{Just Like Me: Being Introverted in the Church}

dylan 2If I could have demanded anything

for my shy and wary child,
would I have begged God

make him less cautious?

Would I have wasted
a wish, a prayer, even a thought
on that part of my personality that I hate

and have come to
tolerate.

Make him less afraid.

Make him less

like me: petrified, wooden, shaken, sick to my stomach
terrified.

Though I hate it about myself,

could I possibly hate this

in

my son?

How is this conceivable?
My baby, my flesh, my skin and bones
always crawling away from people

just like me.

I have learned, when the extroverted-overjoyed-inner-glowing-pastor says almost gleefully to
turn to our neighbor, I don’t immediately
run. I have learned.

Still, the bathroom is a cool, echoing, quiet and comforting place just then;
and I can hear
my heart exploding inside me.  Blood pumping, rushing to all extremities.
The fear rushes about me, like pixies dancing, mocking,
Silencing me.

When extroverted-overjoyed-inner- glowing-pastor says:

this is love

I think
I may puke, not because I want to puke
mind you. (What kind of fool would want to throw up in church?)

But.
seriously

when will church life be easier for introverts?  And how to tell my kid,
that forcing him to attend Church events is virtuous?

It’s for your own good.

How? I’m thinking.
How? He’s asking.

This isn’t faith, I know. This isn’t my religion.

What’s an introverted mom to do?

Teach him to run?

The answer lies somewhere in between.  Even
with programs bent on making you
fit

your circle shaped heart into their

square pegged hole of a program.

Still, love wins
when you risk.  And for us introverts, some days that’s

just showing up.

DSC_0119

{This is for the Dads. I See You}

This blurry pic, a copy of a copy, is my father holding my son.  You cannot see it from this cropped copy but they are sitting on the floor.

This is for the dads, I see you.

Recently at wedding of two friends it hit me.  I’m past the feeling of broken-heart-ache when I see tiny babies.  For nearly a decade each time I saw a newborn I’d practically lactate with longing for just one more child.  My body kept telling me it needed another baby—even after two miscarriages, three unbelievable and healthy children, an exquisite step daughter, (who is now twenty-five, but only five when we met.)

and yet my body kept crying for more. 

At this wedding I noticed for the first time I was no longer at risk for snatching someone’s infant from them, out of a need to smell that baby’s goodness.

I tried holding a baby that night and my mother magic was gone.  I couldn’t console that child and I think that he read my fear.

This is for the dads who are afraid.

Petrified and yet cannot admit it, dads who take off work to “babysit” their own kids. But guiltily, if they’re honest, would rather go to a movie, or for a motorcycle ride or make music or read a book.  Don’t feel bad, you are taking time off work for your kids.  My dad never did that.

This is for the dads that shuffle meekly behind harried young mothers while they nurse.  Somehow showing solidarity?  I don’t quite understand it.  For the dads that never quite do it right—the bottles, the diapers, the comforting. You should understand that moms don’t mean to make you feel incompetent.

I sensed your fear, even pain, holding a baby that I could not console.  That I didn’t quite have it anymore.

Suddenly I felt weak, un-mothering, broken.  Something inside me hurt—but more than for my lost ability to have babies, I was aware of all the Dads in the room.  All the dads who perhaps feel like they don’t quite ever measure up.

This is for the dads who trudge off to work to earn an income for a family when they’d rather be making music, or writing poems, or doing whatever men do in “man caves.”  While their wives have ten year nervous breakdowns, while sitting at the pool and don’t even manage to have a meal cooked at 5 pm or throw a load of laundry in.

This is for the dads who never criticize.

This for the dads who are fair and good, “egalitarian”—mindful of their partner’s thoughts, and tears, and breakdowns, when what they really want is dinner and maybe if they’re lucky sex.

My dad, he worked. 

Came home and kicked us all around.  He didn’t listen to my mother— no matter how he pretended.  She couldn’t debate him, not about big or little things.  She was never quite good enough. When she asked for help, he told her to be stronger.

