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I can’t breathe.

Is there anything heavier or sharper than grief?

If this was a movie, I’d be slumped on my side having just been run through with a sword. No, it won’t kill me, but to deny that death more than stings for those of us left behind would be an atrocious lie. Papercuts sting. This is so much more.

Talk of heaven doesn’t comfort me. I don’t want hope right now. I want to press into this moment of terrible otherness – the rending of life. Don’t talk to me about her reunion with Jesus or the promise of being with her again someday. Those thoughts will come in the days ahead. Today let me mourn and don’t try to stem the torrential tears. Just hold me close and let me be.

Twelve days ago, one of my “mothers” chose her ending – to enter hospice care at home with her precious family by her side. She’d been battling cancer and the treatments didn’t work. Last night, she took her last breath.

Avon

I stole this from her Facebook page. I love her mischievous grin.

Avon Shields, known by thousands of women around the world as “Momavon,” was my dorm mom in college. She has been one of the most influential women in my life. I could write volumes about the lessons I learned from her, but I’ve tried my best to live them out instead. The way she loved the girls in her care made me want to be a mom even though I swore to her that wasn’t part of my plan. She just laughed and hugged me tight, “Oh Niki, my sweet girl, you may change your mind one day.”

Three weeks after my eighteenth birthday, I packed everything I own and waited for my friend Erin Beske and her parents to take me away to my new life, one I’d been dreaming about since the seventh grade when I first stepped foot on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska. Finally, and against the odds, I said goodbye to my childhood in Wisconsin and swore I’d never call it my home again. Yes, I’m a bit dramatic like that, and apparently I swear a lot.

There were only two women’s dorms and I was assigned to the one Avon lived in. Someday I’ll write about the many kindnesses and miracles of that life-altering first year, but this is about me and Avon. She told me once she loved me from the moment we met. That strong, patient woman poured love and guidance into me, a broken girl with too many holes in my bucket, and when I apologized for being so needy, she pulled me close and said that was nonsense.

She saw the leader in me and gave me responsibilities, showing me I was capable. When we joked and teased her about her many rules and forms, I was secretly relieved at the structure and stability she provided after growing up in my chaotic family. I’m totally a rule bender, but I needed her to help me set my life on a better course. I think we both knew it. A lot of the major decisions I made at York were discussed over tea in her apartment. She talked me through all the things my mother couldn’t, and I’ll be forever grateful. When she did finally meet my mother, she was kind and gracious to her, which was also a gift to me.

Avon loved Benny. She loved to remind me that she knew he was the one I’d choose maybe even before I knew myself. It’s been many years since we’ve sat together with a cup of tea, and I’m glad we had Facebook to help us peek into each other’s lives. I’m thankful for the brief moments we’ve shared in the 25 years since we lived in the same space. There are so many stories to tell, and all of them are coursing through me today with a painful and beautiful cadence.

I love Avon’s family and ache for them right now. Her husband Ron is a kind and funny man. I don’t know their eldest son Alan, though we’ve met. I’ve always admired Lynnette and her beautiful artist’s soul. I know her son Paul the best as he was my editor when I worked on the school newspaper staff in college, and his wife Shalee is one of my kindred spirit friends I wish lived next door. I can’t be with them this week, but my aching heart is there, attempting this dance of grief and celebration with clumsy feet.

When we lose someone we love, we often choose to immortalize them as their best selves. We know they were flawed but we overlook those things to remember them as the heroes they were in our lives. I’m okay with that. I think it’s the way it should be. It’s what I hope for someday too, to be remembered as the best of what and who I was.

I will remember you, Avon. I promise. I learned how to patch my bucket and I’ve tried to be purposeful about pouring into others. Thank you for showing me how. Thank you for guiding me through my baby steps of adulthood and loving me when I didn’t feel lovable. Thank you for cheering me on as I spread my wings and flew away. It’s been years since I’ve hugged you, and I hope to hug you again someday. Thanks for being a mom to me.

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My newsfeed this week was filled with stories about Mother’s Day being painful for some people (I know) and how we should temper our celebration of this holiday by honoring all women instead of just mothers. I read an article by a well-known pastor who said his church will not be focusing on mothers with their service today. Fair enough. I wonder if he’ll do the same on Father’s Day. Should we not single anyone out to thank them for their service lest it offend someone else?

When did saying thank you to one person mean you were leaving another person out? Is this a political correctness thing? Do they really mean by honoring mothers today we’re being exclusive instead of inclusive? What a load of crap! I don’t know how or where this new trend began, but it sucks!

Before you think me cold and indifferent to the pain floating around in the world, let me share a bit of my own story.

I struggled with infertility for seven years before I had my first child. I spent many Mother’s Days dying on the inside as I cooed at the baby sitting in front of me at church, and played with my friend’s kids. I know the pain of hope and wishing I was a mother.

