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.
Tonight, I’m remembering the thousand of bedtimes when my daughters were little and I would lay down with them every evening holding each of their tiny hands until they fell asleep.
Some might say that was spoiling them.
There wasn’t a term for it back then – more than 20 years ago – but now I believe it is called “attachment parenting.” Every family is different, but i knew, in some deep, primal way, is that it was right for me and my girls. Co-sleeping. Extended breastfeeding, nursing on demand, and child-led weaning. No crying it out. Baby wearing.
And every night, the same playlist of lullabies by their tone-deaf Mom, including – always including – Sweet Baby James. I changed the lyrics about “glasses of beer” to”glasses of milk,” and nobody seems the wiser.
The funny thing I remember cognitive thought “memorize this, Mama.”
Memorize holding the tiny hand still a little sticky from where the baby wipe missed a spot of cotton candy.
Remember Lexi sleepily wriggling her lose front tooth between lullaby verses.
Stare into Ashleigh’s big, chocolate brown eyes as her eyelids drooped slowly little by little.
Indulge “sing it one more time, Mama,” even if it’s the tenth time in a row.
I intuitively knew these days were fleeting. I knew every bedtime took them a little farther from sticky hands and Sweet Baby James, and closer to the rest of the world they’d have to figure out for themselves.
The rest of the world I couldn’t make all better with a lullaby.
Until then, though, we had James Taylor and tons of cuddles.
And friends with littles, soak up every second.
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.” – (The Great) Erma Bombeck
By: Jana Greene
Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to do a lot of things. But while she was waiting until she had time to do them, she did other things. She became a woman who did lots of important life work:
She became a mother and raised children.
She fell in love and got married.
She wrote a lot of poetry read a lot of books.
She even wrote a few.
She held several full-time jobs at one time or another.
She served in church.
Pretty standard fare.
Then, one by one, many of the manifestations of importance in her life grew up and moved on, fell away, or got too messy to maintain.
As things left, she sought new things to do. But she couldn’t remember what her inner little girl had dreamt of doing in the first place, when she finally had the time to consider it.
The messed up part of her says “Bah! All of it was frivolous and time-wasting. Better you don’t remember those dreams. And especially don’t ACT on the ones you do remember. Time is precious, don’t waste it.”
But her truest identity as Daughter of the King won’t be shushed for exactly that reason….time is precious.
Now, in midlife, she is finding that she has been considering God from a place of paralysis….so afraid to do the wrong thing, she does nothing at all.
“What if I fail?” She asks. “I’m too old to start over.”
Take action, God says. I will bless it if it’s the right thing, and if you are wavering and need to be corrected, I will restore gently. Either you win or you learn, but operate from a place of Love and move. Step out.
Time is only finite, but here’s the thing….it bends to the Creator.
In the tenderest places in her soul – the ones where the King keeps as storehouse for that crazy Grace of His – He keeps reminding her of the truth.
That she is kin to The Dream-Maker Himself, and is more than free to ask Him for new dreams. He delights in His children!
That she is still on a mission, with the benefit of experience to move forward expecting great things.
That this season is a time for exploring and listening, not being plagued with identity crisis. Satan is the author of confusion and the enemy of clarity.
That she is not ‘past her prime’ and done with her purpose until she stops asking “What’s next, Papa?” He placed the dreams in her heart for a purpose in every life stage.
That even though the world has gone mad, God keeps her full of Grace on every occasion. He does not finance her life in a deficit.
That it’s not too late. It’s never too late!
Do the things, Daughter! Do them with joy.
I have come that you have life to the FULL.
Once upon a time there was a woman approaching 50 years of age, and God gave her a little extra time to figure out who she really is.
In this new season, she is grateful for that.
Time is finite. Lord Jesus, help me to make my portion count. Let me use up everything you give me, every bit of talent.
When I was a young mother and my children very small, I carried them on my right hip. This went on long after they were able to walk by themselves, and so often that now – all these many years later – that hip has a tendency to jut out a bit when I am standing still. The youngest child in particular, I carried for a long time.
“Hold me up?” she would say in a tiny rasp, her small arms stretched upward. In times of particular urgency, she would stand tiptoe for extra height and open and close her tiny hands rapidly, like the motions to the nursery rhyme about all the little stars, twinkling. Of course I would pick her up…what else is a mother to do? Her gesture acknowledged that she was small…that she wanted a better view of her world.
