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{rough thoughts on love and mortality in the middle years}

I have no business writing when I need to be packing, preparing, paying bills, picking up prescriptions, cleaning house, and washing laundry, readying myself and the family for me to leave town.  These are very drafty thoughts on aging parents, ailing friends, launching teenagers, and being human.  

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Love and Mortality in the Middle Years

Our middle years—carry

the work of tending to ailing parents

and sometimes losing,

nursing them respectfully and without impatience.

That is love of a child.

 //

Our middle years—rambling side by side with good friends,

you and I, fighting illness and the frailty of being human.

Growing into who we were going to become.

That is the love of a partner and friend.

 //

The human toll of ageing all the while launching

children to fly! The human ache of

watching lives unfold.

Let them fly, let them flail.  Breathing hope into their

youthful lungs. Speaking truth all the while

shaking your head as they roll their eyes in disgust. Wobbly legs

running out and away.  Knowing this

is what they are meant to do.

That is the love of a parent.

 //

We all need wisdom, grace upon grace and more joy (oh, for more joy!).

In the midst of relentless sorrow and loss,

your doorway remains open.

In this middle space of anticipation, of letting go

in more ways than is reasonable or comfortable,

all of which is profoundly difficult

and is the principle achievement of being human.

 //

Middle years: Caring and holding,

loving and letting go.

All this is the Life and Death of the middle years.

This is love and mortality

in the middle years.

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When I Was A Falling Down Drunk: A Love Story

tomhanson_bwIt’s only been a few days but I feel it.  In the hidden, hard place where I keep my little girl heart that learned to be scared too early.  That place in my heart has shifted.

It might be that I am writing out the story of how I once was a falling down drunk.  I’ve been looking for ways that I was loved through it, and I’ve been realizing

over and over how I was so loved. My husband

lived out this incredible, sacrificial, life-giving, endless, kind, patient, generous, soul upon soul holding of my precious life when I wasn’t into or able to be caring for myself

at all.  Didn’t believe I was precious or lovable at all. I guess you can say I couldn’t possibly, since I was more and more consumed

by booze.

And here’s shit’s honest truth: I will never, ever–not ever–be able to repay him.  Every ounce of love that I can give, a life time of kindnesses, every selfless act of thoughtfulness—all of it,

none of it will ever make up for his saving my life by helping me through the drunken years.  Trust me I have walked back over every ugly moment that I can remember. And when I couldn’t remember I interviewed him. Phew that was hard on us both.

And that is what he did.  His love saved me and it was totally undeserved.

Kind of like what God does in sending Jesus and that’s so amazing I’ve just had to sit

here in my writing chair.

Hours on end, sitting.

Feeling my thankful feelings for sobriety. And for Tom. For my children surviving (though we can all see a toll in their minds and hearts, but that’s another story.)  I’m just

unabashedly

thankful.

So whether it actually was the practice of stopping and writing down what I’m thankful for, I’ll never know.  Sometimes God works by making two things collide bringing a providence of actions and

then it is on us how we respond.

How to love a drunk is a love story.  Yes, a valentine.

xoxo,

Melody

An excerpt from the article I have been writing:

It is breathtaking for me to think how much Tom loves me and showed it both with his long-suffering gentle care.  And, in the act of telling me he couldn’t take it any longer he faced his greatest fears.  He was potentially losing me either way. That letter confronting my addiction was selfless love.

After drinking an entire bottle of white wine the night before, I was scared to death. And God’s spirit had been graciously preparing my heart, perhaps for years. Tom’s letter and my readiness collided and became the catalyst.

I was ready. That was our miracle. That’s what it looks like to love a drunk.

Honestly there are no sweet guarantees.  But Tom never gave up on me.  When we married twenty years ago, pledging in sickness and in health neither of us knew what a high price IN SICKNESS contained.

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.

I Found Love {The Challenge of “Eat This Book”}

I’ve never read the Bible from end to end. I grew up in the church but biblical literacy was not encouraged, until Blackhawk. Reading the ancient books I wondered—does God love me? Who am I to question God? And yet, I regularly bring questions and doubt to my reading of scripture.

