This time of year makes me reflect on the mind-blowing kindness and generosity that me and my little family were shown back in the day.
You see, this picture brings back SO many memories…some of them heart-wrenching.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but for me, this one is worth a million. I hadn’t seen it in forever, but I remember taking it like it was yesterday!
I had just left the girls’ father and we were legally separated. The girls and I had nowhere to go, so a dear friend gave me a reduced rate to stay temporarily in Atlantic Towers (such a blessing.)
This photo was taken there. I loved that it had bright pink walls. I told the girls it was because we were so full of GIRL POWER, they painted them pink special for us.
At the time, I had a restraining order out on my ex (so you KNOW that added stress) and no money. I was receiving NO help. And I mean, NO help. Not even from my own family members. That was a brutal learning curve.
I went from one part time job to four jobs to feed my kids. I wrote freelance, worked for a realtor, became the receptionist at another company, and cleaned motel rooms on the weekends. When I was with my babies I worried how I would take care of them myself. When I was at work, I missed them terribly. Mommy guilt was only eclipsed by pure fear.
I had a new sobriety that was only three or four years old, and I was DESPERATELY trying to keep it and not start drinking again. (I did keep my date of sobriety which is Jan. 3, 2001.)
I’d left everything behind but a few sticks of furniture, the clothes on our backs, and the kids’ Barbie toys. Not much else.
I was truly starting over after 14 years in a bad marriage and struggling not to drink, after nearly killing myself with alcohol only a few short years prior.
My girls look happy in this picture, but it was a rough time for them too. My goal was to shield them from my own grown-up problems, and make it an adventure of sorts. They were the lights of my life then. (And they still are.)
At the time, I could not imagine how I would get through that difficult season. I lost 80 pounds from stress. I had been a stay at home mom all my daughters lives, and had ZERO IDEA what would happen to all of us.
But then a miracle happened…and the venue for said miracle was the Carolina and Kure Beach communities, whose members rallied around us that year in the early 2000’s.
And I mean they rallied!
It was Christmas time, which made everything harder, but the local fire station gifted my girls with toys from Santa. A dear friend bought them bicycles!. One friend kept my girls in donated clothes for a year. One amazing friend invited us over for Thanksgiving and Christmas and welcomed us as if we were all true family. Another helped us out with food for a while. One watched my girls for me when I worked. And another helped me keep the heat on one particularly cold month.) One practically adopted me and treated me like a daughter, and does still.
I did nothing to deserve any of that, but the magnitude of blessing still floors me.
I wasn’t FROM there, you see. I wasn’t a “local;” But they MADE me a local through kindness. Dozens of (then) strangers came out of the woodwork. I could do nothing for any of them, nothing. They just poured forth things we needed, acts of friendship, and so much support, and love. I’m happy to report I cherish them still today.
Meanwhile, I learned how to work my ass off and provide for my kids. I worked on my own issues. I put up strong, necessary boundaries. I learned how to forgive myself. And I managed to stay sober, all glory to God!)
So from one old snapshot for TBT came a tidal wave of gratitude today,, and with that, this very wordy, rambling post.
Now when I look at these 9 and 12 year old faces in the photo, I can rest easy knowing that these two grew up to be beautiful, funny, kind-hearted people. They grew up awesome, and the dark times only grew us closer.
They are 26 and 29 now. My world.
Boy, I wish I had truly trusted God when I was going through it! But my points are twofold:
When at your absolute darkest, keep going kiddo. You CAN do hard things, I promise. You can, and you will. And if you lean into Source, you’ll FLOURISH.
Community is so important. We are all made designed to need each other. Every single member of every community is precious.
And all you single mamas going through the midst of a nightmare like this, I promise it’s true for YOU and your babies, too!
These days I have new struggles, but I try to pay forward any and every kindness shown to me. I try to diversify my kindness portfolio, as it were. Love on everyone, I’m every circumstance. I fall short a LOT, but oh the joy in paying kindness forward!
But it seems important to remind you, if you’re hurting:
The kids really WILL be ok. You ARE stronger than you think. It’s OKAY to ask for help. It’s EVEN OKAY to accept help! God has not abandoned you There are wonderful, amazing things awaiting you in the other side of the mess you’re going through.
“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”– Matthew 19:14 (MSG)
By: Jana Greene
In her book “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” Anne Lamott wrote a chapter entitled “A Man who was Mean to His Dog.” She wrote about witnessing a guy being mean to his Golden Retriever at her local beach, and her incredulousness that anyone could be unkind to a dog of that breed. Goldens are the most people-pleasing dogs in the world, just so full of goofy and abundant love. They just want to win your approval.
I witnessed something this morning at the grocery store that may have been the human equivalent, which is even worse.
I live in a coastal town, and here’s one of the Rules of Living at the Beach on any 4th of July weekend: DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. And if you must leave the house, do it at 7 a.m. in the morning before the tourist craziness reaches fever pitch, usually around 9:30 a.m on a holiday.
