On The Bridge

Growing up, I didn’t hear much about evil in church.  The focus was more on gaining a relationship with Jesus, accepting God as the foundation for our lives. Yet more and more I realize that light cannot be appreciated without darkness. I’ve read tons of quotes about the stars shining brightest in the dark of night, I get the concept. What I didn’t realize though was the role of evil, how much the hard times in my life have been the devil attacking me when I am the reaching out to God, when my faith was getting stronger. I have to admit it feels weird to even type that, such is my discomfort with “devil talk”.  What has seemed like a foreign way for me to understand and practice my faith, an attitude more fitting for those other kinds of churches is now becoming a clear concept of how this world works. It certainly has aided me in recognizing the role of shame and insecurity and even depression, removing my sense that I have brought this stuff on myself, furthering the need for self-punishment. I’m not suggesting I don’t have personal responsibility for my actions but understanding the goal of magnifying and distorting and oppressing me is strictly that of the evil one, I begin to find the power of choice, of turning to the Light.

When it became clear that the abuse I experienced as a child was deeply impacting my relationships and I needed help to right my thinking again, I entered therapy. This time though, I didn’t search for a counselor who had years of experience dealing with sexual abuse, although she does. I sought out a faith-based therapist who could help me resolve the questions of how could God have allowed this to happen. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t have that answer but what she did offer was a bridge to God that encouraged me to cross over into trust, where I could see not a God who shares responsibility for my suffering but a God who ached with me and wants more of my life. She has also exposed the role of the evil one, something I had always discounted, pooh-poohed as more hocus pocus than spirituality. Opening my mind to the dangers of darkness, the way my heart and soul have been pursued not just by a relentless God but also a sneaky destructive evil, I have become empowered to make different choices. I can not only desire the light, I can choose it.

When bad things happen, we instinctively wonder where God is, how can these horrible events occur, much like the admonishing Jesus endured on the cross: if you are who you said you were, why can’t you stop this, prevent this, make it all better. What I am finally grasping all these years later is that the two are not mutually exclusive. God is indeed who He says he is and bad things happen as evil seeks to rule this world. It comes down to choice, when we have the option to magnify hurtful words and promote violence through bullying we have turned away from the light that seeks to shine through it all. We give power to the oppressor, we abandon the One who aches to accompany us even when all is horrible, maybe especially when our hearts are broken and we are frightened and when we begin to feel blanketed by sadness.

I was almost to the surrender part, the place where I could see with clarity that God had not left me alone in the room with my father, that God had not left me to sit in prison with a shattered soul, that He had been right with me and gave me tools to survive, then unexpectedly my son died. Rocked, shocked, shattered, I almost gave in to the darkness, allowed the loss of my son to turn me away from God. Seriously, could there be a better time to question the faithfulness of a God who didn’t save my son? Yet over and over, in spite of what felt like the ultimate betrayal of God’s love, I found countless ways that He was shining through. His disciples have walked with me, guided me back to the bridge, bringing dinner and sending cards and asking me again and agin how I am, listening to me cry and giving me opportunities to serve in the midst of it all. God spoke to a friend who was herself feeling darkness of fear and hopeless descend and she offered me the opportunity to sit daily with her mother, a beautiful woman who is losing herself to Alzheimers. In the midst of my sorrow, I was given hours each day to step outside of my pain and stay just in the present moment as I guided her through daily living tasks and listened as her snippets of past memories replayed on a continuous loop. Each time she told me about her time as a bus driver, we spoke as if I was hearing it for the first time and I felt delight. Each time. Because I was with a woman who was living out her joys over and over, not one who sat in bitterness and shame and sorrow. She was not reliving the hardest times, those she had already released from her memory. I saw the power of looking always towards the Light.

Turning my perspective away from a personal character flaws and into realization that evil is afoot, hardening hearts and sowing discord, I am free to see the real person, the true struggle and feel compelled to share more of my light, more of my hope and certainly more of my prayers. For too many years, I internalized the darkness, accepting the blame for circumstances, doubting my own worth. Bad things happened, I must be bad. God must not extend His promises to the likes of me, why else would all this keep occurring? These days, I am leaning into the complexities of words like because, in spite of, even though. When taken into context of relationships, causation and blame and responsibility are highlighted. Heartbreaks don’t find us BECAUSE of God, He remains present IN SPITE OF our circumstances and the evil we face, He will bring good and joy EVEN THOUGH we may not see it or even want it. It all changes how I see our Father.

More clearly I perceive how evil breaks up marriages, how children are led into estrangement, how we accept others as lesser because of color or bank accounts or political beliefs. Giving into the darkness of judgement and division, of depression and resentment, satan wins and we all lose. Conversely, where the Light shines, we live out   grace and forgiveness and compassion and a deep desire to right wrongs. The Light is always there, waiting to warm us and show us joy and purpose. A bridge has been built and I am stepping onto it, trusting that I will be held securely even when I stumble, even when I fall.

Will you join me on the bridge? The view is amazing.



Cleaning Out Soul Space

When I had nothing, my very survival depended on my relationship with Jesus. In prison, surrounded by strangers who neither cared about my brokenness or my sanity, separated from my babies in the most cruel of all punishments, I could only breathe and walk and put food into my body because I trusted God with my life and the lives of those I loved. It became simple, minimalistic, when all my possessions fit into a tiny foot locker and my material wealth consisted of Little Debbie snacks and Ramen noodles. Powerless in every aspect of my life, clothing, visits, schedules, I could only control whether to believe or not. I relied with the full force of my body and soul on Paul’s words to the Philippians,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. Not just those words, though, I read the bible completely over and over, I underlined and made notes, I consumed it. God’s Word saved me, when I could not save me. I promised myself I would not let go of that dependence when freedom came again, when the gates opened. Twenty-five years later, I realize I have broken my promise.