I cringe reading the Old Testament, at times embarrassed that it is a part of my religion because the God of the ancient stories seemed appalling to me. As I open up the text, doubts loudly dominate as I wonder: Is God full of wrath, as ruthless and destructive of cultures as these stories seem to convey? More vital personally, does God look down on and limit women, or simply ignore women’s existence like so many of the Old Testament stories do, or worse, does God consider me less worthy because I am female? This is a topic I’ve dedicated a lot of time and thought to, with questions I bring to the text because of their application today.

As a result, for months I quit reading the selected texts for Eat This Book. Dejected, I felt heavy-hearted, even bogged down with discouragement, that this ancient, patriarchal, violent religion was connected to my faith and church, thoughts I have dodged for most of my adult spiritual life.

A wise friend suggested I read it differently, and listen for themeta-story of Yahwehwhich is told and retold over many generations. Still questioning and wondering, still doubtful, I tried to understand what the God of the Old Testament has to do with me, or you, the 21st-century followers of Jesus. In time, through God’s gracious gift of connections, I saw that we, followers of Christ are part of this innumerable family! The Story matters because of the character of God whose faithfulness and love is clear throughout the generations. We are a part of a community of faith — the whole line traced through the Old Testament. Believers are connected, continuing forward. This is our inheritance. This story, the promises and covenant and love of God is for us all, the Story a continuum, toward Jesus. And now I see grace, even back in the ancient stories with the care for the poor, the alien, the widowed, the barren, even the environment.

All my life I’ve been yearning to be a part of something, and finally I understand fully that I am! I know; I see in the Story that God’s faithfulness is infinite, and as it touches each of us, God’s love transforms us through atonement of our sins, actively reconciles people to God and one another.  That’s the promise for you and me.

I read the ancient stories with different eyes now, knowing that we are each a treasured part of the Story. I have intimacy with God in a new way, for the first time.

Strangely this came from knowing the Story. This is utterly awe-inspiring. Yes, God is formidable, to be revered and feared. But “fear of the Lord” is a reverence that strengthens and fills us through our dependence on God. I am significant to this God, who is and was and will be, for all time and outside of time.

Frequently in the ancient texts I noticed people fell on their knees before God when in His presence. I believe this is to be our posture too, awe. Revel in His presence, His affection. I have been both wrecked and healed.

The religion that caused me pain as I began to read the text over time has healed me, bringing reconciliation and restoration to my life.   I am part of that story. It is also my Story, which is breathtaking and devastating, from beginning to end.  Soaking in the big story of the Bible faithfully, as I was truly listening, truly pursuing understanding and wisdom, the Holy Spirit revealed a gift, God’s love.  It was there all along, but I was so caught up in and caught off guard by cultural differences and my assumptions, out of ignorance and naiveté. How difficult it is for us to hear the Truth. And this limits God’s work in me. Now, humbled and convicted, I open the word of God differently—on my knees. Sure of his acceptance and love, in faith that there is something in it for us all no matter our background, our brokenness, our gifts or abilities, or our gender.  There it is, hope for us all.

MHH

This article was originally published in Illuminate, a magazine of Blackhawk Church.

Something else on Eat This Book: Imagine my surprise, I read the Bible Wrong

{Dust to Dust}

This is the week I learned that our children do not belong to us.
We are not gods, to create a small being in our image.
They come to us

needy and helpless, and we are
Caretakers.  Lives, made up of
oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus, even
heart, mind, and soul;
each are but dust returning to dust.

Arrogantly we live
day after day, with these small persons
believing that each meal, healthy or otherwise,
each book carefully chosen and lovingly read,
each activity selected so diligently,
each pastime and hobby, talent nurtured,

each word spoken into their small world

will stop them, and

start them,

make them
do; our Possession

to be molded, shaped, crafted
carefully controlling every encounter while they are young.
As if it changes anything.
Eventually they will choose Life or Death.

Unthinking, we are judiciously creating a small being
In Our Image.