But I had to leave the house, because I needed some things from the grocery store, so I trekked out early and thankfully there were few people out and about yet. Unfortunately, one of those people was a really upsetting presence. A harried-looking mom (or grandmother? Could have been either) with a darling little tow-headed 3 or 4 year-old girl.
The first time she opened a tirade on the wee one was in Bakery.
“Put that down!” the mom shouted, when the girl reached for a free cookie. “Can’t you just ever do anything right?”
To which the tiny, blonde adorable human being who has the inalienable right to enjoy a free grocery store cookie (it’s in the Constitution) responded with a muted “Sorry.”
I blew it off as a frustrated albeit really cranky mom, and made a note to try to avoid her for the rest of my shopping, which of course resulted in her passing me in almost EVERY AISLE.
In Bread, the girl skipped around the cart while her mother scanned the shelves.
“STOP IT!” the mom commanded.
“I’m just being silly….”
“Well, knock it off. You’re always silly. Its getting really old.”
Ok, now I’m getting angry. Who the hell reprimands a child for silliness? I catch the mother’s eye and give her a mid-grade stink-eye in return. She looks mean. MEAN, I tell you. But I thought she might think twice about berating her daughter if someone gave her the stink-eye.
In Pasta / Rice / Soup, I met them again. This time, the girl was trying to put a tiny stuffed animal she had brought into her mom’s purse.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She snapped loudly. “Carry it! If you didn’t want to hold on to it, you shouldn’t of brought it. If you put it in my bag, I’m throwing it away.”
Let me stop right here and assure you that my mothering skills are completely imperfect and always have been. I try really hard and always have, but I make mistakes. I snapped at my daughters plenty as they were growing up, I know I did. We all have bad mommy days. Snapping at your child occasionally isn’t what I’m talking about. I don’t mean to judge this woman harshly, but as she systematically tore down her child in such a nasty way, I started judging aplenty. Every word she directed at her daughter was full of scorn. I can only describe it as venomous. (The sad thing is that if this is mom at 7 a.m., I cannot imagine how she might treat the kid at 5 p.m. when exhaustion really kicks in, or at 8 p.m. when putting her child to bed.)
I started praying for the girl, who wasn’t even misbehaving in the least – just being a kid. Even on the aisles we didn’t mutually cross, I could hear the mom yelling at her.
When we met up in Frozen Foods, the little girl told her mom “You look pretty.” Anyone could see that this child was trying to win approval, and it was freaking heartbreaking, because her mother responded with “Yeah, whatever.”
Finally, at the checkout, who should queue up behind me but this woman and her daughter. The girl touched a candy bar and her mother loudly said in a seething tone: “You got a hundred dollars? No, you got nothing. Don’t even touch that.”
She didn’t get physical with the girl, but I wanted to scoop the child up and get her away for a while. I wanted to offer to babysit, and invite the girl to come skip around my dining room table and eat candy. I would take her to feed the ducks at the pond near our house, and I would put flowers in her hair and assure her that she IS doing everything RIGHT, and that silliness is a character attribute of the very highest order.
Instead, I smiled and winked at her. She was just precious beyond all description and she smiled back at me – as sweet and happy as a Golden Retriever whose owner had mistreated it. What I’d witnessed wasn’t cruel enough to be reported to the authorities, but it was definitely cruel enough to chip away at the spirit of a beautiful little girl.
Four year-olds are full of glee and “why?” and skipping around. Quite frankly, that age is often the most lovable of the childhood years, the most people-pleasing age, just so full of goofy and abundant love. I continued praying for the girl as I checked out my groceries and put them in the cart. By this point, I’m beyond angry. I am rolling away to my car, imploring God to protect and comfort that child’s wounded little spirit.
And then I had a thought invade my pleadings: Pray for the mother.
Hurumph! I shut that thought down quick, dismissing it on the grounds of righteous anger.
I’m loading my groceries, and again – like an annoying internet pop-up ad, it comes again: Pray for the mother.
What do you want me to pray, God? Forgive her, for she knows not what she does? She knows damn well what she’s doing! But still, as I started the car, God really just wouldn’t get off my back about it, so I prayed an honest prayer:
God, I’m just so mad. I’m mad but I’m asking you to somehow work in the heart and mind of that mother. I don’t know what she is going through, but you do. That meanie is your little girl. Forgive me for praying for her very last, and with trepidation. You were pretty clear about praying for our enemies, and I ask for you to pour your supernatural, unconditional love on her. Show her grace, Lord. And show me grace and mercy too, please. I need it just as much.
Praying for thine enemies is very, very difficult. That’s why Jesus was the only person ever to do it perfectly. It’s especially hard when the aggressor is mean to a child or a dog. I’m working on learning to petition God on the behalf of the jerks in the world, because I’ve been a jerk before too in other ways, so maybe someone was praying for me.
God bless us, every one. Please, God. We need it so.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and because it was Mother’s Day, I cried a lot. I cried because it is my first totally empty nest Mother’s Day. I cried because my own relationship with my mother is fractured into a bazillion pieces. I cried because someone I love didn’t acknowledge me at all. I did have a few tear-free segments of the day, but menopause was around to keep the good times rolling.
