Thursday, September 11, 2014

The power of washing feet.

Mother and I in our old farm kitchen...1970's??
Mother and I July of 2014

In many ways my mother and I are about as different as night and day. I'm thankful for these later years together because it has given me a chance to discover many similarities I didn't know we had.

The pictures make a good visual of how our lives have changed over the years.  Here are just a few of our differences:

She had five children.  I have none.
She loved being a mother.  I'll never know what that feels like biologically.
She loved to cook.  I don't like to cook, but I do because she showed me by example.
I have chosen a career in music.  She doesn't relate to that kind of life at all.
I ride a motorcycle.  She doesn't like that so much but tries to smile about it.
She still wears a prayer covering.  I don't...but I still pray.

And the list goes on.  But you get the idea.

To be completely honest, through the years this has created some tension.  And that's putting it mildly. Learning how to be a good daughter when there are so many differences created its challenges.

There's an old tradition we used to practice in the church background I come from.  It's called 'foot-washing'.  I remember when we would sit very reverently in the church pews, men in one room and women in another.  It was a very sacred event and one that I treasure.

With white towel-like aprons, tubs of bleach and hot water...well, semi-hot water, you would kneel in front of the person next to you, take one foot in your hand and gently scoop the water up over it. Then the other foot.  Next you would hold one foot in your hand on your lap and dry it with your towel. When you were finished both parties would stand and embrace as a sign of unity.

It wasn't so much about getting feet clean as it was letting them know that you cared about them. You humbled yourself in front of them to honor them.  It was hard to do this with someone you were angry with but that was kind of the point.  The room was filled with the smell of bleach and the sound of beautiful harmonies as we sang familiar songs together without any instruments.

I have often compared these last few years with my mother to those early years of childhood when I learned to wash the feet of other sisters.  It's not that I sit and wash my mother's feet, though I have certainly helped her shower, etc.  I trim her nails, tuck her in bed, comb her hair, hold her hand.

But it's more about the position she has been forced into by losing her sense of independence and my willingness to set aside our differences and serve her. It's not easy for these precious elders to let go of all that they know and become so dependent on others.  I cry often for them.  For her.

But what seems to happen in the process, at least in my case, is a gentle breaking down of walls between us.  Just these physical acts alone seem to bring about a deeper love and respect toward each other.

So many times on facebook when I post something I've done with my mother, people comment as to what a wonderful daughter I am.  I sigh and shake my head. I don't feel like one.  I just want you to know that it has not been perfect for us.  I hope this helps other daughters who have struggled in the past with their mothers.  Hang in there.  You might not need to 'wash her feet' per se, but welcome any kind of act you can do toward her to embrace humility and extend honor.  You'll be surprised what can happen in your own heart.

We don't practice foot-washing anymore in most communities of faith and I feel sad that we don't. But I get to practice humility and gentle acts of love every week for my mother and I wouldn't have it any other way.