This is the week I lost.

I knew,
I gave,
I wept,
I died,
I let go.
This is the week everything changed forever;
Inside me something broke
open;
the illusion of control.

This is the week, I gave them back;
to be “mine” is to lose them forever.

Yes, this is the week I lost.
And yet, here they are. Still
living and breathing, asleep in their beds.

and I am (still) full of hope, leaning on it

confident of this:

They are not mine, they are
released from my sweaty grip.

This is the week everything changed forever,

as mother became
helpless, child became

person, and everything changed, forever.

{When You’re Not Qualified to be Alive}

So I’m trying something new.  Picking a subject at random that I seem to obsess about or fixate on, something that grips my imagination in compulsive and ugly ways, (I started with one of my secret obsessions.) I’ll write honestly without  a lot self-editing or controlling “the message” to see what comes out.  No answers. No over spiritualizing.  Just the real, gritty, sometimes awkward me. I’m trying to push myself in my style to loosen up a little. Have you noticed that I take myself a bit too seriously? This is my second excursion into a different kind of real. 

Parenting surely is the most difficult job I’ve ever had.  Many times in a day I think “I am not qualified.” But it’s too late, for those regrets.

No one is qualified to be a parent, not really. 

Yesterday, I was reflecting on our exceptionally verbal, strong as steel, at times tyrannical daughter  who is so like my father!  I just wanted to fall down on my knees, humbled by my own lack.  Again, as if a prayer, whispering this time as a lament: I am not qualified to be a mother.

I went through most of my life in some strange, surreal auto pilot. 

I went through forty years utterly afraid of life.  I sometimes think back, strange as it sounds and wonder aloud how I even survived the catastrophes of living in our home.  My father’s spirit and soul crushing rage destroyed me, my personality and I spent many years just grieving who I might be, might have been.  That sort of grief is debilitating.

Oh there were moments, especially outside of home, where I found  parts of myself.  I loved my youth pastor; he listened to me and allowed for my incessant questions about the Bible. He listened to my ideas and fears.  He never once yelled at me, or told me my sarcasm or sense of humor or quick thinking and verbal sparring was bad.  He somehow validated me and I loved him.

But for the most part I went through my tens and twenties and thirties heart-sick, depressed, and afraid.

So when my daughter rages at me (I told you she is like my dad) or the world, or she stands up to me, or questions … every little thing, a small part of me is cheering inside!!

She is alive.

She is breathing, kicking and screaming, going into the world believing that her thoughts, her questions, her jokes, her ideas matter and for that I am so pleased.

She is alive and I am slowly coming alive too.  I believe my father had to die for me to begin living.  A new friend, after hearing about the childhood that I had said to me yesterday “It’s a wonder that I have any faith at all.”

I am simply grateful I am alive.  Yes, this life of believing is really hard; harder for me than it seems to be for many people I know.  I’ve come to accept and understand this to be a part of what makes me, me.  And yes, this is something I embrace.

I may not be qualified, but I am grateful to be alive.

I’ve Been Quiet

I’ve been quiet, because the world is so loud. So many days I just cannot do anything more than put my hands over my ears and shut it all out.

This world where exegesis and hermeneutic and “being right “are more important than generosity and love.

A world where the decision of the Church or the Government feeding the hungry becomes intellectual and spiritual sport.

A world critical of mystical devotion of Henri Nouwen whom I revere.

A world where conviction over sexuality and what is or is not love makes people hate one another, aren’t we all God’s creatures?

A world where your or my “place” and opportunities depend on being born a boy or a girl; where little boys refuse to let a little girl play ball. just because she’s a girl.

The world, even the Church that cannot agree on much of anything.  And sometimes I think how Jesus must just weep over us all.

This world is upside down, crazy and it just makes me sad, even deeply wounded by it. 

I’ve been quiet because I have been writing. And I find that blogging makes me want more clicks, and comments, and there is never enough attention.  It feeds the part of my soul is ugly, that longs for significance.  Blogging doesn’t suit this heart .

Empty, shaken, longing for solitude, then I know.  I need more of Jesus.