I may or may not have fed my feelings heaping spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream.
I’m still kind of mopey, honestly. But I’m getting a grip today. I must get a grip today.
You see, I love my daughters. Oh my God, how I love my daughters. But they took different paths than I’d expected.
I think that every mother has a certain set of dreams and assumptions for her child. Those assumptions are that your child will grow up to be successful and kind and happy, and stop wiping boogers on the wall. Happily, this is usually the case.
I assumed mine would grow up and get scholarships to universities because they are super smart, they would naturally stay away from all drugs and alcohol (from, you know, learning from MY mistakes, like THAT ever worked,) graduate college and get jobs they are passionate about. That they would be in straight, monogamous relationships – not living together before marriage – then get married to Godly men, and have a couple of kids that they devote their entire lives to, just like mom. (But that was MY own dream, and I couldn’t even do it right!)
Then there are is The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams – that they will follow God – really know Him on a personal, intimate level. That they will pray regularly, and allow Him to guide their lives.
The reality is that kids are not appliances – there are no warranties. They are on a crazy merry-g0-round. You can try to hop on if you dare, but it won’t slow down for you and in the end, there is a lot of nausea involved. It’s best just to stay out of the way. There is no control.
There is, however, a loving God we can trust them to.
Perhaps your child grew up and stopped wiping boogers on the wall (remember when that seemed like such a BIG DEAL? Sigh) but instead ran away from home and you don’t know where she is.
Or is gay / transgendered.
Or is a drug addict.
Or is in prison.
Or drinks to much.
Or is mean to people who don’t think the way she does.
Or has turned her back on everything you taught her.
Or hates you.
Or hates God.
…Any deviation from the loving plans you made for that child when she was first born and they lay her on your belly. (Remember how EASY it was to TRUST GOD with that child when they were brand new? Piece of cake!) New babies don’t stay new, though. They grow up and do wonderful, glorious, horrible, confused, amazing, and confounding things. Things for which YOU HAVE ZERO CONTROL.
Yet, in the midst of whatever your child engages in that breaks your heart, you still – always – love that child. If YOU love her so much, can you imagine how much ABBA loves your child? He isn’t surprised at your kid’s lifestyle choices, and He isn’t limited by our ways of imagining our children ‘fixed.’
There is no grace deficit for your child that you have to worry will run out. God is merciful and FULL of grace! Because they are not the droids we were looking for – happy little predictable robots – does not mean God is not working out HIS PURPOSE IN OUR KIDS, even as they experience stuff.
I still pray every day that my wild and loving and confounding children will make good choices. I pray that The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams that I harbor in my heart for them comes to fruition. I will pray that until my dying breath.
I want to trust the Lord with my daughters JUST AS MUCH as when they lay on my belly as little newborns, squinting up at their mama. I want to trust Him that easily with them still, and I’m asking Him to help me do it.
I lay my children down at the altar and TRUST YOU with their lives. Ultimately I know that my children must know YOU intimately. Lord, help me get out of the way.
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.
“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, – 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 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 a long time before experiencing my current spiritual revival, I felt an awfully long way off from the Father.
I love the story of the prodigal son because I can relate to all three of the central characters.
I have been the prodigal child, returning to the father after making an absolute wreck of her life.
I have been the brother who did not think his father’s warm welcome of the long, lost brother was fair.
And as the mother of three teen and young-adult daughters, I have been the joyous parent when a rebellious child returns home that I would gladly kill the fatted calf (or at least make a trip to Costco for a porterhouse steak) for her welcome.
But the most poignant thing about the story is this:
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again. But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then kill the fatted calf and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ Luke 15:20-24 (MSG)
While the son was still a long way off. The father did not stand on the porch, arms folded, waiting for his son to reach him.
So tonight – praying on my knees – I told God that I was sorry for wandering such a long way off (as I am want to do from time to time) and that I was feeling pretty lousy about the low-grade effort toward my faith walk. I’ve been giving it the old college try, but only half-heartedly, feeling like I’m slogging through a muddy rut.
But getting me out of muddy ruts is one of Abba’s specialties.
When I am truly a long way off – in the throes of addiction, depression, anxiety – and feeling ‘too far gone,” He simply cannot wait to hold me. And nothing is sweeter than the embrace of the Father.
When the air (and mud) clears, it is the supernatural, unexplainable, un-containable God, wildly in love with me. The God that is not content to be the vague and angry character we all learned about in Vacation Bible School as children, or the long-ago Messiah who turned a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish into a mass-meal. But the radical, revolutionary of love itself that I want to walk close enough to to be covered in the dust of his sandals.
“My beloved daughter,” he is saying. “You were given up for lost – if only by yourself ….and now you are found!”
And this radical, revolutionary Savior who sees me in various states of disrepair from a long way off, running toward me to pull me into a crazy embrace.
