Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Mother's Hands

I have vivid memories from my childhood of my mother's hands. I remember them tying my shoelaces and buttoning my sweaters. I recall so clearly how they crimped the edge of a pie crust, held a pencil, and moved swiftly in the strokes of her perfect handwriting. I recall their measured motions when she played a piano, how quickly they peeled an orange, how neatly they folded our clothes. All that I had as a child, I received through my mother's hands. Such beautiful hands, too, with short rounded nails. They were always clean, soft and so gentle.

But they were tough hands, too. I recall watching in amazement when she unflinchingly washed dishes in scalding hot water. I recall, too, how she used to scoop out the pieces of soggy food bits that had gathered at the drain and throw them away with her bare hands. I couldn't watch this as a child without suffering violent protests from my gag reflex. How things have changed.

All this was brought to mind today while I was trimming Alex's hair. I turned on the water to pat down a stubborn spot and he starred at me, wondering.

"What is it, Alex?" I asked.

"How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Put your hand in that HOT water," he replied. "It's burning my head."

I don't know exactly when my hands toughened up. I don't know which number pot it was that I scrubbed and that officially gave me mother's hands...but here I am. I am now able to keep my hands under scalding hot water for great lengths of time and scoop soggy Cheerios without a gag. My hands are tough, now, because of my service to my family. All that my children receive, they receive through my hands.

When I reflected on this, I thought how appropriate an analogy this was for the beautiful season of Lent beginning today. Lent is a time of chastening, of hardening, of toughening. Lent is the season for strengthening our wills and proving our resolve. Lent is a time for toughening our souls so that we might labor in the Lord's vineyard without flinching so much under the necessary hardships or gag so readily at the scandal of the cross. Lent is like boot camp for the Church militant. We are, all of us, working together to become better instruments of God's grace so that Christ might be brought to others through Our hands-- the hands of our Mother-- His Church.