Last week was an almost magical week for me, having had the opportunity to connect with some family members and friends, with whom I needed connecting. For a few days I was back in my state of origin, geographically. But my spirit was in it’s element…happy. There were times that I felt my heart would burst from the pure enjoyment of living one moment at a time, just as my belt would burst from so much Texas barbecue. My face was sore from smiling. There was healing and forgiveness bestowed and accepted, and the kind of camaraderie that only dear childhood friends can resurrect.
Visiting rivers and singing along to songs in the car to Pandora’s “’80’s Radio Hits.”
Seeing how much my hands are like those of my father, who I’ve only ever seen a handful of times in my 46 years.
Coming to know my half-sister and her family.
Remembering that I do have people.
Happiness is to serenity, as serenity is to joy – the ultimate goal, the place where we are in God’s presence with no distractions. We long for supreme happiness, but have only delicious, fleeting tastes of it.
What made me happy last week – Texas – might be different than what makes me feel happy next week. We are fickle creatures.
I suppose I have kind of an emotional hangover. Today, I’m weepy and sentimental, and have this crazy urgent want to make all things right. But that’s a problem in this world, because setting all things right is not my job. Trying to make it my job leads straight to unhappiness. I know enough to know that.
It makes me think that maybe perfect happiness is too much…just too much to ask for. I can’t wait around for everything to get it’s collective act together before I allow myself a slice of ‘happy.’
Oh, how I love the Serenity Prayer – such a simple thing! Most people know the first refrains of it, but it is the last half of the famous prayer that really speak to my heart.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
It’s hard to take this world as it is, not as I would have it. Expecting supreme happiness in this life being unreasonable and all.
The state of my origin can also be melancholy, and sometimes I get my wheels stuck in the muck of melancholy. It helps if I just go ahead and feel what I’m feeling already, instead of attempting to stuff, manipulate, or eat my feelings.
Feel the bittersweet. Feel the melancholy. Really let it squish around between my toes like Texas mud. And then step out of it to walk into the courage to change the things that I can. Because I can’t experience the pure joy of living one day at a time any other way than to surrender to His will.
Accept that hardships – those stumbling blocks to happiness (a feeling) – are nothing but paving stones for the pathway of peace.
Grant me reasonable happiness and help me to trust YOU to make all things right.
In working on a series of “Seven Little Action Words,” I was kind of at a loss on ‘Trusting.’ Honestly, I think it is because we are very nearly empty nesters now and I am learning to trust God with my grown daughters. This may seem easy if your child is still in diapers or is navigating the waters of Kindergarten; not so easy in the tween and teen years they seem bent on making the stupidest choices possible in any given circumstance. In the epiphany that I was never in control of my girls’ lives in the first place (illusion, my friends…it was all an illusion) God is giving me a single question: “Do you trust me with these girls who you love so much? I love them even more than you do, you know.” I know, Abba. Thank you. Sometimes I need reminding. I trust you. Your eye is on my little sparrows, too.
By: Jana Greene
The first thing I noticed about it was the blackness of the outline, almost as if it were drawn with bold magic marker. My next thought was that I must absolutely write about this, the design that now lay bare on her skin. As if, somehow putting pen to paper would give permanence to the moment, as the needle brought it to her flesh.
My daughter’s first tattoo.
I had known that it was coming, that she considered it a rite of passage. My girl had always danced to the beat of a different drummer; a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture. If she had a credo it would be this: Live by Deliberate Acts of Impulsivity.
As her mother, I would surely prefer that she not bear any tattoos at all, because (and yes, I am the expert here) she is absolutely perfect the way God made her. I am rather attached to her being, looking, sounding exactly like my daughter – the only one of her kind, anywhere. Tattoos are just not my “thing”, whereas she very much is.
Nineteen years ago, just after she was born, the delivery room nurses whisked her away for her first bath and returned with my infant girl swaddled very tightly. No sooner was she in my arms than I was removing the blankets, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning. As mothers have done since the dawn of time, I checked her, head to toe. I found her birthmarks, the dimples in her plump hands, and worked my way to her tiny, peach-fuzzed back. There, between two flawless round shoulder blades, I placed my open palm to her skin. It was a perfect fit. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined anything marring that space.
In her “growing up” years, there were manifestations of her free spirit, of course… harmless acts of rebellion, none of them leaving a lasting mark. She formed strong opinions before she could form complete sentences, and had no trouble expressing them. At around age four, she developed magnetism to the camera (any camera) and made it a habit to insert herself into any and every photograph.
Around the same time, Alexandra began displaying fashionista tendencies. An ensemble she chosen for a summer day in the park might include: a sweater with leggings, plastic Disney princess shoes, a toboggan with ear flaps, seven necklaces and a life-vest (after all, it was July!)…all worn together and on dry land. It soon became apparent that stares, glares and pointing in her direction by the public at large was not a deterrent to this behavior. It was more the entire motivation.
This is when the adage “choose your battles” took on meaning for me. And as I became a student of war, the years rolled on like a tank.
With the advent of tween–hood, there were lines drawn, of course. Not a fan of shirts that showed adolescent bellies and shorts that declared suggestive adjectives across their bottoms, those were not tolerated. Alexandra compensated with crazy combinations of adornment, including stick-on tattoos of all kinds.
At twelve, after spending a long day with friends at the beach boardwalk, she returned home with a henna tattoo, ecstatic.
“Until I get a real one,” she told me.
She managed to graduate high school with only a nose ring as modification, but no sooner was the ink dry on her diploma than she was ready to display ink on her body.
“I’m ready,” she said to me one day. “I’m getting my tattoo. A bird.”
Okay. A bird.
“A Tribal Sparrow,” she added.
“What in the world is a ‘tribal sparrow’?” My voice is more condescending than I intend.
Eye rolling and head shaking. Translation: “Mother, you just don’t get it.”
I wonder about the subject she has chosen for the artist, and it’s tribal-ness. Our family heritage is sort-of a homogenized breed. We have no “tribe”. We have no “people”. We are Scotch-Irish with German in the mix, and a little Louisiana-Cajun-French (but you have to really look for it). No- we are very garden variety, Ellis-Island mutt American. Perhaps that’s the attraction for her, the tribal aspect.
“If you’re trying to belong,” I said, in an attempt to appeal to her lovingly (sometimes changing strategy can be effective). “You already do. You don’t need a tattoo to belong here.”
She knows that, she says.
“Is a bird something you now,” I pause for effect. “And forever more want to be associated with? Because you will….you will be ‘that girl with that tattoo.” But as I am asking her, I am secretly grateful she isn’t branding herself with a map of Area 51, or the image of a pop tart, or a beer keg. “It should be something meaningful to you.”
“It is. It represents freedom to me, Mom.”
“You still live at home,” I reply dryly. “We pay all of your bills….. Don’t you want to wait until you are free to commemorate freedom?”
Heavy sigh. “Freedom from things. Personal things.”
“If it’s so personal, why does it have to be permanently inked on your body for the whole world to see?”
“Why would I not?” she counters, and I have no reply. All their lives, my children have been told to be authentic, true to themselves. Encouraged to be real.
Don’t be afraid to show who you are. It’s the message I’ve tried to impart, even during the years of life-vest accessorizing. Don’t wear the masks.
“You know what?” I say. “You don’t even know who you are yet! You are who you are right now, and a mere five years from today, you will be in a completely different place.”
She says that none of us remain the same, not even for a single year. And it’s true. I am a very, very different mother than I was when she was born, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning. The particular audacity of getting inked is that it alters your shell, the only one you will get in this life. It is a deliberately impulsive act.
Parenting is not a sane endeavor, and complicating the matter is that she is, in fact, not a child. Still, I have to believe she will listen to reason.
“Not everyone is going to be so accepting of your ways in the world,” I bleat wearily. “There are people who will make value judgments about you based solely on the fact that you have a tattoo.”
But my instincts tell me to RETREAT, as I watch her body tense.