And I am 100%, all-in, too far gone in love with him to let go.
“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.
A young mother on an afternoon shopping trip at the mall juggles her fussy, hungry four-month old son. She needs to feed him, so she:
a) Sits on a bench in front of Victoria’s Secret store, and digs through the diaper bag for a bottle of formula. Her son quiets instantly as she feeds him. Shoppers smile as they pass by, because everybody loves a baby – particularly a quiet one. Everyone loves to see a mommy caring for her child.
b) Sits on a bench in the mall – this time in the Food Court – and digs through a diaper bag for a receiving blanket. She drapes it over her shoulder and lifts her blouse underneath discreetly, and with a swift motion of the other arm, cradles her four-month-old son to her breast. Her son quiets instantly as she feeds him. Many shoppers either avert their eyes or make snarky comments amongst themselves as they pass by (some make them intentionally loud enough for the young mother to hear) – Because everyone loves a baby, but apparently not everyone loves to see a mommy caring for her child.
Which of the mother’s feeding choices do you find most offensive?
Ahhhh. You can spend hundreds of dollars on bras in an effort to lift and separate, push ’em up and hold ’em down – so long as you don’t use them in a practical manner. It would seem that the Land of Silk and Money is NOT the Land of Milk and Honey.
Shouldn’t we find floor-to-ceiling-sized posters of nearly-naked super models (whose boobs are so exposed that only her areolas are covered by strategically-placed feathers) a bit more offensive than a breastfeeding mother? Breasts are made for feeding babies. If that makes you uncomfortable, take it up with God – it was His big idea. He designed them perfectly for it, long before plastic bottles and rubber nipples. Society has managed – as is so often the case – to make something pure and natural into something perverse.
(By the way, my least-favorite reaction to a breastfeeding mother is: “Well, SEX is natural, too – but I don’t want to see anyone else doing it.” In what alternate universe is nursing a baby “like having sex?” Answer: In no universe. What a wildly inappropriate comparison!)
When my daughters were babies – and even into toddler-hood – I nursed discreetly in malls, and concerts; in the park, and on “Its a Small World” at Disneyworld. I was living life and raising kids. We were on the go, and many times I thanked God for the convenience and economy of lactation – not to mention the bonding between mother and child in ensures. Who has time for fooling with bottles?
Once, when my firstborn was about six months old, I was feeding her at a museum, on a bench in a quiet, darkened hallway. I had a light blanket loosely over my shoulder, fully covering my breast (and my baby’s head, face, and shoulders.) Only her tiny legs and feet were exposed, kicking happily. A couple walked by.
“She should nurse that baby in the bathroom,” said the woman.
Here is what I wanted to say: “Do you enjoy eating your lunch in the bathroom? Most of us don’t. I’m pretty sure my daughter doesn’t either!”
But I’m a wimp, so instead, my face burned a little. Her statement did what she had intended – embarrassed me. But only momentarily; I knew that I was doing what was best for my child.
Can a nursing mother be 100% discreet all of the time? Sometimes babies pull away for a moment to hiccup. Sometimes the chug too fast and choke a bit, in which case they suddenly sit up. And yes, you regularly have to switch sides, folks (that old “supply and demand thing.) If you see a mother and baby in a “nip slip” and for that instant your delicate sensibilities are offended, look away. If you “don’t need to see it,” don’t stare.
Now – If it doesn’t bother you to see it, give the mother a little smile. She is doing what is (sadly) considered a brave thing these days…a much, much braver thing to do than what is socially acceptable (Victoria Secret model displaying her perfect breasts in billboard-sized glory.)
The nursing mother is just feeding her baby as humankind has been nourished since the dawn of time. Somehow our more primitive ancestors “got” what we have lost.
This letter is a gift to someone who is a gift to my life. I asked her permission to publish it, to which she responded:
“You have full permission to publish it if you want—I hope it inspires others to have real friendships like ours!”
Amen, Sister-Girlfriend. The world would be a much better place.
My sweet Melissa,
Do you remember the first Christmas that we became friends? Our daughters – now freshmen in college – were fourth-graders who had just declared themselves Best Friends Forever. I was a struggling, single mom, just having divorced my children’s father after fourteen years of marriage. My little girl was having a terrible time. I got her a good therapist, and tried to calm her fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded.
What she really needed was a very good friend. Your daughter was that very good friend to her.
It was a horrible, awful time in my life. I was working four jobs to feed my girls after being a stay-at-home mom all of their lives. They became latch-key kids. I became a hot mess from the guilt.
When we first met, I was holding on to my four-year-old sobriety by a single thread, it seemed, and living on high anxiety. You invited me over anyway when the girls were having a play-date, serving coffee (and, I’m certain) sweets. You asked questions that nobody else had bothered to ask, and didn’t judge me when I answered honestly.
Sometimes when you stop trying so hard, God makes mystical things happen. Like our friendship.