I lost a baby in 2008. It’s the single most shocking and horrifying moment of my life, and I blogged about it here and here. My heart aches for all of the other women who’ve experienced such tragedy. I know the pain of all of those missed birthdays, hugs and kisses, and the little girl I’ll never know.

I grew up the daughter of a single mother with multiple mental illnesses. She’s no longer in my life, not because she died but because we cannot be in relationship anymore. I know the pain of not having a mother who could mother me. I meet women all the time who deal with that same pain, and I love several women who are missing their moms today because they’ve already entered eternity.

I get it. We are surrounded by wounded women. Many of us ARE wounded women. We should be sensitive to the experiences of others, but lessening how we honor mothers today doesn’t erase those wounds OR rub salt in them.

When we celebrate Father’s Day, we’re honoring the dads in our lives. Some biological and some not. We honor men who have fathered us and also the men who we admire how they father others. There are father wounds around us too, but celebrating fathers does not make men who are not fathers lesser in any way. It’s just not about them on that day, and that’s okay.

When we celebrate Veteran’s Day, we’re honoring the brave men and women who have served as military veterans in our armed forces. I’m not a veteran, so Veteran’s Day isn’t about me, but it doesn’t take anything away from me or cheapen my role in this world in any way to spend that day thinking about and honoring the veterans in my life.

Why can’t we look at all honoring holidays this way? Why do we have to perpetuate a self-centered, victim mindset? Sometimes it’s just not about you!

I am a mother. I’ve mothered hundreds of people in my lifetime and it hasn’t subtracted anything from the three children who live in my house.That’s the beautiful thing about love – it expands to fill the need.

Today is about celebrating who I am as a mother. It’s about honoring the sacrificial lifestyle I’ve chosen as a mom. It’s a time for my children, husband, friends, and family to acknowledge who I am and what I do.

Mother's Day card

Today is a thank you for the thousands of meals I’ve cooked and the mountains of laundry I’ve washed, dried, and put away for them. It’s a thank you for cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night, and my amazing splinter-removing skills. It’s a thank you for spending weeks reading the Harry Potter series aloud, and months teaching them phonics so they would someday be able to read Harry Potter on their own. It’s a thank you for the late night talks about navigating friendships with people who hurt your feelings, and puberty, and frustrations with school. It’s a thank you for the many miles I drive every day to get them to work and back home or connect them with their friends.

While I am grateful for the ways my tribe honors me on other days of the year, today is special. I get two days a year that are all about me, Mother’s Day and July 29th – my birthday. Let me have them! Let me be celebrated by my loved ones how they see fit and don’t tell them their actions are insensitive to the wounded women around them. That’s not fair. To those who think by honoring moms you’re being insensitive to other women, I ask you to rethink your position.

If you are a mother, I honor you today no matter what your circumstances are:

Those who have birthed a child, I honor you.

Those who have given a child a better home through adoption (both the giving up and the taking in), I honor you.

Those who chose not to keep their child and hope to be reunited with them in eternity, I honor you.

Those who have no children of their own but choose to love other children in their lives, I honor you.

Those who have lost a child, I honor you.

Those who wish they had a mom who cherished them, I honor you.

Those who are navigating difficult mother/child relationships, I honor you.

Single mothers, I honor you.

Married mothers, I honor you.

Widowed mothers, I honor you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!

You are seen. You are loved. Thank you for who you are!

For everyone else: Choose to honor a mom in your life today! Kind words, a text, a phone call, a card or letter, flowers, chocolate, or time spent with them and for them. They deserve it.

kiddos

These three each gave me a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, and the rest of the day to do whatever I want…by myself. Happy Mother’s Day to me! 😉

 

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I know the title says a random person but the person I chose is anything but random. I’ve already blogged about Zoe and Pete. Now it’s Max’s turn.

me and Max

He’s my first born, my fellow night owl, my handsome, strapping sixteen-year-old son. He’s strong, and strong-willed. He’s protective and fiercely loyal. He’s a natural leader – how could he not be when he was born to two first-born children. He’s bigger than me, but I know how to take him down because I’m the momma and I know where he’s ticklish.

 

He’s a comic book and anime geek. Having people ask to take their picture with him at Denver Comic Con might have been the highlight of his weekend. As I mentioned in an earlier post, he’s a fan of both the DC and Marvel universes, but leans more towards the DC side.

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He’s also a drama geek, like his parents before him. He has a lot of hobbies, but his life right now is mostly about finishing high school as soon as possible, Kainos – his youth group, and his girlfriend Sarah.

max and sarah

He spends his free time designing and creating things out of raw materials and duct tape. We gave him an iPad mini for Christmas last year and his favorite gift was still his dremel. He’s a creative kid, and he uses what he learns and knows to teach others. He started his own youtube channel when he was eleven years old to teach other kids how to make things.

kiddos

Max calls me “Mommy” and gets frustrated with the other two when they call me “Mom.” I love that. I love him, this giant man-child who made me a mommy for the first time. He’s amazing and I’m proud he’s my son.

There are a few more random people to read about:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

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