He sat under the table in the family room, his three-year-old arms folded and his face a pile of storm clouds that threatened rain at any moment. His older sister ignored him from a few feet away, entranced in her favorite TV show.
"Here, Christopher," I urged, patting my lap.
"NO!" the little boy shouted. It was his favorite word … one of the few he had spoken since coming to live with us as our foster son earlier that week. He was mad, mad, mad — and he wanted to stay that way. I didn't know why he was mad, exactly. But clearly he didn't want to be talked out of it.
My husband Craig left the room and came back with a bowl of Cheese Curls, which (we had discovered earlier that week) was Christopher's favorite snack. Casually Craig sat on the couch and put a curl in his mouth. "Hmmmm…" Craig said, his eyes on the television.
I sat motionless, watching out of the corner of one eye the little boy still camped out under the table.
Christopher was fighting an intense inner battle, torn between staying in his safe place and scoring a treat. Soon Craig let out another loud "Hmmmm…." That did it:
Christopher scrambled out from under the table, grabbed a handful of snack, and plopped himself into my lap to enjoy it.
"Hmmmm…" he echoed back.
Early on as foster parents, we discovered a great wall of distrust that existed between our foster children and ourselves. They were in pain, they were scared, and they were sure that we would hurt them just as every other adult who had ever entered their lives had hurt them. The oldest girl especially, at the tender age of 4-1/2, resisted every effort. She refused to eat even those foods we had been told here her favorite, and refused to let us help her brush her teeth or hair, or to select her clothes. She didn't want help — and she didn't want us to help her little brother and sister, either. "I'll do it," she insisted.
The older two children were especially fearful of my gentle giant of a husband; for the first two months or so they wouldn't go voluntarily within arm's reach of him. So Craig turned his attentions to the baby, while I tried to tend to the older two. It wasn't what I wanted — my arms ached every time I watched Craig hold her, feeding her or giving her an asthma treatment. Sarah was still young enough to accept anyone who met her basic needs, and responded with chuckles and leg kicks to Craig's little songs and games.
I, on the other hand, quickly grew tired of trying to coax the kids into responding to me. Instead I sat back and waited. Waited for any little sign that they wanted my attention. They ate and played and bickered and demanded that I do this or that. But beyond that, they just wanted to be left alone … at least during the daytime.
At night it was a different story. Each tucked away in a different room, they often grew fearful of being alone in the dark. Christopher howled until I came up and rocked him, singing him song after song. It was the one time I felt like more than a kitchen appliance. As I rocked and sang, he clung to me with a death grip. He wanted me to stay with him, to hold him and comfort him, and to keep the darkness at bay.
One night as I climbed the stairs for the fourth time in as many hours to soothe his cries, a thought came to me: When the natural bond isn't there, mothers have to wait to be needed.
Infants cry out instinctively, trusting that the same warm presence that tended to their needs in utero will give them what they need now. For adoptive and foster mothers, building this kind of trust can take time. It takes patience.
Above all, it takes (at least initially) unrequited love.
And so it is with our Blessed Mother. From the cross, Jesus entrusted her and the beloved disciple (very likely John) to one another with His dying breaths: "Behold, your mother … behold, your son" (John 19:26-27). In so doing, Jesus gave Mary her new role as spiritual mother of the whole Church.
For some, responding to this motherhood comes naturally — almost from the womb for those who are baptized into the Body of Christ in infancy, and are raised to know and love Mary from the moment they can talk. For others — and I count myself among them — this relationship takes time to develop. First she waited for me to express my need … such as someone to sit with me in church when I was feeling lonely… and then found a way to fill it.
At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was declared "Mother of God" (or "Theotokos," the God-Bearer). As the Christological doctrines developed, and the Church Fathers came to understand that both human and divine natures dwelt within the one divine person of Christ, they realized that it was proper to say that "God was born" and "God died" because of this hypostatic union. It was Mary who gave Christ His humanity, the color of His eyes and the curve of his jaw. Prior to the Incarnation, He was "the Word." Because of her, He was truly Son, and she was truly His mother … just as God was truly His Father.
God is our Father, too — by divine adoption (Rom 8:15, Eph 1:5). And so, Jesus gave to us, His brothers and sisters, the gift of His mother as well. We may resist this idea at first. "I don't want you! I want Jesus!" But that does not make her any less our mother.
To accept this fact is to open ourselves to the abundant graces God wants to give each of us … and to refuse is to grieve the Sacred Heart who seeks always to "honor mother and father." What will you do with this tremendous gift? Will you open your heart to all the graces God wants to give you? Will you receive Him — body and blood, soul and divinity — in the Eucharist? Will you assent to His authority, which He entrusted to His apostles, instructing them to pass it to other men, to keep His Body safe until the end of time? Will you receive the healing your soul craves in the sacrament of reconciliation? Will you allow yourself to be loved and taught by the "communion of saints" who are even now praying for you before the Throne of Grace?
Pray with me now, "Jesus, I trust in you! Give me courage to do Your will." If you would like more information about how to become a Catholic, contact your local Catholic parish and ask about their RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Or drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. God bless you!