At the time, you were wary of organized religion, and I was wary of everything. But in your guest bathroom, you had a display of decorative crosses. Every time I went to the loo at your house, I thanked God for you and your kindness. I prayed that you would trust Him again, even as I struggled to trust Him myself. Yes, on the loo! I can tell you that now, all these years later.
That Christmas, I sat with all of our girls while you went on a date with your hubby. Before you departed for the evening, you gave me a pretty little wrapped gift box, and instructed me to open it when you left. I did, and it was a lovely new wallet.
When you came back home, I thanked you, and you said that I should make sure to look inside of it. Folded in the zipped compartment was a hundred-dollar bill.
“Get your girls a little something for Christmas,” you said, like it was not a big deal.
It was SUCH a big deal, Melissa, to fill the girls’ stockings that year. Such a big deal.
Little did I know that praying for you on the loo would be the least of what we would come to discuss as our friendship deepened! No subject was off-limits, no pretending to be who we were not. No pretense, all acceptance – what a wonderful foundation for a friendship.
I have to tell you, my friend, throughout the storms, you were my safe place. And always – even if there were tears – laughter was ultimately the order of the day.
We are pretty cool that way.
Over the years, we have really been through it together, have we not? With six daughters between us, holy cow – have we ever!
Teenagers and all the stupid stuff they do. Teenagers and all the awesome stuff they do.
Through a divorce and a new marriage (both mine) you were such a support. Through your steady marriage, you taught me so much.
When our husbands drive us bonkers, we have a kvetch session, and are a-okay again.
When our kids drive us bonkers, well … together, we find the strength to soldier on.
We’ve done the Mom Circuit, and weathered the “Mom, leave me alone!” syndrome.
Between us, we’ve done new careers, and unemployment.
We’ve drowned our sorrows in Queso dip at every Mexican food restaurant in town. (Cheese plays a major role in our relationship, as well it should!)
We’ve had pajama parties, and felt the betrayal of gravity (especially me….you look MAHVELOUS!) and – as we schlepped into our forties – the reward of chasing dreams and catching them, on occasion. (Or should I say, we sashay gracefully into our forties – and beyond.)
We’ve struggled with the discovery of what is out of our control (everything, essentially) and celebrated what we which we can control (keeping the faith.)
We’ve threatened to write a book together – which, incidentally is still TOTALLY happening!
Most meaningfully, when my own family members high-tailed it out of my life, you ran towards me.
You and I …. we’ve had spiritual crisises and awakenings, stumblings and triumphs. And shared with honesty every experience.
We discovered together that we are NOT orphans after all, but beloved daughters of the Most High King….princesses, really!
And that makes us sisters. Family.
Even our husbands became MFFs (Man Friends Forever…please don’t tell them I said that,) and our daughters as close as any siblings.
Family, like I said.
Your love, prayers and steadfastness have helped keep me sober. Honestly, I doubt I would have maintained it without your support.
That love….those prayers and acceptance – they have kept me from running away from home on numerous occasions (“This parenting teens thing? I QUIT!”)
In the midst of building this friendship, you had a revolution in your spirit. When God lit a fire under you, he used spiritual kerosene!
Girl, you were on FIRE, and you are still on fire! It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been witness to.
A spark from the heart of Jesus himself caught the hem of your garment, and you just had to serve Him. You served Him by helping other women, like you helped me. By genuinely loving them – fiercely. From it came additions to the sisterhood – the WAYwards – and lots of tears and laughter.
And laughter came in handy during the difficult times.
Several years ago, when I got sick, I stayed sick for nearly three years. It was another awful, dark time in my life. Chronically fatigued. Endlessly in pain. And with no answers in sight, living on high anxiety once again.
For three solid years, I fought numbness, pain, fatigue….every single day, and bitched about it plenty. My complaining and frustration had to have tested your dedication! But you listened every time, and never gave up.
You prayed for my health fervently. Sometimes, when I was in the middle of exhaustion and complaint, you would just extend your right hand toward me and pray so hard that we would both cry – even when I was right in the middle of a bitching session!
It’s hard to be hopeless when someone is that dedicated to asking God to help you.
But sometimes – when you stop trying so hard – God makes mystical things happen.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I remember telling you. And I meant it. “I can’t!”
“God can,” you said, with no judgement. More listening, more praying, more encouraging. You listened. Like a true friend, you loved fiercely, calming my fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded. “Father,” you prayed. “Please heal my friend. But even if she doesn’t get better, we praise you. We LOVE you!”
Because you see, what I really needed was a very good friend. You were – and are – that very good friend to me.
All these many years later, how many cycles have we gone through !– Distrusting organized religion, and calling on God. Trusting God, and being there for each other.
I’m so grateful for you.
Thank you for being so steady a prayer-warrior. Thank you for never, ever saying, “This friendship thing? I QUIT!”
Thank you for all the times you still give me encouragement (and chocolate) and for being my “nothing is off limits” sister.
When I think about who you are and who you’ve become, and all God has in store for you, it brings me to my knees.
