Olive Branches, waiting on me

My olive branches have returned with sweet forgiveness, I have found grace yet again.  Distance that I allowed, grudges I held, disappeared at the stroke of a key.  I sent messages, asking for a fresh start, apologizing for a lack of honesty in my relationships, not confronting hurts and holding onto events instead of people. I discovered it was really quite easy.  Why hadn’t I done this before? What changed?  My pastor’s sermon on fractured relationships has rocked me to the core.  I feel convicted to look at who I need to forgive.  I feel a need to restore rather than sit in my loneliness, listing hurts.  Friends have reappeared, connections reestablished.  I feel lighter and fuller at the same time.

I picked the easier ones, the safe ones.  I still have work to do.  I am stalling on some big hurts, some seriously broken bonds. I’m not convinced, even with this success, that I am ready to forgive and be forgiven.  Maybe every friendship doesn’t need resurrected, just examined, forgiven and set free.  The challenge is to really complete that process, without the accountability of interaction with the other party.  I can say I have forgiven, I can say I have let it go, but to do so truly without ruminating or remembering is just too human of me.  I need God’s grace.  I need forgiveness for my slow forgiving heart.  Becoming honest about brokenness in relationships is scary, risky. Safer to sit alone, sure of my righteousness. I need a nudge and a push and the reminder of the cross.  Thankfully I find that example constantly in my day. Next up to discover my courage.

Balancing

Plum and I got up at 4:30 this morning to watch the lighting on the front porch. As we huddled under our blankets we discussed weather and listened for the thunder. As the storm passed, I mentioned that I was so grateful our dogs weren’t frightened by the storms like our Rowdie and Tippy, our dogs who passed away. Plum wanted to know the stories so I described how Rowdie would hide in the downstairs bathroom and Tippy would just quiver, shake so hard. He asked about Pony, our Hurricane Katrina rescue. As I told the story of the hurricane and the levees broken we moved inside to the couch, more blankets and snuggling. He misses Pony so much, often becoming sad, chin touching his chest, walking slowly, the picture of desolation. As I told the story of how we came to acquire Pony, he listened and took on the family history, absorbing his past and the impact weather. Macky, our golden retriever pup who weighs 85 pounds at just over a year, climbed on top of Plum, claiming his territory. Finally Plum decided he couldn’t hear any more, asked me to stop. He decided the story made him too sad and he just needed to cuddle with Mack. What a smart boy. We need to embrace our history and live in the moment. Finding the balance is the tough part.

Olive Branches

I seem to be having the same conversation with different people.  They may come at it from a different world view but we end up at the same place.  We talk about being lured into getting a new phone every two years even if ours is just fine.  We bemoan the work ethic of the 20 somethings, who feel they need to be told daily how great they are doing yet they still leave with no notice.  The ability to say and do things anonymously on the internet brings out the worst in humanity.  Without longterm relationships, without accountability to others, we are losing the ability to manage conflict.  This disturbing trend of disposability has led to fractured relationships.  My newsfeed on Facebook reminds me often that it is my right to remove toxic people from my life.  It is my duty to stand up for me, to live my life free from those who hurt me.   I do agree that abusive relationships are ones that need to be broken, left, fractured.  But what constitutes abuse?

As we have come out of the shadows regarding the estrangement with our daughter, sharing our pain, our heartache and also our utter disbelief, we have found many others who are in the same place.  Too many.  Stories of parents who dared tell the truth to their children, parents who made mistakes, parents who are human.  All share the same result of being cast out of their children’s lives, grandchildren never seen.  Most have tried all forms of communication: mail, email, texts, phone calls.  Apologies, pleas fall on deaf ears.  The children seem to stand on their right to cast us off and select shiny new people who bring bling and no history.  They don’t have to worry about accountability for their role, these new people will only know their side and support how wonderful they are. “ Of course you were right to leave, how could you not with such a horrible mother?”  Until that new friend no longer holds value.  No worries, a new one will be there, packaged enticingly, a fresh start.

What is missing is conflict resolution, the ability to work through the hard stuff to maintain relationships with those who know us deeply.  Valuing our shared histories, getting more than the medal for participating but the pin for years served, means we stick it out when life gets tough.  The rewards are greater but this generation doesn’t know that.  They have cut them selves off before actually achieving anything of worth.  Taking a fierce moral inventory of myself, I can see, though it isn’t just this millennial generation.  I am guilty as well.  I have bought into the idea of removing toxicity without considering what truly is poison and what is just a bad day.

I can’t fix them all but I can start with me.  I am creating a list of those who I need to forgive, those who I have disagreed with and just stopped talking to.  I am called to forgive, I am called to restore.  I accept that I have a right not to be hurt yet I also have a responsibility to practice conflict resolution that doesn’t look like conflict avoidance.  I am reevaluating whether the hurt was great enough to sever the relationship or just take a break.  Then I am going to practice the grace that I have received.  I am extending some olive branches.  I want our shared histories back.  I don’t know if those on the other side do as well, but if I sit in silence I will never know.

