You Don’t Really Mean That…

“I promise you son; you don’t really mean that.” I took a deep breath in and held it. For a moment time stopped. Only the sobs from my son filled the space between us. How many times have my children unleashed their accusations against me or their dad?  How many times have words been flung like poisoned arrows in hopes they will change the stance of an unyielding parent? How many times will my children put me or their dad on trial for all the mistakes we have made?

How many times have we done the same to our own parents?

Today marks the anniversary of my mother’s death two years ago. Just a few days ago, my husband and I were in another battle with our teenage son. Today, as grief revisits my heart, I find myself contemplating parent-child relationships.

It’s no secret I was estranged from my mother, but also, from my father. Somewhere along the way, the once in-love couple who bore three children fell apart. Instead of photo albums filled with a lifetime of fond memories, we were left trying to put the shattered pieces back together. Only we cannot fix what happened between our parents. We can only—hopefully—learn from them and pave a new path for our own families.

The only problem with that romanticized idea is dysfunction tends to run in families. Patterns are repeated until someone recognizes that the root of all dysfunction is sin-filled men and women and humbly choose to learn another way.

I was determined to not be like my parents. I judged them for everything they were not. I focused on everything they failed to do. I racked up their many mistakes in my mind and heart until it became a wall of bitterness, anger, even hatred. I stood as their accusers instead of allowing myself to be flesh-of-their-flesh. I cut them out of my life and ignored their pleas for mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

I was going to be better than them. I was going to be a better mom and wife. Instead, I became the very people I despised. The choices and mistakes my parents made, the ones I held in contempt, became my sins. Then I began to understand.

Understanding does not absolve my parents. They made horrible decisions and suffered dearly for the consequence of their own actions. I know my mother had many regrets. I am one of them. Not because I exist, but because the poisoned arrows we flung at each other kept us a part until it was too late. I fear my relationship with my father will end the same.

In understanding, I became open to seeing them not just as my parents but as people. People who are no different than I am. I learned about the families they came from and the secrets they hid in their hearts. I discovered my parents own humanity. Their failed dreams, but also, their hopes and aspirations. My focus on their failures shifted to seeing all of them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Something I discovered that is inherent to us all.

I realized my mother had amazing strength and resolve to overcome unsurmountable obstacles. Her will to survive was nothing short of remarkable. When I no longer stood as her juror and judge, my heart opened to my mother and I saw a woman who had the unbelievable grace to wait for me to return to her.

Truth is, some of the things our family went through was horrible; in fact, downright deplorable. My parents would not have won the parents of the year award. It so easy to idealize other parents, especially if their faults are not as blaring as your own. But they are my parents. The whole of them—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and one day they won’t be around. Nothing will be able to bring them back; not rivers of tears or a thousand apologies.

momyoudontToday, I am going through things that only a seasoned mother could understand or even relate to. Despite all that was between us, today and so many days since her death, she is the one person I wish I could talk with. I wish I could tell her that after walking in her shoes, she became my HERO.

Mom, I finally realize the best of me is because of you. Thank you. I love and miss you.

 

I WAS THAT GIRL!

Truth is freeing. But sometimes it comes with a price. That price? Truths totality. In other words, the realization of what truth means to yourself and too others. It is easy to assume that our truth is limiting; it only affects us. But that is simply not true. Who we are and what we believe, at our core, reflects in all we do; and it controls how others see us as well as how we see ourselves.

Sometimes, no matter how freeing the truth is. Shame lingers nearby, waiting to suck you into its darkened abyss. Most days the struggle to resist the old—well because —it’s the norm is exhausting. And if women were real with each other, regardless of their faith, they too would confess the very real struggle of body image. This struggle is not exclusive to one size. In fact, it affects women of all sizes and all ages. It is not limited to culture, race, or religion. It does, however, ensnare the majority of women.

What brought me down this controversial lane? Michelle did. No. I don’t know her, but her witty and truthful response to a man she dated resonated with me on multiple levels. She made me proud to be a woman.

The woman her former date described was me. I WAS THAT GIRL! I am ashamed to admit it. From early on, I learned my body was a tool, a weapon of sorts to seduce men. Not for pleasure, but for love. I desperately wanted to be loved. For many reasons, unknown at the time, I tied my true identity to my body image. A soul sickening belief that destroys little girls before they even start kindergarten. I was the “woman Folly” described in Proverbs. The girl who led men into the “depths of Sheol.” Married or single, it didn’t’ matter. What mattered was my desperate need to be loved, to be accepted, to be wanted, for all the wrong reasons. And for this, I was willing to accept anything. Do anything.

I carried this belief well into adulthood and motherhood. I would like to tell you that it didn’t affect my daughters. For the most part, both of them made better decisions than I did. However, this mindset still infiltrated their being.  In many ways, they confused the genuine with the fake. It is only by God’s amazing grace they did not travel down the path I once did.

My marriage wasn’t off limits either. Funny, how that is. I mean I already got the guy, why believe otherwise? Because in the beginning, I believed I only won his heart by luring him with my body. True, he is partly responsible for that belief. Yet, twelve years into our marriage, I still tried to win his heart with my body. Not my mind. Not my heart. Just my body. I just couldn’t believe that he could love me for anything more.

Your Presence Matters

I know. I have been silent for a while. It was intentional. I chose silence not solitudeditedsilencewebe.

Several months ago, my husband and I were discussing life and relationships. He asked, “If your mother was alive today, what would you say to her?” I thought about this for several minutes then replied, “Nothing.” He just stared at me.

