I was pulling up in our driveway one morning when I saw her. A large box turtle. Since we all enjoy the ‘wild kingdom’ vibe of our yard, I got out to take a photo of her to show the kids for later. As I got close I noticed. The left corner of her shell had been crushed. Either Jeff or I had run over her on our way out in the darkness of morning. She was now dead.
To make matters worse, several almost-done, but still intact turtle eggs had spilled out.
It was an accident and accidents happen. Nature is cruel. Things die all the time and it is a part of life. I try to guard my heart with these truths whenever I’m faced with the reality of suffering and death – almost always unsuccessfully, as in this case. I was moved. And so sad. I took some time that morning to talk with God about what I’d seen and why I knew it was important for me to stop and pay attention.
I don’t know how turtles do motherhood. Because they are reptiles, I suspect they aren’t too attentive or affectionate. But this mother, because of events beyond her control, would not be there for her babies. She’d been crushed.
And from what I know of people, this happens to us all the time. Oh, the mother may not literally die, but because of an accident, because of events beyond her control, because of sin – either hers or the effects of someone else’s on her life – she’s had a weight land on her that was too heavy to bear. It left her wounded. Damaged. Unable to fully do what her babies needed her to do. And those babies had to learn to fend for themselves way too early, perpetuating the line of wounded mothers into the next generation.
Surely you’ve seen this. Probably experienced it. A mother… in a painful, loveless or soul-killing marriage. Broken in the separation from a destructive man. Supporting something very unhealthy, addictive or secret, and not knowing any alternative. Enduring a life burden that is too much for one person to hold. Carrying pain in verbal silence but screaming it within the quality of her relationships. Suffering from a crippling depression or physical struggle. Damaged by her mother, who was damaged also. Wearing soul wounds from abuse, words, disappointment, neglect, trauma and all the other things that were never meant to happen to us in Eden.
The children of mothers like this know. Because the weight of it has crushed them too.
We so rarely get the mother we want. We only get the mother we’ve got. Making peace with that is a major passage of life. It is a passage many never make.
Motherhood is etched on the hearts of most women, calling to us in a visceral way we cannot fully explain. Yet it is this dynamic, how our woundedness has the capacity to wound our children, that has the potential to make a day like today, one of sorrow and not joy. Of fear. Of regret – either for our mothers, or for our children.
My greatest motherhood fear is damaging my beloved children with my own damage. If there was ever a reason for me to cling for dear life to my Healer, to my Jesus, surely this is it.