These days and weeks and now years of estrangement from my daughter have become a new prison, gates invisible, guards non-existent but a prison no less. I am locked away from her again, the excruciating pain of old resurrected as I watch the clock and long for a visit. The intervening years of memories accrued are meaningless as she evaluates my worth and determines my sentence, will I ever be granted release? Yet, more than adding a home and furnishing and clothing and trips to schools and a prom and even around the world, I have added material goods and a self-reliance that separate me from my promise, from my utter dependence on He who gives my breath, gives me life, gives me hope and the grace of forgiveness that is so absent with my daughter. How could I have added so much and left what was crucial behind?

I sat on the steps in the jail pod after realizing I would have no visits with my children until transferred to the larger prison, a promise from my lawyer, the reality of my situation fully settling on my soul. I wanted to die, I begged to die, I would have died had the means been available. Instead I had to pray that my Creator take me. A desperate prayer to end unspeakable horror, a pain that I knew I could not bear, that would drive me to insanity. Jesus met me there on those steps and lifted me up, brought the “Footsteps” poem to me with a promise to carry me through what was ahead. A year later when my sentence modification was denied, another promise my lawyer had given but couldn’t keep, I gave up again. I laid on the prison bunk and refused to move for meals or activities, risking further punishments. I no longer cared. An angel in the guise of a correctional officer visited and spoke words I no longer remember but pulled me out of my depression and gave me the strength to keep going. I do remember she spoke gently of Jesus and light and a world outside of my current existence. She told me to get up and I did.

When my pain overwhelmed me, Jesus  brought relief. When I couldn’t breathe, wouldn’t breathe, Jesus brought me air. When I had nothing, Jesus was enough. Now, I have more. A husband, a home, pets, cars, fully stocked pantry and I no longer call on Jesus with desperation. Maybe I never did really but I made room for Him. Now I allow a corner, a smidge, a bit but rely too heavily on myself, on my own ability to affect change and the stir the universe to my liking. Having lost it all and found Jesus, must I really find myself there again to discover what is truly at the heart of my existence? Noticing my own prison gates again, I see that only God can bring me through this estrangement, only God can rebuild the bridges I want to erect today. Scripture floods my mind this morning as I find comfort in words of hope and past longing, as I remember that I have survived events I will never share and I will survive this as well.

I grow impatient, I teeter on bitterness, anger erupts. I am too fully me and not enough Jesus. Today I am opening the gates of my soul once again to the One who saved me, time and again, saved me for more than a life of hurt and struggle and time behind bars. Just as we celebrated my release with joy and thanksgiving long ago, one day we will again. Until then, I am cleaning out my soul space, removing extra furnishings of self-dependence and importance. Truly, today I remember He is the air I breathe. Freedom has come.


How God handled My Rage

Many of this year’s slogans have become my inner voice, whispering chants that empower me and push me to be braver. I hear reminders to speak up for those who often aren’t heard, to show up for those who often aren’t seen. “Speak truth to power” is one of my favorites, encouraging honesty and integrity in all situations. I discovered yesterday that I had been holding back, though, on my truthfulness to my ultimate Power, in the most important relationship I have. Exhaustion combined with life events disabled my defense system until I no longer hid behind proper attitudes of patience and reverence. I spoke truth to God. What happened next was a discovery of God’s truth to me.

Something was different even as I woke, my emotions were too close to the surface, not how I normally walk through my day. Keeping feelings at bay, I survive, I carry on and no one is the wiser that my heart is in tatters. All looks good. My friend shared that when her house wasn’t as clean as she wanted it to be and company was on the way, she would put a bit of Pinesol in all the toilets and do a quick swipe at the sinks. The smell of the pine created that sense of just freshly cleaned, like the maid was only moments out the door. The problem she said, “It was all fake.” I have been “pouring Pinesol” on my wrists like an expensive perfume, distracting myself and everyone from the dirty truth, I simply ache at the estrangement with my daughter. I miss her with every breath, how can I keep breathing like this? Helpless to effect change, unable to build any bridges or reconnect with her, I am forced to wait on God to do the work that I want to do. I have to trust God to repair what is broken and bring reconciliation, in His time. Dab, dab, more Pinesol, see how strong my faith is? Watch me place my trust in the most Powerful, the Almighty…until this day when I snapped and talked to God before I could get cleaned up and hide behind propriety. Honesty happened.

The truth? I am angry at waiting a moment longer. My heart is so broken I can’t imagine how it still pushes blood through my body. I don’t understand what He wants from me, what I am supposed to do. Why isn’t He doing something about this, I have been faithful, right? I sat at the dining room table where she never sits anymore and raged with the ferocity of a dragon at God. First I raged at Chef who was opening cereal bags too loudly, building up my anger, practicing the release that would bring tears for the entirety of the day. I gave God my truest pain, my deepest doubts, my open wounds, and asked for something NOW. What did I receive? No lightening bolts, no texts from my daughter, my table remained devoid of her presence. Still, I cried all day. The tears would not stop. Water rolled down my face as memories long tucked away ran through my mind. After hours of crying at home, at church where I laid it out while asking for prayers, then again back at home, finally God showed me that a different bridge to my daughter was being reconstructed, showed me that He hasn’t forgotten me and is always working on my behalf. I wish I could say I saw this for the gift it was but my initial reaction was jealousy and more anger. Too fully into my humanity, I missed the God moment. Blessedly, today the tears have gone and I can see how He showed up in the most show- offy way, words that would only make sense to me but create connections undeniable to my daughter. I can only wonder at how often I am begging for SOME SIGN and miss it completely, reminiscent of the Bruce Almighty scene, where evidence of God’s presence is all around me yet my stubbornness and frustration refuse to see it.

My soul got a deep cleaning, no need for fake dabs and drips and dots of pine-scented cleaner to pretend I am fine. Refreshed with the salty waters of my own pain, I can face a new day knowing God met me in my anger and didn’t blink, didn’t shrink, didn’t abandon me. The God who wants my truth and doesn’t strike me dead for questioning His plan or ability to get things done remains with me today.  I sit with certainty at the same dining room table and can say I spoke truth to power, and power spoke the same to me. “I am with you child, my dirty messy aching child.” A promise given, a promise heard.  Truth spoken to the powerless. God accepted my rage and handed me back love and peace and grace, a new day with a fresh start. The pine cleaner will stay in the cabinet today, the truth is, I am messy and hurting and God knows it. Together we are working on truly cleaning me up.

