31 for 41: Mama Bear

Dear Donovan,

When I was working for the Victim Services division of a nonprofit organization, I was once sitting in a meeting with professionals who serve families in crisis.  A psychologist was talking about factors that help children to be resilient in the face of terrible circumstances.  I really respected what this woman had to say, as she had years of experience counseling traumatized children, and conducted forensic interviewing of children who had been sexually assaulted.

I heard her say, “The factor that seems to help children be resilient after trauma, more than anything, is having the unconditional love of a mother.”  It hit me… that’s why I made it.  Second only to God’s grace, I believe, having my mom’s unconditional love was what helped me to survive and to experience success as a young person, in spite of very intense internal struggles.  As I write more to you in coming days about my struggles, I think you will understand even more what I mean when I say her love preserved me.

On my birthday, I want to honor your grandma, my mom, for the priceless gift of unconditional love that she has always given me.  Wherever I was, in whatever state of mind I found myself, in happy times and in dark times, I have never doubted her willingness to help me or worried that I could not come home.  I dare say that no one in this world has prayed more for me, or for you, than her.

As you walk through life, I want you to remember that every single person you encounter has been profoundly affected by his or her relationship with a mother, or the lack thereof.  Some people had wonderful relationships with loving mothers.  Some people feel the loss daily of having lost a mother.  Some people still long for a meaningful relationship with their mother.  Some people are searching for their birth mother.  Some people never experienced that constant, unconditional love of a mother that every child deserves.  Some people have faced unimaginable pain at the hand of an abusive mother, or from a neglectful one. Whatever the experience, it shapes the person.  If you are sensitive to people’s experiences with their mothers, it will make you a more compassionate and understanding man.

The same conclusions can be drawn for fathers as well, of course.  I hope that if and when you are a father, you will ensure that your children always know that you love them completely and unconditionally.  Along with you living as a godly father before them and loving their mother, it is the greatest gift you can give my grandchildren.  That is also why you should let God choose your wife, setting up the best possible chance for your children to see a healthy marriage and have a loving mother.

I close this letter with a different version of a story about a girl and three bears.  In the summer of 1997, I participated in an Outward Bound tour that included a “solo” camping experience.  For three days and two nights, I was by myself with a sleeping bag, a plastic tarp and some string, my journal and pen, and one sandwich bag full of food.  One afternoon during that solo time, I was sitting on a rock bed by the edge of a creek.  On the other side of the creek, the land rose fairly steeply along the Appalachian Trail.  I heard something, and looked up to see a mother black bear and two cubs coming down that slope toward the water.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe for a long time.  Since the mother had cubs with her, I was thinking there was a considerable probablity that I would be eaten once she saw me.  As I sat frozen in place, the mother bear arrived at the creek and began to drink, the two cubs clumsily bounding down to the water after her.  They never saw me, but she did.  She turned her head, looked at me, and then calmly turned around and headed back up the mountain.  The two cubs did not seem to protest or question.  They simply turned and followed their mom to the same area from which they had come, until I could no longer see the bear family in whose home I was camping.

The mama bear saw a danger that the cubs did not see.  That’s how it is with us moms sometimes.  We want our children to have fun.  We don’t mind you asking “why” as you try to understand the world.  But we are constantly on the lookout for dangers to our children, as mama bears will do anything to protect our cubs.  Your grandma has always been that way with me, and I have tried to be that way with you.  Of course, I haven’t been a perfect mom.  Still, I hope you can see that my decisions, even when they don’t make sense to you, are about keeping you safe from harm in the many different forms it can take.

I love you unconditionally, my son.  I am so proud of you, but there is also nothing you could ever do that would cause me to stop loving you.  My heavenly Father is the Perfect Parent example to us, and He has never stopped loving me, even when I doubted that.  My love for you is forever, but His love for you is forever and perfect.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.  The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.  Psalm 121: 7-8

I love you forever,

Your mama bear


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