Eleven years ago, I threw Katherine a wedding shower. I sent everyone a recipe card and asked them to bring her a “recipe” for a happy marriage. Katherine recently found these among her things and thought I might like to see the one that my mom brought.
When I first opened Katherine’s note and pulled out the recipe card, the first thing that struck me was that I recognized my mother’s handwriting instantly. It took me only a few seconds to realize what it was Katherine had sent, but in those few seconds I had one of those surreal moments where I was transported back to a time when my mother lived, where I saw that handwriting on a semi-regular basis in cards and letters. In the years since she died, I have occasionally found one of these notes or some of her writing in the margin of one of her books. It always feels, just for a second, as if she’s written me something from somewhere beyond death, even if it’s not even directed at me.
This recipe was no different. The fact that it was a recipe was kind of funny, because one of the things I often complained to my mother about was that whenever I asked her for a recipe, she often couldn’t really give me one, because she just made things from memory, never the exact same way from one time to the next. My favorite example of this was when I asked her for a recipe for her Thanksgiving cornbread dressing. Her instructions included to add broth to my cornbread until “squishy but not liquidy.” Right.
Anyway, this recipe is for “Life Bites.” I have no idea if Mom intended the pun she created, but knowing her, it’s likely that she did. Here is the recipe.
Time required: Eternity
Ingredients (in proportions as needed):
Directions: Combine together for best results. Use as needed each one and all together when clouds arrive. Remember always that love is something you do no matter how you feel. And also that you are never alone. God will help you. Read Matthew 6:31-33* if consistency becomes too thin.
Store in your hearts.
Will remain fresh indefinitely.
This was my mother’s proposed recipe for a marriage, but it applies equally well as a recipe for living. The one ingredient that is conspicuously missing to me is humility. This is not surprising, given that this was one of my mother’s biggest blind spots. It’s not that she was overly proud—in fact, she suffered from severe self-criticism and low self-esteem. But these manifested as a near-inability to ever admit that she was wrong. And of course, my version of faith is different from hers, but I think it serves me equally well.
Among other things, my mother was a passionate, loving, intellectual, spirited, brave, and deeply wounded woman. She was very good at giving others advice but not so good at following it herself. Reading this recipe, I am both inspired and saddened. Inspired because she was certainly able to visualize the necessary ingredients for a life well-lived as she offered these wise words to a much younger woman embarking on a new journey in life. Saddened because she was generally unable to follow her own directions and ultimately died sad, unfulfilled, and lacking deep connections with those she loved most.
Today, I celebrate the day my mother was born. I honor her memory—all of it, both the ideals she believed in and her inability ever really to live them the way she would have liked. When I first learned that I was going to be a mother, I promised myself and my as-yet-unknown child that I would always endeavor to embrace everything that was wonderful about my mother and avoid everything about her that she would have changed herself if she had only known how. As I continue to learn how to mother both living and dead children, as I keep trying not just to survive Hudson’s death but to really live in its wake, I renew those promises. I will try to heed my mother’s advice, even though she couldn’t.
Life bites, but love, forgiveness, faith, hope, thanksgiving, joy, humor, kindness, endurance, persistence, praise, understanding, and of course, humility, will see us through.
Thanks for the lesson, Mom. It came at a good time. I love you and miss you.
*Matthew 6:31-33: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”