Safe Room

If you hover around the church office often enough, especially if you let the staff know you are comfortable preparing food, the chances are great you will be called in to assist with a funeral meal for the family.  I have hovered, I have let it be known, I have made the requisite salads and set the tables. The call that came in this Friday though was different, would I be able to set up a hospitality room for the family, a place for them to gather before the service? This was no ordinary service, not the anticipated prayed over passing of a long-standing member of our congregation. This loss was of a woman who died so suddenly none of us had yet caught our breaths, a woman who was so incredibly alive and loud and vivacious, it seemed unnatural to consider her gone, even within our faith where we expect to find better questions if not answers. I said yes.

Her children and my children are the same age, they schooled together, teamed together, the girls had sleep overs and parties and studied together. While this woman and I were not close, we worshipped together. As I shopped for fruit and pastries, I wondered at the absurdity of it all and at my first thought when hearing the news: what will Stella be thinking? Please God let her be feeling the freedom to mourn. She doesn’t do death well, which seems an odd statement, is anyone good at it and then that takes us down a dark path. But still, she lost a teacher very early on and then a friend from high school committed suicide in college and she lost a grandmother and then another and she holds it all  in until she bursts forth with wordless tears that my heart was aching in advance for her when I heard this news. The mom in me went straight to my daughter, immediately wanted to comfort her, a luxury no longer available in the brokenness of our relationship.

Arranging tables, finding the cloths to cover them, an angel, a plaque, some flowers, only enough to disguise that the room is normally the setting for junior high youth group, I realized the walls and couches had probably already held a wide range of emotions and God would surely transform what I had been unable to. Boxes of tissues and pots of coffee, a bowl of fruit and some danishes, what could I possibly offer to this grieving family that would bring healing or allow space for their anger and shock? The busyness of it all reminded me of an old sociology class when we discussed death rites and I learned for the first time that funerals are for the living. I knew these tasks gave me something to do, a means to show love and respect back stage, I didn’t want to wander to close, this one was dangerous to my sanity.

I forced myself to stay within the sanctuary walls to listen as the daughter gave an eulogy, I couldn’t fill any more coffee pots or arrange any more chairs. Her words of cherished memories and lost dreams of the future and aching times of laughter and absolute brokenness of not having her mom available to process this, the hardest thing, those words destroyed the barrier I had established in order to lay out crosses and find the coffee cups. I wanted to hear about their relationship and I so did not. How many times have I lain in bed and imagined a cancer diagnosis or even my death and then the children come around, when it is almost too late or really is? Wondering what extreme measure it would take for them to recall our cherished memories, to fall back into times of our laughter and joy, to consider that I never missed a single event of theirs, what in God’s name will it take? So watching this family absorb a horrific shock, I could only selfishly wonder if my own children were watching also and wondering, considering realizing that they are wasting time that is not guaranteed.

My phone stayed silent, I received not the first text or email. These children did not heed the warning, this close to home reminder that moms are not permanent and are not perfect. As I grieved with this family, I grieved for my own as well. We have what they don’t, what they would give any thing for, we have another chance. We have time together to fix what is broken and to create new memories for later reflection, we can laugh again. All of their stories now will included wishes that their mom was present to witness this, to hear that. My children could have that and won’t. If a death around us makes us consider our own mortality, I considered the dying breaths of my family and realized yet again that only God can save us. My fantasies are useless, merely the desperate last attempts of a mother who has tried everything else.

As I stowed away tables, emptied carafes of coffee, exhaustion overcame me, not from transforming a room but from holding out hope. The weight of wishing on the backs of other’s sorrow is so ugly, so sick, such a clear sign of disease, shame washed over me like their tears. How could I have been so hopeful that this time of their greatest loss could be a place of reconciliation for me and how could I not? Wondering at what God wanted me to hear, wanted me to see, what deeper message than the one I was seeking on my phone, surely there is more because I was asked to serve as a witness, to be an observer. What God, what do you have for me?

Sometimes loss is senseless. Sometimes it is a horrible shock and takes years to absorb and we fight against the truth of it. In the end, all we have to rest on is our faith.  I wrote on the whiteboard in the junior high room these words, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.  I thought it was for the family, if they happened to glance in that direction. I now realize it was for me as well. Families caught up in the long death of estrangement never experience a funeral, are not given a comfortable room to grieve. There are no pots of coffee and friends gathering to share memories. We take our last breaths alone, as all the dying really do, with God.

Double Teamed

There are days when in spite of all of my best efforts, my hearts shows the cracks anyway. Those days when the tears come a bit too freely, when the texts that I usually write and delete get sent instead, when I try one more time. There are days when I get lost in remembering and hoping and wishing and wondering, I forget to stay where I am, I go back to what was. Instead of gratitude for the plates that I do set around the table, I want to put out more. Those days, I wonder why God gave me a love I can’t stop for those who seem able to. I listen to sermons about all those who need me and I try to reach out to the needy but I want to be needed by who I choose also. At least seen by them. I try to strike a bargain with God, if I see those you put in my path, if I love those before me, won’t you please bring the other two back? Those days come and go, when they come, my heart shows the cracks.

