitting.
It was Lynn, a woman I had met only a few months back at our church’s worship retreat. When Dave had told the crowd clustered around the bonfire that I was infertile and we needed their prayers, Lynn had put her arms around me and shared that she too was infertile.
She felt my gaze, looked up, and tried to smile with the same forced movement my own lips had attempted in years past, every time my own eyes had caught the glance of a mother proudly standing.
My heart leapt across the aisle. I’m you, I wanted to shout. I’m still you.
She turned away.
I took my place next to Dave and together we stared at our blue-blanketed gift. Zachary yawned, his lips a perfect oval, his tongue a curled sliver. When he closed his mouth again, his chin quivered and he pursed his tiny lips.
Though my heart was full, grief lingered in a corner. There was room enough still for the pain of those past Mother’s Days. I remembered. I would always remember.
I knew the hollow ache inside Lynn. I wanted to tell her that little had changed. I’d thought that the coming of an eight-pound gift would erase the ache, but it didn’t. Instead, the love that sprang inside me forged a new place. It didn’t fill the emptiness. I was an infertile woman entrusted with a child, allowed to mother that child and love him and watch him grow. But I knew already – just four days into my new life – that the pain of the old life had followed me.
I was Lynn. I’d just been allowed to stand for a brief prayer.
I thought I might tell her all that as soon as the service ended. I looked across the aisle for courage.
But she was gone.