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For All Mothers on Mother's Day

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"Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14), exclaims God when telling Sarah and Abraham that she will bear a son, a son for whom she had longed for many years. Motherhood is a wonderful blessing—carrying a child, giving birth, and childrearing are miraculous blessings bestowed on women. As a nation we celebrate mothers recognizing what they have meant to us as individuals and as a community.

I come from a long line of strong mothers. I have been twice blessed by strong mothers. My mother shaped my theological beliefs and I have watched my wife courageously raise our daughter. Mothers continue to form us long after our time in the womb. They seek a better world for us and seek to bring about the best in us to realize that dream.

However, let me not romanticize motherhood. Some women face challenges as they try to conceive. Some women raise children that come into their life through other means. Some women play the role of mothers when care is lacking. Motherhood is an extremely difficult endeavor—one that never really ends. While we lift up the idea of motherhood in words, the world does not always do so in deed. Just as Sarah is blessed with a son in the Bible, so there are also women surrounding Jesus as he dies on the cross. They were the ones to sit in the pain, they were the ones to comfort in that pain—they were: Jesus' mother, his aunt (Mary the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25–27). Mothers are courageous because they are vulnerable. Mothers, not wanting to lose their children, whether to death, or to poverty, or to violence, make extremely difficult decisions to keep their children safe.

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For some the decision to protect their child means leaving their life behind, picking up their families, and making a home in a new country. We are a country that values mothers, including a day in her honor. However, does that value extend to all mothers in this nation? Our current immigration policies and enforcement do not reflect those values. Mothers having fled violence and conflict arrive in the United States only to find the program that would reunite them with their children is threatened and they may never be able to bring their child to safety. In the name of being tough at the border, pregnant mothers find themselves locked up in immigration detention where their well-being as well as the infant's well-being is at risk because of poor medical care in the immigration detention system. Mothers in the U.S. cry and pray at night as they contemplate their next appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knowing they may face unconscionable decisions about how to keep their family together. And still other mothers, trying to use the well-established family migration system, are being shamed as they strive to reunite and care for family members.

How do we value the motherhood of those newly arriving in this country? Kewanit Beyene fled conflict and desperate living conditions in Eritrea, in East Africa, and made it to the U.S. with her husband and two small children where they were resettled as refugees. But this mom was forced to make an excruciating decision; she had to leave her then eleven-year-old son, named Finan, behind with her mother.

Once resettled in Ohio, Kewanit filed an application with the U.S. Department of State's family reunification program in January 2015, but the family remains in limbo. With each Executive Order to block refugee resettlement, cases like these are completely stalled, even though in Finan's case, he is just a boy. This is a story of a heroic mother, highlighting motherhood at its most courageous. Instead of being celebrated, she lives everyday not knowing if she will be able to rejoice his homecoming to the United States.

And how do we treat mothers in the United States? Many mothers live with the anxiety of not knowing if they will get to live out their lives with their children, though they have created heart and home here. Though they have invested in their children's growth, in their children's schools, in churches, in communities, in the economy, many with permission to be in the U.S. may not have that permission renewed under the current administration—like the 425,000 Temporary Protected Status recipients, the 800,000 DACA recipients, the 2.3 million recipients of prosecutorial discretion—many of whom are moms. These moms are now at risk of joining the population of undocumented persons, estimated at 11 million, who face the daily fear of being torn from their families, being torn from the role of protector and caregiver.

Even amid an environment that does not value them as a mother, mothers make courageous decisions. Some mothers have decided to live temporarily away from their children seeking safety in sanctuaries, mosques, and synagogues across the U.S. This year they will celebrate Mother's Day with their children in a community in which they are loved, but is not their home. Families, to remain together, will go to sleep that night under different roofs.

We have mothers who cannot be there for life's daily poignant and significant moments in their children's lives—either separated by hemispheres or by the need to enter sanctuary or by being placed in a detention cell—all the birthdays, all the skinned knees, all the broken hearts, all the school awards, all the team championships are missed. Why would we choose this?

Refugee children, like Finan, have always been able to follow their parents to this country. If a pregnant mother was not a security risk, she was allowed to make her case from outside detention walls where she could more easily access help from a lawyer and her choice of health care. Since 1956, under the Eisenhower administration until now, U.S. immigration officials have recognized the need for prosecutorial discretion for special classes of immigrants in this nation, especially for families. Temporary Protected Status, DACA, Orders of Supervision, and other permissions have allowed people to stay in this country due to family, disaster, violence, religious persecution, and their value in our communities. These grants of prosecutorial discretion are all ending under this administration. Is there a purpose in removing millions of people who have invested in our communities? Is that purpose greater than that of motherhood, which keep families strong and intact, enabling communities to thrive?

We have a choice. "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" Collectively, we can strive for a nation that values all mothers—those born in this nation, those invested in this nation, and those just arriving. We do not have to create more women kneeling down and crying around the cross. Let us be agents that bring about the good news of Sarah's story—helping women be mothers who can embrace their children at night; helping mothers who can raise families who are free from fear of separation. Let us choose the path of heroic love.

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, is the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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