That was the challenge posed by Larry Smith and Tim Barkow, founders of SMITH magazine, back in 2006. They took their cue from a literary legend about Ernest Hemingway, who is said to have written, as an answer to a bet, a six-word short story: "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."
A few weeks ago, the folks at the ONE campaign -- the international non-profit grassroots organization, co-founded by Bono of U2, that aims to mobilize supporters to work against extreme poverty and global disease -- asked me to write a six-word story about motherhood.
As part of its new campaign to empower women worldwide (70 percent of the 1.8 billion people living in extreme poverty are women), Women ONE2ONE, ONE commissioned a few prominent women -- actors, artists, advocates, politicians, business leaders, philanthropists, and the odd ink-stained wretch -- to write a six-word story, á la SMITH magazine, about mothers.
Yikes, I thought. I'm a novice at this whole mommyhood thing. I'm not sure if I'm fully qualified.
I've been a mother for just a year now. In fact, it was on Mother's Day 2009 when my son, Vasco, then a terribly sick, not-yet-10-year-old African orphan we had helped bring to the States for life-saving open-heart surgery, climbed onto my lap, for the first time, in the middle of a church service and fell asleep.
Vasco chose me, even though I didn't realize it in those emotional moments, mid-sermon, tears pouring down my face. Only in hindsight did I understand that it was precisely then that I became a mother for the first time.
I was surprised by motherhood, you might say. (A friend of mine, Shayne Moore, has a book coming out in January about her experiences as one of the ONE campaign's most passionate mothers working to change the world, titled Global Soccer Mom. We joke that if she's the Global Soccer Mom, I am the Overnight Soccer Mom.) I'm still surprised, reeling and indescribably honored by the 180-degree turn the trajectory of my life took last year.
My own mother, thankfully, is still with me and, in her late 70s, fiercer than ever. In crafting my six-word story, I thought about her and the other women who have mothered me throughout my life. And then I examined my own wobbly-kneed foray into motherhood and all that I've learned about being someone's mom.
Here's what I came up with:
"Agape dispenser, grace holder, fiercest advocate."
Motherhood and grace are inextricably intertwined in my mind. A wonderfully wise man told me, while we were discussing grace a few years back, that many of us first experience God's grace -- that unearnable gift of unlimited, unmerited love, compassion, and mercy -- through our mothers.
We see grace first in our mother's loving gaze. Agape is the Greek word for unconditional love, and although mothers aren't the creators of grace, we are, in a very tangible sense, its dispensers. Grace moves through us.
Not long ago, I asked another wise soul, the author and mother Annie Lamott, if she thought we could be grace for another person. She thought for a moment and answered, "I think we can hold space for one another."
In that sense, I believe I held space in my heart for the child that would become my son until he arrived. I hold space for him still -- grace space -- for untold lessons learned, challenges met, and hurdles soared over -- until he's ready to move into them. It's what mothers have done throughout human history; part of the job description.
Fierceness is the first quality that comes to mind when I think of mothers. I was blessed with a mother who is unfailingly fierce in her love for my brother and me and, now, her grandson. She is like Esther, the wily and faithful queen from Hebrew scripture. Daring. Brave. Wise. Strong. Dangerous, in the best sense of that word. And she, like Esther, is an advocate for her tribe and beyond, giving a booming, unwavering voice to the voiceless.
ONE has invited mothers and children around the globe to write their own six-word stories about motherhood at http://www.one.org/women/sixwords. By Wednesday morning, nearly 6,000 stories had been posted on the site.
This Mother's Day, take a few minutes to craft your own story and lend your voice to a creative effort to empower, embolden, and elevate women worldwide.
In the words of another ONE six-word author, Pam Cope, co-founder of the Touch A Life Foundation for exploited children:
"End poverty? Empower moms globally. Solved."
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