I’ve been quiet because I’ve been writing and when I write I doubt.  I doubt my Call.  I doubt my talent.  I doubt that these things that tug on my heart, these words that seem so clear, that wake me up from a dead sleep, that dance around me like pixies while I mow the straight lines of the lawn, that chatter inside me telling me I’m stupid.

Yes, I’ve been quiet because when I write I doubt myself, and

this too is a challenge of a person who finds herself committed to words — to creating and giving them away.

I don’t know enough.

I don’t have a big enough audience.

I don’t say things that matter.

I don’t know much of anything.

Seeing a theme here, I, I, I, …

I get even more so — I need deep quiet.  And I know again that I need to drink from the spigot that is of forgiveness and true purpose and  being transformed.  When Jesus said “I have come” he meant  come to stay.  He’s here with us.  He’s here by my side, as I tap-tap-tap on the laptop.

More of him,

less of me.

That means deep quiet.

Parenting by Free Fall

I don’t think about my father very often — any more. After he died, there was a time when my relationship with him clouded everything I did, or thought, or believed.  Before he died, I had no real understanding of how much he made me who I am.  He and my mother.  Every choice I made, sadly was in some way a reaction to his control over my mind and my heart.  I don’t think he meant to have that kind of power over me, nor would he have wanted it.  But it happened that way because I was so afraid of him.  I so wanted his approval.  And longed for more from him and my mother.

I talk a lot about the mind and heart in my writing because though two different organs they are connected psychologically to  — what makes us  — human.  I believe they make us who we are and it is through our choices (by making up our mind) that we grow into different people (transforming our heart.)

It’s strange to think back. I had no idea how unwell my parents were — as a child I thought they were just being parents.  Thought all parents were like mind.  I had no notion that there was a good or bad way to be a parent.  Nor could I conceive that I might one day stand in some sort of judgment over them and I am still very uncomfortable being perceived that way.

[I feel when I write about my mom and dad, I have to give this caveat every time:  I know my parents did the best they could with what they had.  I figured that out through lots of therapy.  I do accept it now.]

Listening to a radio interview yesterday of Anne Sexton’s daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, I was struck once again by how very dysfunctional my home life was growing up.  If you don’t know, Anne Sexton was a poet, known for her confessional verse who won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1967, a year after I was born.   She suffered through out her life with clinical depression and after many attempts,  killed herself when she was 45 and her daughter Linda was 21.

While I listened to Linda talk about her relationship with her mother as a love/hate and like/dislike, oh how much I related as it is unpleasantly close to what I experience today with my mother.

I love my mother dearly, but I can’t figure out a very good way to be with her. I want to be in her life. And I try, sometimes.  And at other times not very hard at all.  I know that I must be a better daughter.  And that she is a widow.  And I have all that weight on my shoulders which I want to live up to.  But often we hardly see one another and she lives ten minutes away.

Certain things she does hurts me, over and over again.  And no matter how much I have learned to not take it personally it is hard not to do so.  For example, it is not personal that she does not show up to things that are important to me because she got sick or is not “up to” it or is genuinely in some physical pain.  She’s done that my whole life and it feels personal!  But it’s not.  I think she just shuts down sometimes.  I believe it is because of my father’s treatment all those years — her brain blitzes out and she just can’t “do” life.  It comes and goes.  Sometimes she’s all over me.  And then she’s gone.

I simply want to escape the pain of not being able to understand my parents and how they treat me.

For Linda, growing up it was taboo for her to talk about her mother’s suicide attempts.  For us it was forbidden to talk about my father’s rage, my mother’s illnesses, and later the drinking.  There were so many secrets.  I wrote about that in a poem to my sisters titled A Sacred Contract and that’s what it was.