As for me, I shuffled in the background trying not to be seen.  I lost myself.  I lost perspective of my own center, that I was a human being who deserved (just as much as him) to have opinions, emotions, and take up space in the room.

I stopped breathing.

I’m a forty-six year Old Woman who was never a child.  I’m not saying it’s my father’s fault entirely, but this is to all the dads who need to know. You matter to your kids and your partner—You have power.

You can break your children. Or help them grow up into people of compassion and empathy.

You may “only” bring home the paycheck; causing your kids to think somehow you don’t care as much as mommy.

This is what I say to you Dads—Don’t buy into the bullshit of being less compassionate.  There is a type of empathy that all people have and God and nature intended.  It is not exclusive to women.  It’s not exclusive to mothers.  You may do it differently, but we need you.

This is for all the dad’s that need to know, it’s okay to let go of macho and give more hugs. To work less and BE more.  To change the diaper differently than your wife.  To cook dinner and throw in a load of laundry, listening all the while to your hapless sad wife.

This if for all the dads, no matter what the culture says, that step in the door of your home at the end of the day and get down on the floor—your kids need to know you. Stop rushing.  Say no once in a while to external things.

Be available.

This is for all the dads.  I see you.

At the end of his life, in the last months when my father was pretty sure he was dying (though he was holding out for a miracle) my Dad admitted to me this stunning truth.  That his “incompetence” as a father caused his anger and raging, his disapproval, his meanness, his perfectionist expectations; they all came from feeling like he didn’t know how to be a good dad. (Here’s a poem I wrote not long after his death titled: Good Dad, Bad Dad.)

When we were very young he stopped trying.

What a tragedy.  It’s too late for me and my dad, but it’s not too late for you.

This is dedicated to Tom.

{Chasing the Light}

DSC_0095

Writing about sobriety puts a pit in my stomach

today.
I am sober

but many days this doesn’t by implication mean happy.  Getting dry

isn’t a formula for bliss.  It is only a pathway toward
discovery.
When I was a drunk I didn’t feel sensation – there was mostly

emptiness. 

I didn’t feel the ache deep inside me, I was smothering it with gin, or wine, or 

vodka. 

These days, I feel all my pain. My skin hurts of it sometimes. 
It’s discomforting to be miserable, but important

that I can feel and know I’m alive.

The most important thing I can say today
is that I’m no expert in sobriety.

I am a Vessel

(the capitalization is important, because I AM ALIVE)

containing my story.

Life is only lived one day at a time. I cannot forget the past but I can forgive.

I’m writing  today about how my sobriety is like Chasing the Light.  Find it at SheLoves magazine.

For those that don’t read me regularly, there are other things I’ve written about my sobriety here and all over my blog.  The heading above are quite helpful, I hope.  Or just search for a topic.

Grace & Peace friends,

Melody

The Tale that Cautions: I was a Drunk

5058140345_83d1157b87

I write down words.
I was a drunk.
It hurts still, the heavy story bulges in my heart.
Knowing it’s true, that’s one thing.

Going back
to the vomit and need and empty
ache
the desperation
sits heavy with me again
all day.

But in writing comes a slow redemption.

My words
are a gift:
the tale that cautions.

If you are there, broken

believing that you can drink away your fear

come home.

Home to the place in the crook of the rocks,
where the eagle wings of God cover and protect.

Come home, beloved because.  No one
is too far gone into addiction, or into any other ugly dark thing
that Jesus’ sweet, mystical

life altering LIGHT fails to shine.
He weeps for us, whispering

Beloved come home.

Weird, Wacky, Wonderful Life?

DSC_0128Weird, wacky and wonderful at the same time, was returning from this vacation. I’m all upside-down.

I’m tired, and head-achy, and did I mention tired and that just makes no sense for someone who spent two weeks doing next to nothing.  I finished reading one book and did little else, though worked overtime as usual thinking.

