Toya Graham is “the Baltimore mom” who during the recent protests saw her teen-age son on the street with a rock in his hand. She ran after him, grabbed him by the hood, shook him as fiercely as a mother bear cuffing her cub. Later she said, “I just lost it.”
If she is not “mother of the year” she certainly has been mother of the news cycle. Her maternal slaps went viral across the country, bringing both cheers and jeers for her “mom attack.” I certainly would not have wanted to be that son! And I have always regretted the one time I slapped one of my sons in anger.
At Harris Teeter last week I asked Mary, who was checking me out, what she made of Toya. “If it had been my mother,” she said, “I would have gotten more. Toya probably wanted to save her son from jail.”
Certainly the protective instinct of mothers matters. Colin Powell tells about growing up in the Bronx. “It was the ‘auntie network’ that kept us out of trouble. We knew our mommas were watching us from their windows.”
All of us who have known our moms know they were not perfect. But they also had less than perfect mothers. As Charlie Brown said in Peanuts, “Lucy, parents had parents.”
I had two mothers. The first I knew was my adoptive mother Olive, who with my dad ran a jewelry store. When I was fifty I met my other mother, Dorothy, the unmarried daughter of a stern Presbyterian minister and his wife, who gave birth to me at seventeen.
Both were troubled through their lives by fears and suspicions. Yet I owe them both much. Dorothy gave me life. Olive taught me faith.
The mothers portrayed in the Bible were a mixed lot (as the fathers most certainly were). Some were called “blessed” by their children. Others caused huge family problems by their cunning and grasping.
Yet the Bible also celebrates motherhood. Here’s language the prophet Isaiah used for God: “As a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you.” Jesus pictured his relation to the people of Jerusalem as a mother bird. “How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
Today many of us will have good reasons to be thankful for mothers, those past, those present. I certainly have for my Jeanie. She was both mother and father to our three children across the many times when I was away in ministry.
But this year, in addition to the cards, flowers, and words of love in our own families, how about reaching out to mothers around the world? Nearly 150,000 Syrian mothers are the sole caregivers for their refugee families, facing daily conflict and often without food to put on the table for their children. Then there are the mothers in earthquake devastated Nepal.
A gift for them through our churches, and agencies like World Vision and Samaritans Purse, will bring help to their children and hope to their souls. The mothers of Nigeria, whose daughters have been stolen away can also be blessed by our prayers.
Perhaps this story out of Baltimore can help us to recognize our mothers this year with less sentiment, more honest realism, but no less love and appreciation. And with that a determination to join with them to bring justice and healing to our own homes and neighborhoods.