Linda Sexton said how much her mother’s depression and suicide attempts hurt her.  I’ll say it.  These are the things that broke my heart early on in life and God is beginning to repair. My father’s rages.  My mother’s obvious misery.  My father’s belittling and constant picking at her and us.  My mother’s frequent sinking into illness to “get away” from him.  My father’s work and frequent travel with subsequent fatigue.  My mother’s constant “support” and appalling attempts to build him up when he was in one of his Funks of insecurity and fear of failure. I think because if he fell apart the whole thing — our lives — would fall apart also. At least that was the threat.  That was the fear.  That tsunami was constantly just off the coast for years.

Relationships with parents are difficult and complicated.  On the one hand we know how we are so like our parents in their dysfunction and we castigate ourselves for it.  There is a level of shame involved that must be overcome.

Forgiving your parents for being who they were. And forgiving ourselves for being so like them or for choosing not to be like them any longer which also somehow becomes a betrayal as well.

No Boundaries.

Linda went on to say, as she put in her book Half in Love, another dilemma of living with such parents is that there are no boundaries appropriately set up by the adult.  And so the child feels unsafe — life feels precarious all the time.  My father’s rage was so unpredictable.  Even while it was on some level expected, it came at unexpected times.  If you cannot count on or predict the bad, on some level you cannot believe in the affirmation and love.  I don’t know why.  You just can’t.

And yet I worshiped my father.  There I said it.  And it is true.  Just as others did, I did.

And that was also my betrayal.  I worshiped my father and came to unfairly loath my mother.  It’s twisted.  She suffered from his rages more than anyone.  She endured.  She protected us by holding that fragile matchstick house together all those years.  But I saw her as the betrayer of us after all those years.  Thinking somehow she should have left him.  And what would have become of us if she had walked out on him after one of his thousands of verbal beatings over the years?   All I know is now.  Now without him we are a fractured family.  We don’t know how to be with each other.  We are all alone in our lives together.

Parenting by free fall.

As a mother, after all these years I see how this way of growing up gave me “no map for how to be a mother”  as Linda Sexton put it so well yesterday in her interview.

I have struggled so much with the confusion of that reality.  At times, saying I should never have become a mother.  What was I thinking, thinking I could be a Mother?  Sure, I can do the driving, and wipe away tears, help with the homework (not math!) and in the classrooms.  My mother was a great homemaker. She cooked exceptionally well.  I’ve gotten than from her but kids can survive without it.  And she loved to garden as do i.  She was a terrible cleaner, as am I.  It is not that I cannot clean, I just do not.

But shouldn’t home be “a self-sustaining world unto itself.  And mothers world-makers?” as David Griffith says in his essay Homemaker about his mother.

The fact of the matter is that I feel about as able to be a parent as a Mime.

I copy other people.  I try to mimic Mothers that I admire.  But I am mute.  And a fake.   I continuously hit some strange, solid and impenetrable internal wall.  I cannot break through it to discover what it would mean to be a “normal” or “good” parent.  A good mother.  I have not found the answers in parenting books either.  They are not the answer.

It’s something deeper.  I don’t trust myself. And beyond that I do not even have words for it because I have never experienced it.  There are missing pieces of my soul, my experiences, my character and person.

How can I ever hope to be a healer?  Because that is one word I do have for motherhood.  

Mothers are meant to be healers.

I am left with the knowledge that my only hope is that The Healer will infuse me with the Spirit of God.  Then and only then, there and only there something good will come.  I have to trust in that.

I have to set all my hope in that.  Because left to my own devices there is only fear, insecurity, depression, addiction, rage, and broken hearts.  There is only an inability to love, to connect, to nurture, to receive, to cohabitate  — to be human. I am not being overly dramatic although it sounds so.  When all you knew was rage you are unable to be normal.

I wrote this poem i 2004 after my father died.  It felt like a betrayal  then, when the words came out of me they were as much of a shock to me as to others I think.  But now I see that they were s t e p s toward my own healing.

Good Dad.  Bad Dad.

I shed no tears today
for the warrior who has fallen.
Taken down by Cancer’s sword.
My heart is full of memories,
good and bad.

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Constant worry.
Constant change.
Who could have foreseen
the Cancer overtaking his mind;
that became my liberation
in five short months.

The danger –
of loving too much;
needing tenderness,
and all the things Daddy’s are supposed to be.

