I’ve been thinking about my mom this week. Last Sunday was her birthday. She died four years ago but if she was alive, she would have turned 92.
She was a pastor’s wife for most of her life – 65 years -- taught Sunday School, led women’s Bible Studies, raised four kids on a preacher’s salary, visited the sick, threw dinner parties for large groups, baked a lot of cakes, took care of grandchildren, believed in the power of Clorox and hard scrubbing, made these amazing dinner rolls that will probably be the bread served in heaven, once performed “Twist and Shout” at a pastors’ gathering talent show, wearing a Beatles wig.
And she ironed.
Many people who knew her thought of her as a kind of minor saint.
I feel a little bad saying that out loud. I loved my mom, of course, but her flaws were always very apparent to me.
As I always felt, mine were to her.
Last Sunday was also All Saints Day on the Christian liturgical calendar. At some traditional Catholic churches I imagine the emphasis of the day is on the people who’ve been canonized for their outstanding piety, virtue, and goodness. Your basic American Idols of holiness.
At our crazy little non-denominational mishmash of a church on the corner of Elm and LaSalle, we take the “all” part of All Saints Day pretty seriously. By saints we don’t just mean those folks who’ve made it through the hoops to be deemed officially holy.
We don’t define saints as “perfect Christians” or the folks who have it all figured out, who’ve gotten it all right.
No, the saints we celebrate are those who, through their very ordinary, very human, absolutely flawed lives, still manage to bring a little more love and hope, mercy and grace into the world. Manage to open the window, a tiny crack, now and then, to something bigger and better and brighter than your basic trudge-through-the day-paying-the –bills-and-getting-stuff-done-ness that our lives can so often become.
So I was thinking, on Sunday, about a lot of people I know, living and dead, who have done that for me. Who do that for me. There are some famous ones certainly, people I’ve never met, but whose stories I’ve heard, words I’ve read. Dorothy Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. Oscar Romero, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Malala Yousafzai, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Carter, Mr. Rogers.
And then there are the ones I do know personally. If I start naming names, I will be here a while.
My mom is also on that list, I realized, Sunday.
Someone who was by no means perfect, but who still managed to, in the midst of her messy, imperfect life, put some more grace and love into the world. And into my life.
My mom, I realized, may actually have been the saint that taught me that it’s OK to claim your own messiness and imperfection. And name it. And laugh about it.
There was always at least one drawer in whatever house we lived in when I was growing up that my mom claimed as her CBI drawer. CBI stood for Confusion Beyond Imagination. That drawer was the catch basin of our lives. The place where you put stuff you couldn’t deal with in the moment. Or something which you weren’t quite sure, where it belonged, or if you should even keep it. And it was a mess. It looked like I feel a lot of times.
Of course, I have created a drawer like that in every house I’ve lived in as an adult too.
When my daughter Zoe was about 5 she had a friend, Ali, over for a play date. At one point during the play date Zoe asked me for something she was missing and I pulled open the CBI drawer and started digging around in there, while Ali and Zoe looked on. Ali’s eyes were on me in an expression I couldn’t quite read. So I asked, cheerfully, “So Ali, do you have a drawer like this at your house?” And Zoe interjected, “Of course not Mom, Ali’s mom is actually organized.”
In the prayer time, toward the end of the service on Sunday, while someone at the front read aloud the names people in the congregation had submitted of folks who have died this year, saints we’ve known personally and those who we’ve only known through their reputations, people left their pews, walked to the front, lit a candle and placed it in a communal sand pit.
As I watched people file up, I thought about how I have spent a good portion of my life maybe just a tiny bit too focused on what my mom wasn’t…her inability to always be who I needed her to be sits in bold relief for me, most days. I see her CBI drawer way too clearly.
I feel like, in many ways, I was IN her CBI drawer, one of those things in her life she didn’t quite know what to do with.
It’s been hard for me to forgive my mom for that.
But when I walked to the front on Sunday and lit a candle I prayed a prayer of gratitude for my mom, for what she gave me, the good and the bad of it, because even the bad taught me things, even if it just taught me what I didn’t want to do or be.