April 2015: A 13 year old boy in a war-torn region of the world has fled his hometown of Syria. He has been unable to attend school for years. At a pivotal moment in his development as a man, the world has thrown him into an impossible place to grow. He desperately needs the love of a mother. And as providence would have it, he gets it, in the form of a retired educator from America whom he meets in a humble refugee camp in Turkey.
January 2015, three months earlier: An American woman lives out some of her last days in a hospital room in Jackson, Mississippi. She has pancreatic cancer, and only lives six weeks after her diagnosis. Yet her hospital room is a place of inspiration for everyone she meets- friends, family, doctors, and nurses. Her reputation for steadfast faith and positive outlook spreads. She never meets the Syrian boy; never even knows that he exists. But his life will be impacted by her loving example.
The woman in the hospital room was my stepmom, Pam Comans. I can’t tell you how many people were blown away by her in her last days, myself included. I was awestruck by her attitude, by her unwillingness to stay down. Most of all, it was her continued shifting of the focus away from her, to the other people in the room. She could have eaten up all of the attention, and rightfully so. December and January were supposed to be about her. Yet whenever a nurse, a doctor, or a friend entered her room, she was more interested in their story, helping them unload the burdens of what they were going through.
One of the many people Pam made an impact on was my mom, Sharon Webber. My two sets of parents have had an unusual and wonderful relationship these past few years. Somehow, they’ve been able to maintain a friendship defying the norm of 99% of divorced couples. It’s a sacrifice they’ve made for us kids; life is just easier with four parents who all get along, and they’ve been able to give us that gift. Their friendships grew as they met up holiday after holiday to be with us kids. When my dad and Pam struggled with Pam’s illness, Sharon and Rell were quick to drop by the hospital to support their friends.
One weekend in March, as I visited with my Mom and Rell in their home, Mom explained to me she would soon be traveling to the Middle East to help share Christ with Syrian refugees. I almost thought she was joking. It was so out of character for her. My mom is not a missionary, or even a world traveler by nature. I’m not sure she’d even been out of the country since her first days of life on an American army base in Munich, Germany.
And yet here she was, charging into the lion’s den of pain and hurt in this world, leaving her comfortable country digs to spend a week in a place I’m too cowardly to fly over.
It was because of Pam. Mom has since returned- I resisted writing about her trip until she was safe and sound- but I did ask her a lot of questions about her motivation. “It was the mother’s heart,” she said, “After Pam passed away, I was just thinking: I’m here, I’m healthy, I’m lazy. I’m sure I’m supposed to be doing more than I’m doing.” She spent a lot of restless nights praying for guidance for her own life, and thinking about how Pam lived hers. She prepared her heart. She talked to Rell. And then one day, a man in their church approached them with an opportunity to share God with others halfway around the world.
And so in April she found herself in Turkey, of all places, teaching an art lesson to a teenage Syrian boy who was so starved for mental activity he was excited just to work with construction paper. Where the world had sent him calamity, God had sent him a second mother.
There, in a simple refugee camp far away from everything she’d ever known, my mother’s service to God beat the spirit of the world’s worst warzone. My two mothers triumphed over the forces of hopelessness and despair. Listening to my mom tell her story, I could not have been more proud or inspired by the women God put in charge of my care.
And then Mom gently burst my bubble: this is the kind of thing women do every day.
It’s a tough Mother’s Day for my family, because it’s our first one without Pam. But the way we often celebrate it, my Mom told me, “Mother’s Day is such a painful, painful day for many women.” Infertility, women who have lost children, children who have lost mothers… “there’s not an answer to the pain,” she said, “but for those women to feel like somebody understands… we need to celebrate not the giving of birth- of a baby coming out of your body- but the heart of a mother.”
Like the heart Pam loved me with.
Like the heart my mom loved the Syrian children with.
Like the hearts so many women love others with, every single day, yet they may not always be celebrated for it.
“We need to celebrate what these women do for others, for children, for people who may not be their birth children.”
Well said, Mom. Well said.