So, what do you want to be?
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
Halloween isn't usually thought of as a time to revere our mothers, but that's exactly what I do when stores begin to display all the costumes and paraphernalia associated with this holiday.
When I was little, my mom made my costumes. The best part of fall, after picking out new school shoes, was going with her to the fabric store, where she would ask me, "What do you want to be?" When I wanted to be a princess, she sat down at her sewing machine to whip up a long-skirted dream. The next year I wanted to be a ballerina, and again she produced exactly what I wanted.
But when Halloween came during second grade, things were a lot different. My family had just moved for the third time since school started. We were in a bleak place where the kids called me "stuck up" because I had new shoes. I was lonely.
We were living in a motel because my dad was having trouble finding housing we could afford. Nevertheless, Mom set up her sewing machine on a card table, and one bright October afternoon, she again asked, "So? What do you want to be?"
But I wasn't very enthusiastic about trick-or-treating or anything else. I cried and told her I missed my old friends and my old school.
She sat down on the bed and pulled me onto her lap. She reached for her Bible and read out loud, "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). She told me that the kingdom of God is wherever I am, because I could never for a moment be separated from God's love.
We talked about how the word omnipresent means that because God is Spirit, He fills all space and is in all places, all the time. "So, you can be happy wherever you are," she said. "Happiness isn't back at your old school. Happiness is within you, because that's where the kingdom of heaven is."
When I told her I didn't understand, she said, "Well, it's a little like Halloween. You don't have to be at your old school or in the old house to have Halloween fun. You can have it right here, right where you are, because what makes Halloween fun is something you always have with you. Your ideas about a good costume are with you. We take those ideas, no matter where we are, and we sew it up, because we know how. No matter where you are, you can feel God's love and hear His ideas about how to be happy, because you know how to pray."
She made another beautiful costume for me, and she arranged the Halloween party for my class. Later, she said that when she was leaving to deliver the treats, something told her to put all of her makeup in her purse. She did, and when she arrived at the school, she discovered that many of the children didn't have costumes and were feeling left out.
Taking her makeup out of her purse, she sat the kids down, one by one, and asked, "So? What do you want to be?" She painted their faces, and everyone enjoyed the party. They were nicer to me after that, and soon we moved again, to a home of our own.
Looking back through half a century of experience, I am awed by Mother's kindness and faith. It takes courage and persistence to see heaven in a dingy motel room; in a town where poverty is the norm; when your child cries for a home she can't go back to, and all you know for certain is that you can turn to God.
I know that's how she managed to get through some hard times, because, besides the Bible, she read another book every day - "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy - which begins: "To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, to-day is big with blessings."
I know she was convinced that being blessed is part of everyone's experience as a child of God and that no matter how difficult circumstances might become, the kingdom of heaven is a present reality that one could hold on to and benefit from through prayer.
Halloween is here again. If someone were to ask me, "So, what do you want to be?" I'd have to say that I want to be someone who consciously celebrates the kingdom of heaven every day - like my mother.