Something odd is going on inside by body that’s scaring me.  Abnormal aches, pains, funny symptoms (and unmentionable ones too.)  I’ve been with older people enough lately (and I don’t just mean my in-laws, who are young old!) but neighbors moving on to a retirement home and my mother facing those hard decisions of where to live, asking can she take care of herself. That I’m considering my mortality I suppose.  And facing aches a little fearfully. And pondering aging as it happens to me. Just before vacation I spent nearly a month unable to use my right knee, from a stupid thing.  These are things that happen as you age.

Coming home to my messy old house, I feel suddenly ashamed of all our stuff.  The end of year school means now home the many pencils, and calculators and spirals that went unused again?  Ugh, I’m not organized enough to take advantage of the excess.  Simply want to brush it all into a dumpster.  Along with my whole kitchen that is dying.

I’ve written and then scrapped.  I mean who do I write for and what sense can I make of the world for others if I’m such a poor example. My words feel like more clutter, in an already chaotic head, life. There are so many important topics, things I care about deeply, and I cannot work up the gumption to write.  So, I’ll not force it.  Plenty of opinionated others out there in cyberspace.

This summer we’re doing projects so every room of the house it seems is upside-down or maybe we live like this all the time and I’m just seeing it with new fresh vacationed eyes. Either way I don’t like it, at all.

I’ve read along, virtually watching friends travel across the planet wanting to “make a difference” somehow, knowing they are the ones who will be changed.  And I’m envious.  My life is too much of boring, stupid shit sometimes. Our question of the day being: Should we replace the garage door (it’s old and sodden and barely works) that still works? 

We are such materialists in general with our things all around us, and on us.  Do our clothes and our homes really say who we are?  I’m aging, and I’m no longer cool (trust me I have a teenager that knows and isn’t shy to tell me) and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s important, even as I worry about being relevant.  I sat people watching at the airport, noting Capri’s definitely said “Middle aged and dumpy.”  Why do I even think about that stuff?

I have just ended, yes ENDED in the sense of a school year anyway, the most difficult,challenging year of my life and honestly most of it I cannot write about because it is family and it’s private and it’s hard, so f-ing hard.

What am I learning?

That love of family is perhaps central to joy and contentment (and pain!) That I have too much stuff and it’s making me feel smothered.  That my health cannot be taken for granted and must be a priority. That I don’t have enough friendship, in real life, the kind where you spit up laughing or end up crying, because you feel so understood.

Also, I’m learning I haven’t seen the end the suffering or pain, but we’ve ended one part of the cycle and that’s to be celebrated. Life goes on—weird, wacky and wonderful.  And on the spiritual dimension I am reading and studying about the Christian notion of prayer and for that you will have to stay tuned.

Here are some images from Florida.

Here’s a link to some Florida pictures.

{Don’t Simply Collect Belief, Be Changed}

hands

Life is a dithering between Belief and Disbelief.

Walking steadily, drawing Truth toward us like small prized stones found and stuffed quickly into a pocket, along the way. This Walk is unassuming and ordinary; most days are unpretentious, in the hunt for Assurance. Life is full of yearning.  I have learned. I don’t need to fear the Path. It is solid and sure.  I can trust The Journey as I lean down to pick up a new unusual stone.

I have a jar full of them by now, saving Ideas. I have collected Belief all my life.  At first I didn’t trust the Path, and then I didn’t trust the Stones. If I found one, I’d give it a quick glance or thought, and I’d toss it away.  Not sparkly enough, or exciting.

I’ve been searching for magnificent glittery stones—for a Life of Significance. In the process I threw many Truths away because I am unimpressed.

I’m a True Collector now—these pebbles and stones I now pick up joyfully, turning them over in my hand gratefully. I take them home, rinsing in the sink seeking to see their splendor found underneath the dirt and wear and tear. I place them in a Collection Jar of my heart. They are heavy inside, weighty.  Their shapes change me in important ways, forging Awareness; I am emerging into a new, different person.  I’m eager for each insight, even when the transformation hurts.