When I pray for you, I ask God to take that beautiful, bright, effervescent and glorious spirit of yours and just unleash it on the world in a way that brings him glory. I pray that the same joy your spirit brings me gets unfurled on the world, and comes back on you like a tidal wave.
I never forgot the Christmas that you folded a Benjamin in the gift of a new wallet … so that I could give my daughters a Christmas. But more importantly, I never forgot that you reached out to this hot mess girl, that you went out of your way to be kind.
I never forgot that you treated my frightened, maddeningly insecure and hurting fourth-grade daughter like your own. Now a confident – gregarious, even!- young woman, she never forgot your love, either.
I love that you never stopped praying for my healing. I love your heart, that it breaks for hurting people.
I love that the most important prayer I ever learned to pray, I learned from you – “I trust you, God. I may not understand a single thing you are doing, but I trust you.”
It was a beautiful thing to do for an old friend, to teach me that prayer.
I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for being family.
Closets are for shoes and jackets and unused scuba gear. They are for cramming clutter into when company arrives, and storing cardboard boxes full of unused stuff. A closet is a room for what we put on to present ourselves to the world, and where we keep what no longer fits. It is no place to keep addiction.
I am not suggesting that anonymity be compromised in recovery; on the contrary – it must be protected. Many, many people would never seek sobriety without all-important confidentiality being respected with the utmost care. But I do believe that it might be possible to become sober on one’s own, getting healthy in recovery requires the fellowship of others who have suffered similarly.
The “safeness” of the closet is really just isolation. And no matter what your struggle, there are others who have survived it – thrived, even – who want to help you. There are others who know exactly where you are; you are never alone.
They meet in community centers and church basements to drink coffee and talk about living life on life’s terms. They meet because each one of them can learn from the others. They come together on a regular basis to clear the spirit and mind clutter from the closets, to get rid of what no longer fits. These rooms are a place to dress in healthy surrender to God so that we can present ourselves to the world as his broken but fully redeemed kids. And one of the tenants that helps keep our recovery going is the duty to offer a hand to help others out of the addiction closet.
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.
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.
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.
Today is the last “first day of school” for my youngest child. She is nearly seventeen now – a senior in high school. Before I dropped her off, she and I said a quick prayer together – Dear Jesus, please give her a great first day and a great school year. Now that she is in 12th grade, she has a lot to look forward to.
But as it is the last day I will ever drop a daughter off for her first day of the new school year, it’s a little bittersweet. As I watched her walk into the building, my eyes stung for a moment. Wasn’t she only a kindergartener clinging to my legs a couple of years ago? Now, she is a beautiful young lady carrying herself with confidence. I am so very proud of her.
Driving my kids to school in the morning is one ritual I’ve tried to keep constant through the years. They rode the bus home in the afternoons, but morning trips were mine. It usually felt like quality time (in 20 minutes or less), except for when they were thirteen and fourteen, and then it sometimes felt like a root canal (what with snarky attitudes and slammed car doors). But mostly I remember a lot of laughter, and singing to the radio, and really good talks about the deep and the trivial.
A happy morning ride to school made me feel as though my kids would be okay. I would remind them to “make good choices” and get a feel for what was going on in their little worlds. On the mornings all went well, I felt born to be a mom. I didn’t know that they would grow up so fast.
You hear a lot about empty nests but my husband and I can’t really relate to that concept yet. In our blended family, the children are twenty, twenty and seventeen respectively and all three are still living at home. None of them seem in a particular hurry to fly into the world without us. He and I often groan about not having FIVE MINUTES alone in the house; we joke that we will have to move to an island in the middle of the night and leave no forwarding address, just to get five minutes alone. We have a bit of empty-nest-envy sometimes, in truth, because I was also born to be his wife and now in our mid-lives, he deserves to be the center of my attention as well.
This morning, the milestone of my youngest daughter’s last first day of school generated a tiny little identity crisis panic attack in my heart. I think that’s normal, but then I remind myself that “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine.
The truth of the matter is that we Moms – having devoted ourselves to our kids – have to learn what makes us “tick” all over again when they grow up. There is so much purpose in motherhood that I forgot it might not be my sole purpose. I’m still figuring out where God’s plan places me in the scheme of my identity, but many times His plan places me nowhere near who I’ve understood myself to be. He knows I will always be “Mom” to my beloved daughters, but His plans for HIS children are grander still.
Enjoy the full nest! my empty-nester friends tell me. Enjoy your kids…they fly away soon enough! And it’s true – mine is a SENIOR now! If I get teary now thinking about her being in 12th grade, how will I fare when the kids really DO move out? If I worry about them so much now while they are still under our roof, how much more will I worry when they are out? What will I fill the space with – the space that is feathered now with clutter and noise and drama?
And the small, still voice that I recognize as family, too, says “Trust. Fill it with trust in me. I’ve got them now.” So I have to try, because my Father knows best.
For her last year in high school, I hope circumstances allow me to take my youngest to school each day. We will laugh and sing to the radio and talk about subjects deep and trivial in twenty precious moments or less, and pray together quickly before she leaves for class. God has fresh ideas for her life, and she has the whole journey ahead of her.
