by Roberta Jantzi Egli
Roberta Jantzi Egli serves as pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Eugene, Oregon. She received a Master of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in 2004 and is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. Raised in a rural Mennonite community in Oregon she worked as a nurse for over twenty years after graduating from Eastern Mennonite College in 1980. She is married to Lynn Jantzi Egli and has two sons. She enjoys singing, writing, traveling and spending time with family and friends. You can contact Roberta via email or at Trinity United Methodist Church.
I named him Michael. Although I had never laid eyes on him, nor stroked his face, nor smelled the sweetness of his newborn skin, he became real to me in the span of twelve short hours as we prepared our home and our hearts for his arrival. Between the stretch of two separate phone calls from our adoption case worker, I became mother to him as I dreamed, planned, and loved him. We received the second phone call in the light of a new day and learned that his birth mother, after spending time with her extended family, decided to mother him herself rather than follow through with the planned adoption. The newly purchased diapers, bottles and formula that had been hastily bought in a whirlwind shopping excursion were placed behind a closed door that housed an empty crib. My husband and four year old son dealt with their grief silently but I came to the realization that the process of giving him a name was essential for my own healing process of grieving. In order to grieve, I gave him a name, bought him a gift and sent it with a blessing to both him and his birth mother as I let go in trust to the deep longing to mother another child.
“Letting Go in Trust, Letting Be in Hope, Letting Grow in Love” was a mantra that I first heard at one of my spiritual direction classes with the Benedictine sisters of Shalom Prayer Center in Mt. Angel, Oregon. I wish I knew who to credit for these twelve words that have become not only a philosophy of mothering but also a pattern for living a whole life grounded firmly in the grace of God.
In my family of origin, a Mennonite farming family in the heart of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, I remember hearing the stories in the bible of the ‘barren’ women but I did not have any personal experience with infertility. I naively thought that after I married and had decided on the ‘right’ time for us to start a family, that I would be pregnant within a few months.
My several year journey of infertility included several physicians, extensive tests, hormone therapy, and finally a diagnostic surgery. After several years of tests and treatment, I became pregnant for the first time and we were ecstatic at the birth of our oldest child. When he was placed in my arms for the first time, the labor and delivery nurse said, “I hear this is a miracle child’. Our prayers had been answered, we were blessed with the gift of a son and we savored the joy of new life.
Yet the life lesson of ‘Letting Go in Trust, Letting Be in Hope and Letting Grow in Love” was just beginning. I have learned through the art of mothering that we are given many different experiences to learn the spiritual gift of letting go of our expectations and living the gift of the messy reality of life. We had been assured that through the pregnancy and birth of our first son, that my primary infertility problem of obstructed fallopian tubes had been reversed so that when our oldest son began to ask for a little brother or sister, we began to plan to birth another child to ‘complete’ our family.
This time, the path to mothering a child included a miscarriage, and then the decision to plan for adoption rather than starting over with infertility testing and treatment. We chose to work with a local adoption option that was small and provided a holistic approach in nurturing the mothers who made the courageous decision to plan for adoption. Our family profile became one of a dozen profiles of families that birth mothers could use to ‘choose’ for their birth child. Our case worker, gave us a warning that since we already had a biological child, it might take a bit longer for our family to be chosen.
Three weeks after the second call from our adoption case worker, we received another early morning call. Both my husband and I were busy getting ready for work and to take our oldest son to preschool when I picked up the phone. Another child had been born hours earlier and this birth mother desired to have our family become the family for this son. Knowing the heartbreak of our first encounter with this situation, the case worker made a decision to wait to call us with the news. Rather than call us the night before, she waited and gave us only seven hours to prepare to meet our son.
So on a December afternoon, after making the decision to go ahead a work a few hours we met up in the office of our adoption case worker. I will never forget the red and green knit stocking cap that he wore as our second son was placed in my arms for the first time. I was both grateful and guarded because I knew that in the state of Washington, the birth mother had the right to change her mind without question for the first 48 hours following the birth. The next 27 hours was a microcosm of the mothering and life mantra of letting go in trust, letting be in hope and letting grow in love.
His name is Jesse Nathanial and I have been blessed to be his mother for over two decades. The idyllic life of motherhood that I imagined in my childhood home has not been anything like the messy reality of parenting. However, I would not change anything and it has been through the gift of mothering Jesse especially, that I have learned about fully living the gift of life that we are given.
It was in early elementary school that Jesse was first diagnosed as being a person with the diagnosis of living with autism spectrum disorder. According to current CDC statistics, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. From my experience of mothering Jesse, I would not call it a ‘disorder’ but simply a part of who he is as a whole person. His autism is simply part of who he is but it does not define or limit him in any way.
From mothering Jesse, I have learned about the spiritual practice of ‘being’ in trust, hope and love. Jesse has taught me to live life in the moment rather than always planning for what is to come. When we learn the spiritual practice of letting be in hope, I think we begin to comprehend the words of Jesus when he says that he has come to bring life and to give life abundant. (John 10:10)
We are all mothered, in so many different ways. May we celebrate the diversity of those who mother as well as all of us who are mothered each and every day by all of the people who come into our lives for perhaps a moment or a lifetime. May you experience the spiritual practice of letting go in trust, letting be in hope and letting grow in love as you mother and are mothered.