RETREAT, or there will be immediate launch into mutual hysteria, familiar territory for us. It seems that – these days –she and I are either dissolving into tears of laughter together (our ‘inside jokes’ are legion), or hurling words of frustration at one another, rapid-fire.
“If I ever care what people think of me based solely on my appearance, than I have bigger problems than having a tattoo!”
How can I not admire that statement? Who can argue? She is, after all, an adult. I surrender, but silently, and with a slow refrain of “Taps” playing in my mind.
What I want to tell her, but do not say aloud, is that she will be marked, molded, and modified, without ever setting foot into a tattoo parlor. I look at my body, once just as perfect as hers, mapped by the story of my life. Constellations of freckles from forgetting sunscreen a thousand times, and wrinkles from the same offense. Smile-lines around my eyes from laughing, scars from mishaps and missteps, and from the pieces I have lost to surgeries….all part of the story. But it’s the pink, translucent ribbons that cover my lower belly that mean the most to me. Tributaries of skin stretched to accommodate the growing bodies of she and her sister long ago….. These are my tribal marks.
When the time arrives, Alexandra comes to tell me it is The Day. . She tells me the name of the artist who will do the work. I recognize his name; he attends my church. She is the definition of “all smiles”, luminous.
“Do you want to come with me while I have it done?” She asks. “You can hold my hand.” I am instantly frustrated with her for acting like a little girl – still needing my approval, and equally frustrated that she is not one anymore.
I politely decline, and her boyfriend goes with her instead. I am considering the natural order of things, pondering the business of ‘letting go’ when she walks out the door with him. I try not to think about ink and needles. I’m glad he will hold her hand.
It finally occurred to me to talk to God about my qualms; it should have been my first response. How many times do I wrestle tiny inconsequential issues to the ground as though they are giants without asking the Almighty God to assist me on the mat? As usual, He was already in that place I had hesitated to invite him.
The Bible has a lot to say, and the gist of the message that speaks to my life is Grace. True, there are passages that warn about marking the body, scriptures that warn against cutting the hair. But it is a verse about birds that God brought to my mind. Leafing through the pages, I found it right away:
Matthew 10:29. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Has my daughter inadvertently given flesh to the scripture I pray over her?
Though I hate to admit it, Alexandra’s tattoo has forced me to consider the messy business of acceptance. The “Choose-Your-Battle” cry of all parents has a different tone for each scrimmage and every life stage. What do I gain, as a mother, if I choose not to accept my grown child’s decisions? Am I selfishly seeking validation that I have “raised her right” if she refrains from what society might be uncomfortable with?
The freedom she is trying to parlay is that today, she can still go anywhere from here. This tattoo is meaningful to her. And she is meaningful to me.
When she returns, she cannot wait to show me, walking backwards into my bedroom so that it’s the first thing I see. There is no hiding the work; she will have none of that. This girl, a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture….Now adorned.
So that’s a Tribal Sparrow…
A clear coat of laminate covers the wound, so that it can heal properly. In the mental melee of preparing myself to see it, I had forgotten that it would scab and scar…that it would be a ‘no pain, no gain’ commitment, as most things that become permanent are.
“It’s lovely,” I say. And I think I mean it.
The Tribal Sparrow is a beautiful bird.
Her outline is striking and very bold, not the least bit likely to fade, but her plumage is just the color of Alexandra’s complexion. Centered between my daughter’s flawless and round shoulder blades, the sparrow is exactly the size of my open palm…a perfect fit. She is in flight, but I’m not sure she knows where she is going, her two tail feathers pointed high. Her eye appears to be a soft swirl, peering neither downward or behind, but straight ahead. Her wings are gently drawn with a curve, as if she is gliding, not yet looking for a place to land. A true Artist painted her right onto my daughter’s perfect body. And every time I see it now, I am reminded that His eye is on the sparrow, and that she can go anywhere from here.
“Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!”
– Psalms 127:3-5
My husband has a full quiver of arrows, if the psalmist’s analogy is accurate.
When I met him seven years ago, it was love at first sight. I was a single mother of two adolescent daughters, and he was a single father to one. His girl was the same age as my oldest … on the cusp of 14.
If you know anything about teenage girls, you know about age 14. Brutal on both child and parent….14 is parental boot camp. Fourteen is a fiery raining down of arrows.
When we were dating, my Beloved swept me off my feet with romance – but really wowed me with his fathering abilities. His daughter was his heart….and because she was – he melted mine. He was so committed to her and to the job at hand – being the best Dad he could be.
“Love at first sight” morphed into “I thee wed” in a year. In taking vows with his wife, my husband went above and beyond in assuming the daily fathering duties of his new wife’s daughters. The carpooling, trips to the dentist’s office, and buying the school supplies. This previously single father of an only child tripled his “dad-ness” factor overnight.
All three daughters lived with us in our “blended” family, all the time. Often, we wondered if the family-mixer was on “puree” instead of “blend.” The girls were at the mercy of our love for one another. After all, our daughters hadn’t fallen in love with one another, but were arrows in the same quiver, nonetheless.
If parenting teenagers is walking through a minefield, step-parenting is navigating a minefield during a hurricane while under nuclear attack, without even having had the benefit of boot camp.
INTENSE. For all of us.
Through the usual growing pains of our daughters’ having boyfriends, breakups and broken hearts (and yet more boyfriends) – he offers advice and more importantly, sets the bar for how they should expect to be treated by the way he treats me.
Through graduations and awards, he lets them all know he is proud. He has sat through three times more middle school band concerts, chorus performances and class plays than he ever imagined when he was the father of one child.
He could have shirked some of this extra-mile “reward,” and still have been the bravest man I’ve ever known. He could have done much less and still have been a good father. But in true warrior style, he gave it his all. And still does, to this day.
He has been through 14 three times now, and not only survived, but learned to smile. Our daughters are all young adults – one is a married woman herself now.
Our little pureed family – which surrounds him in chaos, estrogen-laden crisis and drama – is strong. Because my husband is strong, and committed to the job.
How joyful also is the man, and the family who loves him.
They are hard enough when made seamlessly – a Bon Voyage before a long trip, planned and executed with love and attention to detail.
Goodbye is difficult, even under the best of circumstances, but there is closure to a well-rounded farewell – an “Until we meet again.”
When I got sober, I said goodbye to alcohol in all it’s forms. It was a very hard break-up, because the connection was so intimate. We snuck around, alcohol and I. We had memories, a history. Goodbye to tart Chardonnay and mellow brew. Goodbye to neon beach drinks with little umbrellas. Goodbye Nyquil.
The parting was long-wrought but swift. Abstinence – unlike mere absence – does not make the heart grow fonder. The further I separated from my lover alcohol, the clearer it became that I was better off without it. Good riddance.
But a funny thing happened during our breakup. Not unlike the separation of any two coupled entities, our friends took sides. But instead of Team Alcohol and Team Jana, my loved ones seemed to belly up to one of two bars: Team Drunk Jana and Team Sober Jana. And I wasn’t expecting that development, honestly. I had naturally assumed that the people who loved me would rally behind Team Sober, but that is not what happened.
My whole world changed, one tenuous moment at a time. Every single nerve in my being was on high alert, but everyone else just kept living as though nothing was happening. As if nothing had changed. It was at this juncture that I had to erect those pesky boundaries. But boundaries with others are only good when they are respected, and as we know – people in the throes of addiction themselves are not great respecter of boundaries.
Sometimes, that means saying goodbye to people we love.
In truth, “everyone else” did not become more dysfunctional as I grew in recovery. The dysfunction just became clearer to me. It is a testament to my level of disease that I had not realized it before. I developed a mental allergy to high drama, and an emotional allergy to the abusive drinking and using of others.
The sad truth is that there are people I’ve known my whole life that will always prefer Team Drunk. They found me more laid-back, easier to manipulate, and less confident when I was active in my addiction. But the problem with the former me is that I was a dumbed-down, numbed-down version of myself before I got sober. I am a new creation in recovery.
Where does healthy acceptance of others meet healthy self-care? I don’t purport to know.
