As we all know, May is the month when we celebrate, (or worship) moms. Mother’s Day was actually started by a woman named Anna Jarvis in honor of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis who was a relief worker during the Civil War. She worked for both the north and the south, distinguishing herself as a peace activist. She also began Mother’s Day Clubs to address public health issues. Anyhow, her daughter wanted to honor her and campaigned for a national holiday, which was vetoed, but by 1911 her efforts managed to convince most of the US to unofficially observe one. Short version–in 1914 President Wilson signed a proclamation designating the 2nd Sunday in May as an official holiday to recognize and celebrate mothers.
Ms Jarvis didn’t take well to the commercialization of the holiday, she even organized protests and boycotts of the companies profiting from it. She went as far as threatening lawsuits and was arrested for disturbing the peace. By 1920 Hallmark was capitalizing on the holiday, soon carnations were associated with the day and in 1923, dear Anna spoke at a Philadelphia candy maker’s convention in protest. She felt that hand written letters and cards were the appropriate form of visible appreciation. I’d say this apple didn’t fall far from the tree. (Trusty Wikipedia)
All that background to say that I want to tweak our definition of Mother’s Day. Oh what the heck, I want to rip it to shreds and toss it out the door! I’m renaming Mother’s Day, Matriarch Day. For one thing, I like matriarchs better than moms. I’ve known a few and they were always women of substance who brought value to my life in ways I didn’t expect. As much as I love moms (and I do) matriarchs have an authority that gives me chills. They get it. They understand what’s needed in most any situation and know how (and even better) have the guts to administer it. It will only take one matriarch to right this entire bathroom nonsense. The first time some pervert (be they straight, gay, trans or otherwise) uses a Target women’s room to foist his little member or peeping eyes on some innocent girl, a matriarch will have him by the weenie and out the door so fast your head will spin. Religion, protests and lawsuits be damned.
The dictionary defines matriarch as a woman who is the head of her tribe or a woman who is powerful within a family or organization. Historically, matriarchs ruled gargantuan households with hundreds of slaves, servants and vast wealth. They were Mother Abbesses who ran entire industries, generating jobs and wealth for the church. Matriarchs bore heirs, arranged marriages, managed money, fed households, ran businesses, raised children, taught, cared for the sick, even fought in wars. Remember Jael in the book of Judges? She drove a tent peg through the head of Israel’s enemy fixing it to the floor. Deborah judged the people’s disputes and went to war with Barak as the Mother of Israel. And what about Joan, the one of Arc? Yep, Matriarch. The absence of children doesn’t disqualify a woman from matriarch status but the having of children doesn’t automatically grant the title.
Today’s matriarchs fall into various categories, warrior, teacher, healer, prophetess, kneeling and Matriarch-in-Training. Ever meet a bossy 3yr old? You got it…MIT. Hallmarks of a matriarch’s character? Leaders, decisive, compassion, direct, honest, forthright, empathetic, loving, kind, patient, strong, wise, unwavering, sacrificial…and so on. While I don’t claim to be a true feminist, I make no apologies for being a matriarch. My husband relies on my ability to manage our world while he earns a living in a hostile culture. It brings peace to the more conflicting aspects of our lives. Have I always perfectly executed my call? Nope. NOT. For sure no! Have I had to learn to temper my instincts to direct the lives of those around me? Of course. It’s not easy to be a matriarch in a church culture that defines women according to their interpretation of Scripture. And it’s certainly not easy to be a matriarch in a secular culture that uses women for it’s own nefarious agenda. But I won’t shrink back. If anything this world is going to need more matriarchs than it’s ever had in the past. And I won’t apologize for raising matriarchs, no matter how tough it is for them.
One of my favorite Biblical matriarchs is Sarah. Ol’ Abe didn’t know what he was getting when he married his half sister. She was beautiful, desirable and wanted by men wherever they roamed. She and Abraham had an agreement that she would pose as his sister in the presence of the ruling class. It got them into trouble from time to time but as an obedient wife she let Abraham suffer the consequences of this fearful agreement. She was impatient, encouraging Abraham to father a child with her maid who developed an attitude, making her spiteful and jealous. She laughed when she overheard some holy visitors telling Abraham that she would have a child (she’d heard that one for years), even in those days 98 was a little too late. When she was called out for laughing in the face of the impossible she denied it (as any smart woman would when faced with holy retribution). I can just imagine her snort of laughter over the idea that she would conceive. How’s that gonna happen when nothing is going on under the sheets?! Forthright, direct, honest? Yep. It’s said Abraham’s wealth was so vast it couldn’t be contained in the same land as his nephew Lot’s. Can you imagine all that Sarah ruled? Just the number of servants and slaves alone would have a current day CEO reaching for the Prozac. And yet, in spite of all her personality flaws God named her in his promise to Abraham. He kept his promise to them and she delivered a son at the age of 99. When she died Abraham mourned deeply and he buried her in what would eventually become the land of Israel.
We watched one of our favorite movies on Sunday, “The Blind Side”. Leann Toughy was a modern matriarch. She was brash, opinionated, confident, successful, warm and loving all at once. She was what I call a Warrior Matriarch. When Big Mike entered her life, fighting on his behalf was as natural as breathing. While she still had responsibilities for her other children, her husband and her business, the extension of her matriarchal call had more than enough room to include Michael’s needs. Her assertive style and somewhat brash execution in no way diminished her femininity or her submission to her husband. In fact, her husband was pretty proud of her and her children followed her example of loving, and defending Michael. She ventured into places no wealthy white woman dared and she put the threats to herself and her son in their place. Her compassion for the drug addicted woman who gave birth to Michael showed how much her life was turned right side up by the addition of him to her family. I cried.
So in the spirit of the original Mother’s Day founder, I hope you’ll join me in recognizing the value of matriarchs, for that’s truly what Mrs Jarvis was. I also hope you’ll embrace that role in your own life. I pray that you will be a blessing to a matriarch in training and I encourage you to look to the examples in both history and Scripture that will inspire and encourage you to continue on your own journey of becoming the matriarch you were meant to be. Grandchildren, grey hair, wrinkles and low healed pumps don’t make matriarchs. Courage, confidence, compassion, wisdom, honesty and kindness do.
Those qualities also make excellent mothers.