“What do you mean nothing?” he asked. “I mean exactly that, nothing. We said all there was to say. No words were going to change the past. Instead, I would enjoy her presence.” I glanced at him through tear filled eyes. Silence filled the space between us.

Time was not on our side. My mother passed away before I really got to know her again.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence.” I understood the power of those words before I ever read them. The thing I miss most is my mother’s presence. She is not the only one. There are people in my life that I miss terribly. My daughter and grandchildren. Friends that moved away. Relationships I have longed for my entire life. Relationships that still need healing. Their absence has left a mountain-size whole in my heart.

This reality has changed my perspective. We live in a connected world, but everyday people are growing increasingly disconnected; so I decided to try something different this summer. I unplugged. However, I didn’t unplug entirely. Unplugging is like breaking an addiction, sometimes you have to wean off slowly. I’m not a huge TV fan, so that wasn’t a big issue for me, and for the most part I can do without social media. My issue: I happen to get completely immersed in whatever I am doing, whether its preparing and studying lesson plans, writing, or researching, it doesn’t matter; except my mind is always on, which makes me absent while present.

I don’t want to miss one moment of life. Yes, I do have obligations, work, deadlines, bills, and so on, just like everyone else. But I can choose to be actively present in the lives of those around me. The loss of my mother helped realize what is truly important—presence.

My presence matters to those who love me and vice versa.

I won’t always be able to take six-to-eight weeks off, but I can choose to be more intentional about being present in the moment. When I do, I will experience one of life’s greatest treasures: the presence of others and so will you.

 

When Tragedy Strikes Near Home

I’m caught between yesterday and today. I can’t yet turn the page today despite the fact I am getting on an airplane in two hours. I am torn between excitement and sorrow. The tragedy is not mine, but it affects me indirectly. The profound reality is life is fleeting; in a blink of an eye everything can change.

“Mom! Something happened next door!” I could hardly get through the front door before the kids bombarded me.

“The state troopers were there,” Summer explained. “I was awakened to someone screaming:  ‘No! No!” she said.

“Please, go see what’s wrong,” they cried.

I turned to look at Jed. He wasn’t saying anything, but I could see it in his eyes. I took him by the hand and walked back out the front door.

As we started across the yard, I noticed a Crisis Response caregiver walking across the driveway mouthing something to a woman I didn’t recognize. I knew and feared the worst. One of Nikki’s daughters was pacing the cement while talking on the phone. She hung up as we made our way across the yard. I explained to her Jedidiah’s concern and asked her if everything was okay.

It strikes me odd how we always ask that question when clearly everything is not okay. Still we ask.

She stumbled to find the words. Her eyes overflowed uncontrollably. In deep measured breaths, she whispered, “My mother was killed in a car accident just a little while ago.”

I took her in my arms as the familiar numbness enveloped me. I knew there was nothing I could say to ease her pain. No words could erase the events unfolding in her life. Eventually, I released my hold on her and asked if Jed could see TJ. He went inside with her as I made my way across the street to another neighbor.

We met in her driveway. Her toddler straddled on her hip as questions filled her gaze. I explained to her what happened fixating my eyes on her son. I was struck by the contrast of a life beginning and a life ending. Numbness still blanketed my soul. I wondered what she thought of my lack of emotion as tears filled her eyes. We parted—she into her home and me into mine.

I pulled my children close and prayed for the family next door. I struggled to find sufficient words all the while resisting the quiver of my emotions. I ended our prayer more abruptly than I anticipated. Just as before, I struggled with the idea that life goes on, while someone next to me grapples with the reality of death.

Here I still am, and it’s the next day. It’s not about life after death for I am positive of eternal life in Christ. It’s the profound silence of a loved one gone. It’s the children longing for the deceased parent, or the spouse sleeping alone at night, and so on. For me, the hardest part of life is the profound silence of death.

There is absolutely no comfort this side of heaven that can fill the gap someone leaves behind. As a Christian, I can be comforted by the knowledge that I will see my loved one again, but still, there absence in my daily life is so strong, at times, earth shattering. My heart feels what my head cannot fully comprehend.

I don’t just say this for me. The very thought of TJ growing up without his mother, or the husband mourning the love of his life, or the mother who grieves the premature death of her daughter…it’s all this and more.

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

If death has taught me anything, it has taught me to value life more today than yesterday. To hold my loved ones a little closer. To let go of petty issues. To be more grateful for the time I am given as well as to know a life lived is a life full of joy, laughter, and pain.

 

 

Dear Mom: NOT EVERYTHING IS YOUR FAULT!

Dear Mom:

Recently, I was speaking with a dear friend who felt like a failure as a mom. I heard her frustration, her anxiety, her helplessness, her shame and disappointment. I listened to her explain the circumstances, the decisions she had to make, and the fear of not making the “right” decision. While I listened, my own thoughts surfaced: the many mistakes I made, the constant quest to find the “right way” to do things, the striving to be the best mom, the best wife, the best Christian, the list goes on.

My friend was caught in a circle of hopelessness. She, like so many of us, carries the burden of her children’s choices—good or bad—on her shoulders. It is as if all of their decisions in life are a direct result of her parenting.

“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”  John Wilmot

True, she has failed countless times. So have I. In fact, we all do. It doesn’t matter if its mothering, dieting, relationships, work or other. We cannot escape the fact that we fail. Sometimes those failures effect our children as well as our friends, spouses, family, and coworkers.

However, the truth is not everything is your fault. I know the world blames you. Maybe friends and family blame you. Maybe it’s your own kids. Maybe you blame yourself.  Please STOP! I know this easier said than done; it is necessary for you and your children.