Madonna House

Holding Her Mother’s Hand

by Cheryl Ann Smith

It began with a poster welcoming me home from the local directors meetings in Combermere.

My sisters in MH England usually decorate my welcome-home poster with my favorite images—butterflies, birds, musical notation. But for something different this year, Christine reached into a rarely-opened file and pulled out a photograph of a little girl clasping her mother’s hand and pressing it to her face.

On the back of the photo was the story: the photographer had seen this little girl at a party. She was obviously anxious with all the unknown people surrounding her, and so she clung to her mother’s hand for security and comfort.

This image took my breath away. The little girl looked like me and was dressed as I had been at that age. Her worried face expressed what I often felt then: that the world was frightening and overwhelming, and I could not deal with it. But unlike her, I had not known how to reach for reassurance.

After a few days, the welcome-home poster needed to be dismantled, but I wasn’t finished with the photograph. In fact, it is still on my wall.

That little girl is within me and she had more to teach me about clasping the hand of protection. In the photograph, she was clinging to the familiar scent and texture of her mother’s hand and drawing strength from the press of her fingers. Although anxiety was still evident in her face, the fear was giving way to peace in her mother’s love.

This was the most profound gift of the image: fear and vulnerability can become gift when they cause us to drink in the presence of love and grace.

This transition from darkness to light offered an insight into a scripture passage I’ve always struggled with:

My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness … . For it is when I am weak that I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).

My interior weakness has never been a friend: I’ve tried to ignore it or conquer it, but I never embrace it.

And now this little girl was showing me a profound truth: when we acknowledge our fear, doubt, anxiety, weakness in any form, and call on the protecting, saving, strengthening hand of God, he turns our darkness into grace.

Perhaps we could add to the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who fear; they shall be strengthened.”

Perhaps I should create a poster for the upcoming Year of Mercy and put the little girl at the center: We are little and afraid, but God is great and merciful. We are sinful and weak, but God is forgiving and tender. We are overwhelmed by the dark clouds in our world but God can change them into light and grace:

For neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rm 8:38-9).

We just need to reach for that Hand.