I have always wanted to be a mother. Jaimie and I still smile when we look at the video after the birth of our first child. I looked exactly what you would expect a mother to look like two hours after an emergency C-section. I mustered every ounce of energy to hold this little human while looking at the camera and tearfully exclaiming, “I can’t believe I have a baby.”
I had my ideals of what the perfect mother looked like and made it my goal to be that for both of my boys. You know the one, the mother in the kitchen with her apron on, taking care of her family. I quit work to be with them. We read, sang and played. I organized play dates and invited friends over. We had picnics in the yard and had so many tuna sandwiches that the boys still don’t want another one. I prayed for them many times a day and also prayed for the little girls who were out there who would be their brides.
When we moved to Uruguay, I joined the PTO. I baked cookies, tons of cookies. That’s not an exaggeration. It was not unusual to get a reminder from a child around 11:00 pm that he had promised that ‘mom would make cookies’ for tomorrow. When he awoke, the cookies were there, with a couple of extra ones for them to enjoy before school.
I love being a mom. Mother’s Day is always a special day for me and all the guys in my family do their best to make it the most wonderful day. One of the best memories was that Mother’s Day in 2001. I was in the States and while in Sunday school one morning, the boys painted an apron with their handprints and names. It was so special that I brought it back to Uruguay. I kept it in the drawer for a couple of years and then decided I should use it. With use, the apron eventually needed to be washed. It had been painted with washable paint and I threw it into the washer without a second thought. I forgot that my washer has a 4-hour wash cycle and when I pulled it out, I had a perfectly white apron. My heart was broken over the loss of this special memory. My “ideal mom” apron had been washed clean.
I’m in the middle of a “wash cycle” now, and it’s been going on for a little over 6 years. It started near Mother’s Day in 2015. I had a brain bleed and lost all movement in my right side. A medical evacuation to the United States for examination by a neurosurgeon was ordered by my physician in Uruguay. Every day my prognosis changed until finally, they discovered an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) that bled onto my brain. As I was waiting for an angiogram, they also diagnosed me with an abscess as a result of diverticulitis. Upon this discovery, they immediately placed me in another hospital to be treated. Our world was so uncertain and moving so fast that Jaimie mentioned to the boys that they might want to give me my Mother’s Day present early, just in case the worst happened. I was thrilled to just see my boys but when they gave me their present, it moved me to tears. They had re-created the destroyed apron based on an old video. It was much more beautiful, special and was updated to include our family dog, Harley.
Much like that apron, I came away from this time of “cleansing” with a lot of my life, my habits, and ideas about my self-worth having been destroyed. The mother who managed a household, cared for the needs of her family, and engaged in ministry was reduced to a person who would sleep for 22 hours a day. The social butterfly who just “had” to attend every event was bothered by noise, crowds, and movement. About two years in, I was feeling better and went to a party. It took a month of sleeping 18-20 hours a day to recover. There was no cooking of meals, nor cookies. I couldn’t wash dishes. Not only that, but I couldn’t buy groceries. (Granted, I never did like to buy groceries.) I couldn’t read my Bible. I worried about my spiritual life. I couldn’t even construct a prayer in my mind. I had lost everything that I thought made me, “me.”
Over the last 6 years, however, God has been re-creating me. I have gotten better and no longer need a whole day to sleep when I take in too much information. The easiest illustration is that my brain is like a battery. Every new and different sound, movement, or conversation takes a bit of that energy, and when it reaches zero, I have to stop and recharge. Every bit of progress is encouraging. This month, I have been attending webinars, digital retreats, reading books, participating in Online Bible Studies, Zoom, teaching English classes, and learning two new languages. These are things that I have missed so much and God has allowed me the ability to do them again. I still don’t do well in new environments, especially ones with a lot of noise and movement. Even riding in the car, I have to be careful not to look around too much. Jaimie is happy that I am able to take care of the house cleaning jobs. He still cooks and buys groceries, and is the first to notice when I start getting overwhelmed.
This apron, this cleansing, and re-creation have yielded so many life lessons. They wiped away all the things that I once thought were the basis of my identity and replaced them with the glorious vision of my identity in Christ. A weak, needy vessel, clothed with the beautiful garment He has made for me.
Thoughts and insights by Tammy Lancaster. Written by Jaimie Lancaster.
IM missionaries to Uruguay.