Is “you make me want to drink” enough of a reason to cut ties? I think it can be.
Is “you hurt me” enough of a reason to distance? Team Sober says unequivocally, yes.
My heart still longs for a connection for some of the people to whom I have said ‘goodbye.’ It is a very hard break-up, because the connection was so intimate. We had a history. I love them dearly, dearly.
What to do with the jagged, messy edges of goodbye in recovery when the amends I’ve tried to make with others don’t match up with the edges of self-care in a nice, neat seam? When the closure has no well-rounded farewell – an “Until we meet again?”
Team Sober says to approach it just like every other recovery issue – this Bon Voyage before the longest, best journey of recovery – planned and executed with love and attention to detail for the sake of my life.
I’ve been watching you , keeping up with your feelings. I know you imagine I watch you from my throne in Heaven, so far way. But in reality, I’m as close as you as your own heart, the one that’s been broken; the one that has been skipping beats lately. I am as close as the breath you have a hard time catching when you try to cry quietly. I am right there with you.
You’ve been a bit down lately, really kind of “attitude-y Judy” if you will, and I know it’s because of Father’s Day. Well, really, your blues started to settle in around Mother’s Day, just last month. You have been out of whack ever since.
You are estranged from the mother that you dearly love, because you heart has decided that healthy boundaries must be in place, but your brain has decided those boundaries were not being respected. At your heart-brain summit – trying to figure out what to do – there was only chaos. I feel like maybe it’s time to let it go.
Father’s day is an even more loaded occasion. Aside from celebrating it for Your Beloved husband, you have no dog in this fight. The man who was most like father to you (besides Me, of course) was your grandfather, Papa. How much he loved you, and you loved him! It is a beautiful thing so witness so much devotion this side of the Kingdom. Does my own heart good to see.
But when, my daughter, are you going to let go of the others who “fathered” you? The one whose DNA I chose to combine with your mother’s to weave you into being, and knit you in her womb? I am sorry he did not stick around. Is wasn’t about you, you know. Ahhh, perhaps that is the biggest problem – his indifference made it about you.
And others in the “father” position, like the others who volunteered to step into that role. You simply have to understand that it is a tragic thing that he took advantage of his position and that you were hurt. Oh, my child, you were only very small.
In love, I want to suggest to you – instead of focusing on the loss and estrangement, the hurt and the trauma of your earlier life …you could try to consider things from another side? I will not force you to let it go, child. I am quite a gentleman, in that I insist you must make the choice. But when you do, I am here to help you move on.
You, my daughter, are a survivor! Strong in heart and in mind. And what you’ve lost in this life, you can see I have given back to you ten-fold, if you stop only looking back. Your cup is overflowing with blessings … Look around you, my child! Look forward.
All the issues with parents (who are, after all, just human beings like you) cannot dilute the love you receive in your life every single day. Let go of the relationships that make you feel lost, orphaned, alone…and look around at this life I’ve given you!
What you lack in relationship with your parents, I have given you 1,000 times more, through circles of friends whom you love – and love you – like family. People I have purposely brought into your life (again, not by orchestrating from a different galaxy, but from within and with-out and all around you) cradle you in more care than you ever imagined you would experience in this life.
When have you gone through a time of sorrow or joy that you were not surrounded with friends that rush toward you, to climb in the trenches and sit with you in your sorrow, or rejoice with great exuberance when celebration was in order?
In your husband alone, I’ve given you a best friend and confidant, a lover, a helper; and a wonderful father for your children, as well. In all the world, I chose him for you, so that you would never feel lost, orphaned, alone again.
My daughter, if you would just realize this … maybe you would be lifted up. Maybe you could be a bit of a “gratitudey– Judy” – ya think? (I knew you’d get a kick out of that one!)
Let things go that do not matter, look around you and realize what you really do have.
And if you do… if you really see it, your epiphany might help me to have the best Father’s Day ever.
I love you.
“Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”
– John Mayer, “Daughters”
I used to be a big fan of greeting cards – Instagram-esque images on the front, the oh-so-eloquent sappiness that makes up the text inside. But these days, I’m finding that Hallmark doesn’t always capture the essence of occasions. Here in my sepia years (not near ‘golden’, mind you) mass-generated greetings don’t cut it.
Looking for a Father’s Day card to recognize my husband, I hovered over a card on the rack that pictured the quintessential daddy-daughter image: A black-and-white picture of dancing feet – a little girl’s bare feet perched upon her father’s leather Oxfords. I love that image.
Isn’t that what father-ness looks like?
What does it look like, as a reel – instead of a snapshot? It is a no guts, no glory endeavor. Father-ness also looks like a million other little acts of devotion.
It looks like canceling long-awaited plans to attend a chorus concert/band performance/theatrical production that a child forgot to mention until the day of.
It looks like children whom he has advised can “tell him anything” will, in fact, tell him anything.
It looks like forgoing something he wants – or even needs – so that the girls can have what they want and need.
It looks like giving 100% in the little things, like positive reinforcement for clean dishes and put-away laundry.
It looks like giving 100% with little or no notice for big things – like weddings. Moves. Driver’s licenses.
It looks like unselfishness.
It looks like knowing a child’s favorite birthday cake flavor, and going to all the grocery stores in town until you find it.
It looks like making taking the time to hear their points-of-view of his kids (even when they make no sense, even when they are “wrong”.)
It looks like insisting that they treat their mother/step-mother with respect, even in the sassiest teen years (such a mouthy time!)
It looks like openly loving God, while respecting the truth that each daughter is on her own the journey to discover that God is real.
It looks like praying on behalf of each one of them, every day.
It looks like midnight runs to the skating rink, and dropping four other loud, yapping, excitable teens off at their own houses, so their parents don’t have to make a midnight run. Sometimes, it looks like four or five loud, yapping, excitable teens having a sleepover at his house.
It means rolling with the punches, constantly – without harboring resentment, or bestowing guilt on the children.
It looks like valor, quietly.
It looks like giving away his life’s treasure to her new husband on her wedding day, and making that day as memorable as possible for her.
It looks like buying class rings that he knows will be worn once, and then sit in a drawer. And it means never mention a word of the expense again.
It looks like treading the fine line to deal with a daughter’s choice to date the over-cologned, greasy haired, lip ring-wearing, juvenile delinquent, junior Bad Ass (completely unworthy of her,) without being overbearing (thus increasing the boy’s appeal ten-fold.)
It looks like buying feminine hygiene products when necessary – without embarrassment. Without missing a beat.
It looks like stick-to-it-ness when going through the drudgery of parenting, honestly – the day-in, day-out homework inquiries.
It looks like having stunt-man like ability to roll off the drama.
It looks like learning – and accepting – that all three daughters respond differently to different situations, that “one size” rules, privileges, and relating does not fit “all.”
It looks like honoring our daughters, even when their behavior is not honor-worthy.
It looks like standing in a darkened window with a notepad in-hand to write down the license plate number of a boy who has picked up a daughter for a date. (Date my daughter? Be ready to be properly vetted. ) Note to daughters: Yes, he did this – and with enough forethought to make sure the dining room lights were off before you left. Better visibility.
It looks like shuttling kids to doctor appointments, play practices, sleep-overs, and SAT tests. And back again.
It looks like listening to Christina Aguilera, when he’s in a Robert Cray kind of mood.
It looks like being the practical parent; not always getting to be the fun parent. It looks like school supplies instead of frivolities, in leaner times.
It looks like treating your wife exactly the way you want your daughters to be treated by their husbands.
My Beloved’s flesh-and-blood daughter was born with the privilege of calling him “Dad.” He has raised her most of her life. She is a married now, still Daddy’s Girl at 22 years old.
“Most people experience just having a mom raise you – or even both parents if you’re lucky – but I always just had my dad,” she recently told me. “He is the one person who told me what he thought and then let me make my own decisions without judgment…always dropping everything to help me, and giving me the biggest hugs, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. He has given me a life to be proud of, always giving me the best advice and showing me how to better my future. “
For my own two daughters, My Beloved came on the scene when they were 10 and 13; the first and only man I dated as a single mom that my daughters immediately gave the stamp of approval (I only dated a couple, I swear!)