Today the world sang the Hallelujah chorus and heard sermons on grace and I wondered if Stella was listening. On any given Sunday I feel convicted by the messages and try to correct my course, always correcting my failures to align more with Jesus. How can we listen to the songs and the words and the greetings as we walk into church in our best clothes and not feel compelled to adjust our behavior and notice how often and how much we have been forgiven? Of all the things I don’t understand about the estrangement phenomenon that is so incredibly prevalent and there are many, is how it can possibly live companionably within the heart of a Christian, that is the greatest. But probably that is true of so many ways in which we hurt each other and then go to see our priest or pastor or preacher each week. I know that no sin is worse than any other, I have been granted grace beyond what I can ever express. That is the very reason my heart just cannot hold on to a hurt, a grudge, a wrong. I know the power of forgiveness and multiple opportunities to get it right. I still get so much wrong. Another Sunday, course correction. Somehow my heart just believed that my daughter would walk into a church today and hear a message and the clouds would lift and the angels would sing and the phone would ring. It is Easter, for God’s sake, the big grace day. Did she listen to a choir sing and not think of giving another chance?

Instead I listened to a sermon about a woman who was estranged from her family and went to see true devastation in Rwanda and then heard God speak to her about not straying away from Him. I thought, Stella and I went to the Killing Fields, we did that. Why are we now estranged? I heard the pastor speak of a family that discovered their child dabbling in illegal substances. They decided to go all in and build an orphanage in a foreign country, a means to reach out and pull themselves back together. My cracked broken heart only heard that I should have built an orphanage when I found the first joint in Arrow’s room. My heart was showing the cracks today.

I was missing the message.  The point is that people mess up and God finds a way to bring them back together, if they stay open and present to His word and His calling.  I am open, I am listening, I am mostly present. Let’s see some results, God. Challenge accepted.  The pastor didn’t talk about the happily ever after part, the immediate appearance of the angel and the chorus. Surely it happened. I just want my angel and my kids and my happily ever now.  See my heart cracks? I was a bit angry in the chair during the sermon,  I really felt I was doing my part and God was just not showing up for His. Bold, right? On Easter no less.

Most days I seal up the cracks with forward movement, planning next steps and answering calls of ministry. I spend time with the ones that God puts in my path and I actively seek out more that need what I have. Putty, spackeling, this stuff restores what is breaking in me and in the world. On good days, that is enough to hold me together. I can keep busy enough that I barely consider what size dress my granddaughter might wear, I barely allow myself to note the calendar inching closer ever closer to her birthday. Then Easter comes and suddenly my hopes are raised, this could be the day that restores us all. Might this be the day that I can stop pretending I am my own devastated wasteland, a family killing field, a place where traditions and laughter have been destroyed by the regime of estrangement?

I listened to a podcast Steve Wiens put out on Holy Week, the episode is called Loss. Had me from the start, sigh. I considered not listening but Steve usually gets me so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t going to disrupt my cracked and barely holding together heart. I was wrong. He smashed it open, he expanded my grief and I am sitting with a new understanding of my loss. He told me I need to offer grace to myself. He is a crazy man.  I have spend two years now seeking begging pleading for forgiveness from my daughter for all the wrongs I can imagine, plunging into our history for evidence of my rights, searching for an identity that allows me to still be her mother when she just says nothing which somehow means no. I forget that I am worthy of forgiving myself. He shared a story that included the message that yes, of course we messed it all up. Yep. Yep, we do that. Owning that is not the end of the story. What else have we done? Did we try to fix it? Offer grace to ourselves.

This is radical stuff to me, I didn’t see it coming. I still am battling with God that I want restoration with my daughter now, that I have cracked open my heart enough for other people. Maybe though the crack hasn’t widened quite enough to include me. Maybe the voice God is calling me to love in the devastation is not all of His other children but me as well. Maybe the orphanage he wants me to build is a home for this child here, who seeks refuge and safety and a place of belonging. God is so sneaky, sending me a double teaming set of pastors to deliver Easter messages, knowing my cracked heart is turned away, turned toward little dresses on grandchildren in another state that I won’t see today. If that isn’t love, if that isn’t grace, I really don’t know what to tell myself.

So I cry some tears but not many and I remember a bit but don’t get lost there and I make my ham and listen to the chatter of the ones who are here and I make the plates on the table be enough. I know the tomb is empty and the weeping was for that moment when the loss was real.  Then all were restored but it was different and unrecognizable, this new Jesus and our job as believers got so much bigger. We have to deal with the cracks in our hearts, we have to let the loss be felt, and then we find restoration and grace in the One who rose. Not a simple 1,2,3 get it done process, no angels singing and the clouds parting when we get it all right. Because we so very rarely do. Thus the grace. For OURSELVES and others.

My sweet friends, offer yourself a gift today and listen to this podcast This Good Word if you dare and if your heart feels ready for some expansion. Some putty may fall away, you may find yourself listening to the call of God’s voice, saying, “You, you child are the one I want you to love and forgive. Then we can do some big stuff with food pantries and orphanages and classrooms and driving without anger.”  The truth is we are all mistake making messes but I would sit next to you at church any day. Will you sit next to me as well? Can we make some space for grace for ourselves this Easter? I am not trying to team up with your pastor, but personally, I think you are worth it.

Rude Pants

I am horrified and dismayed to report that my sweet little Plum woke this morning in a rather foul mood. Actually he woke me up and then things turned foul. It was too early, not by much but I have been too tired lately for our extra early rises, I needed that 15 minutes more. I said go back to bed, he said I was a rude pants. I said go back to bed, he went downstairs and turned on the tv. Now I was facing a choice, a really terrible choice where I lost no matter what. I could stay in my very warm bed and try to go back to sleep for a few minutes and know that I had given in to a 6 year old. Or, I could get up and send him right back up to his bedroom thereby getting the beasts roused and my blood pressure roused and him further roused. If you are guessing I stayed in bed to avoid being more than a rude pants gran, well, you know my heart’s desire. But I got up. Thus you should know I am the rudest pants of them all. The very angry child went back to his room and the beasts and I made coffee.

See we have a rule in our home, the best boy ever cannot get up until 6 am. He has a digital clock in his room to let him know if it is time yet to wake the grandparents. Because he is such an early riser, this has saved us from 4:30 starts to our day on many occasions. This has allowed him to exercise some control over his morning, to understand the boundaries and not be in a position to ask without all the information at his disposal. So waking me too early was an out of bounds request and had to be addressed. An attempt to push the clock rule just a bit. With summer coming, I knew I had to tighten up. With it being Sunday and his return to Mama, I knew I had to be sure he was well rested and anyway I could nap later. All this made my choice of getting up to be the enforcer easier, to be crowned the rudest pants of all somewhat palatable.