Sometimes it is very uncomfortable.

Finding Faith, Hope, and Love were hard to accept at first because they change the shape of a person.  I was soon adding to them Kindness and Goodness, even Compassion.  Found bit by bit, over the years I’ve been surprised by Joy, Acceptance, Tolerance, Mercy and Generosity.  I’ve found Justice and Integrity, and Wonder and Awe.  I’ve found Beauty and Creativity, in these small and large pebbles or stones.  I hold them close, prized—precious. I am grateful, changed from the inside out, shaped into a New and Different person.

And yet, I’m learning that I cannot simply collect these Stones of Truth.  The weight of them in my heart becomes a burden, lessening my Joy increasing the Encumbrance.  This Knowing without Sharing becomes a discomfort I cannot live with as I feel their weight and significance and choose moment by moment to begin to give them away.

This is the lesson of the Writer or creative of any kind, who comes to a stage in life when Knowledge sits heavy within. Life’s experiences of Joys and Sorrows become a burden, without giving your Stories away.  The Pebbles and Stones can become relief for others travelling the rugged path of life together. 

As I give away a glittering pebble, or even a weighty gray Stone of Truth, I find another and the truth of that stone has shaped me, making me different already.  These stones like Forgiveness, Compassion, Justice and Mercy, as I am willing to give away such beauty. Reshaped, I’m becoming more whole and complete.

God is restructuring, altering me and changing me for the better, again and again. In the telling, in the flow of Story from one person to the next, what was incomplete inside me is now completely altered and worthy.

My stories are Stones heavy within me if I simply collect them.  Don’t simply be a collector of Truth, allow your heart to be transformed by giving away your Story, again and again.

Daydream Believer

8729055227_1d7dc7d062I break free

in my day time dream, away
from human suffering.  To float,

up,
alone and free.

Sometimes as I fly away, the clouds are thick that hold me.
And I trust they’ll keep me safer than solid ground.

Suddenly, free-falling, I understand it was only a dream.
Landing hard, here in Wisconsin’s fields.
I am still human
solidly sore, hurting, knowing
pain.

You cannot wish away this life, complete
with heartache. 

You mustn’t embrace pain
fully either.

Certain moments, let them soak deep

in.
Grooves,

wounds, all that make you
you, and me who I am.
This human ache is teaching us to know
one another’s pain. See?
Sense it.
Firm and persistent,
pain is everywhere,

in and on everyone.

Although my heart is still,
longing to float away and pretend.
Finally it knows better. Knows
a freedom, in stepping firmly
on solid ground.

Feel the earth beneath you,
and believe. Life,
as sure as grief will find you and suffering too,
is only lived well together.

Love is all that is holding
this day dreamer down.

Reading Hebrews: Study Jesus, Grow Up & Run

I read the book of Hebrews through this morning in THE MESSAGE, a translation by the legendary and wise, brilliant pastor and author Eugene Peterson.  All these thoughts come directly from that reading.  When I used Peterson’s words, I tried to give “credit” but this is completely my interpretation of his translation.  Don’t blame him for my ignorance or lack of understanding.  This is written to myself but you can listen in. 

The book of Hebrews likens life to a race.  I’m not that competent at running.  Last summer, I started running trying the Couch Potato to 5k program.  At first I barely stumbled around the block, untrained and unprepared. But it didn’t take long before I was running three miles. Today, after static winter, I’d have to start all over again. I would have to start from the beginning and mature into a runner, again.

Like those listed in the book of Hebrews, our faith Story, should point people toward their true home. We can please God through our Story by believing that God exists and that he cares enough to respond when we cry out to him.

Be confident that you are presentable inside and out.”

Even with wickedness in our back story, in the book of Hebrews we learn that in the final review this is the point—that we are unworthy and that through the actions of Jesus, we become presentable again.

How are we to live now, today?