“Mom didn’t really have any boyfriends before my step-father, but she did go on dates occasionally,” my youngest, now 18, says. “Being the grumpy child that I was, I did not like any of them, but something about him was different. He didn’t just care about mom; he cared about my sister and I – and he went out of his way to show it. A few weeks into his relationship with my mother, he surprised me with a necklace of my favorite animal – a penguin. It had a gold chain and crystal eyes, and came in a penguin-shaped case. It wasn’t my birthday or anything … he just wanted to show me that he cared. I hoped that he would be my stepfather, and I am so grateful that it happened!”
My eldest, also now 22, came to appreciate that he put in the time with parental grunt work: “A lot of things stick out to me when I think about my step-father,” she says. “He took time to come to all my school events and basically ‘owned’ us all from the get-go. One of my favorite memories is recent – just last month – when he came and sat with you during my tonsillectomy even though he didn’t have to….even though I was pretty out-of-it, and wouldn’t have known if he had skipped it. Waking up and seeing that he was there, that meant a lot to me. That’s just who he is. He is really that person.”
What does Father-ness look like, really look like?
So much better than a Hallmark card; so much deeper than Instagram-esque imagry and sappy sentiment. Off the rack; a reel of a million little acts of devotion. And some really big ones.
It looks like love.
Footnote from My Beloved’s daughter, Lynzee, who is leaving to be with her husband stationed in Japan in just a few days:
“Dad… I’m not a very adventurous person. But you always told me, ‘You’re never going to see what the world has to offer you unless you put yourself out there and try new things.’ So now that I’m an ‘old married lady’; I have a chance to go to Japan for three years. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already miss you. Thank you for working so hard. You’re always my secure place to call home. You are an awesome dad, and I love you.”
“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
From the very first minute I met my beloved husband, it was obvious that he was interested in me. He made is so clear! If ever there were a love at first sight, we totally nailed it.
But seemed to be such a good man, that I had this primal urge to warn him.
“You should probably know,” I said, while waited for a lunch table on our first date. “I’m an alcoholic in recovery.”
“And have two daughters, 10 and 13, who I raise by myself. And they are really handfuls.“ He only smiled at me, undeterred.
As that first date progressed, it was clear that this man was special, different. He was warm, attentive, interesting. I had butterflies, but in the most comfortable, natural way. As it turned out, that he had a 13-year-old daughter, too. In our first, long conversation, I kept having the oddest feeling that this was The One.
We saw each other every day after that. We simply couldn’t be apart.
In times of anxiety, I wanted to tell him, “RUN! I am not worth it!” and when he didn’t run, that dark place in my spirit that was born of so much rejection in the past, whispered, “He will one day abandon you, you know. He will figure it out.”
Even after such a brief courtship, it occurred to me that If he wanted to run, I would rather it be right away, before I fell any deeper in love with him. I felt like such a mess, with nothing to bring into this new relationship.
Nothing but me.
“I have medical issues,” I would say at otherwise intimate times. Or, “I struggle to pay my bills.”
I was sure that this sexy, compassionate, amazing man would not stick around, if only he knew the true me. But a strange thing happened … the more he came to know the true “me,” the more he just kept falling in love. The alcoholism recovery (which is a lifetime endeavor,) the single-parenting of teenaged girls, the health issues….none of these – or any of the other in the plethora of anxieties and insecurities – kept him from loving me.
Oh how many times I experience the same dynamic in my walk with God! From the very first moment I accepted Christ as my savior, it was obvious that he was head-over-heels with me.
From time to time I remind him: “I am small, insignificant. I battle anxiety, and fear abandonment, and have nothing to bring to the table. Only me.”
He is such a good God, it’s almost as if I feel I should warn Him.
Often, when I feel those butterflies that come from knowing the Living God has fallen in love with me, I still wonder “why?” I am in awe that the God of the universe is undeterred by my character defects, challenges, and not concerned about what I can “bring to the table.”
I’ve told God that – if he wants to run, I understand. I’m kind of a mess. Sometimes, when I am most anxious and depressed, when the old feelings of being a “mess” crash over me, I think about the early days when I tried to talk my Beloved husband out of loving me, and he just smiled. I was enough, he wanted me, just me – forever.
What kind of God would be crazy about me? The kind that cannot be talked out of it.
The kind who just wants to be with me, because when he created me, it was love at first sight.
“Sometimes the light is shining on me, other times, I can barely see” – The Grateful Dead
Can I just be honest?
I hate change.
The past several months have been one change after another for me, and I resent it. I’m ready for some normalcy, but I no longer believe it exists. I’ve decided that believing in “normal” is for suckers.
What do I hate about change? I hate that good things go away, and bad things come around – before the good things come back.
I hate that change seems to happen at the precise moment that I seem to find my groove. Change often feels like having the rug yanked out from under me. You know that rug….the one that can feel like a genuine magic flying carpet, before it gets yanked.
I like riding on the high of good times. I cling on to the good times as if they are The New Normal. I like the exuberance of feeling ‘normal.’ Normal seems, for all the world, to have a rhythm, a steadiness. But changes keep rolling in.
Peace sometimes gets disrupted, and chaos ensues – it is lost, before it can be found again.
Jobs, weight, weather – all forever rising and falling – and getting on my ever-loving nerves.
Fresh things get stale.
Income comes in, and becomes “out-go” in the blink of an eye. Bills go up, the market goes down.
Kids outgrow their childhoods, but don’t leave when you are ready for them to fly. Then they grow up, and leave before you’re ready.
Relationships grow and change, morphing in uneven spurts.
Feelings in a footrace with facts, boundaries built and crumbled.
The world is a mess – just look at the news! Nothing stays stable – nothing on this earth.
Pets grow old and sick., and pass away (we lost two beloved animals in a two month span.)
We – and our circumstances – change unevenly.
Don’t even get me started on hormones… Oy vey!
Lately it occurs to me….what a long, strange, interesting trip it’s been
And the hardest changes? Spirits get bound and released, and broken and mended. (Why can’t they just stay mended?)
I suppose because….It just wouldn’t be “normal.”
Jesus said, “In this life, you will have trouble,” and He wasn’t whistling Dixie. I think he was saying, in a way: “In this life you will have change.”
In this life, you will lack for normal….if you’re “normal.”
So, is it normal to hate change?
I decided to look up synonyms for “normal” in the thesaurus – to see if Webster could define what I cannot. Interestingly, “normal” is synonymous with ordinary. Its meaning is the same as “ uniformity, average, common, and routine.”
I cannot relate to any of those words. They are not words I would claim over my life. I do not ask God for average, common. Where is the interestingness? Where is the exuberance?
The antonyms –exact opposites of “normal” are magic-carpet words: buoyant, eager, exciting, vigorous, vital, and zesty. (Zesty!)
I am learning to “go with the flow,” really. I’m trying. Since change seems to be the order of the day, I really need to enjoy the ride. My hatred of so many changes doesn’t seem to be preventing any of it, anyway.
Circumstances will never stop evolving, but eventually …
New, fresh things come to pass with change. Buoyant, vital things. Change means the change in seasons just when you are sick and tired of the current one. It means new babies. Sunrises. Music you’ve never heard before. Laughing about something that you have the frame of reference to appreciate now – because of all the changes.
Relationships deepen and broaden, and become more enlightened – if not ‘normal.’
Kids do grow up, and have their own kids to contend with (ahhhh, a sweet consideration!)
And God still loves this messy, messy world – made up of so many lives that will have trouble. So many lives who will have change.
Normalcy is for suckers, honestly. I’m sure of it.
She doesn’t know it, I’ve pulled a muscle, and it’s all her fault.
I am lacing up the back of her dress, the periwinkle blue ribbons weave in and out of the stays, corset-style. I have to lift the tendrils of red hair out of the way as I work, and I worry it will be too tight -I can tell she is sucking it all in.