Fast forward a dozen years or so. This little girl is in her teens, nearly grown –and trying to figure out who she is meant to be. And I, as her mother, am on a similar journey to find purpose, I suppose you could say. Of particular fascination on this leg of the trip is the fairly recent tendency I’ve developed to be more open during worship at church. Demonstrative, actually. With the lights dimmed during service, praise music hammering with invitation to God to be present with us, in us…first come the tears. And then the hands.
I did not grow up a “hands-raiser”, or a “tongue-talker”. I was raised swaddled in a quilt of various Bible-belt denominations, Baptist and Methodist chief amongst. Shouting was for cheering at football games, “amen” was for saying grace at dinner, and hand-raising for students who had a question for the school teacher. To shout in church was to call yourself out as a “Penty-costal”, to clap out of time was to call attention to yourself, and calling attention to yourself made you that thing which to was to be avoided in order to self-preserve: vulnerability.
But now, not caring who was witness to my worship, I wonder why? Why when falling to my emotional knees, did I try to stifle raising my arms? Why did I question my own motives for worshiping in such a manner?
Choking with tears, I remembered my baby daughter’s pleas with outstretched arms. And the urgency, in times she felt the most overwhelmed. Or restless. Or too weary to walk. Was she raising her hands up to me in order to receive? Surely, yes. But also because I was so much taller than she, my vantage point offering an entirely different view. The action of lifting her tiny arms to me made her vulnerable.
The first time I raised my hands to God, I was vulnerable, too. But there is wild, unexpected abandon in vulnerability.
“Pick me up so I can see, Daddy!” is what my spirit says, in the most raw and relinquishing of times – when I feel smallest with no need to self-preserve. “Carry me”. Certainly, a request made to receive his lifting-out, but also in the purest form of worship….the kind in which my spirit calls the shots, and my body must obey.
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, – 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.”
I don’t even remember where we were are going, my mother and I … just she and I alone in the car. I must have been ten years old, right on the cusp of Mommy Worship and Mommy Disdain. My young mother still in her late twenties – a beautiful, volatile, ball of energy and light. I catch a glimpse of her sideways as we rolled down the road. She smiles, turning the radio up.
Baker Street, her favorite song. We hand-crank the windows down – Gerry Rafferty’s tinny vocals blasting us like the wind. She sings:
Winding your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well, another crazy day
You’ll drink the night away And forget about everything.
Filaments of her blonde hair whip about her face, and I feel a pain for loving her so much. She looks like an angel with a Dorothy Hamill haircut. I take a big breath to sing along with her, but the air is full from the smoke of burning leaves from someone’s yard, and I cough. We laugh.
You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you’re trying, you’re trying now.
She reaches over to the passenger seat and takes my hand, smiling. She is proud that I know the words to the chorus. I remember when I was very little and she would tell me it was me and her against the world. The world was antagonist; we were invincible. My hand didn’t swim in hers like back then, it fit perfectly.
Another year and then you’d be happy
Just one more year and then you’d be happy
But you’re crying, you’re crying now.
We did very bad air-saxaphone routines with our voices, just for the sake of being silly. All of the elements for a perfect mother-daughter moment, all serendipitous-like. She lets go of my hand to light a cigarette in the interlude.
Way down the street there’s a light in his place
He opens the door, he’s got that look on his face
And he asks you where you’ve been
You tell him who you’ve seen
And you talk about anything.
We sing at the top of our lungs, her words sometimes coming out in smoke as she exhales.
He’s got this dream about buying some land
He’s gonna give up the booze and the one-night stands
And then he’ll settle down In some quiet little town
And forget about everything.
At stop lights, people stare at us. We sing louder! We are beautiful, volatile balls of energy and light. Of course all the other drivers wish that they were as cool as we are, singing Baker Street. Mom flicks her cigarette butt out the window absently.
But you know he’ll always keep moving
You know he’s never gonna stop moving ‘
Cause he’s rolling, he’s the rolling stone…
A single car ride, burned into the filament of my spirit. I don’t even know where we were going, and it doesn’t matter. I feel the same pain from loving her so much, when I remember it. What I wouldn’t do do have the three or four minutes on a Fall afternoon in Houston, my hand in my mother’s – fitting just right. Before another crazy day.
To talk about anything.
To forget about everything.
Before the world was antagonist.
And when you wake up, it’s a new morning The sun is shining, it’s a new morning And you’re going, you’re going home.
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.
“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.
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.
There is something cool about the number twelve. It makes me think of the famous recovery“steps”, fresh, hot doughnuts – and the beloved disciples of Jesus – not necessarily in that order. It also brings to mind the song about the twelve Days of Christmas that just passed; the lyrics of the song I never really understood, having little appreciation for Lords a’ Leaping or partridges in pear trees.
