I am a MOO, which has nothing to do with cows, although that would spark a smile. In my life, MOO stands for Mothers of Offenders. The word offender just made this all so serious.
I am the mother of an offender. This is my smashed-heart story.
That I am a mother at all still fills me with wonder. I knew from a young age my body would never be able to bear children. Instead of crying over that, I chose to live a large life of faith in the God who created me. In my early thirties as a single youth pastor, I began meeting with a group of at-risk tween boys. Actually I couldn’t shake them. They were beautifully messy and risky, and they eventually chose to follow Jesus. The night they made that decision, God whispered to me that these boys needed more than a youth pastor: they needed parents. With open hearts, my new husband and I parented more and more. Now, decades later, we have five delightful grandchildren who are being raised in safe homes, with love and the knowledge of Jesus—the very things their fathers didn’t have until they were older.
I wish this was true for all four of my sons, but as I said, I am a MOO. One of my sons committed a serious crime as a young man, and the prison system has been a part of our lives for 21 years now.
I still remember the phone call when this became our reality. I remember the awkwardness of the jail visits which later became prison visits. Jail and prison are very different, and I hate that I know that. I can still hear the door slamming and locking behind me for the first time, can still picture sitting in that booth, picking up that phone, and seeing my son’s face through that glass. My dear son, whose whole future had just changed, who wasn’t sure if he was still loved.
I also had to go to church the next Sunday and answer questions about the front-page article in the newspaper.
When my son was arrested, people tried to figure out what to say to me. Most often they truly meant well, but it didn’t touch the anger I felt toward my son. It didn’t touch the grief I felt over his lost future. It didn’t soothe the very public shame my family now bears. Shame is already a story stealer, and because my shame rested in the crime my son committed, I didn’t know how to put words on that any more than my friends did.
So I walked into a room filled with beautiful women just like me. We are MOOs. We support each other. But none of us want to be there.
This is a place we can be honest about the shame our own children have brought us. We walk each other through the court system and then the other systems in place for those who are incarcerated. But we wish we didn’t have to.
Being a MOO means I must enter into another person’s pain. To help her is to also relive my own pain. I have to hear stories that are tragic, stories that have no easy ending point.
Being a MOO also means we really see each other. We already know what the woman next to us means when she opens her mouth. No glassy-eyed I don’t understand. No judgment. No, I can’t bear to know this exists in my safe world.
This connection is a rare find. But to get it, I have to be honest about my own pain too.
I wish the universal nature of struggle made it easier for all of us to ask for help, especially in situations like mine, when the mistakes that led to heartbreak cannot be undone. But in a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there can still be so much shame around reaching out.
It is easier to numb that pain—by eating or drinking the pain into oblivion, or becoming so “crazy busy” that I don’t have time to feel it. I could overshare my pain, trying to get a shot of dopamine from attention (or use oversharing as an excuse, believing no one understands me). Sometimes I want to do everything right, hiding behind a face that says I am okay even though I am smashed inside.
No wonder I can stand in a crowded church, worshipping God with all my heart next to people I love, and still feel alone. Sometimes I feel like no one really knows me. Sometimes I think I have to pretend I am someone else to find any connection.
Do you know what the best part of being a MOO is? In a small group meeting among other mothers who are not afraid of my pain, I get to share my real stories. Speaking these truths aloud in this safe space helps me live my other days in the real world.
We never compare whose pain is worse. Instead, we listen. We give each other words of encouragement. Sometimes we share out of our experience—we’ve been there before. Some words seem to come directly from the Holy Spirit, who comforts us in our sorrow. We laugh at things other people could never understand.
I don’t need to talk about my experiences with prison every day. Nor is it safe for me to talk about my story (and my son’s story) with everyone. Some people don’t care. Some people may be more interested in salacious gossip than my heart. Some people have enough in their lives to handle without the weight of my experiences on top.
Only certain people get to know this brave, vulnerable part of me. This connection with other moms who also know the awkwardness of prison visitations builds me up to live the rest of my life more fully.
I no longer live under a cloud of secret shame. For a few hours each week, I know I am heard and understood—and that is enough.
Brenda Seefeldt Amodea is a pastor, speaker, wife, and mom to four men with their own brave stories. Her life is a story of getting her heart smashed and the many times she has chosen to get up. She shares the beauty of her pain at www.Bravester.com. Sometimes these stories shared are better in person—complete with prayer together. Maybe you would like her to come to your group and share?