The Message translates that we are to “make our way as best we can on the cruel edges of the world.”  That’s dramatic, but I can relate.  Life has felt more than a little cruel of late.

Hebrews holds a roster of pioneers of faith, people like my father, imperfect – whose lives were unfinished and incomplete when they died, even if they were exemplary; or whether they tripped up over and over, even if they had to learn how to run many times throughout their lives. They are all at the last finish line, shouting and cheering us on.

Hebrews says their lives combined with ours becomes The Story—a completed whole.

So, even when you feel inadequate, knowing that you’re broken, feeling you’re too lame to run, you are commanded TO RUN!

But how are we to carry out this impossible feat? 

Key your eyes on Jesus. Know Jesus. Study Jesus.

When you feel most down trodden and unable to run, go back to the basics to who he was and is, how he behaved, how he treated people, how he fashioned his time and priorities and days (and nights). Study him.

And, if you begin to feel life is unfair, that yours in particular is full of suffering and pain. Consider these things to be ways for God to love you.  We are disciplined and corrected by love.

This is growing up spiritually.

Know that your pain is God’s training ground!  Life isn’t hard because you’re bad, or undeserving of good things, or even unrepentant.  No, life hurts because God the father LOVES YOU!  It’s the University of Spiritual Development.

And so, stop resisting. Stop complaining. Wipe your tears. Wake up to God’s love!  These hard moments, this unimaginable pain in your life or those you love, is making you not breaking.

Hebrews is a heavenly warning.  “God himself is fire!” He’s burning, aware of…our immaturity, our gracelessness, our negativity, our tearing one another down.

He’s looking at you and me – challenging us to care for one another.

It is simple things.

  • “Be ready with a meal or a bed when needed.  Why some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it.
  • Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them.
  • Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them happened to you.
  • Guard your marriage, your relationships.
  • Don’t be obsessed with getting material things.
  • Watch how your pastors live and let their lives instruct you.
  • Share what you have with others.  Worship God with your generosity and love.
  • And pray that God, who put all this together, who makes all things whole, who gave us Jesus, may he train you, put you together—providing you with everything you need—in Jesus.”

Sometimes, truth is so simple that we ignore it thinking that can’t be all.  That can’t be it.  It’s not spiritual enough.  It’s not complicated enough.

But the book of Hebrews makes it pretty clear.  We are to love one another in the daily race of life, look to Jesus as our example for how to live, trust him, be trained by him … Grow up.

And run.

MHH

An Ode To Joy: When Chasing Significance, Ministry, Motherhood, & Alcohol Isn’t Enough

8728474819_71223eda2e_o

My daughter thinks she Knows My Dreams, she pushed hard recently trying to get me to admit them. Telling me “Go to seminary and be a pastor that writes, mom. That’s what you want. Just do it.” It’s so easy for her to say, I think to myself, with my incessant dissatisfaction and oh so many fears.

I think to myself: I’m stuck. I’m not worthy. I’ll never Be.

First came sin.

I mean we’re all sinners for sure, but the home I grew up in, I never met Jesus. I never knew Grace.

I didn’t know Jesus who is the Lord of the Universe and Hope for the world, that my Dad was always talking about.  I couldn’t believe, not for decades, that I was loved and that if I were the only Blessed Sinner on Planet Earth, Jesus would have died that grizzly death, for me. No Way.

Work Harder.

I have lived day by day, believing that if I could just be A Better Person.  If I accomplished that much more than other people, worked harder, worked longer, worked better, then, I’d be okay. And so for years that’s what I did. I worked and worked and worked, and I lived a lie.

I was never okay. I was always terrified.

I was a mess inside, deep down where you cannot admit working at a Christian organization that you’re not sure that you ever believed.

Motherhood.

So I quit all that, thinking Being a Mother is noble (enough) and even a very good thing to do.  I mean, who doesn’t find meaning in motherhood?

Never mind that I just wasn’t ready to be at home.