But I have all the appreciation in the world for addiction recovery, so in honor of God and His making the past 12 years possible (joy-filled, even!) I wrote a little redux. I pray it blesses you, and I look forward to living sober for my lifetime with the Father’s grace… one single day at a time.
In the first year of recovery, My Father gave to me – a helping of humility.
Step 1: I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and compulsive behaviors, that my life had become unmanageable. It was hard to admit I had zero power over a silly substance, really humiliating, actually…but in the best way possible. I had to learn how to bite off one without drinking day as it came, and then another and another – in complete surrender to God. I still approach sobriety that way.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2
In the second year of recovery, My Father gave to me – reckless, steady love, and a helping of humility.
If you don’t think you deserve to be loved, it is a hard thing to accept. But true love doesn’t come because we deserve it at all; it comes when we can’t possibly deserve it. God’s love is reckless in nature, and He wants us to learn how to love one another similarly.
“In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” – John 12:26
In the third year of recovery, My Father gave to me –hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
Oh, the mess I’d made of things. Surely I’d used up all of the favor I could reasonably be shown. Blessedly, God is not reasonable in promising hope and favor for the faithful!
“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” – Jeremiah 29:11
In the fourth year of recovery, My father gave to me – grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
Now I had some major decisions to make about my life. Some of my choices were good and healthy at this stage, and some were not good at all. Through trial and error, and floundering effort – I just didn’t drink. And I tried really trusting in the Highest Power instead of my own barometer.
“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” – Lamentations 3:22
In the fifth year of recovery, My father gave to me – fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes, hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
Life keeps happening, and without a numbing agent. Not everything that light is cast upon shows up in a rosy light. Acknowledging character defects became a priority, and remains one. By necessity. The learning curve is constant, but God loves me right where I am today. He is so awesome that way.
“But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But Godisn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.” – Romans 2:1-2
In the sixth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
When I humbly request that God remove my shortcomings, the space gets filled up with much better stuff. Love, grace, joy and mercy. (Step 7, for those who are wondering). This was a time that God stormed the shores of my life with people to love me (think the beaches of Normandy!) It still amazes me that He sends just the right people into your life with such care and mercy.
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:34
In the seventh year of recovery, My Father gave to me – coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
Not easy living, mind you….but complete life. That is how I cope: bring it to the Highest Power. He is always available when help is needed. When I struggle to stay sober, he goes to the mat to fight for and with me.
“ God is a safe place to hide,
ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in sea storm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.
Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.” – Psalm 46:1
In the eighth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
I love the Serenity Prayer, especially the little-known end of the Reinhold Niebuhr poem because it helps me differentiate between having joy and being happy. We all are on a quest for happiness, but sometimes reasonably happy is enough.
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.
Amen. And AMEN!
In the ninth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – comfort in His Presence, permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
And what of the “joy” thing? It comes only from His presence, which is the most tangible when I am still and quiet; when I stop trying so hard to anticipate what He is communicating to me before my heart has a chance to have a good listen. This is sincerely a work in progress! Recovery itself is work, in progress. But there is nothing sweeter than His presence.
“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10
In the tenth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – acceptance through surrender; comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
The only formula I know that works is: constant, daily surrender to God + hard work you often don’t feel like doing + helping others = forward moving recovery. Sometimes it inches and sometimes it races, but giving it all to the Father is key. I am still one drink away from repeating my old, self-destructive patterns. Accountability in a group is important. Step 10: We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”– 1 Corinthians 10:12
In the eleventh day of recovery, My Father gave to me – a better perspective. comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
The human condition: assuming victory over one area of struggle only to have temptation rear its ugly head or have another struggle knock me down. It seems to happen when I least expect it and nothing I do seems right; I have a long way to go, and so much yet to learn. But when I let God pick me up, I can see a little better than when I’m wallowing around in the pit. The view just isn’t that good from there. His righteousness makes up for my weaknesses.
“God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.” – Romans 3:26
In the twelfth year of recovery, My Father is giving me – a way to pay it forward. a better perspective. Comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!
Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.
When I was active in my disease, everything revolved around drinking. Hiding my secret was my first priority. Now – a dozen years after starting this journey – I cannot keep quiet about addiction recovery because I was lost, you see. And now I’m found.
What drinking left room for are peace, comfort, healthy relationships. A second chance to be the mother my daughters deserve and the wife my husband should have. I have to write about it, talk about it and tell other broken people with secrets that I am broken too, but that God actually prefers to use broken people over the ones who think they have it all together. Or….as Step 12 states: Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
“That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7
I am so grateful to God, because He is the Author and Finisher of my faith and my recovery. Without Him, I never would have made it a day without alcohol (and for many years didn’t.) With Him, I have hope for the future renewed every day, because it is fresh every morning and comes like my sobriety – one day at a time in full measure as I need it.