Elephants and Unicycles

Unicycles leaned against every wall of our garage when I was growing up, my little brother an avid rider.  I don’t remember how he started but he hasn’t stopped although his collection has whittled down to just one or two.  He used to have a six footer, one with a huge wheel, so many other kinds i cannot remember.  I do recall holding them so he could run and mount them and take off riding, a delicate skill of balancing and pedaling to stay upright.  I can see us all those summers ago, browned skins, cut off shorts and tank tops, him riding around in our court and me watching.  Years spotting him in parades, holding his bikes and supporting him as he jumped on, yet I never mastered the balancing act myself.  I can’t actually remember trying.  Life was more concrete for me, I needed both feet on the ground to maintain my sense of control.  So much less adventurous then, maybe now as well.  I do wonder how the inability to balance that unicycle, to jump on and trust the hand that was holding it, has followed me into adulthood.

I know I have never mastered the delicate act of balance which requires an acute awareness of your body, an intuitive sense of which way you need to lean to keep centered.  Too far in any direction results in overcorrection.  I imagine my life as if I were riding one of my brother’s unicycles, reeling first this way and then that, back and forth, even forward a bit and then back but rarely achieving that beautiful glide forward, back straight, head high, smiling for the parade goers.

As a surviver of childhood molestation, I learned to ignore my body.  I struggle to describe symptoms to doctors, I’m terrible with that pain scale.  I have allowed my body to be pushed to the point of relapse with a chronic medical condition because I don’t recognize the warning signs, not aware of my own body.  Without that keen sense of self, how can one maintain harmony?

I have also allowed others to push me, pull me until my stability is jeopardized.  It happens easily enough when you grow up as I did, a victim of a harsh culture, unable to impact your world or find safety.  What I struggle to recognize and then remember, keep imprinted in my mind and heart is that I don’t live in that world anymore.  That I can lean to the right bit and let that situation go by, edge to the left by addressing concerns.  The key is that I can get myself back in balance, maybe needing that helping hand to prop me so I don’t completely fall over.

The biggest struggle is not learning to lean though but to use my voice.  To learn to say no in any of the thousands of ways that don’t hurt feelings but allow for me to keep upright.  As an introvert who has been further traumatized by shame and judgement, I am most comfortable alone or in small trusted groups where I don’t have to be always watching, waiting for the next attack.  Even slight disapproval threatens my equilibrium.  Easier to be alone, not disappointing anyone or exhausting myself trying desperately to be good enough to escape criticism. The demands of motherhood knock most women out of whack, losing themselves in the needs of family, home, work, church, pets.  I am at the age in my parenting continuum where I should be sipping mimosas on the porch in the morning. Instead we are raising a grandchild who brings immense joy and constant requests to play.  Work should be almost behind me, yet I spend any mornings not with my grandson in the restaurant.  The days he is with his mama, I am there again.  This lack of alignment is showing in my health, in my attitude, in my marriage.  I have no me so there is nothing left to give.  Like a child on that unicycle with skinned knees and a cracked elbow, I am bleeding.  I want some bandaids, an ice pack and time away from things that pull.  I need to push.  I need to lean this way instead of that.  I need to figure out what my body is saying before I fall completely over and hit my head.  In my mind, I can see me, given the chance to just conquer this with no recriminations, riding freely, smiling, throwing out candy for everyone.

I have never ridden a unicycle.  I don’t see it actually in my long range plans.  I have ridden an elephant, one of the most centered days of my life.  As we dipped down into the river, the elephant lumbering this way and that, we jostled with her.  Her baby came to play, diving under the water, swimming between the group and resurfacing to splash us.  We tattered right and left but stayed steadfast.  When the mahout instructed her to dip her head into the water, we almost went as well, a trick he was playing on us. Had we fallen, the water was there to catch us but the elephants could have trampled us, a more dangerous situation than it appeared.  Yet, the demands on us were minimal.  Just ride.  Just laugh.  Just delight in the creatures around you, the gifts from God. In order to keep my calibration, I need more days like this.  Or more elephants.

Included in our Church

I knew the topic of the sermon before I entered church, “Finding Hope in Addiction”, yet I wasn’t prepared to be preached with.  I have listened to sermons for too many years about how to bring up children in the faith, how we need to set the right example, make them come to church even when they don’t want to.  Sermons that led me to ask the pastor afterward, but what about us?  With gentle eyes and a quiet recognition, we would hear that yes, we have done all we could.  Still, we sat in the chairs and listened and felt judged as the message out loud was that we must have done something wrong.  Our son’s struggles with addiction, our frequent trips to rehab and ultimately his arrest and incarceration meant we were different.  We continued to share during prayers and concerns and many members prayed faithfully for years alongside us.  They celebrated our joys in his recovery.  They ask about him. They care genuinely.  Then yesterday happened.