Too Broken Up Inside, Not Even Knowing Jesus and With a Hole in my Heart, I quit work in ministry for all the wrong reasons.

Then came Despair on a Colossal Level.

Was I ever unprepared for the depth of my anguish. For the loss of meaning without Work. The hole in my soul was frantic with fear, day after day, still.

I thought to myself I must miss My Important Work!  All those years of Chasing Significance and Feeling Important, all that had made life meaningful in the past was gone.

Stripped Naked, the rug pulled out from under me, I fell hard; I fell flat.

Major Depression.

Depression hit just as I was starting to meet the Jesus Everyone Knew and Believed in. We were now attending a lovely church that ministered to my Broken-down Heart.   Just as I began to learn and study scripture for myself.  Just as I was learning that no matter what things I did or didn’t do with my life, I was loved and okay.  Just as a little of that truth sank in,

I slid down into the darkest pit of misery and hopelessness and despair. A place So dark, so bleak, so heavy that I was surprised by this new level of unhappiness.  I never knew that people could feel that lost. (I wrote about that in Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression.)

Broken by a life that was bereft of meaning, tired beyond comprehension with three babies in diapers, bored by being at home, dissatisfied with my contribution to the world, rejecting Grace still though I had begun to understand it intellectually, then came drink.  It was a respite in the beginning, an oasis.

Alcoholism.

As the years went by what had been a brief escape, a place to go when all else seemed

Worthless, Hopeless and Endless,

I drank.  And drank. And five years passed, and I was

Work-less, Meaningless, and soon a Fallen Down Drunk. I was addicted.  And working through the Depression and All Of The Above, I finally heard the

Sweet

Whisper

of the Spirit.  By this time I knew a bit more, I believed in the Grace of Jesus and God broke in and confronted my

Cycling Toilet of Shame, the hole in my heart leaking pain all over the floor, and

my F E A R.

An Ode to Joy.

A decade has passed and I’ve been sober almost five years.  I’m still

a colossal addict even sober, who wakes up every day on the verge of an existential crisis.  Deep, DEEP within, I crave significance. I crave making a meaningful contribution to the world. I long for Joy, real Joy.

Even now, listening to the mystical, providential, sweeping Spirit of God who Speaks and Holds me every day and quiets my frantic heart, that says:

{Just Be. And wait and Trust me.}

The surrender daily is bittersweet. Because I still don’t know What I’m Doing with my LIFE.  This poverty of spirit within me breaks my heart; I feel I betray Jesus in every moment that I’m

fearful, restless, dissatisfied, and confused.

Because unlike what my daughter believes, I don’t know what I am to DO, more than

Just Be. And so, I wait.  And in the waiting, I am transformed.

Fear’s Come, Knocking

36-DSC_0013I rise early
As pain wakes me, it is impatient to begin.
It’s burning in my leg. I’m despondent, knowing

Fear’s come, knocking
Licking up my tears, FEAR holds me tight,
Comforts,

As I sit with her.  I know FEAR
Like an old friend.
I’ve never known much else, than this devilish companion.

My heart
Aches, as I attempt just for a moment to fight FEAR
With Gratitude.

Drum, drum, drum, like the pain in my leg she’s persistent.
I have excuses.
Family chaos, family pain. My chaos, my pain.

Only I know, again and again and again how ruthless she is,
Relentless, she’s brilliant, she’s all knowing
FEAR’s come knocking and I have welcomed her in.

I listen and I believe
I relent, because
I trust her.

She whispers chaos into my soul, “I am nothing. What if the only thing
I was ever supposed to do was be a mother.
[To comfort, to believe in, to love, to help

Those small souls (my children)
To help them find Life without Fear.
What if, 

There’s nothing else to ask for,
Nothing for me?”
Mothering should be enough FEAR proclaims.

Stop dabbling, FEAR taunts. You’re nothing special.
Let go.
Just be,

A mother.
Seeing Images, collecting Words, Thinking – all meaningless.
You are nobody

Special.
FEAR soars now, for this
Believing gives her strength and power.