In the (first) 12 years of recovery, My Father gave to me:
MMMmmmm, Christmastime. The music is lovely, the parties are grand. The food? Well, it’s almost divine.
As a recovering alcoholic, I save a lot of calories by not drinking (sick thought #1) but I make up for it by taking part in food festivities. Savory dips piled high on crackers, sugary cookies and cakes. If it arrives in a crock pot, it’s simmering on borrowed time. Anything with a cream-cheese base? Yes, please!
The problem is – if I’m honest – is that I need to admit a little secret: making food a centerpiece in my life is not just a holiday phenomenon. And I have the pounds to prove it.
I worry about my issues with food because I see a pattern emerging. A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my closet, and within moments I found the first Hershey bar. I had hidden it in an otherwise empty shoebox, a single candy under tissue paper. Working my way under some random papers stacked on a closet shelf, I found another Hershey bar and at the bottom of the stack? Another one., and another. The last one was under an old Pittsburgh Steelers blanket behind some more boxes.
I have had issues with food all my life. From hating to eat as a child, becoming a full-on “foodie” as an adult. When I went through a painful divorce several years ago, I lived on Diet Coke and cigarettes, losing 80 pounds. To be truthful, it felt pretty good to have some measure of control over something going on. The cycle has repeated over and over: starving myself for a little while because I don’t like what I see, bingeing to fill up and comfort. It was the kind of hidden behavior that I just didn’t want to “discuss” with myself (also known as “denial) But now – here in a tangible intervention, was evidence bold on brown wrappers: H.E.R.S.H.E.Y.
All told, there were 11 chocolate bars hidden in strange places in my closet.There is a big difference between using food as a treat and an anesthetic. I am very emotional about food (and dern near everything else) but usually not to the point of crying. This time, there were tears.
The candy had been stashed individually over the course of months, because chocolate is my comfort food and having three young adult daughters, someone is ALWAYS PMS’ing at my house, looking for this anesthetic for the symptoms. So I hide it. Because when I am jonesing for chocolate, I am really jonesing for chocolate, you know? I am the mother in this house and don’t I deserve chocolate for putting up with everyone? I can quit any time I want! I’ll quit for the New Year and get in shape…you’ll see! What’s the big deal?
See? Emotional. Hershey bars should not be that powerful of an emotional trigger. Also, while I’m being real here, hoarding food is a related compulsion I struggle with. But that is a blog post for another day.
Do I remember hiding the chocolate? Not really. It is something I did kind of automatically. Go to the store for milk and eggs, pick up an extra chocolate to hide. When I get especially stressed out, I go buy more chocolate at the store and sooth myself the Hershey Way and it seems harmless enough. Except like some people can’t “just eat one” potato chip, I almost never “just eat one” chocolate bar. Here’s the secret: The second bar I like to enjoy in private – and that’s really embarrassing to admit. Sometimes it is more than two. I’m ashamed, even for my husband to know. Why does all this seem SO familiar?
Right before I got sober, I was terribly sick. The first glass of wine, I would drink in front of other people, but the second….seventh…..tenth? I “enjoyed” those alone, ashamed. I had boxes of wine stashed in secret places all over the house, because there was never enough. What if I ran out? Dang it, I am an adult and it’s just WINE for Pete’s sake, and don’t I deserve a little something for putting up with everyone? I can quit any time I want! I’ll quit for the New Year and stay sober, you’ll see! What’s the big deal?
The big deal was that I’d forgotten that the void requiring filling was not shaped like a bottle or box of Chardonnay. The hole is not shaped like a Hershey bar. It is a God-shaped place that, in times of stress and need and worry and peace, can only be filled by Christ. It’s not “just a treat” if you are tormented by it.
Run first to Him, and away from things done in secret. There is no shame in Him; no room for condemnation. Love conquers sick thoughts #’s one through one-billiion. Love fills up the void, and I know that already. That’s the thing about life on this planet: I will struggle with SOMETHING until the undertaker is throwing dirt in my face. You will too. But oh, the grace that God offers us strugglers!
That – the sweetest of things – I don’t need to hoard or hide. It flows constantly and with such force that it spills over into other spaces and can’t be contained. Kind of like my belly over the waistband of my jeans right now. (Hey, it’s important to keep a sense of humor!)
Jesus as the centerpiece of my life, First. Jesus consulted before food or drink or even friends – renewable comfort, available. I just have to ask for it.