Later, as we discussed the need for rules, like was it okay for his 3 year old cousin to race across the street yesterday even though I was shouting her name and telling her to stop (the other children watched in horror having already internalized that rule) or like if cars don’t choose to stop at red lights or drive on their side, he understood people have made those regulations to keep us safe. We talked about bigger statues like no killing and being kind, who’s rules are those? Those are God’s he knew. But still, guidelines that keep him in bed when he wants to get up, hard to take. I get it. Accountability is for the other people. All the other people who are not me. We addressed that idea as well. Dear Lord, this is a large mug of coffee day, a bit more sugar added, if we have to hit on all this before 6:30 am.

As a parent with some truly complicated relationships with her children, I analyze and inspect every choice I make with Plum. I look at how I raised my two and am determined to not make any of the same mistakes and to keep doing what I think I did right with them. One child graduated from college, taught in a foreign country, seemed to be such an independent thinking young woman. The other has chosen a different path, took a detour through years of drug use and the ensuing addiction facilities before a stint in jails and prisons slowed him down. He now is out, has completed secondary education and is gainfully employed. He is, I believe, helping to support the new family he is creating although he has not yet caught up to supporting the child he left behind. Still they both began their lives wrapped in love and books and songs and full knowledge that I meant what I said and followed through. I did the hard stuff, but not enough hard stuff. I tried to save them from too much. I intervened too often. I didn’t let them learn to be accountable. Until it was too late and I wondered why they didn’t just know.  Why did they feel so entitled? They aren’t alone, regardless of their unique situations. An entire generation has lost it’s footing, feels completely justified in breaking away when they don’t like what they hear, don’t like the rules, don’t like being told to go back to bed or to work or to the table to talk. More than rude pants, those of us who try to enforce some rules or boundaries are labeled toxic.  I like rude pants better.

As I have scoured the internet for information regarding estrangement, I am flabbergasted at the plethora of memes and Pinterest quote pages devoted to each person’s right to cut off those who just don’t make us feel good. There are days I spend so lost in all that I did wrong that I can’t imagine any other result than to be cut out of my daughter’s life. I replay the conversations and the conflicts that arose when she became involved with her now husband, issues we never had before. It is easy to say it is all his fault but maybe she always felt that way and just didn’t have an escape route. Then I wake up to a new day and remember all that I did right, I replay how deeply we laughed and how long we talked and know she escaped to another continent and we were still good. But still, it isn’t his fault. It is ultimately her choice, she is accountable and that breaks me further. What I am sure of is this, I didn’t teach either of them to discard me. I didn’t teach them to find no value in me, I didn’t teach them that people have no worth and that we throw them away if they don’t make us feel good all the time. This I am sure of. Sometimes people hold us accountable, we have rules to follow. It rarely feels good to be the enforcer, if you are a mercy kind of person or one who just wants to stay in your warm bed. It likewise doesn’t feel good to be reminded of the rules, regardless of our age. Reminded of family norms and customs and fitting a new spouse into those, making room for different ways, that is a place rife for conflict and misunderstanding. It may require much time at the table talking. Accountability for all.  A review of the rules, an adjustment of some, relaxing of others. Family meetings, we used to have those, where we hashed out issues and practiced conflict resolution. I know we modeled that. I think she has forgotten.

Most of my research shows adult children who describe choosing estrangement from “toxic” parents who were abusive, who suffered serious psychological disorders, who held them back from their dreams and stunted their growth. I am either so blind or lack any insight at all but I just can’t find myself in these descriptors. I search for nuggets of truths, because she hasn’t told me. I look for our story because I only know my half. I can only be accountable for what I know and it is missing the pertinent pieces. I beg God daily for a chance to hear my wrongs and atone. How can I ever do better, how can I possibly not mess up with Plum if I just don’t know? He is angry with me, I am quite honestly not all that pleased with him when he wakes me too early and starts our day with a battle. But I hold him accountable and I require that he discuss the problem with me. I allow him to be mad at me but not disrespectful. I am the rudest of all the rude pants but I am trying to be a better parent. We sing, we read books, we laugh deeply and we have long talks. Please please God let this story end differently. Show me how to live it out so that my heart is not thrown away just when it all gets so good, when all the hard stuff is done.

Just in case, I teach Plum about mercy and forgiveness also. I am sure I taught Stella and Arrow about this as well, but I work extra hard on these lessons. We practice second chances and fresh starts, we give out apologies and we learn to accept them. We allow anger and frustration and real feelings to roam throughout our home and then we figure out how to bring joy back in to the mix. Some days I miss Stella so much that I don’t even want to get out of bed, I resent the fact that anyone else does. Why are we even starting another day? Maybe that is why I didn’t want to rise this morning, maybe that is why I am a rude pants today. Still, I rise, in the great horrible words of Maya Angelou. Because maybe today will be the day. If not, I am accountable to another child and a merciful God who gave me a fresh start. I am accountable for this air that fills my lungs, that I not waste it moaning in agony but singing praises in church. I am accountable for these eyes, that I not fill them only with tears of agony but with utter gladness that the lilacs are beginning to bloom. Today I have a second chance, I rise up, drink my coffee and know this is the day.  The day the rudest pants of all will rejoice and be glad in it anyway.