By focusing solely on addiction and our roles as believers, Pastor Chris blazed new territory in our congregation.  He spoke so directly to my heart, I couldn’t stop the tears.  As my little Plum lay between us, hubby and I clasped hands, soaking up his words.  As he challenged the congregation to see the addicted differently, to no longer judge the families, I looked down at this sweet child between us.  This child born to two using parents, who has been through more trauma and turmoil than most of the congregation put together, this sweet child who loves and laughs and brings such joy.  This child who spends most of his time with his grandparents and always has, to escape the challenges of young parents trying to grow up and establish their lives.  I looked at my husband, exhausted after only 2 days back at work, the rest from a vacation erased by the late-in-life parenting that we are doing and the worry we carry at all times about our son.  Pastor Chris talked about the brain chemistry, about the hostage -taking, the thought process of the addicted.  He discussed the pain and isolation of the families of addicted.  Then he went further to share what we as the body of Christ can do.   It was beauty.  It was soul-embracing.  It was real understanding of us.  Our life, our struggles.

Maybe this week , many people couldn’t relate so well to the sermon but all were included.  All were reminded that as believers, they can pray into our chaos with earnest.   They can stay alongside us in this long journey.  And they can leave the judgement behind.

Domestic Terrorism

When I returned from New York, my first ever trip with no kids, no husband, no one to take care of, I had more to unpack than a backpack of souvenirs and soiled clothes.  I traveled with my sister-in-law and her sister, two women who knew my husband well, who have lived my stories with me.  My husband had no worries about my behavior while I was away, beyond whether I was taking my medicine and staying safe in Central Park, Brooklyn.  I didn’t have that luxury.  The friend I had entrusted my family with for playdates and extra help for an overworked husband was the real danger of my trip.

After 4 days of discovering hidden parts of the city, I came home to explore hiding places in friendship.  I wanted to talk with my husband about the impact of the 9/11 museum, how devastated I still was, instead my tears were spent over the shock and betrayal of a different kind of terrorist.  The planning those 19 men put into the acts that unfolded in one day kept me wondering what I had missed in the weeks before my trip.  How long had she been planning to destroy my marriage?  What signs did I miss?  Why did I let her into our family, not checking her passport fully for entry in to my most sacred place?

The anger and shock slide away as betrayal takes over, then more information is released, just as the news reports continued about those terrorists.  Reports about their families, stories about hers.  Secrets kept from me, only shared with my husband.  Horrible language never used in my presence, a willingness to sacrifice a child to secure her immediate desires.  I remembered those men who gave up incredible educations, families, their lives for this insanely selfish act.  That they were motivated by a radical extremism, had been led to believe in an ugly God changes nothing.  She was motivated by the same selfishness, by no god that I have ever met.

As surely as the two towers fell, she could have taken down both of our families as well.  Fortunately our steel beams were forged in faith.  Our tower has withstood forces more powerful than her flirting and advances, her pleading and dancing.  I can’t imagine hers will, on such unstable ground.  When confronted, she pled guilty.  But just as we nervously watched planes in the sky for months after 9/11, our world has changed here too.   We now avoid places, activities, that once were joyful weekly playdates.  We cringe as we drive past her neighborhood, we fill the space with chatter, thoughts full of words unspoken.

The texts have been deleted, the drunken voicemail is gone.  The memory will last longer.  After that horrific day in September, we came to realize who we were as a country.  We reached out to others, we pulled together in crisis. We gave blood, we cried, we searched for meaning.  When I came home from those 4 days away in March, I felt the same need to continue processing, asking questions, reliving and wondering how it could have happened.  We pulled together, affirmed our strength, but I still see some ashes falling, smell the smoke.  My marriage stands but the friendship lies in ruins.  There will be no memorial for this one.

Mom still

 

We watched her take her last breath, held her hand and played music as she crossed over, 4 years ago today.  Still so fresh in my memory, a memory that seems to be failing more and more.  The constant in my life was gone.  Such a complicated relationship, she was a complicated woman.  Her life was never easy, time has given me the chance to forgive and the distance to see her with more forgiveness and grace.

I think of all that she has missed and would delight in.   She would love my grandson, her great granddaughters.  She would see the similarities in us, would tell stories that I have forgotten.  She would be so proud of my brother in all that he has accomplished, would grow ever closer to my sister-in-law, whom she adored.  My husband, whom she loved to tease, had an easier rapport with her, something I was slightly jealous of sometimes.  She took comfort in our love for each other.  She would have loved to hear about our trips and our dogs would bring her immense pleasure.  To hear that her granddaughter is living on her own in Indianapolis, working, rescuing dogs, Mom would have been secretly envious and oh so proud.  The trip my sister-in-law just took would have reminded her of times the 3 of us went, the laughs we had.  She would love the closeness we still share.

But she has also been spared much pain.  I can’t imagine telling her about Stella, I just can’t.  It would break her heart.  And if Stella cut her off too, which I imagine would have inevitably happened, the pain would have been even greater for me.  Arrow’s relapse would have hurt her deeply, reminding her of her own son that just was too far out of reach.  Another grandson on the fringe would have caused great worry.

I understand that it was her time.  I still just want to show her pictures and tell her what I ate and tell her what my dogs did today.  I want to tell her that I love her and that I am glad she is spared the pain of this world but I sure wish she could share in our joy. I want her to see the videos my niece makes and watch my grandson build legos.  I want to talk recipes again.  After all this time, I still miss my mom.