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!
A few days ago, I had a huge blow-up argument with my (nearly 20-year-old) daughter about something that was not a big deal to her, but was a really big deal to me. The thing that made me the angriest was that I felt it should be a big deal to her, too.
She and I are very close. We “get” each other. But nobody reaches The Point of no Return faster than she and I. Like (and I really hate to make this analogy) two poodles yapping at one another through a glass door. Not seriously out to do damage, but competing for the loudest yip, the most audacious showing of teeth. We can take it from 0 to 60 in seconds, feeding off of one another’s tone of voice, pushing the buttons on the customized panel of emotions in record speed.
As Chef Emeril says – BAM!
Sometimes, I yell at my kids.
Sometimes, I say curse words.
Sometimes, I use curse words while yelling at my kids, but not often.
I’m a follower of Christ. I am supposed to know better. And I do.
I’m not proud of either the cursing or the yelling. As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed. I am asking God to help me in the times that my tongue is swifter (if not mightier) than the sword; the times when my words become the rudder for my ship of thoughts before I can tell which way the wind is blowing.
I have to give it to Christ constantly, my itchy trigger-tounge.
In days of yore, kids generally moved out at 18, at just about the time you reached the end of your proverbial “rope”. I always kind of simultaneously dreaded and looked forward to “18” for that reason. I had preconceptions about that magical age.
Now, more adult children are living at home than ever. You hear a lot about the effect on the kids – not so much on the hapless parents who dearly love them but are ready to enjoy the fruits of what they’d long ago decided was ‘successful parenting’.
In my particular parenting fantasy, the children would move away to college at 18 (on scholarship, of course) but come home frequently to visit. While they are living apart from us in a learning environment, I imagine their activities being scholarly in nature… you know:
Studying so hard that they regularly shut down the library (I like to picture them using old Encyclopedia Britannicas and a card catalogue. Hey, it’s my fantasy!)
Leading peaceful youth rallies for conservative reform (again…its my fantasy)
volunteering in soup kitchens in their free time (or some other completely unselfish pursuit)
But they didn’t move out. These beloved girls of mine are now almost 17, 19 and 20. And their undertakings are not all scholarly in nature.
I know I am the mother, and that my adult daughter is still the child, and that those parameters are a constant; they never change. But they do morph as kids grow up. And because I’m the mother, there is a pushing away on her part.
In a climate in which five adults live together, there is bound to be conflict. I’m learning to accept that reality. I’m learning that my fantasies of parenting college-aged children are not rooted in much reality at all. I just want my kids to be happy and successful, whatever that might be to them.
The good news is that the “trigger tongue” gets a little less itchy each time I ask God to help me with it and that forgiveness reigns supreme, in relation to God’s grace and between my daughter and I.
Long after I am flogging myself with the torches still hot from the last argument, she has forgotten the whole poodle-esque drama.
The wonderful thing about our relationship is that she and I feel the same urgency with forgiving one another as we do in escalating the fight. We want to make things right, because LOVE is the greatest of all four-letter-words.
So then comes the true “song of my people”. It mostly goes like this:
I didn’t mean what I said.
I love you.
(Chorus: you drive me CRAZY, but I love you still!)
I wrote this poem for my youngest daughter when she was going through a rough time, and I’m posting it with her permission. (She has grown up to be all the good things that her mama predicted, by the way….she was all along – she just had to figure it out).
There were two of them, and then later, three….and they brought so much joy into my life. Well, you see…I sometimes I forget that they are ultimately yours.
You trusted me enough to care for them, and I have taken good (but not perfect) care of them. Being one-of-a-kind, each of them were fussed over and coddled, adored and applauded. I made a lot of mistakes. You knew I would make mistakes with them, but you trusted me anyway.
Remember how I asked you for them before they arrived? I wanted my own long before you lent them to me. I guess I lost sight of whose they really are when I started making long-term plans for them. It’s easy to do, when you love them so much.
Sometimes, even now, I can’t believe you just handed them to me like that; priceless treasures, but you did. They are really beautiful, by the way. Thanks for sharing them.
Small and defenseless at first, strong and defiant as they grow. Oh, how I love them all.
Now, all these years later, it feels like you are wrestling them away from me, one clenched finger at a time, stealing them back.
Except that you are not stealing. They are rightfully yours, God.
You are a writer when you take your first breath in life, perhaps even before that. Preceding the ability to have cognitive thought, you start to etch the words of your life into being. Just by living, you write a story, an imprint on the world.
It is read by every person you come in contact with, and devoured by those you hold most dear. People are funny about books. Those who love them usually love them much.
Some are not readers. But all are writers. As you write the book of your life, remember these things, my daughters:
Don’t allow yourself to be typecast.