Her dress has all of the elements of girly-ness that she guffawed only a few years ago: sparkles, lace and taffeta. All the pretty things she used to think were silly. It is strapless ballerina-style, showing off her young curves and fair skin. As I pull the last of the ribbon through and tie it into a bow, the muscle that is my heart lurches.
“There,” I say. “all done.”
Like Scarlett O’Hara she arches an eyebrow, and eyes herself in the mirror. Sunlight just so happens to be coming through the window at the perfect angle, setting the on fire. So many rhinestones! The perfect amount to be glitzy, without being tacky. They are sprinkled throughout her dress and in her hair – even on her shoes. Just to be certain she sparkles enough, she slides on a bracelet chock-full of them, and clips on dazzling earrings to match.
The lurching again, in the heart. The pulling.
The heart is a muscle, and if it’s working properly it is always in motion. Lurch and soar, lurch and soar.
My daughter is always in motion, too. How can this be? I am wondering how this moment came to pass, sitting on the edge of the bed, watching her slip on ridiculously high heels. The reel of her growing up sped through my mind.
Don’t panic over time lost, I tell myself. And don’t rush into thoughts of the future. It’s a struggle to live in the moment sometimes. Even when the moment is beautiful.
Not very long ago, this girl hid herself away. Not very long ago, she didn’t want anyone to notice her at all. But now …
She cannot wait to see her boyfriend, to assault his senses with her girly-ness -sparkles, lace and taffeta. He is wearing a suit with a vest to match her dress, and she swoons when she sees him. He is utterly handsome. I want to think that they look like two kids playing grown-up, but no. They really are growing up.
She beams while her date ties a corsage around her wrist. It is a lovely, delicate gathering of white flowers, and it’s perfect. It had bloomed just the right amount to be perfect in time for the evening – just like her.
Boys were “gross” just a few years ago…weren’t they? The memory of her chiding her older sister for liking a boy is still clanking around in my mind when we drop them off at the venue.
When we drive away, I look behind me, and they are kissing. The rhinestones in her dress are glittering, and she has one ridiculously high-heeled foot slightly lifted – just like in the movies.
Lurch, goes the heart.
My hand goes over my chest involuntarily, but my husband takes my other hand and squeezes. This daughter is my youngest child; I will not go this way again. My husband knows that the stays are loosening, even as my heart tightens.
I surprise myself that think of my girl only several times – and not several hundred times – during the course of the evening. The occasion is making me feel a million things – old amongst them, to be honest. But mostly I am blissed-out that my daughter has come out of her shell in so dazzling a way. It is her turn to have young curves and fair skin and wear so many rhinestones. I hope she wears all the pretty, sparkly things every chance she gets.
When she comes home, she is barefoot and luminescent. She sits on the edge of my bed to share the details, even though its late.
Prom was wonderful. Her hands are fiddling with the edge of the periwinkle taffeta, just as girly as you please, as she rushes to tell me the details.
“Swedish meatballs were the best, and I ate lots of them. The courtyard was decorated with these candles and white lights, and linens and tablecloths… There was dancing, of course, and we slow danced, too, but I had to take my shoes off right away, because I couldn’t really walk in them, and all my friends loved my dress…..”
When I unlace her dress and her remind her to put away all of the sparkly things, she leans in for a hug. I take it, and hug her a little longer than usual, just because – like my daughter – the moment is beautiful.
Today, dear readers, another share from Redemption Feast, the WilmingtonFAVS.com blog I write for. It was previously posted as an origional on this blog under “Unhinged” and only minor changes were made for this publication. Anyway, it’s about feeling unhinged. Can you relate at all?
My apologies for not keeping The Beggar’s Bakery more current with new content. I’ve begun working full-time in addition to serving in Celebrate Recovery in church, in addition to all my other goings-on. I really need to become better at this time-management thing!
**also, if there is a video under this post….it is a WordPress thing – I did not post it! The views in expressed in whatever video is there may not represent the views of this writer.**
Thank you for reading, and God bless you and yours.
By: Jana Greene
When I first met my husband several years ago, I had a lot of debt in the form of medical bills. Years without health insurance had not kept the health issues at bay, and the bills were stacked high with neglect. Like a Mega-Debt Mountain, it was not just a stack of papers, but a looming monument to financial failure. As a single mother working three jobs, I still couldn’t make ends meet. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think the ends would ever even see one another from afar!
As my soon-to-be husband and I got closer and closer, I was ashamed of all this debt. Thousands of dollars for office visits, treatments for migraines, endometriosis and chronic sinus infections had been wracked up. I felt embarrassed that I owed so much, that I would owe it the rest of my life and still never get it paid off, most likely.
One day, he asked to see Mega-Debt Mountain for himself. We were getting pretty serious at the time, and I couldn’t put off showing him my debts much longer. Still, I presented a lame stalling technique.
“Why?” I asked.
“So I can pay them off,” he said without so much as a sigh. In that season of his life, he had the means to free me of this debt.
At first, I was embarrassed because, after all, it was a substantial amount. I brought the stack of bills, most of which were marked “Last Notice” or “Past Due” (or both) and felt the shame burn my face. He took them gently from my hand and laid them on the desk without even glancing at them, and then he kissed me. Tears sprang to my eyes with gratitude, because I never expected such a thing; such grace.
These were not his debts. He took them on for two reasons: So they would no longer hang over my head. And because he “just wanted to be with me for the rest of my life.”
He had erased a debt that I had assumed I would carry all my life, simply because he loved me. The truth was, as huge as Mega-Debt Mountain was, it did not hinder his love for me. He didn’t see the “balance due” when he looked at me, but a future together.
Kind of like God when He looks at us through the filter of His Son. So often we all allow our own mountains to block the view of the grace He offers, because we are ashamed of our sin. Our Father has the means to free us. The blood of Jesus has the most amazing stain-removing properties!
“What are you waiting for?” God is saying. “The debt of everything you’ve ever done wrong is already paid for when you accepted my Son as your Beloved!” Our Father doesn’t see the “balance due” when He looks at His Christ-redeemed children.
God offers us freedom from sin debt for two reasons, you see: So they will no longer hang over the head of one He loves VERY much. (Debt cannot hang over our heads and on the cross both!) And because He wants to be with you for all eternity.
Such a thing is grace.
It was a man’s voice. I was sifting through birthday cards at the drugstore, and it took a moment for me to realize he was speaking to me.
“Excuse me?” I said politely.
“Did you lose the bet with your husband?” He nodded at me, looking at the words on my t-shirt.
Emblazoned in simple, black lettering on the front of the pink shirt: I love my husband.
“Nope,” I said, laughing a little. “I just really do.”
He shrugged and walked away.
Another time, I had a nurse who was taking my blood pressure say, “That’s an interesting shirt. What does it say on the back?” He was thinking maybe that there was a snarky retort on the reverse…a zinger.
“Nothing,” I replied. “I just love my husband.”
I’d bought the pink t-shirt it at a bookstore several years ago when My Beloved and I were newlyweds. I had never been in love in the all-encompassing way that I loved him, and had never really expected to be. That head-over-heels-ness was for other people, I’d thought.
But God had other, better plans.
It’s the second marriage for each of us; not quite a May-December union, but possibly a June-September one, in that we were older and – if not wiser – more in tuned with God.
We actually did meet in church, and there was chemistry right away. But there was sanity, too – and that was a new wrinkle in relationships on my part.
As we fell in love more deeply, it became apparent that we were meant to be married. But because we had both failed at our previous marriages, we decided to do something differently. We made a conscious and verbal decision not to make our marriage about ourselves – or even about each other. Making marriage about the other person is like making salvation about religion. It’s the relationship that really matters.
From the very start, we agreed to consider our marriage as a triangle of sorts, with God sitting at the top and he and I on the bottom corners, looking up. The “circle of trust” may be important, but the Triangle of Marriage keeps us in check.
