Four-year-old Daniel recently gave me a picture he drew of me. In the pencil and crayon drawing, I stand smiling, arms outstretched, surrounded by hearts and flowers. I was struck by the fact that it is an especially loving and adoring image. A shrine, perhaps, to Mama.
My own mom, a mother of nine children and former kindergarten teacher, is fond of telling me that young children’s drawings have real meaning. I remember once, when one of my older boys was still small, he drew a picture of our family in which I wore a sequined ball gown and princess crown.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“That’s how he sees you,” my mother had told me then. “You are a princess to him.”
It’s a very sweet thought, but when I consider it in light of Daniel’s drawing, it makes me wonder. Is this how my small son sees me? A loving, open-armed queen filled with maternal joy and surrounded by beauty? Oh, to be worthy of such an image as that!
Mary is the only mother I know whose real-life actions consistently match such a glorious and adoring image. It is especially fitting during the month of May that we, her children, bring her tokens of love and make our own shrines to her.
One day last summer, our family spent the day at Goose Rocks Beach in Maine. It was a tiring day away, but as always, making the effort to get our gang to the ocean proved worthwhile.
On the way home, Dan and I decided to drive through Kennebunk in order to take the kids to a Franciscan monastery we used to visit back when we were dating. The monastery has a guest house, but that didn’t interest us much. What did interest us were the dozens of paths that wind their way through lush, green woods, past statues of saints, outdoor grottos, and stations of the cross, down toward the ocean.
Along the way, we “met” St. Francis, St. Anthony, Our Lady of Fatima, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, and more. A particularly lovely spot was the Shrine of the Way of the Cross. Between watching the kids leap up and down the granite steps and imagining the possibility of an unplanned trip to the Kennebunk emergency room, I managed to take a good look at the altar. It caught my eye because it was positively covered with shells, sticks, medals, rosaries, stones, and handwritten notes that praying pilgrims had left behind. Behind it stood a statue of Our Lady.
One stone in particular stood out to me. Smooth and small, it rested in the farthest corner of the altar. On its surface, in felt tip marker, someone had inscribed a single word that gripped my heart: Baby.
I wondered who might have left this single-word prayer. Someone who was hoping for a pregnancy, or someone who was worried about a troubled pregnancy? Someone who lost her baby and was now hoping for healing and peace? Someone whose baby was grown and was in danger of going astray?
Whatever the details, it was someone who had entrusted this heartache to her mother. To Mary.
What struck me most about the entire scene was that these tiny tokens that covered the altar represented the hopes and wishes, dreams and pains of hundreds of passing strangers. We don’t know each other, but we share a common loving mother, along with faith and hope that our petitions will be heard.
I don’t need to know what “Baby” means on this particular stone. God knows. The one who wrote it knows. And here we entrust it — along with all the other pieces of prayer — to Mary. Mary, who sees and feels our pain as only a mother can, collects them all, and looks down on us all. Lovingly.
I am entrusted with tokens, too.
“Why is your purse filled with rocks?” my husband called to me in frustration the other day, as he searched for a checkbook.
“Because Daniel brings them to me,” I explained.
And he does. At ball fields, parks, and even in our own backyard, whenever Daniel happens upon a shiny rock, a pretty leaf, or a small flower, he thinks of me. He stops whatever he is doing to deliver these small gifts to me, and I will never turn them down.
Because he won’t do this forever. And because these small gifts are love. Bits and pieces of love.
Early one recent morning, Daniel wrapped his small arms around my neck and kissed me tenderly on the cheek.
“I love you,” he whispered. “I love you from here to God.”
Make me a worthy mother, Lord. Make me worthy of a love like that.