The Great Fence Man

I am counting days, marking off my mental calendar, until the fence man appears. The invisible line that protects our beasts is no longer enough for both of them. Our Lab, my beast, respects the boundary. He hears the warning chirp emitted from his collar as he nears the edges and he retreats to safety. He doesn’t cross. The Golden, Chef’s rotten horrible spoiled bully who refuses to share any bones, he has discovered that a bit of a shock is worth the adventure of touring the neighbor’s yard. He runs freely across and mocks my poor beast. He chases my cats who used to be able to cross the invisible line and feel safe. He just has no concern for the established boundaries and now we have to put up a fence, a real fence, a big jail around our yard to keep everyone in and safe and I can’t wait for the fence man to get here. We could have gotten one of those outdoor kennel set-ups, much less expensive. Yet the boundaries on those for our big beasts would have been cruel. They have long legs built for running, they have instincts to explore, they want to bring balls back for us to throw again. Well, my beast does, Chef’s Golden prefers to collect them all in his mouth because he doesn’t share and is horrible. Still, boundaries too close leave none of us satisfied.

These beasts remind me that we all make decisions to either stay within the lines or push free and that consequences are sure to follow. Not that everyone is facing jail time for breaking out, but I can’t decide which of my beasts is the true lesson. I really want it to be mine, who runs to the door to alert me that his sibling has once again chosen a path that could lead to trouble for all. He is a rule follower for sure. I want the lesson to be about following God’s plans for us and respecting the boundaries, even ones that are harder to see like the ones our loved ones set out for us. But then I see our Golden running so freely with a smile on his face, which is true for Goldens most of the time anyway so I have to take that in to account, but still, he just looks so happy. Unencumbered by the restrictions placed on him, new rocks and trees to smell, exciting new places to pee, what joy! Accepting that a bit of pain may be necessary to find our true spirit, is that the lesson God holds our for me here? Where is the fence man? If only I had more time to consider this all without jumping up and down every few minutes to check on beasts.

I really wonder if maybe my actual lesson isn’t the anticipation of freedom that I imagine at the surrendering of theirs. That hasn’t been lost on me. Much like the times I have used a child’s time-out to actually go to the bathroom alone and I always feel freer when Plum is finally asleep in bed, I am a mother hen who only feels truly able to do as I please when I know exactly where all my baby chicks are. Knowing that I can no longer just let the beasts outside without supervision means I have no rest, no down time until they are safely back in. With the nice weather coming, they don’t want to be in. In out, up down, we are in constant motion that leaves us all tired but not spent. No one is satisfied with the current arrangement, I call them back in too soon for their wandering spirits, I keep them closer to try to manage any runaways. They fuss to go out when a squirrel braves the porch, taunts from the other side of the door. They need to run and play. I need space from them. We need a fence. Did I mention I can’t wait for the fence man to appear? Balancing their need to run and explore the world and my desire to keep them safe is a constant struggle. But deeper than that, I realize my heart is never fully at rest until I know my other baby chicks are safe as well.

I have been fenced in or out, depending on perspective. Without knowledge that they are running freely, exploring the world within the bounds of God’s fences, I just worry. I fret and call for them in my dreams. If only I knew they were respecting boundaries, were establishing safe ones for themselves, couldn’t I just rest? I am anticipating some pushback from our beasts when they realize the front yard is no longer accessible to them. I imagine sitting up there in peace with coffee and my laptop in the early mornings while they roam the back yard in search of squirrels and sticks. More likely they will bark and demand that I join them. My fence may not bring all that I hope, it will surely require a different kind of mowing and weed whacking and the front door will need more attention so we don’t have escapees. As I spoke with the fence man, we talked about where to put the gates. Ah, yes gates. We have to have access beyond the back door, other ways to access the jail, the safety zone. I wonder if my Stella has considered putting in a gate. Not an all access opening, one that could still have a lock, but an way into her fenced off heart. An invitation to see that she runs freely, that she is secure. If only I knew that Arrow was respecting the safety of his fences, my God wouldn’t I rest? I don’t need to run freely about their yards, sniff their rocks, only peer over the fence sometimes to catch of a glimpse of their smiling faces as they explore their worlds still sheltered from harm.

When the fence is erected, I will plant flowers along the edges, much more flowers around the front yard that won’t get trampled by beasts. Knowing my landscaping is inaccessible from large paws that seek to dig and trample and hide bones and make mud piles, I can garden in peace. My fence can be decorated with joy colors to show it is only for safety, not to keep others out but to ensure that those who need to run can do so without worry of passing cars. Maybe my children have decorated their hearts as well, new joys that sprout up without the worry that I will trample it all with my mothering and busting through the invisible fences. I pray that one day the Great Fence Man will appear to them and show them the wonder of gates. Until then, we are learning more and more about our own need for safe boundaries and the call to run freely. We are learning to balance both as we await the fence man. We are remembering that sometimes we erect a fence that is just too small, we need God’s help in expanding our boundaries to include room to move more safely, we need some help installing those gates. I also know that lessons are sometimes muddled when all I want is some peace and quiet. Soon, soon the fence man will appear.

“Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.”― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

Eight Days and Over Two Years

This meaningless ordinary symptom of acceptance, a minimal label to conquer controversy. Whew, I managed to get all the daily prompt words in for the last 8 days, behind on my writing but catching up in one sentence. A rush, indeed, maybe nonsensical if anyone dares look too closely, but still. Done. Project complete. Except, no. Just spewing out words without thought and concern for where they fall, no acceptance of consequences  when they do can stir controversy for sure, create just another meaningless mess of letters that conquer a page but nothing more. In fact realizing that our words are powerful, that what we choose to say or withhold speaking will have long lasting impact, that is truth, for sure. I can’t just throw out words strung together and catch up, I can’t just throw out apologies and make it all better. Thoughtful consideration, deep listening, that is the stuff of relationship building, bridges that heal and stabilize and continue the conversation.

Much has been said about the word salad that our new president serves up daily, a feast of letters that leaves me bloated and still hungry for meaning. Anger rises in me when I read transcripts of his remarks, not just for content but in the absolute butchering of our language. I worry about generations to come who will study his remarks as if they are reflections of acceptable speech. Closer to home, though, I wonder if I am accountable for my words. I know I certainly don’t always say what I mean, my heart is not always expressed as clearly as I intend. I am shocked to find someone has taken offense at what I have written or found hurt in one of my posts. A blog about grace, and someone got their feelings hurt? Really digging, right? It must be them. But is it? Maybe my own word salad has been tossed, something mixed up between the writing and the reading. Doesn’t it matter that my intent is not to bring pain? Is it my responsibility to continue to follow up until clarity reigns? Grace requires that I seek out those who find offense and work towards reconciliation. And then do better with my words.