In the years since My Beloved married me, reality has moved in and made itself at home, as is inevitable. With the blending of three teen daughters came epic drama in the household. With reality came economic ups and downs, health issues and challenges of getting older. We are two very imperfect people, in love with each other and with God. And sometimes we disagree, and have to check our positions in the triangle of relationship and remember who is in the Highest Place of honor.
So, come to think of it….maybe I do wear the t-shirt because I lost a bet.
I happily and gratefully lost a bet with God. Before marrying my husband. I had staked my understanding of the future on my own past failure in marriage. I couldn’t make it work, so I was doomed to be alone (or worse, repeat the cycle).
But God had other, better plans that are not dependent on my failures or successes.
There – at the top of the Triangle – He gives our marriage chemistry, sanity and loads of grace when reality makes itself at home. In the all-encompassing way that only God can love us, he emblazoned it in simple, black lettering in the pages of His Word:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16.
We are His Beloveds, and He is head-over-heels for us.
I made a lemon ice-box pie today, for no good reason. Several sad things have happened over the past few weeks – the pinnacle of which was the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, the saddest of all. And I had a jar of lemon curd in the refrigerator (very Rachel Ray of me, no?) that was on sale at the new Trader Joe’s last week and a pre-made graham cracker crust leftover from Thanksgiving, so I figured…why not make a lemon ice-box pie?
I’m fighting the funk a bit these past several days. The Sad is a powerful thing.
Lemons are yellow, the color that is supposed to lift your spirits. And the recipe also called for sweetened condensed milk, which is the antidote to whatever ails you. Throw in some cream cheese and lemon curd and I had a pie filling so yummy that for the two or three minutes of spatula-licking involved, all was right with the world.
Except that it wasn’t, of course.
So after putting my pie in the freezer to chill, I sat down and attempted to do the same. I was thinking about how much the yum reminded me of my childhood – my grandmother used to make all kinds of ice-box pies. There are things about my childhood that don’t exactly put me in a cheery mood, but there are also many things that do. My grandmother is one of them.
She was from an era before mass school shootings and Doomsday Preppers, a time before it was considered dysfunctional to ease suffering with sweets and feed your family to comfort them. I was a skinny little kid back then who resented that I had to eat at all, much less enjoy food. I was too busy discovering things.
Childhood made me think more about the babies who died in Connecticut last Friday, so I started to cry…again. All through the day today, I checked the news websites to see if they’d come up with any answers (as if there COULD be any) and cleaned the house to distract myself from what I’d just read. My friends, who have recently experienced loss and depression, I am crying for them too.
Busy work, busy work that only made me tired.
There is a pretty well-known verse in the Bible about feeling exactly this way – grieved, exhausted, overwhelmed. As I sat down and tried to fear the quiet stillness that enveloped me, I told God that The Sad was overwhelming. Sometimes there are so many feelings and thoughts milling about in my mind that I can scarcely communicate them with a tangible person, much less an invisible God. But I pray anyway, because sadness is powerful, but it will not prevail if I ask for help:
I’m lugging around The Sad, and it’s heavy.
I miss my family…the ones with whom I’m estranged through a series of most unfortunate events, and the ones who have passed out of a world that has to deal with such horrors.
I’m disappointed in myself on a couple of different levels. Help me to see myself the way You see me, God. Not through the scratchy lens of self-condemnation.
I don’t understand what is happening all around us.
It isn’t fair that children die. That their parents won’t ever have the opportunities afforded to so many of us. Daddy-daughter dances, little girls standing atop their father’s shoes to waltz perfectly; Mommies to clean the mud out of soccer cleats and teach their boys how to be good husbands.
I’m so tired, Lord.
I know He is there, I feel His Presence intensely…like a strong wind. You can try to touch the wind; you can try to hug the wind but it’s far too big for that – it envelops you. It can either knock you off your feet or fill your sails, but you cannot deny it is present. I am like a tired toddler right now, I know, with my relative misery while the whole world seems to be falling apart. I need sleep and comfort (and more pie). Most of all, I need to know what my Daddy says about sorrow:
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. – Psalm 119:28 (King David’s lament to God….well, ONE of them. He was another of the Father’s needy children).
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28 (I love this one)
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. – Jeremiah 31:25 (Refresh us, Lord!)
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:3 (Even Jesus Himself became weary)
Knowing the children who lost their earthly lives are in a perfect place, discovering wonderousness beyond our comprehension dents the grief. They are – I believe – surrounded by yellow there – experiencing ultimate uplift-ment. All is right in their worlds now; they suffer no more, but their families? I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through. They carry the heaviest burdens anyone can be expected to carry. We cannot allow evil to prevail, but we must ask for help.
Jesus, give them rest.
Maybe we can all learn a bit about living in the now. Spend less time in busy work and more time in honest conversation with our Creator. Hold our families as close as we can for the time we are given. Go a little easier on ourselves, learn to forgive ourselves.
When we’re weary, take time to be enveloped in the Wind and listen to what God says about strengthening, refreshing and giving rest.
And, of course, make lemon ice-box pie for no good reason.
My seventeen-year-old daughter made an interesting comment about the supposed Mayan Doomsday prophesy: “If the Mayans were so smart, why didn’t they see the Spaniards coming?”
When I was her age, the Social Studies teacher made our class watch a 1983 movie about post-nuclear war life called “The Day After”. I had my first anxiety attack that same afternoon, because sooner or later this is very likely to happen and how can everybody just carry on living normally after KNOWING that this was likely to happen? I wanted to stand under a street lamp with a sign warning everyone that THE END IS NEAR! I had nightmares for years, and my walk with the Lord suffered from neglect because I was too busy wringing my hands to fold them in prayer.
But the world kept spinning like a crazy merry-go-round anyway, and I had to learn to hold on.
Oh how we humans like to believe that SOMEBODY on earth has a clue about our future! Maybe not the crazy Hale-Bopp Comet chasers (remember them?) or Pat Robertson or the paranoid Doomsday Preppers, but SOMEBODY.
If the world really ended this month, I would mostly carry on as I am now.The priorities are getting to know the God that I will spend eternity with, loving people to the best of my ability and letting them know that this planet we call home is NOT ‘all there is’.
I would probably eat more chocolate if I knew the end was near – a LOT more chocolate, watch the sunset from the North End more often, finish the My Name is Earl collection I (selfishly) got my husband for Christmas last year. I would spend more time laughing in general, because so much of life is absurd.
Ironically, it has always been on the bottom-end of my bucket list to learn all of the words to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as we Know it” and not just sing out the words “that’s great, it starts with an earthquake”, “Lenny Bruce” and “Leonard Bernstein”. (Who IS ‘Lenny Bruce’, anyway?) But really, if we only have eight days to live, I could die without knowing the lyrics and be okay with it.
The truth is that life on this planet will end one day, that life as we know it is already over because it changes every day. The only future I am secured is life in Christ, but really – that’s the only life that matters. The merry-go-round will stop and let us off where we are meant to be.
The Bible says that nobody knows when that will occur. We really can’t see the “Spaniards” coming in advance, we just have to learn how to hold on.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[fbut only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Matthew 24:36-44 (NIV)
This morning, I stumbled across a movie trailer for a film that came out last April. It’s kind of a funny story, how I came across it on youtube.com, since I wasn’t really looking for movie trailers – or videos at all.
A good friend of mine is a Writer (with a capital “w”) and mentioned recently that we share an “urge” to write that is impossible to be ignored. This friend is a legit writer, with all kinds of publishing credits to her name, but she still reads my stuff. I love that about her – that she treats me like a Capital W writer.
So I am having a cup of coffee this morning and it is delicious, because it has real cream in it that was leftover in the carton from a pie I’d made on Thanksgiving. If you ask me, good coffee is all about the dairy. You could brew the crappiest coffee beans in the world and if you add real cream to it, it all tastes like Starbucks. But I digress in a big way.
