Sometimes we just don’t appreciate certain stories until we are old enough.
I am quite sure that my mom had told me how she ran into Mother Teresa once, but apparently this story had little effect on me at the time and didn’t seem as wonderful as it really is.
Back in 1995, my mom was a young mother with five children. (There are nine of us now.) It was a time of life that was truly testing her limits. She was stretched thin as a wife and mother, trying to raise us. My dad, who worked very long hours as he lovingly spent himself to support us, came home late in the evening and often had to miss dinner.
Money was tight for them, so while all her “mom friends” were able to participate in certain events and activities, my mom was never able to join them.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with my mom on the phone, and something I said prompted her to share her Mother Teresa story with me again:
“In 1995, we were flat broke, had one car (Dad’s), and I was overwhelmed (as usual) by our finances, homeschooling, and trying to be a faithful Catholic wife and mother. All the usual young mom stuff.
Then I found out from my mom-friends that there was a pro-life or Catholic family conference going on in Philadelphia. Because of our situation, I wouldn’t be able to join them.
My memory of the details is hazy now, but I do remember having a temper-tantrum in our tiny bathroom, complete with a lot of tears, loud complaints, jutting jaw, and the throwing of a hair brush and ranting at God. I was suffering the young Catholic mom version of ‘but ALL MY FRIENDS ARE GOING!’ It was just directed at God, instead of at my parents.
My rant at Him went something like this:
‘…all my friends get to do all kinds of great things for their family life: husband and wife date nights, Catholic conferences all over the place, home-school conferences, Bible studies, etc., but I never get to do ANYTHING! Well, I can’t give what I don’t have, and if You are not going to feed me, then I’m leaving You! I’m going to be an…an Atheist! So there!’
A little while after throwing the hair brush, yelling about Atheism, and hiccuping as I wiped my tears, a dear friend called me to say that she and her husband were covering my expenses for the conference so that I could come, too.
Soon, I was riding the train into Philadelphia with our kids and the stroller, nervous about getting off at the right station and walking to the hotel where the conference was taking place. I remember entering a street-level elevator area with a hallway and a sign indicating the direction to the conference rooms.
As I approached, the elevator doors suddenly opened, and out came Mother Teresa and two of her sisters. I think I froze in disbelief.”
The encounter itself is mostly a blur to my mother’s memory now. She was in shock when it happened. Mother Teresa was not a speaker at the conference to which we were going; she had not been listed as a featured guest. She was supposed to be at an event in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but it never occurred to my mom that Mother would suddenly show up in a then-deserted hallway near the conference center in Philadelphia.
So there my mom was, stunned. She was even in disbelief, asking herself, this is Mother Teresa, right?
And she felt deeply aware of her interior state before this holy woman.
My mom goes on with her story:
“Mother Teresa gave us a big smile, saying ‘Beautiful, beautiful!’ (If only she knew that I had just been yelling at God!) She was peaceful—and then she was gone.
The only other memory I have of that conference was being in the confession line with five tired children, the youngest ones just wanting to run around. I was ready to confess my sins even if I had to do so with you little ones listening to my confession, but a very kind soul gathered all of you around her so that I could really have that time with God. I was able to make a beautiful, grace-filled confession with a very understanding priest. God tests us, and often lets us hit our limit, but then He provides us with more than we ask for.”
Notice how Mother Teresa, when looking at my mother and my little siblings and I, saw beauty. My mom certainly didn’t feel beautiful at the moment—but Mother Teresa could see past the exterior, and know that such mothers are pouring themselves out in self-sacrifice.
I think this story can be an encouragement for all moms. Mothers give all of themselves, and they often feel utterly spent, as well as utterly alone. Their spiritual lives can feel dry, fragmented, or even non-existent.
But the Lord has a special tenderness for mothers. He does sustain them; He does hold them close to His heart; He stays with them.
He gives unexpected gifts, like a personal, one-on-one encounter with Mother Teresa, despite our unworthiness.
These gifts say I love you.
“I hope the re-telling of this story is useful!” my Mom says. “Young Catholic moms struggling to live the faith in our career-driven, materialistic world are often isolated and lonely—I often was. Even with my dear Catholic mom friends. We all knew what it was like to live on one income with large families: but it is all worth the sacrifice.”