Monday Over Coffee: "Indelible"

Published May 6, 2024 by Greg Funderburk

Back in the second grade as Mother’s Day approached, our art teacher gave each of us a lump of ceramic clay to shape, to form, to mold into an animal figure to give to our mothers for the upcoming holiday. I decided on bear cub shape.

After the sculpting—and I use that term loosely—the clay figures were taken to the school’s kiln—the location of which was undisclosed for obvious reasons—to undergo a mysterious firing process. A few days later, our creations were returned to us to paint, to glaze, and then returned to the kiln again for finishing.

The next week, when we filed into art class, our figures were set up along a long sill underneath a window where I discovered, much to my displeasure, that the figure I’d created was more shapeless blob than bear cub. My solution was to call it an abstract and get on with the gift wrapping process. Then, on Mother’s Day, though I was painfully aware it wasn’t my best work, I presented it to my mother. Being my mother, she smiled warmly and gave me a hug, pronouncing it the best paperweight she’d ever received.

A year later, now in the third grade, as Mother’s Day approached again, I vowed this time things would be different. Fortunately, instead of lumps of clay, we third graders received white plastic plates that we were instructed to decorate with colored markers. We each drew a picture on the plate, then along the top wrote out a special Mother’s Day message to our moms. Bent over mine in terrific concentration, I finished my picture, then scribbled out in big bold letters the words: “I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!”

The teacher then took up our plates to spray each one with a noxious aerosol material to seal in the pictures we’d drawn and the messages we’d written. As was the case with the ceramics the year before, when we returned to class later that week, we found our plates lined up along the window sill. The drawings now unalterable, the words indelible, we collected them, wrapped them up, and took them home for Mother’s Day.

Especially excited about my effort this year, I proudly presented my Mother’s Day gift to my mom, hoping to put the paperweight debacle behind us. But as my mother unwrapped her gift, her face took on a brief look that was strangely reminiscent of the year before. She thanked me, giving me a warm hug again. It was only then that I noticed that my plate read not “Happy Mother’s Day!” but “Happy Moter’s Day!” 

From then on, our family, instead of wishing Mom a Happy Mother’s Day each year, wished her a Happy Moter’s Day. Nevertheless, my mother kept the plate up in a prominent place in the kitchen, a ledge right above the sink, not to forever remind me of my mistake but because she enjoyed her gift, even though I was clearly spelling well below my grade level. The fact that the plate stayed right there for many years despite the spelling miscue expressed to me in a most indelible way not only her love for me but the beautiful grace she always seemed to embody. That is to say, through her actions, I truly felt how she felt about me.

Perhaps this week is a time you’ll consider the indelible marks your mother has left or is leaving upon you. These marks are often memorably wonderful as was the Mother’s Day experience I remember. However, it must be acknowledged this isn’t everyone’s experience. Mother’s Day can be painful to many—perhaps because some of our mothers have passed away or perhaps because some of our mothers brought certain unfortunate or lasting injuries to us somehow. That is, many of us carry sorrowful scars rather than marks of beauty due to the complicated nature of these relationships. Or, and this is probably not uncommon, we might feel many things all at once about our mothers. 

But the one thing we can probably all agree on is that the closer we are to another person, the more opportunity we have to give shape to their lives. And if this is true, and I’m convinced it is, we ought to always be thinking ahead about the impact we have on those closest to us and resolve that, as far as we are able, the marks we’ll leave on one another won’t be regrettable scars but lasting traces of indelible beauty and grace. Let us find ways to express our love and affection to one other in ways that can be truly and memorably felt. 

God—May I be an agent of Your indelible love. Amen.