I am enjoying the coffee and thinking about writers and their compulsion to write about everything (see above paragraph as Exhibit A) and how it is probably really some form of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. There is an reel running in a writer’s mind at all times; a kind of narrative about people we meet and what makes them tick, and the deeper meaning in every life experience, including people who cut you off in traffic…and about what makes coffee taste good. We are forever gathering information and formulating a way to present it to the world from our points of view. Not that everyone necessarily wants to hear our points of view. I didn’t even want to hear my own point of view for many years, which is why I drank heavily and became an alcoholic. Tons of creative people become addicts because of that dang reel of thoughts. But I digress yet again.
The crafting of words can be healing, too. If you are very authentic with your words and ask God to help you parlay his sentiments on occasion, you might even help other people. But you have to be very brave, and a little wacky.
Acting, like writing, is highly subjective. There are a few actors who I would pay good money to hear read a phone book, so convincing are they in presenting their characters. Christopher Walken is one for me – I’ve no idea why. Morgan Freeman, for obvious reason. Another is Robert De Niro, who just happens to star in the movie I’m referencing here.
See? It all ties together (albeit loosely). Follow the bouncing ball.
The film is titled “Being Flynn”. De Niro is Jonathan Flynn, who writes brilliantly but leads a troubled life wrought with relational disaster. From the movie trailer, several things are clear. First, Flynn sees himself as a Capital W but his son feels only his absence. And second, I must see this movie.
I hesitated to write about this film about writing until I had seen it, which would make logical sense. People who live with the incessant urge to write emotionally are spontaneous creatures, and only employ logic when absolutely necessary. We often cannot wait to record our thoughts and deeds, as writing about moment becomes obsolete after the moment passes. And also, I found it through googling quotes about writers, which led me to watch the trailer in which De Niro’s character – who is homeless at this point – says this:
“Of course, writers – especially poets – are particularly prone to madness.”
They are, indeed. Or are they just more honest about their inner workings, sharing the deeper meanings of each experience in such a non-refundable way? They give of themselves what can never belong exclusively to them again. Most of the time, they don’t find validation or wealth or recognition of their craft. Most of the time, what they give to the reader never pays off Capital W style.
By further researching “Being Flynn”, I found that it is a true story based on a novel entitled, “Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City: A Memior.” It is written by the son of De Niro’s character, Nick Flynn. That’s a crazy title – and I nearly didn’t include it in this piece because I am a Christian and not supposed to endorse profanity( I’m not really supposed to use profanity in everyday life either, but sometimes I slip and I thank God that He extends grace) but I actually appreciate the author’s honesty. In keeping it real, he keeps as sane as possible and writes a story in which human kindness and goodness prevails.
Writing itself is madness in some ways, because it makes the artist most vulnerable. But it is also the antidote to madness. Because recording experience through the written word is reaching out to reality instead of losing touch with it. Everyone is a little bit mad. I’m only really afraid of people who claim to be completely sane.
“We were put on this life to help other people, Nicholas,” Flynn finally tells his son. “It’s a wonderful life. It’s a masterpiece.”
I never really got to know my father. He was disinterested in me when I was born. As a very small girl, I remember jumping and dancing and shouting for him, wanting him to pick me up.
Look at me!
I can still see him now, coolly smoking a cigarette looking through me. How do I get my Daddy’s attention? Little girls crave that attention. They feel deficient if they cannot obtain it.
Then, I had a step-father. When he came into my life I was five years old. I was both jealous of his attention for my mother and hopeful that he might show some for me. I became his adopted child, losing my identity as the daughter of one disinterested. But that didn’t really make me a beloved daughter. There are worse things than parental indifference, I would find out. There could be malevolence and maltreatment.
Years after the damage had been done, God healed my heart. He is still healing my heart. I trust Him daily, but it is an ongoing process to give up the hurt.
For years, I tried to fill up instead of give up. Fill up that space with attention from men. Fill up shame with alcohol. Fill up neediness with accolades. Fill up deficiency with a pouring into various meaningless pursuits. It’s a lot harder to give up expectations and surrender wholly. Giving up pain requires a kind of filling up faith…and trust.
It is said that we model our idea of who God is by our experience with our earthly fathers, and that is true, because we have no other measure to go by. But then, what is a father? My maternal grandfather was a loving influence on my life, and my husband shows me what the most noble human fathering looks like in the way he cares for his daughter (and my daughters, too). But for the most accurate picture, I have to go to the Bible instead of looking to personal experience:
A father doesn’t ignore the needs of his child; he provides more than enough for her.
“Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6:17
A father isn’t irritated by the presence of his daughter, but delights in her with pride.
“Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.” – 1 Peter 4:3-6
A father doesn’t betray his daughter’s trust, but honors it.
“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plansto take care of you, not abandon you, plansto give you the future you hope for.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)
A father doesn’t abuse and neglect his girl, but protects her from harm.
“Every promise of God proves true; he protects everyone who runs to him for help.” – Proverbs 30:5-6 (MSG)
A father is not detached, but involved.
“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” – Matthew 10:29-30 (MSG)
A Father is not waiting to reject his child, but welcomes her with open arms regardless of her deeds.
“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (MSG)
So, how do I get my Father’s attention? That pure adoration that little girls crave from their Fathers? I don’t have to jump and dance and shout Look at me! He is already looking, already getting a kick out me….just because I’m His kid.
In the spiritual realm, he is my Daddy by adoption because His son grafted me into his family. He is my Creator, the one who used love to make me family.
Getting to know God for The Perfect Father is an adventure in loving and being loved. I wish I could say that I don’t ever struggle with abandonment, rejection or trust issues, but that wouldn’t be true. I am learning to accept that My True Father loves me even though sometimes I misbehave. He is teaching me to accept that he forgives me, even when it is difficult for me to forgive myself. And He doesn’t instruct me with the iron fist or shaming ways of the fathers I have known on Earth, but with the gentlest correction reminding me to focus on His grace instead.
Maybe so many of us women are attention-seekers because we’re designed to be. Perhaps we are created that way in order to seek our Father’s love. To give up on being perfect to earn a Father’s love, in order to fill up on the love of a Perfect Father.
To be Daddy’s Girls in the purest sense…not so much “full of ourselves”, but FULL of our Father.
I’ll take a step and its right behind me
Always fighting for control
There’s a war that’s raging inside me
I feel the battle for my soul
It’s like my shadow is dragging me around
And You are my only way out – Casting Crowns, My Own Worst Enemy
Yesterday – all morning – I felt like God’s red-headed stepchild. I was being a brat, really – acting ugly.
It wasn’t because of anything He did or said, but because of my mind-set. My brain chemistry felt “off” and my hormonal balance no better and I didn’t want to talk to God about it. I felt like there was a wedge between him and me because I was so messy, even though I know that’s the right thing to do. I wanted to own my little tantrum for a while, truthfully. But after a while, I got so tired of my own tirade that I agreed to go with my husband to the beach for a little while.
“Okay,” I told him. “But I’m in a really bad mood.” (To be fair, I thought he should be warned – as if the crying and crossed arms didn’t clue him in.)
As is his way, He took my hand anyway. God love him (and He does) – that man ministers to my Spirit like nobody else because he just simply walks the walk by loving. Not by preaching or nagging or alienating me. Living with me and our three nearly-adult daughters, he cannot afford to be easily spooked by a little female freak-out.
By the first hour on the shore, sunshine on our shoulders, I felt my mind-set change dramatically, and with it came an apology to my husband – and my Heavenly Father.
I’m sorry I pouted with you, I told God silently. But He was already over it. I love that He is so forgiving.
This morning, I picked up my Bible and read in the book of Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The scripture reminded me that no matter how I feel on any given day (it changes constantly!), His WORD is fact. And I know that, intellectually…I’ve read it 100 times. But I am still learning to fully accept that in my spirit (it’s a journey).
It isn’t trouble or hard times, or hatred or hunger….or homelessness, bullying threats or backstabbing that makes me feel that chasm between the Father and I.
No…. It’s me. Often, I do it to myself.
Still, no matter where I stand crying, arms crossed and ornery, when I turn around He is there. The enemy tells us that we are separated from God at our worst, and we feel that it must be true. But the enemy is a liar.