I heard of a published author who posted this week that she received a really nasty bit of feedback, an email that ended with, “Stop writing.” Wow. While I was hurt for her, I was somewhat buoyed by the fact that even someone of her stature can set off a reader, elicit such anger. That she chose to expose it and address it publicly was my real wow. She didn’t hide in shame, she owned her words and her space. I have invited some folks not to read my words. I have apologized to others, have almost shut down in shame as well. Finally, I decided to own my space. I also committed to being more thoughtful about my writer words. Still, I think back to the turning point disagreement with Stella and her fiancé at the time, words were spoken that altered our course. We all thought we had apologized, clarified, got quiet and listened enough to move on. To share our space. Hindsight shows that night broke the bridge, each time it rained the flood waters washed more away. Since that time, there has been much word salad and excessive letters, controversial notes and emails and attempts to visit, the bridge won’t hold us up. Because, ultimately, clarity and understanding, accountability requires that the speaker and the hearer each own up to their parts of the message. One way communication is a lecture, not a relationship. Words only going out mean interpretation happens with no chance for feedback and translation. Like 8 days worth of writing prompts, words mixed together may look good, but one can only guess at the meaning. And guessing is dangerous when we are talking about matters of the heart or our country.

Here’s to catching up on prompts and one day catching up with Stella. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you oh God. And to you dear readers. And to you my dear daughter.

29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Ephesians 4:29The Message 










Knock Knock

I think transitioning from mother to mother-in-law to grandmother is an overlooked challenge for women. The process of planning a wedding or showers should warn us that we are moving into new territory yet the busyness of it all keeps us from realizing that our role is changing. Really changing. Sure we hear the jokes but think they only apply to others. Then we find ourselves the fodder for comedians, aching wrong turns and missteps that leave us wondering what happened and how did my child change overnight into this other? We used to talk, we used to be close, what happened!! Then a baby comes along and mostly all is forgiven because now they have given us this, a fresh start. Only, wait, what the hell, now we don’t even get that? They want to keep that one too? We scratch our heads and wonder when it will be our turn to love and cradle and cuddle, knowing this babe is just the thing to fill up the whole our child left. Any memories of struggling to establish our own family under the watchful gaze of our own mother-in-law with her fingers itching ever closer to our brand new babe are lost in the flush of the placenta, the smell of baby wipes and the sight of little toes.

Ay ya ya, is it any wonder newly weds and mother-in-laws struggle so?  No one tells us how to do it, how to breathe through the contractions of the new little family, to trust that a new birth of bigger more openness with happen. Like a pregnant mama at 36 weeks, we want it now. We grow tired of waiting. We are ready to push. We hear everyone tell us that resting right now, at this critical point is what is most important. Rest now, because soon you will be called into action. Allow that family to grow and your chance will come. Oh waiting is horrible. Transitions just really suck. We forget that our choices now during the transition set the stage for how the birth of the new family will be experienced by all.

The knock on our Wednesday evening small group classroom signaled more than just an interruption to our group. It was more than just a notice to let me know my Plum wasn’t feeling well enough to last the evening with his friends. It was a warning that life was going to get rough for several days, that more interruptions were coming, that my schedule and timeline were not my own. One moment we were adults talking around a table, knock knock, suddenly I was in full grandma mode where I would remain for the foreseeable (with no sleep and the inability to see much further than this mug of coffee) future.

Plum has croup, not fun with little lungs that grasp for breath sometimes anyway. Oral steroids and nebulizer treatments are helping to open his constricted airways. Neither help close his little eyes to get rest. I want rest. I had planned much rest after making the Wednesday meal for the larger group. I scheduled much rest as we came to the end of this study and my other one that just finished. I was going to do one slow victory lap around my kitchen with a glass of wine and then collapse contentedly on the couch until I was ready to leisurely climb the stairs to collapse in bed for hours and hours and then rise slowly for coffee and more resting in a comfy chair. I love the studies and work at church but my body was making it clear it was time for rest. I could taste it, I was seeing it. Then I heard the knock, knock. I knew in my gut that knock was for me and that my fantasy rejuvenation time was going to be just that, all fantasy.  My head turned in slow motion, letting go of my fantasy to return to reality requires much effort to release those plans: a push of the years in mama mode, the pull of the sickly cough of my best boy.  Slow motion propelled into high gear as something took over, the knowledge that grandmas step up to the job when needed. Wine, rest and comfy chair collapses will wait.

Mama took Plum to the doctor who advised limited access to my Sweetness, if possible.  Yes, it is possible. Knock knock Plum returned and I waved goodbye to mama and Sweetness for the day, the evening, the foreseeable future which looked like forever when Plum was hyped up on steroids and did not want to nap the day away. As I was pulled back out of sleepy mode I remembered many many years ago while in grad school when our family came down with the flu. All of us, both children even.  The real horrible flu. So my mother-in-law at the time, God rest her soul, came to nurse us all. That time is hazy, a feverish sweaty tear-stained memory mush. What has remained after all these years is the selflessness of that grandma who drove an hour to come sleep on a couch, to wipe brows and mope vomit, to make soup and do laundry, days and days of nursing a baby and a toddler and two grown adults now rendered helpless and worse than children.  Surely she had plans before that phone call, ring ring, created an interruption that challenged her physically and mentally and was not in any way a fun visit with her grandchildren. She stepped up and delivered. She is one of my grandma role models, one of the women I pattern myself after. There when needed, not intrusive when not. She mastered the transition.

