Today is my mother’s birthday. Or would have been, if she were here to celebrate it with us. She loved other people’s birthdays, but she rarely wanted to celebrate her own. My father always did something sweet for her though. As far back as I can remember there would be roses on the table for her birthday when we all woke up.

I used to look back on memories of this day and wish that things could go back to the way they were before she died. I used to cry and pray and ask God why he had to take her from us, why she had to go so soon.

This day used to fill me with unbelievable sadness. I would wake up feeling smothered by the weight of all this day used to mean. Suffocated by my sadness, fractured with anger over what I had lost. I would spend the day sitting in a chair, or laying in my bed, crying and sleeping, and sleeping and crying. It was not a pretty, or healthy picture.

The last couple of years have been different though. Last year, I spent the morning with a cup of coffee in one hand, my journal in the other, and a box of pictures at my feet; rocking in my easy chair and praying prayers of gratitude for moments of immense joy spent with my mama; crying tears of relief because I didn’t feel like a prisoner in my own pain any more. I spent most of the morning like that, not depressed as usual, just contemplative. Then I packed the box away and went about my normal daily routine. I folded baby clothes neatly into their drawers in anticipation of Lily’s soon arrival, I cleaned floors and did dishes, and I watched Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. It was nothing like how I spent all the other mornings of my mother’s birthday.

Today I woke up to the sounds of a sweet baby girl talking in her crib. Calling out, “mama?” and laughing to herself . I got her dressed, fed her a banana (her very favorite breakfast food), made some coffee and straightened up the house while she had her milk, and then sat down to listen to a sermon and pay the bills. I was deep in the midst of my normal morning routine when it hit me, that today was my mama’s birthday. As soon as that registered in my mind I was struck by another thought, I had gone through this whole morning, done all the things I normally do, and I hadn’t been sad. Not even once.

I used to fear that I would never stop being sad for my mama. I used to think that her death and all that it had taken from me would never leave me. That I would never get used to her absence and the fractured family she had left behind. I used to be terrified that my overwhelming sadness would crush me, and ultimately, make me like her.

I dreaded becoming like her. Her depression, her anger, her immorality. I stopped remembering all the good times and focused only on the bad memories and my fear and anger.

But this morning was different. So different. I was shocked and delighted to find that my anger, once so strong and consuming, was absent. Not even a whisper of it remains. My fear, a thing of the past. Just like all the bad memories are.

This morning I could go about my routine comfortable and confident in myself, not because of anything I had done to make myself feel differently; but because God, my God, my Heavenly Father, has saved me from all that I used to be. He has lifted the weight of fear, sadness, and anger off of my shoulders and settled a mantle of His peace on them instead. Where there was once a feeling of loss, now there are feelings of joy and gratitude. The hole left in the wake of my mother’s death has been filled completely. With love so big my heart can’t contain it all. With a husband who loves me more than I ever dreamed possible, with a baby girl who broke my heart and put it back together the minute I saw her, with a woman who I call mom without any hesitation, a woman who loves me so much and treats me like the daughter she never had, my mother’s own beautiful sister. And with Jesus Christ, my savior, my redeemer, my protector.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss my mama. I do. Every day. Her wild laugh, her beautiful smile, her sense of humor, her arms that would wrap me up in a hug and rock the sadness out of me whenever I needed it. I miss her just as much now as I did that first year without her. The first year I woke up and there were no roses on the kitchen table.

I will still cry occasionally. She was my mama after all. My rock. My best friend. The glue that held our family together.

But I will no longer rip and tear at the seems because I can’t control my feelings. I am not vulnerable like that anymore.

I am happy. I am strong in the Lord. I am confident in myself. I am loved. I know I am so loved. And I can give love.

So this morning, cup of coffee in hand, baby in my lap, sitting in my rocker; I will smile at the pictures in my box. I will smile because I look just like her, my beautiful mother. A generation of women rocking their precious babes and loving them immensely. I will smile. I will rejoice that God has changed my life, has changed me, and I will be grateful for the times I had with my beautiful mama.

Good morning mama. Happy Birthday.