PAIN. FEAR.
Emotions jangling around inside me
like some kind of white noise;
pushing their way into my conscious thoughts.
Invaders, threatening to undo
the weak hold I’ve found on The Good Life.
So many memories
good and bad,
bad and good.

Who was he? Why was he MY dad?
MY tormentor.
MY warrior;
Finally broken,
beaten by the Cancer
that was to become my friend.

Betrayal, these thoughts which plague me.
Broken; the unspoken promise
to keep our secrets to the end.
How do I remember?
How do I stay true and honest,
when the Truth causes an ache
too strong to feel,
to face,
to bear.

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Who was he in the end?
A Demon? A Saint?
Now simply a Muse?
Remembered, but no longer feared?
Thought of in furtive,
anxious moments?

Good Dad. Bad Dad.
Who is he to me now?
A man driven to despair
Living a chaotic, frantic life.

Not the Good Life I choose,
Not the legacy I will repeat.

Good Girl. Bad Girl.
Who will I listen to?
Who will I believe?
I am the woman I choose to become
today, tomorrow.
These are the Good Days
that I can change.
Yesterday is dead.
Burned in the funeral pyre.
Vapors.
Mist.
Dust settling around me.

Good Girl. Bad Girl.

Good.

Bad.

Good.

I certainly don’t know what it means to be a Mother.  A Daughter.  A Sister.  A Wife.  A Friend.

I

just

don’t

know.

But I can only take this life one day at a time and hope in God.

None of us can rewrite our history.  Nor should we try.  It makes us who we are today.  And for me, it makes me strong enough to write tomorrow.

Do you have Soul Wounds?

Five wounds of Christ
Image by Nick in exsilio via Flickr

It is a beautiful thought, my children, that we have a sacrament that heals the wounds of our souls! – Saint John Vianney

Do you  have soul wounds?

For me this depends on day-to-day realities.  It is a discipline (see Nouwen on discipline below) not to allow things like bitterness, anger, envy, or conceit to enter in, quickly overtaking what I know to be true and beautiful.  A harsh rude word is spoken or written.  I resent another’s success. Or my day-to-day life practices add up to selfish spending  or no time for others, which bring an inability to be generous with either.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Choices, choices, choices.  Choices discipline us and bring order in and of themselves.  Knowing Christ also did that for me.  Knowing that I am the one he loved enough to die for —  that his body was broken, the nails cut into his hands and feet as he slowly strangled, gasping for air.  All that was for me.  For you.

And more than the human part of that death — which was physically painful and devastating — he cried out to God, his father, to rescue him from my sin!

And then, all the petty and selfish choices I make day-to-day feel even more petty, selfish, and sickening.

But wait.  The pure beauty of the sacrament is the washing away.

The cleansing of our heart, soul and mind that had been corrupted by the entangling of day-to-day.

Henri Nouwen said this:

“When God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, the uncreated and the created, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human became united. This unity meant that all that is mortal now points to the immortal, all that is finite now points to the infinite. In and through Jesus all creation has become like a splendid veil, through which the face of God is revealed to us. This is called the sacramental quality of the created order. All that is is sacred because all that is speaks of God’s redeeming love. Seas and winds, mountains and trees, sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals and people have become sacred windows offering us glimpses of God.”

If truly understood, this is a profound, life changing truth. If you are feeling wounded. If you inflicted those bloody wounds on your own soul, remember.  He took on flesh pain and soul pain for you.  He took on our sin and we are now joined to him.

And now our lives point others to the immortal, through the confession of our sin and the washing away. Through the cleansing Jesus offers.

Tell him where your soul is wounded.  Let him take it from you today.

Amen.

________________________________________

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.


Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.
These reflections are taken from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey.

Envy

I cannot believe how insidious envy is.  As we are in a time of learning about the power of our possessions in our life this is particularly clear to us, to me.  We are learning what’s most important and who our money ultimately serves.

As you list out how you spend it is startling to see your priorities.  Sad. Even embarrassing at times.  Self serving  much?