Fancy yourself an Overachiever? A Diva? A Loser? Never wear a label, it limits your dimensions. Chances are you will be an Overachiever, an Underachiever, a Type-A Personality and Types B through Z at differing times in your story. Expect Character complexity. You will at times be more complicated those who read your life can comprehend, and certainly more complicated than you yourself can understand. In your lifetime, you will stoop to shameful behaviors in spite of yourself, and overcome unimaginable odds by the same measure. In your travels, never allow yourself to become what other characters ascribe you to be. And you will transform from birth to dying breath.
Add colorful characters.
Use Best Friends sparingly in your story, and delve into their character with lots of detail. They are integral to getting through the sticky scenarios, and absolutely indispensable in chapters of great joy. Acquaintances will make cameos in your life, and give you reasons you show up in theirs.
The Great Love of your Life? The truest loves are part and parcel of your own soul, Main Character substance. Villains and liars? They have a place in the story, too. Even absolute fairy tales prescribe their presence, and you will have them with you, always. Acknowledge them; they are teaching you what not to become. But don’t give the storyline over to them.
And if your story needs a heroine? Be the heroine.
But try to keep it about everyone else
Make the Acknowledgements at least as long as your longest chapter in the story, and give plenty of credit throughout to those who have lent the richness and depth to your life.
It’s ok to have fragmented sentences and grammatical errors.
Life is incredibly messy. There is no Great Spellchecker in the sky; nobody is counting your mistakes.
Short chapters are ok, too.
Some scenes will end before you know you’ve written the first paragraph. When a chapter has taught its lesson, it’s ok to walk away from a setting.
Every story has a beginning, middle and an end. Make them all count.
Just as your story begins with a date of birth, it has a finite number of pages until the Acknowledgments. Like any page-turner worth its weight of paper, you will never know exactly what’s around the corner. Never knowing the end of the story ahead of time keeps you motivated to write your best ending.
Bright, fancy covers don’t really matter.
The slick sleeves that invite others to read your manuscript always, inevitably fade and fall apart. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has a postscript: “Give people more than a cover to judge you by.”
Allow for deeper meaning in the seemingly insignificant things.
A poem about the rain is sometimes really about despondency and angst.
And sometimes, it’s just about rain.
Keep the Table of Contents Flexible
Things change, sometimes a lot. Majors in college, boyfriends, financial situations; they can all evolve. Don’t let the shifting throw off your truth, or the telling of it. Write the Table of Contents of your life mostly in pencil, with only the most important core subjects penned. God, family, integrity and your truest passions – these should be inked.
Lighten up the Plot
Have fun, and enjoy the tale as you go. Much of the story is extraordinarily silly; laugh as much as you can. Laughter lightens any load and exhilarates those who read your story along with you.
Use the right punctuation when necessary.
Use lots of exclamation points! Everywhere you look, there are things to be excited about, and little manifestations of pure joy! Exclaim those things; they are worthy of literary device! And equally important, versing yourself in good punctuation means that you know when you put a period. After bad relationships. Unhealthy behaviors. Mistreatment. Selfishness. Utilize the “three dots” only when necessary…but don’t be afraid of “To Be Continued”…
Make your life a symphony of genres.
There is equity in throwing in a little Comedy when the Drama gets too intense, and a little Romance when the Tragedy is overwhelming. And daily, there will be Mystery.
Don’t be discouraged when the plot seems to drag.
It will seem to veer right as you try to steer the story left. Keep on keeping on. Keep writing.
Dedicate your “book”.
God is your Publisher and your Editor, the Ultimate Author and Finisher. Don’t try to do His job, yours is enough labor. Take His suggestions and read what He writes in the margins. Review His critiques of your work often, taking care to pay attention to the subtle cues as well as the highlighted ones; it will make the next chapter flow much better. He will make sure your “book” gets into the right “hands”, and He gives out no rejection letters. (It’s always good to be close to your Editor!)
Handle Writer’s Block with dignity.
All Great Writers suffer this crisis. Don’t mistake stagnancy with your identity. It is equally true that many of the greats turn to the numbing agents of drugs and alcohol and all manner of poison, all of which takes you back to some other point in the story when you faced the same dilemma. How many times do you want to repeat the same scene in which you suffer? Weakness breeds bad storylines; small bouts with strength (consult with The Editor) help you over that mountain. There are no small victories.
In all great works of literature, there is a Turning Point.
In your story, there will be lots of them, turning points. Never underestimate the power of a fork in the road. This is the moment in time where the decision of one tiny paragraph, sometimes one word. It can be one turn of a page, impacting each page thereafter and ultimately, and the end of the story.
Set out to make your story epic.
Don’t settle for ordinary, “See Spot Run” is easy but empty. Make sure every page is full, even if with mistakes. Love the people whom you love very hard (and with every cell in your being), you will get loved back hard. Mediocre is not an option, yours is a tome that will touch a life, and another and another.
Almost nothing you’ll ever do will affect only you.
No one life is a single-print.
And last, Love yourself just like the Great Classic you are.
Tattered pages, yellowed edges, typos and all.
Whatever goes into the final print, it’s all Character Development.
It’s your story – utterly familiar, irreplaceable.
Only you can write it.