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Family relationships explored in film ‘Sins of the Mother’

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One of the truly great inventions of the modern era is the DVR.

I love mine with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

Last week I watched a movie I had recorded called “Sins of the Mother,” about the relationship between a young woman and her formerly abusive, alcoholic mother.

Shay, the daughter, is a graduate student in Iowa and finds herself burnt out. She has a nervous habit of tearing out pieces of her hair, leaving bald patches on her scalp, which she keeps covered with a head scarf.  Her college advisor tells her she needs to take a year off. So, broke and with nowhere else to go, Shay drives home to Tacoma, Wash., to her mother’s house, bringing with her 25 years’ worth of pent-up anger and resentment toward her mother.

Meanwhile, during the years since Shay has been away at school, Shay’s mother, Nona, joins AA, gets sober, gets a sponsor, gets a job - and gets pregnant. When Shay arrives, she meets Patty, a 5-year-old little sister she never knew she had.

Shay is furious. She’s particularly angry because her mother has transformed from an abusive drunk into a lovely responsible woman. Her AA friends have nothing but wonderful things to say about Nona, but Shay refuses to believe that change is possible. She keeps waiting for her mother to revert back to the mother she always feared and hated.

As the movie progresses, Nona tries her hardest to make things right with her daughter, but Shay only wants to carry her grudges and bear her bitterness.

She observes her mother’s odd habit of digging in her rose garden late at night. Finally she asks Nona what she’s doing and Nona tells her she writes her prayers on pieces of paper and works them into the dirt. Eventually they become part of the soil from which beautiful flowers grow.

Over time Shay softens toward her mother and she starts going into the garden herself, burying her own prayers. On one piece of paper she’s written “fear” and another, “forgiveness.”

Nona invites Shay to church on the day she’s giving testimony of her sobriety and life change. Shay thinks Nona will include a public apology to her, especially for the time when Shay was 13 and Nona took off for a week-long drunk. Terrified, Shay slept inside a closet every night.

But when Nona doesn’t say what Shay wants her to say, she stands up and shouts, “Where were you?” Then right there in church the two of them lay all their hurts and shame and guilt and bitterness bare. But they don’t reconcile. Shay won’t accept Nona’s apologies, even though Nona truly is sorry. Even though that’s what Shay thought she wanted, it’s not enough.

Shay runs out and moves in with a man she’s been dating - and gets pregnant, just like her mother had done twice. Throughout the movie Shay’s biggest fear is turning into her mother and passing down their family sins. She never wanted to have children and considers aborting this baby.

A lot of other stuff goes on in the movie, but to fast-forward: What brings Shay back to Nona is a fire set by one of Nona’s AA friends, Ivy, who sets fire to Nona’s rose garden. When Shay hears about it, she returns. Digging through the dirt of the once-beautiful rose garden, Shay finds dozens of pieces of paper all with her name on it. She realizes that, night after night, Nona has been praying for her.

Something breaks inside of Shay. She sees her mother differently, that she’s not the monster she remembers her to be. She realizes her prayers have been answered, that she forgives her mother and that she’s not afraid to bear the child she’s carrying. She, too, is going to be a single mom like her mother, but hopefully she’ll be like the mother Nona has become.

Nona tells Shay that she thinks she’ll plant morning glories instead of roses, that morning glories grow even in the worst kind of dirt.  Shay’s middle name is Glory.

The movie reminded me that some people say people don’t really change, that families can’t change, but they do. All things are possible with God, even the breaking of generational sins. Jesus truly does make all things new.

And sometimes the most beautiful and hardiest flowers grow in the worst kind of dirt, especially dirt that contains the most heartfelt prayers and watered by tears.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.