Chef’s mom has served us in such way, I have been blessed in mother-in-law selection. Grandma J has starred in many blog posts for her selfless appearances at every one of my surgeries and the nursing afterward, she shows up for all the kids events and never misses the chance to send a card with $5. Much has happened behind the scenes with her as Chef and I grew into our marriage, establishing our family and our boundaries and making room for us all. Still she shows up and doesn’t judge the state of my refrigerator or flower bed s and always asks for a recipe. She just genuinely allows for my dignity as I make sure she has time with her son alone also. The transition wasn’t always smooth but worth the effort as we built trust and found space for our new family dynamics. She is one of my favorite people, a valued resource who is welcomed into my home and has claimed my heart. Creating all these different kinds of family places is challenging but matters most when someone interrupts our daily life and asks that we show up. She always answers the knock with a yes. Together we mastered the transition.

As a child I remember when my mother’s mom was dying. I didn’t know it then that was what was happening, I just knew my brothers and I were pulled out of bed during the night and taken across town to my dad’s mom. She opened the door as we were being carried up to it and she said no.Knock knock, no. She would not have her plans interrupted. She would not have her home in disarray. In the midst of this trauma, my mother had to find alternative care for her 3 children. I am sure she never forgave her mother-in-law. That night we met an extended aunt in the town I now call home. I have warm feelings for her, I never really bonded with my paternal grandmother. This woman was never a grandma to me, the antithesis of who I wanted to be when I grew into my own role as mother-in-law and gran. She didn’t understand how to transition, she wanted her son to stay her son and the rest of us to fall in line with her plans. Disaster.

It matters not how often you see someone but what you do when that knock happens. When the call comes in and the need is there. Do you show up as a grandma? Can you set aside your plans for wine and victory dances and comfy chairs? One day I pray the knock is from my daughter, I will always say yes. I won’t ask to hold the baby, I won’t reach for the toddler. I don’t do either with mama now. I have mastered the transition after many hard pushes and pulls, I know my role as mother-in-law. Show up when asked, stay out of the way when not. Put a bit of food in the fridge and send a card with $5. Back away slowly. Of course I long to hold the baby, who doesn’t really? I have huge gaping wholes in my heart about the size of new grandchildren who are 10 hours away, a daughter who is emotionally a million miles away. Still, I wait for the invitation and pray that when the knock happens, I can summon the strength to let go of my own needs and accept the request to be present for hers. That is how we master the transition.

Knock knock. Who will answer? Just as God shows up always, I pray we find a way to be present for those who need us and not show up as needy ourselves. Being a servant is really the best descriptor of a gran’s role that I can find, not the lady of the manor. That job already taken. Cookies. Cookies help too. Even daughter-in-laws like cookies. Come to think of it, my mother-in-law always brings cookies. Of course that is mostly because my husband tells his mother that hers are better than mine, but that is a completely different post. Show up, let God work out the details of when we are supposed to get our rest and our wine and know when to back out. Always say yes to the knock. Easy-peasy.  Oh and that hole, where our child used to be, God has plans for that. Can you hear Him knocking?






Math is Hard

Math has never been my best subject, I am more inclined towards words, letters. When a teacher in 5th grade taught me to diagram sentences, creating lines and trees on paper, I found the best use for graph paper. I later went on to take advanced algebra in summer school, a rush to fit in all of my credits, squeezing in room for more English Lit courses, thus I learned it for the test and then let it slide away as I went swimming.  What I do know of math is this, when you get married, you add. You bring in this person you have chosen and ask them to not only accept all of your lovable parts but also your quirks and not so great parts. Then you ask them to do the same with your family of origin. This is where sometimes math gets tricky.

When my Chef introduced me to his mother, the kindest most generous crazy woman who has no filter on her mouth or thoughts who does not understand the concept of boundaries,  I was accepted. I still question her wisdom but that is a different story. Nevertheless, Chef and I and his mom and his two brothers became a wider family. My family was surely easy for Chef to love, after all they were my family. Certainly I came with two children, an ex-husband, a battered relationship with my own mother and her odd pick of replacement husband (see how I feel about that one?) and of course my brother and sister-in-law. My family required no adjustments, they were mine. Understanding the nuances and communication styles of his though, that was like multiplication. I didn’t always feel like I had added just one mother-in-law, she is a powerhouse. She often speaks loudly, forcefully, pulls weeds in my flower beds and makes plans with my Chef without talking to me. For holidays. That he agrees to. Without talking to me. Well, mostly we have corrected  that one, but still, the math was hard. I wasn’t always sure about this addition. It would have felt much easier to have just married Chef and move him to Lisa Island where I knew all the inhabitants, my family. But that would have been division. More math. Bad math. Easier, more comfortable for me, not so for my Chef.

The truth is that had I created or pushed for that bad math, I would have missed out on the richness that has developed between me and my mother-in-law. She accepted me first, it took me longer. I love this crazy boisterous extended family, so unlike what I experienced as a child. I know Chef loves the children I brought into the relationship as if he had been there from the beginning, I know how deeply he loves my brother and sister-in-law. We allowed the math problems to become celebrations as we added more and more. (Special note: we have not added in the ex-husband. I am not crazy.)

My point is this: math is hard for some of us, marriage is hard for most of us. Both start with the basics we learn in kindergarten though, just keep adding. We don’t learn to take away for some time, multiplication comes next and division is the very last thing learned, like a last resort. If we consider dividing as our first response to added family members, we are just doing the math wrong. As an English major I can state this with authority. As a mother with an estranged daughter who was wooed away by a new love, I can proclaim it from the mountaintops. Division is bad. I propose we focus on adding, seeing the good and working through the hard. I propose we leave advanced math to God who does the taking away. Let’s just keep adding more to who we love and to who we accept and who we invite to our dinner tables and our flower beds. Let’s add to who we forgive and who we offer mercy and grace and peace to, we may just discover one day we can no longer remember which ones we started with and which ones were supplemental. A blurred family tree with lines that even a math teacher couldn’t graph, connecting points intersecting and reaching out, across.  Oops, I think I moved into geometry. Or Algebra again? Math is hard. Marriage is harder. Lets just add.