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.
Seven UNO cards were spread out like a fan in my hand. There were four greens, two reds and one blue. The card facing upward on the table was yellow, emblazoned with the number “5”…just about the only number and color not represented in my hand.
Anyone who has ever played the card game could see that this was an unlucky grouping. My daughter, who was nine years old at the time, smiled like the cat that ate the canary. Never one to present a poker face, she picked the last of her own seven cards from the thick, worn pile.
“Hmmmm,” she said. “Another wild card.”
I looked down at my cards again, knowing I would have to pick yet another in a game that required losing all to win.
“Skip me?” I asked.
“You know the rules, Mom,” she chided. “You have to pick another card until you get a match for the yellow or the five.”
She was right, of course. So I picked the first card lying face down in the pile. It was a blue eight. The next was a green “skip” card and the one under it was another green three.
“Dos, tres, cuatro,” I counted, my hand becoming heavier with the losing cards.
“You will have catorce soon!” laughed my opponent. “Catorce” is the Spanish word for fourteen.
“I must not have shuffled them well,” I grumped.
“Maybe not,” she said. “But you have to play the cards you’re dealt.” How many times had I told her that?
It was not, in fact, until I did have fourteen cards that I was able to get rid of even one of them. By the time I chose a winning card, there were too many to hold in fan formation so they fell about in a messy heap that allowed my opponent to see which colors and numbers I held.
Miraculously, though, I won the game that day. I kept choosing and she kept laying down her cards until she was forced to play a green one. She had been holding on to not one, but FOUR wild cards – pieces that entitled her to change-up the game in her own favor all along. Somehow, using all of her good cards had resulted in her ending up with green cards.
And green cards I had!
It seems to me that many people are dealt unfair cards in this life. Some are given wild cards in abundance, while others have a handful of “fives” without any apparent significance.
I didn’t mean to choose the hand of proverbial cards that I had to play in the darkest times in my life, but I did pick many of them myself.
I hadn’t wanted to grow up to be an alcoholic.
I don’t remember picking the card for divorce that showed up in my deck.
And single motherhood? I’d have just as soon left that one out, too.
Chronic pain, financial struggle, surviving abuse….I’d never have asked for them. So many issues – more than catorce! – that my hand could not hold them all, spilling out of formation and into a messy heap. And when you have a big enough pile, you can’t hold them close to your chest and they fall about you for all the world to see. For your opponent to see.
I didn’t ask for that messy pile. Even though I often contributed to the disorder with my own actions, it still seemed unfair. Sometimes I’d done all the right things – shuffled well. Still, bad things happened, things that made me hurt deeply.
“Skip me!” I’ve begged the Lord on numerous occasions. “God, please….”
But He had purpose all the while. I found out that there is a huge difference between perceived unfairness and purposeless-ness. All of the losing cards I’ve held have played pivotal roles in making me understand what God’s grace is all about. I wouldn’t trade that card for anything.
We all have to play the cards we are dealt – in a game that often requires losing all of self to win.
Keep picking up the next card, believing that God will work it to the good. Believe it, and ask him to fill in the gaps where you do not believe it yet.
And lay them down; keep laying your cards on the table – on the altar.
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.
I’d written the post I’d set out to write for the blog, but hesitated to hit “publish”.
It was a pretty raw piece about addiction and motherhood; two things I have experience with that often end up awkward bedfellows in my writing. Addiction and motherhood don’t belong in a single story, but long ago they had an affair, and the resulting lovechild was a story about my grieving choices I had made but reveling in the grace of Christ.
Still staring at the glow of the laptop screen. Perhaps I shouldn’t put this ‘out there’, I thought, finger hovering over the enter button.
Some Christians will be offended. They will judge me twice; once for being the person I was, and again for admitting to being that person. They might think I am playing fast and loose with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a poor representation of a Christian. I would never want to do that.
And – far more importantly – what about those who don’t know Jesus yet?
Still, I can’t shake the urgency to write about these things, to ‘put them out there’. So I pray….
”God, first let me do no harm.” A spiritual Hippocratic Oath of sorts –“ let me do no harm to Your name”.
Be the beggar, I feel Him saying. Stop trying to “bake”…..
Sometimes, writing, I feel like a rebel deserter of my formerl self; a New Creation counting on Christ to do the jousting because I am rusty from old war injuries. A grateful and humble flawed veteran…not measuring up to what the world thinks a Christian should always be, but gratefully not of this world.
Old war stories sometimes need to be told, and telling half-truths distorts history.
I press the Enter button to Publish. And revel in the grace of Christ.