Reaching the bottom step, I shuffled through the dim hallway to where the morning sun was invading the yellow walls of the kitchen with its presence, the rays getting tangled in the messy tendrils of my mother’s hair, causing me to squint as she spun around to greet me.
“Michelle! Good morning! Good to see you.” Before I had the chance to brace myself, she was grabbing my face and speed-kissing my cheek with a dozen kisses like any normal Italian mother would do to their nine-year-old daughter; then the “ding!” of the toaster had her pulling away quickly to dangerously fork out the toast.
“Good morning, pumpkin,” my dad said mid coffee sip, a newspaper laid out in front of him.
“No church today?” I asked, sliding my rump on to the wooden barstool and curling my feet around its legs.
“It’s been a long week,” mom replied with a heavy sigh while I internally cheered, relieved I wouldn’t have to dress up and sit for an hour and a half, “…but we are going to have service here instead!”
“Oh ok, sounds good.” I didn’t mind reading and praying where I could relax with my family.
“And we can sing some worship songs together,” my mom said, turning to hand me a plate of my grandma’s bread, toasted and warm, butter soaked into its surface. The aroma made my mouth water.
I always felt like the family worship was a little awkward. Who dances around and sings worship in their dining room? Probably only my family. Of course, I would never show negativity toward worship in front of Mom because I shouldn’t really be embarrassed to sing out to God, even though I was.
When my brother, John, finally decided to join us, we finished breakfast and then gathered the sheet music for “Blessed be Your Name.” Right before we started, my mom grabbed something from our junk drawer and slid it on her finger.
Mr. Giraffe was a little finger puppet that my brother and I fell in love with after my mom bought it one day after piano practice. The giraffe was literally a piece of yellow plastic with two eyes attached and little paper antlers glued on to the back. There was a loop to slide on your finger so that the eyes rested on your fingers and your hand acted as the mouth.
“Hello everyone!” my mom’s hand talked in the familiar high-pitched giraffe voice. “Let’s give God all the praise and glory this morning.”
I grabbed my mom’s wrist and gave Mr. Giraffe a big kiss on face. “Mr. Giraffe, you’re so cute!”
“Oh, why thank you, Michelle.” Mom had Mr. Giraffe gave me a little peck on the cheek.
John yawned holding up the sheet music. “Alright, let’s get this show on the road.”
“John, aren’t you excited about Mr. Giraffe?!” I grabbed his arm.
“No, Michelle. Get off me, please.” John yanked his arm away from me, causing my heart to sink. I guess John was getting too old for Mr. Giraffe.
Dad pressed play on the stereo, and we all gathered behind my brother to sing along, Mr. Giraffe leading the way of course.
“Blessed be your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name”
John and Dad stood like two lame statues, their voices hardly audible. Family worship was definitely awkward, but looking at my mom singing in her old long-sleeved pajama shirt, her hair falling out of its clip, her voice drowning out everyone else’s, I couldn’t help but grab Mr. Giraffe around the neck and sing with everything I had.
“Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord,
Blessed be Your glorious name!”
Mr. Giraffe leaned his head back and opened his mouth as wide as he could for every “blessed” we sang. I pulled out a fake microphone and Mr. Giraffe and I sang into my empty fist, unashamed, our voices carrying obnoxiously and passionately from our home to heaven.
That was almost ten years ago.
I walk into my college dorm, pushing the door shut behind me as I slide my sneakers from my feet. Our living room is cozy and decorated beautifully, yet standing there, amidst the cozy lights and Bible verse wall hangings, I never felt more alone and burdened by life’s responsibilities and struggles. Every day is a struggle with regret and doubt over switching my major from Nursing to English Education. Every fight with my boyfriend is a rock thrown at the foundations of our relationship, causing us to teeter with the threat of collapse. And every second my fears of the future loom like a dark, ominous cloud, threatening to swallow me and my desire for control.
I sit back on the couch and close my eyes, longing for the simplicity of my childhood days. Both life and death seemed so far away when I was small that I never really felt anything but the present.
“Alexa, turn on ‘Blessed be Your Name.’”
The tune has hardly started, but I can already see the kitchen where you couldn’t walk two feet without bumping into a countertop or kitchen appliance, the yellow walls that earned our house the title “The Yellow Submarine,” and my wonderful, passionate, horrible singer of a mother dancing in the middle of it, Mr. Giraffe on her right hand and the morning light shining through her hair.
I feel wetness gathering in my eyes, though I try to hold it in. “Mom, I need you,” I sob to my imagined mother. “I know you are only a call away, but my confusion on life is so vast I don’t know how anyone could help. There is no clear answer.”
Mom stops her worship to come alongside me, her face awash with undying concern and compassion. “Michelle, God is faithful and good, worthy of our trust. Give your concerns up to him.”
“I’m trying! But I’m so full of fear.”
But my mom is already whisking away from my side to raise her voice to the ceiling.
“Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name”
Her worship gives me more comfort than her words, but deep down I know that it really isn’t my mother or the song that I find comfort in.
Even as I watch her sing the next line, her face, the tiny kitchen, and the yellow walls disappear so I can only see Mr. Giraffe and her raised hands reaching upward toward heaven; because that memory really isn’t about my mother but something that shone through her. Sometimes, memories in our lives create thin cracks in the sky of this dark world, where the light glows faintly through, whispering, hinting at a love that is otherworldly and giving us hope for something we cannot see but feel deep in the pit of our stomachs. My mother singing worship is one of those slivers of light. And in that moment, amidst the messy pieces of my life, my mom’s raised hands remind me that the same God who was King over my childhood is the same God who is King over my adulthood, and no matter where I go, I can be certain that his name is still blessed, both in the plentiful land and in the wilderness.
God’s goodness never ends.