Here is what The Authority says:
“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I am absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:31-39 (The Message)
He is our only way out, carrying us in an embrace.
Having just finished a fantastic book that talked about – among many other things – whether Christians should “keep it real” with the world, I felt as though I should blog about my entanglement. Not because it’s so interesting that a middle-aged woman would get so worked up about what amounts to normal, first-world problems, but because I wanted to share a vision that God is giving me to deal with feeling this way. (Spoiler: it isn’t His magically making things perfect….that miracle is for the next world, not this one).
When I went to bed last night, my More Spiritual Self was kinked up.
After instigating a mild argument with my husband, I had tried to sleep. When that failed, I tried to pray. Fitfully, I asked God would He please give me a break here? I know we are not supposed to let the sun go down on our anger, but I am clearly in the right!
That small, still voice didn’t chastise me anymore. Still, I quit trying to pray because I was so out-of-sorts and jumbled up, I couldn’t tell where one request started and another whiny demand ended. Frustrated, I tossed and turned all night. Tomorrow will be better, I told myself.
But this morning, nothing in my closet fit me – The Fat Fairy neglected to visit me during the night to relieve the body-issue angst that is the hallmark of my Selfish Self. (If she would only come and take my fat away while I was sleeping and leave money in it’s place, it would solve TWO problems simultaneously!) All day, worry entangled me. Issues big and small (and all out of my control) tormented me and I walked around in a cloud of menopausal grump.
By noon, I had myself so knotted up with stress that I broke out in tears at Costco while waiting to purchase toilet paper and cat food. The check-out girl was very friendly, in a “I’ve no idea what to do about this” way, which made me cry harder because I felt sorry for her. She didn’t tell me to have a nice day.
But on the way home from Costco, I had a random memory about a short exchange between my daughter and I earlier. When I had taken her to school that morning, I complimented her on her outfit (which really was lovely) and she held out her necklace for me to see and said, “It’s my favorite.”
I also remembered that it was the same gold-toned necklace with beads and feathers on it that sat on our kitchen table for a week, knotted up in a ball. My daughter had gotten it tangled up at the bottom of a bag and asked me to unravel it, which I’d tried to do several times.
“You should really take better care of your stuff,” I had told her, when she’d given it to me and asked me to fix it.
And each time I would try to untangle it, the frustration mounted. Within minutes of not being able to tell where one link started and another began, I’d leave the project out of sorts, the necklace jumbled up worse than before. She’s just going to have to throw it out…it’s unsalvageable.
As a last resort, I enlisted the help of my husband, who patiently untangled the entire chain and left it for my daughter to find on the kitchen table. He didn’t fuss at her for letting it get that way, he just solved the problem behind the scenes. Which brings me back to today, when she wore her favorite piece of jewelry restored to it’s former glory.
I’m trying to untangle my chain, I realized. I’m knotted in a ball and don’t even know what to pray for.
“Perhaps,” said my More Spiritual Self. “You should give the big ball of it to God and let him untangle it.” And my Selfish Self, after reeling from the sting that my husband would be God in this analogy, had to concur that I have to bring my anxiety, pain and restlessness while I am still frustrated. Nothing is unsalvageable to God, but when I try to untangle myself, I make the knot bigger. He will be untangling my messes all the days of my life, but I have to leave it on the kitchen table, so to speak – and not as a last resort.
Sometimes I fail to take my issues to Him because I know He has every right to say, “You should take better care of your stuff” and I’m afraid He will.
But He never does, He just loves.
I’d like to say that VOILA! I am in a fantastic mood now that I had an epiphany, but I’m trying to “keep it real” here. I can tell you that this afternoon, I’m not crying anymore and that when I got home from Costco, I broke down and changed into sweatpants with an elastic waistband. I texted my awesome husband that I love him twice today and I am still sober, which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal after eleven and a half years of not drinking, but trust me – sometimes it still is. All of these things (yes, even elastic waistbands!) are blessings.
And God is still on the throne and loves us even though we are messy, knotted-up things.
“Peter said, ‘I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” He grabbed (the crippled man) by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked.” – Acts 3:6-8 (The Message)
I have been bummed out lately about something that happened five months ago, in March. It is a long story about having broken my leg by engaging in a daring feat (getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and turning my ankle) and the surgery that resulted (a stainless steel plate, six screws and a pin) and the recovery time. I am still in that recovery time and I don’t like being slowed down.
My family and I lovingly refer to my new, repaired appendage as “Frankenkle”, the healing has gone very well, although not as quick as I’d hoped. Most of the time I don’t even limp, and count myself as a grateful recipient of a divine act. In the grand scope of things, it’s not a big deal…I’m just a little wobbly.
Until it hurts– usually after a long day of over-doing it. It swells and aches and makes it difficult to walk. I get frustrated and grumpy. And then I have to be pulled up.
I forget that it isn’t a big deal, then when it’s like that. In the momentary pain, I picked opened my bible one day to look for guidance. It opened to the verse in Acts about the man and his instantaneous firm ankle.
Funny how God answers our frustrations.
Perhaps the idea is that we count ourselves as grateful recipients of the divine even while we are hurting. The most devastatingly crucial act having been Jesus’ undeserved (and very, very painful) death on the cross for my salvation. Sometimes, when I’m in pain because of an injury or a circumstance in my life, I limp around as if I’ve forgotten all of the divineness God pours out on me. Circumstances can be more painful than any other kind of hurt – and just as debilitating! Those are the wobbliest times….a time of trusting the Lord with your family, a time of seemingly unanswered prayer, or not having many nickels to your name. But the promise is the same.
He’s got this.
My ankle will become firm in time, but my Father is healing more than just my body during this time of slowing-down. When I get bummed out, God reminds me that my faith in him has been made more firm in this slowing-down time, I just have to stand on it to see the millions of things to be grateful for.
When I met my husband six years ago, it was – as they say – love at first sight. I was a single mother of two adolescent daughters, and he was a single father to one. His girl was the same age as my oldest, who was about to turn 14.
If you know anything about teenage girls, you know about fourteen. Brutal on both child and parent….fourteen is parental boot camp.
While we were dating, my Beloved swept me off my feet with romance – but really wowed me with his fathering abilities. His daughter was his heart….and because she was – he melted mine. He was so committed to her and to the job at hand – being the best dad he could be.
A little over a year later, he and I took “love at first sight” to “I thee wed”. With our vows, he went above and beyond in assuming the daily fathering duties of his new wife’s daughters. The carpooling, trips to the dentist’s office, and buying the school supplies. This previously single father of an only child tripled his “dad-ness” factor practically overnight.
He is the bravest man I know.
The adjustment was not easy or seamless. All three daughters lived with us in our “blended” family (which at times was more of a pureeing than a blending). After all, our daughters hadn’t fallen in love with one another; they were at the mercy my husband and I – and our commitment.
If parenting teenagers is walking through a minefield, step-parenting is navigating a minefield during a hurricane while under nuclear attack, without even having had the benefit of boot camp. It’s intense.
Yet he stayed present, committed to the job….
He has been through fourteen three times over now. Our daughters, now 17, 19 and 20, still all live at home. Our little pureed family is strong because my husband is strong, and committed to the job.
Through the usual growing pains of our daughters’ having boyfriends, breakups and broken hearts (and yet more boyfriends) – he offers advice and more importantly, sets the bar for how they should expect to be treated by the way he treats me. Through graduations and awards, he lets them all know he is proud. He has sat through three times more middle school band concerts, chorus performances and class plays than he ever imagined when he was the father of one child.
He doesn’t flinch when buying Midol, knows what time of the month to bring home extra chocolate and doles out the best hugs in the household. He knows all the little things that make the girls unique…his daughter, who is still his heart, and both of mine, whom have come to love him deeply.
And he makes me a better mother, because I know that he and I don’t just ‘present a united front’ to the girls. We are united.
The bravest man I know.
To my husband, you are truly, the most amazing husband and father in the world. The girls love you, and I love you. Happy Father’s Day!