Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Climbing Mother

Several months ago, a friend introduced me to this painting by Brian Kershisnik. It is currently being featured in an art exhibit at the LDS Church History Museum in Salt Lake City where all artwork is centered around the idea of practicing charity. It is called Climbing Mother.


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I can't get it out of my mind. Isn't it powerful? This rose-cheeked mother with her hair pulled back. A child in front of her. A child behind her. One she holds tight against her chest, the other clamors up to her shoulders. A ladder is placed against her back, symbolizing a burden, a weight, maybe even a mantle. And she bears it. 
Using her inner and physical strength, she steadies the ladder and provides for her children, while ministering angels reach down from above.

One commentary about this painting said, 

"Of course, it is impossible that babies could climb a ladder tall enough to get to their mother. But what Kershisnik captures is a mother's abandonment of personal space when her children are young and their physical needs are great. In the every day acts of parenting, mothers provide noble and continual service for gods in embryo, being sustained in their untiring efforts by God's help from above."

I listened to Kershisnik give some backstory on this piece. Like most of his work, he began without knowing where it would go, or how it would look when finished. First he painted the woman by herself. She sat lonely in a corner, for some time. Then, for fun, he painted the ladder against her back. And that's when he knew what it would be. It would be a young mother. Not the everything-is-peachy-mommy-image. But one that depicts the hard reality of raising children. Of not having time for yourself. Of children on your lap, slung round your neck, or climbing up your back. The state of literally losing yourself in the care of your children. 

But here's what's so comforting about the painting. She is not alone. 

Angels have come to her. Angels she may have prayed down, angels she may not have asked for, angels that just maybe, have never left her side. Angels. Sent to strengthen her, lift her, and endow her with power. Power to do more than she could on her own. 

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I have felt those angels. I have stood at the end of an incredibly difficult season and wondered how we made it through - how we survived. It stirs me to tears to think that this is my story. My own reality. And many of yours.

These years with babies and small children are so exhausting. So hard. So consuming. Too often I have heaved sobs of frustration and inadequacy. Because I felt I was carrying the weight alone. 

But with every cry at the kitchen sink, every tearful prayer by my bed, I have been reminded: This is not a solo journey. Motherhood is a divine profession. And I will help you. 

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Most dinners I don't make it through the meal without one of the boys climbing up the back of my chair so he can put his arms around my neck and dangle his head over my shoulder, our cheeks touching, as I eat the last of my food.


All day long someone is tugging at my shirt, hugging my legs, jumping onto my lap, grabbing my hand, or reaching up to me to be held. Abandonment of personal space simply comes with the territory. As does abandonment of personal pursuits, expectations, time for things that used to give me identity and validation.

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And yet, I find it interesting that Kershisnik calls the painting Climbing Mother, not Climbing Child. Yes, they are climbing on her, up her, and over her. But she is also climbing. Spiritually and emotionally. Progressing, as she learns things she couldn't learn any other way. 

Motherhood reveals a person inside you didn't know was there. One that scares you some days. But mostly, one that is stronger, steadier, more compassionate. One that knows sacrifice. One that knows real needs. One that knows a love impossible to describe.

So, after celebrating all the devoted mothers in our lives last Sunday, I wanted to celebrate you. Your constant effort. Your bent backs, your arms full of babies, your sloped shoulders, your tired feet at day's end.

On Mother's Day Instagram imploded with photos of mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. Women who abandoned personal space, personal desires, and in some cases, attainable dreams, to give their children a life. Nothing, I believe, is more noble.

Here are just a few of the photos I saw Sunday. Women I love and admire. (Wish I could post a photo of all of you.)

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Saydi, with her four beautiful children.

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Nancy, Alex and Meg, and Maxine. Look at those faces. Those generations. Eyes full of light.

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Somer's mother and sisters.

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Cristie, Lizzie, and oh my darling... Clementine.

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And this sweet sketch by my talented friend, Stephanie Hock. To see more of her work, follow her on Instagram: @stephaniehockart. (She's currently accepting commissions for paintings and sketches.)


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My favorite gift of the day? These five and the sign the girls made for me in the secret confines of the storage room. Notice it says "Power of Moms" on the left.

Empowered. That's what we are. As we climb, stretch, and gather our children around us. Letting them fill our space, our dreams, our lives.

I love you wonderful mothers. 
Always cheering you on,

10 comments:

  1. This is beautiful! One of my favorites of your writings.

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  2. For all the angst Mothers Day brings (which I actually wrote about for the first time this year in the lead up), I take comfort in knowing I know lovely, lovable, loving women who mother every other day of the year to help me keep upright in my own efforts to be a wonderful Mum. As it was, I had a love filled and overflowing Mothers Day, which also added oil to my own lamp.

    Thank you for adding to my reserves Cath!

    And the first thing I thought when I saw that beautiful painting? That's what I want to be. I want to be a Mum who supports my sons, to give them something solid to lean against as they reach higher than I have. That's it exactly. Even if they are a decade out of nappies and one is much taller than me... they are still my babies.

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  3. Adri - thank you for reading. i love your insights and voice.

    cheryl - xoxo

    kel - heading over to read your post now. you embrace every good thing. i love you. and your analogy - of the ladder and helping your boys reach higher than you have, giving them something solid to lean on? Amazing. Beautiful. Of course they are your babies. Always our babies.

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  4. Your children are darling. And what a beautiful painting above. At first, I thought the angel on the right was another child wanting to touch his mother's head. (That's how I feel sometimes...like everyone just wants to have physical contact with me.) But the angel idea? SO TRUE. I feel it every single day. Love you.

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  5. Oh cath, I love this. Thanks for writing. For always elevating my sights beyond the mundane. And helping me see a more Devine perspective.

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  6. Yes! My first thought when I saw this was "sometimes we don't even get to put our baby down when we bow our head in prayer."

    For Mothers Day I sent my mom two of his prints this past week--the Nativity and She Will Find What is Lost." I am aware that I haven't travelled this path alone, that angels have touched me and held me up. This is a great one to add to my list of favorites. I love all your insights on this, Friend. This reminds me of Caitlin Connolly's "How Did I Get Here" in many ways--I love that sketch.

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  7. Thank you for your beautiful words. And for your introduction of that gorgeous painting. Such A wonderful depiction of motherhood. I need to get a hold I you an I am on my phone, can't see an email address or phone number. Will you send both to me? Shawnipothier at gmail dot

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  8. Honestly...angels! We are buoyed up with that kind of care. Then we view God's love made manifest in needy, clamoring children. That mother is being refined; a sacred vessel...a holy of holies. No wonder this sacred of all stewardships turns carbon into diamonds. The pressure is undeniable but then so is the Godly help.

    I love you Catherine. xox

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  9. April - I know that feeling too. Not just of angels, but little ones holding onto my head, my hair, my face. It very well could have been another child. ;) Thank for reading. I have no doubt angels are assisting you in all your work. xo

    Saydi - you elevate ME. Love you. xoxo

    Liz - I just googled Caitlin Connolly. Wow. Thank you for introducing me to her! Loved How did I get here. Yes, similar. Sustained, held up. Lifted. Thank you beautiful friend.

    Shawni - So nice to talk to you yesterday. You're an inspiration to so many! xo

    Cristie - and you my dear, are the reason this post exists. Thank you for sending this BK painting my way. I love you. Always gifting others with light and love. And holy of holies, yes. Yes. I love you.

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