For the past 6 months or so I’ve been reading a book (it’s quite a tough going book and has to be done in little bits) called “Motherless Daughters”. You can imagine what it’s about and you can imagine why it’s a tough read. It isn’t a title that I cling to or wear as a badge, and it has never been something that I actually identify myself as- but it’s true enough and the book is amazing.
Because of this title then, because I am a motherless daughter, for the last 6 years I have been increasingly aware of something that I do. I know that I seek out certain characteristics and aspects of personalities to fill certain voids left in my life. I have someone who will encourage me if I need it, someone who I know will tell me off if they feel I need it, and somebody ready to give me a hug and a pat on the back when required. I never exactly shouted about it, but I guess it is one of my greatest methods of self preservation. In all honesty this is the way that I have been able to live, stay sane(!) and function.
So that is one strand of today’s story, let me bring in another. Back in April (back in the dark days of still not knowing what I wanted to do post grad) I told some wonderful people about a quote I’d found. It spoke about when asking where your next place in ministry should be you should just find a dark place and shine in it. This is what I decided to do, find a place and shine. When my job came along I didn’t expect there would actually be much darkness for me to shine in, but having now spent 2 months there I realise that there is. For a couple of reasons (reasons I won’t go into here) there is a very definite need for me to shine in the darkness. A need for me to shine for the motherless daughters.
I get to look after 20 motherless daughters day in, day out. Motherless, not through bereavement or divorce (although for a few this is the case), but motherless because they are so very far away from home. I joke to people that my job as a boarding mistress means that I have adopted 20 teenage girls and I’m far too young for it, but to be honest I love it; to be honest I love them. My school is a convent of the religious order of Jesus and Mary, a religious order started in the 1700s by a spectacular woman called Claudine Thevenet. She housed and educated children, regardless of their class or family background. One of her mottos for the other sisters she led was to be as mothers to the children. And that simple idea is something that has been passed down through the order for the last 300 years; love them like a mother would.
So, inspired by St Claudine and spurred on by my desire to shine in the darkness, that is what I do; I love the motherless daughters. I love them when it’s easy, when they are funny and kind; when they are poorly and scared; when they are proud and make us proud. But I also love them when it’s difficult, when they are angry and spiteful; when they are unfeeling and unthinking; when they are defiant and rude. Because at the end of the day that is the way that a mother would love, the way they need to be loved and the way that I am privileged to be allowed to love them. Every day I get a taught a new lesson about love, lessons that I pray stay with me until the day that I get to love my own daughter in the same way. But until that day I am proud and honoured to be so involved in these beautiful girls’ lives; loving them, cheering them on and telling anybody who’ll listen how funny and brilliant they are.
Now let me pull in the final strand of the story and tie everything up in a neat blog shaped bow. Last Tuesday I graduated (woot woot)and it really was a wonderful day of celebration and happiness. There were some bittersweet feelings (there are certain occasions and days where it becomes a little too painfully apparent that I am a motherless daughter), but on the whole everybody had a really lovely day. A lovely day spent with some of my favourite and most treasured people in the whole world. Some of them my real family and some of them members of my chosen family. There are odd occasions when I feel very sad that my family isn’t bigger and that certain people who should still be in it aren’t, but then I remember that I have so many precious people in my life whom I’ve decided t think of as family; and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. The size of our families can stretch as far as our ability to make friends, how blessed are we?!
So let me sum all this up then, I wonder what you feel and who you think of when you hear the word family. I wonder whether you are a motherless daughter or fatherless son, whether there is someone very important missing from your family or whether you live miles away from all your family. Well I encourage, no implore, you to let people meet the needs for family that you might have. They will never replace whoever is missing, but they could help fill some of the void. It is basic self preservation and care to allow people to take care of you and meet your needs. There is no shame in allowing people to love and care for you in a way that you would otherwise not have. And that is the key at the end of the day, love; deep, powerful, embarrassing, hurty, dangerous love.
So that is my prayer and challenge to us all today, to go out and love our families. Regardless of what it says on our birth certificates, regardless of whether they are friend or brother. Meet the needs for family that people might have and let other meet yours; adopt people and be adopted. And most importantly love them. Love them deeply and powerfully; love them embarrassingly; love them when it hurts and when it feels dangerous. Love them like a mother would, love them like a brother would, love them like Jesus does.