For When I’m Struggling with Selfishness: Honoring Mothers

At the same time that I am emptying boxes here in Sewickley, PA, attempting to build a home, on Saturday I helped to tear one down: Andrew’s Grandmother’s. I emptied drawers of tatting threads, carried shelves out to waiting vans and wandered around the garage filled with the overflow of a life.



She had moved into the ranch house with the gold couch, and the blue and yellow patterned carpet on the kitchen floor the year I was born, 1975.  This was the house where she threw flour on the counter and rolled out countless pie shells.  It was here that she wrapped Christmas presents late for four children who posed for pictures on the stairwell, the oldest holding a candle.  And here she yearly cooked turkeys for children and then grandchildren and then greats and sprinkled cinnamon on her famous orange crescent rolls that never made it to the leftover table.  Here she leaned over missionary cards at the wooden kitchen table and prayed for people she would never meet.


It is the daily commitment of one woman to build a home and be priest for a small congregation.


So Saturday, Grandma Shellhaas, now without dear Grandpa, moved into assisted living and watched her children carry in old furniture and try to fit it into her new life.  I watched her walk around the fresh clean rooms mumbling,“It all looks so strange.”


It’s stuff, but it’s not stuff when you have welcomed 100 people to sit on that chair and chat with a glass of lemonade.


It’s stuff but it’s not stuff when you have served 100 Sunday roasts on that table and heard right there with a cry of joy and arms spread out that you are going to be a grandmother again.


A home after 38 years (yup, that’s how old I am folks,) is full of years and love and decoupaged stories one on top of the other.


She built that home and courageously did the hard work of one faithful day upon another and tonight I honor her and the others who build walls around a family.


It wasn’t always so, and I’m embarrassed to admit that.  I drank the kool-aid of generations of feminists and spent a decade recovering from the food poisoning. Through my eyes mountains of laundry and grocery lists were interpreted as a missed life.


My greatest sadness? I clearly remember one morning mom had come to visit me in seminary and instead of honoring the courage and commitment to build strong children, I spewed my own fear, that my life wouldn’t have purpose, asked her why she had spent all her days building our lives and not her own.  I mistook faithfulness for hiding. And now, with the banging of three pairs of feet chasing through my own house, I’m sick at how I could exchange such grace with my own anger.


And what was is it that I feared?  I feared diminishment.  I feared the death of a self-important future.


When I brought home my first swaddled little creature, I needed the power of God to turn my narcissistic eyes away from my own self-ambition.


That first mother-child bond…I had to pray for it…get on my knees for the desire to mother.  And our faithful God?


He forgave, healed, transfigured, resurrected.


A bond was forged as I massaged his skinny little arms with apricot oil.  I learned to love with both of us cuddled close with his father, Caedmon on the left side of Andrew’s great chest, myself on the right.


But selfishness is shot through my blood stream and there are days I struggle to not turn inward, to pay attention to the needs of four other lives.


So tonight I honor the simple hard work of each woman around the world who attempts to build a life within four walls…


I honor each woman who invites Love to walk her halls,


each woman who faithfully sweeps her home with prayers,

each who creates beauty on the mantle and another nourishing meal

who struggles through the years to make a soft bed for her marriage, pulling clean sheets over their years.

I honor our grandmas and our mothers who showed up each morning to do the hard work and tucked us in every night.

Mother Teresa, when asked what we could do to encourage world peace merely replied, “Go home and love your family.”

And this is what Grandma did so simply, so profoundly and as I clean out the drawers of her craft dresser, this is what I am thinking about…

and Grandma, I pray that when the stories are retold someday this will have been my greatest achievement as well.

Summer Gross

And you, friend, what nuggets have you learned from your Grandma?

linking with the lovely and always honest Emily Wierenga here:

and with Jennifer Dukes Lee, wordsmith and patron saint to writers everywhere:

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  1. I too have incredibly fond memories of my grandmother’s house growing up. It was my safe place filled with love. Thank you for this lovely tribute to your precious grandmother and to all of us mommies struggling to be selfless for our beautiful God-given children!

  2. I love this! Although my Grandma was not the best Mom, from what I hear, she was an amazing Grandma. She and Grandpa sheltered us in our time of need. She worked as a teacher to supplement Grandpa’s steel mill income. She never complained and she loved him deeply, always, and would do just about anything for her family:) Not bad for a 1st generation American who abandoned her Greek Orthodox culture and religion to marry and give birth to my Mom! Don’t worry, she became a Christian before she died…and did I mention her candy dish…always full? And her amazing Greek pastries (which she would make with me as a tiny girl, not yet in school) and succulent meat dishes?
    Now, if she could do all this without intentionally including and relying on God, then how much more and richer it is WITH God!!
    Thanks for the encouraging, thought-provoking and honest words:)

  3. “I drank the kool-aid of generations of feminists and spent a decade recovering from the food poisoning. Through my eyes mountains of laundry and grocery lists were interpreted as a missed life.” i love this friend. i’m realizing this too.

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