I was wandering through my happy place (Target), Starbucks in hand and smile on my face. The kids were dropped off at school and I had an hour to kill before work and laundry beckoned me home. Somewhere between the ten plus dollars spent on cheap thrills in the dollar section and the lustful pondering in the home aisles, I heard the sweet cries of a newborn. I remember those days, I thought as I sipped my white chocolate mocha and contemplated buying just one more pillow for our already overly decorated couch.
As I made my way to the clothing section, I gave a nod of solidarity to the “not all who wander are lost” t-shirt and began to wonder if my almost-but-not-quite-forty-year-old self could pull off wearing it. Too twenty-something? Hmm … but I was soon jolted out of my mental vacation by those sweet baby cries becoming not so sweet anymore. I eyed a fellow wandering mom a few aisles away stopping every few steps to try and console her infant in a stroller. Why doesn’t she pick the baby up? Maybe he is hungry and needs to eat? Why doesn’t she just go home? Some moms…, I began to think. And then we made eye contact. A brief “Hello….attend to your baby” look swept across my eyes before I dreadfully realized … I know her.
I wanted to avert my eyes and make her think she imagined my glare, but grace beyond myself made me beeline to her. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been there,” I said. Near tears, she told me how she was beat-down and exhausted, barely hanging on to her last thread — a hopeful visit to her happy place. She had been confined to her house for weeks with little sleep, and just needed to get out. “He usually loves the stroller, so I thought I’d push him around and eventually he’d calm down…” I’m not sure what I said in response, but I hope it was something to the effect of “Stroll on, Mama, and here’s a Gatorade (or latte) to make it another aisle, or ten!”
Why, oh why, didn’t I first see myself in her before judging her? How could I both remember those days, and still be so forgetful? Why did I feel more solidarity with a stupid t-shirt than with a weary mom? And oh, how I wish that was the only time I’ve had to eat my words (or thoughts). I have sat down at many all-I-can-eat buffets of both, and I’m sure there are more to come.
Lots of remedies come to mind when I think about how to be more gracious to others in the future, but as I try and bullet point my plan, the melody of a song begins to play. It grows louder and louder in my head until I’m forced to erase my strategy and give ear to the song. “Mercy is the fragrance of the broken. She who has been loved much, has so much to give. Mercy is the fragrance, of the broken” (Sandra McCracken).
It is then that I realize that the solution is not simply about action — what I will say or won’t say (or think or do) in the future. It is about understanding my very state of being. My heart, as some would call it. Whether I realize it in the moment or not, even on my very best rock-star mom day I still fall short. I am and always will be a broken mom, getting so very much wrong. Yet somehow, I am loved. Much. It is there, at that deep well of undeserved love, that I can lower my bucket and pour out to others. Mercy is the fragrance, the words, the breath, the life, and the drink of the broken.
Have you, weary Mom, found your well? It’s there. I promise. It may take a little wandering to find it, but not all who wander are lost.