She swirls and floats around me
Delighted,
Knowing

For today,
FEAR’s won.
For today, I quit struggling.

FEAR always comes knocking
And today
I made her welcome.

FEAR holds on to me – Knowing I’ll never be
Without her, this is her domain
My heart.

FEAR
Owns
me.

I traded my dreams
For a moment of relief from the panic.
She knows the grooves

Worn in my soul – she made them.
Swiftly
Filling me like wet concrete poured, I begin

To harden.
FEAR swells, it hurts as she grows and strengthens
Within.

My FEAR
I hope she plans to let me die eventually.
As I let go of hope,

Abandoned dreams collect around me
I am heavy, thick with her.
I watch myself drop deeper and deeper

Into the waters dark with despair.
What if I was never meant
to do anything “important”?

What if the words and images got trapped inside
me, cemented forever?
Surely then FEAR

Would relent, releasing me
She’d fly away from me forever and I’d finally know
Joy. Instead,

We play this slow game together,
An unhurried cruelty,
This daily swim,

Will I finally
Capitulate?
Then I realize FEAR, doesn’t want

me
To relent.
Where’s the fun

In my total surrender?  It is the game
She’s here for
This

Battle,
I call my LIFE,
Cemented in FEAR.

Life is not Pass or Fail: A Mother’s Day Remembrance

020-20120504_0185I have always seen “weakness” as a defect and here on this blog I say a lot about what I consider to be my own weaknesses – the narrative playing in my head and here on these pages for years has been a fear that I am too broken and weak to be useful at all.

This story starts with what has been and where I came from.

My mother has suffered most of her life.  I know this intellectually and because as her children we hurt alongside her in my father’s home.

For most of my life I thought she was weak to stay with him.  I resented her sticking in there with him.  Looking back, I hated the way she propped him up, when his fragile ego quaked and he wanted to quit this or that ministry, or when he felt betrayed by someone, or was sure that so and so was out to get him or them. She was the strong woman behind the ministry “leader.”  Only back then, she didn’t look strong to me.

After being angry at her for most of my life (and receiving a lot of therapy) I now see that she was strong all those years, and is, today.  I can see how much she loved my father and was loyal and faithful and good to him.  I see that she thought that she was helping us all by propping up the ego maniacal and abusive man that was my father sometimes.

But you see it wasn’t that simple.  He was a beloved man who did many incredibly good and important things.  He served well and long, and loyally. He loved his family. He sincerely wanted to please God.  He loved his few close friends deeply. I can see this looking back, even though he came home and took out his internal demons on a fragile and devoted woman, his wife and my mom and on his daughters. 

Apparently, he was only physically abusive to Mother once.  So the restraint he showed to never hit my mother again was … commendable?   And yet she lived with that intimidation and threat for forty-five years, knowing what he was capable of doing she was faithful to him.

Today a woman would have packed her bag the night that, in a fit of rage, he put her head through a wall.  Here’s the thing. Once you do something like that your household is always terrified, no matter how you promise, regret, or apologize.

And he did often, after a fit of raging, make promises and express sorrowful regret.  We experienced his rages.  Things “the public” never knew.  Things you wouldn’t quite believe possible from a man who could also be tender and gentle, who so often eloquently expressed his faith and devotion to God.  Perhaps she should have left him.  I used to think so.  And I would have, I frequently thought to myself in my twenties and thirties as I was learning about feminism and independence.   Though I never did choose to leave him and I even went to work for him for nearly a decade.

She stayed and so did we.

It was complex and codependent.  How he longed to be perfected by God but in his lifetime this never happened.  This skewed my view of men, of fathers, and especially of a Father God, for a long time.

But this is about my mother, who was loyal and strong; yes strong even though all my life I looked at her and thought of her as weak.

What kind of strength is required to endure the unyielding shouting and frequent berating over years,

and years,

and years?

