Even prickly pears bloom.
My mother passed away in the dark of the night, just a few hours after Mother’s Day ended. Thirteen years ago, this year. I talked to her early on Mother’s Day. She was so excited about the bouquet of red carnations I ordered and sent the day before. I had told her I wasn’t sending flowers that year because I had bought her a bench instead.
I bought her a bench at an antique store. Mom had lost her husband six weeks prior to congestive heart failure. She still lived in my home town many states away and, from my perspective, there was no reason to stay. She agreed to move to Wisconsin to be near us and our three kids, the grandchildren she loved so dearly. Todd and I helped her buy a house and spent time getting it updated to her liking. Within three weeks, my mom would be with us. A new beginning . . .
But then Mom wasn’t with us.
A massive heart attack took her away. Jesus took her away.
And I was left with a massive whole in my heart and this bench on our deck, the one made in the year of her birth—1936—the one she and I were going to sit on and talk on as we gazed at the tea roses she and I were going to plant in her garden that summer.
I still have the bench. But I don’t have my mom.
I have only memories.
And my memories are of a complicated woman.
When I was a young child, I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world—a tall, thin brunette who liked to wear Love That Red lipstick by Revlon as her only makeup. She didn’t need anything else, I thought. To me, she looked like Jackie Kennedy—that elegant, squared face with wide eyes and long, lean figure.
But when I got older, I began seeing my mom differently. She could be sharp. She could stick you good, setting her hooks in you deep til you felt infected. I spent years unhooking myself from her barbs. She never apologized. Never. So I kept a safe distance emotionally, but always stayed connected. Saw her lots. Talked on the phone lots. Laughed lots. But always protected myself from her sharps.
Then, when I got older, I realized her sharpness—her barbs—were about self-protection because really, deep down, she was a fragile flower just trying to bloom a bit, this side of heaven, not quite knowing how. She just wanted to be loved. But she didn’t think she was worthy. So she kept people away. With the needles. But there was always that bud waiting, hoping.
I came to realize that Mom’s demeanor was meant more to protect herself than to harm others. But, just like the prickly pear cactus, if you got too close, you might just get hurt. And I got hurt. A lot.
The beauty of love is that it tends to soften the defenses of those who really want to be loved, no matter how sharp they might be. Our prickly either dulls or dies, making room for more love to move in and touch the most fragile, causing it to bloom a bit more. All because of love. All because of seeing a being created in God’s image as God sees.
I began to focus more on my mom’s flowering potential than on her sharp needles. We all have this bud of life with potential for bloom.
Mom’s needles never fell. She held onto them for safe-keeping. But it seems God guided me anyway. Through the prickly I managed to find my way by keeping my eyes on His glory—the beauty of a fragile one He made in His image.
My mom’s needles have been one of my greatest gifts. They have helped me look beyond the surface scary and think that possibly, just possibly, someone is just trying to protect some fragile, awesome beauty of God. And possibly, just possibly, I too might let someone through. All we need is love. True love.