Her depression was not obvious to me then but now, of course, palpable and understandable.  Frequently in poor health, she stayed in bed and that became her place of refuge from the strain and stress of our home.  She internalized his anger and used her illnesses to escape.   She had very few if any personal friends.  Abused women are often very isolated. And, she withdrew from her children emotionally. We got very little physical comfort growing up, though I’m sure there was much she wanted to say and do. She just didn’t.

Or couldn’t.

She’s apologetic now, at seventy-five and expresses openly her love, physically and emotionally, and her regrets which are many. Now that he’s dead, she has chosen to make her life incredibly simple.  She likes her condo, and her health remedies, and baseball or basketball on the television. She plays memory games on her hand-held game.

She’s chosen this unassuming, even guileless life.  This makes sense to me considering that my father dragged her all over the world for most of their married life; as it turns out most of the moves we made (two or three dozen) she didn’t even want to make.  Today her life consists of getting a message or her nails done.  She does energy work.  Much of it I don’t understand completely, but I respect the obvious need for self-care and lack of relational complexity in her life, still.

I’m grateful that she is quick check in on me, if she thinks I’m disappointed or angry with her.   I’m glad that she’s finally content with her life, set up just the way she likes it.  And I respect her for these choices, even if I wouldn’t choose them.   She’s seventy-five and is finishing life in a way she seems to like – justifiably simple and safe.

This Mother’s Day I honor my mother for surviving. I honor her for her quiet internal strength.

I honor her for her loyalty and commitment, even when I didn’t understand it.

As children we watch our parents and want them to be our idea of perfect.  Each time they supposedly fail we have a choice, to be disappointed or to accept knowingly that life is made up of hundreds of these choices.

Life isn’t pass or fail. 

Life is to be examined carefully and closely, to be lived openly and yet with great care for the people in it.

You never know why someone chooses a certain path. 

And in the end, you can only live your own life, embracing your apparent weaknesses as well as strengths, knowing that each one makes you who you are today.

Life is fragile. Love is unimaginably complicated. Parenting is by example but no one is perfected in their lifetime. 

I think life’s purpose is found in how we take the journey, in the small and seemingly innocuous choices that become important along the way.

I honor my mother this Mother’s Day for being both strong and weak – for being human.

MHH

Other Posts about my parents:

Remembering Daddy, Ten Thousand Tears, A Message From my Dead Father, Forgiving is a Miracle, My Father is Dead, When Did you First Believe God is Male, A Good Day Is, Watching My Father Die, Lessons From a Monastery, On Parenting Deeply & Well, On Putting the Dark & the Light Together, Strongest in the Broken Places, Who Needs a Heart When a Heart Can Be Broken?, Parenting by Free Fall, What Kind of  A Mother, A New Way to Be Human, Forgiveness: Expect Miracles, A World Of Possibilities, My Mother.

Stop Being Afraid: A letter to Us All

This will be short,
a letter
to the Artist inside us all
but especially to me,
and the Artist that I’ve been afraid to become.
I’ve been thinking.

I’m electrified
with the current state of affairs, I know
how lucky I am
to have space even a few hours every day to make art.
I’ve decided,  I know
that I want write, but I’ve been sick to my stomach,
afraid.  I know
that I want
to express my soul with images
but I’ve been afraid.

I have assumed
that my words,

my heart, my way of seeing isn’t good
(enough);
isn’t trained,
isn’t schooled.
Doesn’t “know.”

Whatever that means, really, what it comes down to ya’ll is simple
fear of failure,
fear of measuring against others,
fear of being different, and not in a good way, just
so afraid.

I’m going to start
dreaming. It is time to start
thinking
for myself, listening
to my own
muse, casting
aside fear for something better.
I’m going to revel in my own buzz.

But who’s the critic now? Creepy voices
in my head that say, most people aren’t even listening,
and to that I say, perhaps not
yet, and yup that’s

so okay,

for now.  I’m gonna
Just do it.
Stop being afraid

and Jump!