Okay not always.  There are admittedly many good things that our money is applied toward — ongoing, frequent requests at church to help those with less, extra scholarship money for public school field trips for the kids that can’t afford, the bonus $5 at the grocery store for whatever cause they are raising money for or the extra bag of food for the shelters.  Public Radio.  Our church.  World Vision child.  Compassion International child.  There are lots of ways to give in our culture and it feels pretty good.

But still.  I envy.

Envy is something innocuous.  Invisible.  Like a vapor.  Of the heart.  And the mind.  Originating in the soul.

I read an email vacation message yesterday that said:  “Someplace warmer.”  Envy.  I am not there, that someplace warmer.

“Beautiful jacket” I tell my friend.  Envy.  Mine is from St. Vincent’s is already pilling.  And it is not even close to being “this season.”

Vacations.  Nicer cars.  Newer stuff.  Season tickets to whatever.

Things.  Activities.

Envy. Envy. Envy.

It’s a constant pull. And, possibly because we’re older and are beginning to make wiser choices apparently so they tell us, our children “suffer” for our wisdom.

We put 15% of our budget into retirement.  We haven’t been on a vacation with our kids for three years (since we stopped using our credit cards frankly.)  We limit Christmas presents and birthday presents.  We no longer (I no longer) shop for entertainment.  We haven’t bought furniture in years, though ours is “trashed” by our cats and kids.  I have a nice car (Tom’s belongs to work) and still, I look at the car I wanted, seeing it everywhere, wishing I had the sun roof, leather seats, V6 engine, and a GPS.  Yes, two years after I bought my beautiful almost new Honda Accord I still wish I had upgraded it to to have those features. Will I ever be content?  That is envy.  That is it right there in its ugliness.

The insidious cancer of the discontented my pastor called it.

And yet, reading in 1 Corinthians 13 in the New Testament this morning it says (the Mel paraphrase):

Won’t you just do love, it is what is most important.  Those “spiritual” things that you act like are so important  — they’re not.  Devoid of love, they are nothing.

Even more important than faith and hope, love is what I want you to do.  Because to love the people in your life is to be patient and kind in your responses to them.  Not irritable.  If you are loving you are glad when truth wins, whatever that might be.  Love never gives up or loses faith.  It is always full of hope, and can endure every circumstance.

Love is not JEALOUS. It doesn’t boast.  Don’t worry about what others think of you or about what makes you look good!

It is the opposite of self-glorification.  It is humble.   Love does not demand its own way rudely.   Love does not keep a record (even in your head) of being wronged.  Love is not happy at injustice.

Love is your highest goal.

Not all that stuff?  No.  I haven’t achieved that.  Thankfully Jesus also said in 2 Corinthians 12:9

“My grace** is enough.  My power perfected when you admit you are weak.”

Thankfully I don’t actually do.   He does it in me. And he is perfecting me more every day as I wake up to his priorities.  His focus.  His purpose for us all.

———-

** If you don’t know what GRACE is, you should look it up.  It’s pretty amazing.  And it is what Jesus gave us as a gift.

A Poem: I Never Knew Love

 

I never knew
that love would be so good.

Our beautiful chaotic life
of music, creativity and ideas. Of
trust, values, and goodness.
Of dreams.

I’ve learned
what it means to give up yourself, yes die
to self. That’s love
to me.

Often the world says
otherwise. But they don’t have
this beautiful chaotic life
we share.

I thought we had to fight,

and disagree
more than not. I imagined
we would be in constant friction.
Because the house that raised me
burned to the ground.

But I learned
the way to live is to give. Then
you get it all back without even realizing you are loved.

My dear, you are, everything.
And from you I have learned
to live.

What Kind of Mother is She?

taken at the dane county fair

It occurs to me that I don’t write much about being a mother.  The reasons are simple.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  I use my instincts.  But I have no exact answers.  It took me years to accept that my mom and dad “did their best.”  They didn’t purposefully f*ck with me.  And now, I take all that and do the same. I do my best.  And I think that has to be enough. I will look back, when my children are gone, and know that I did my best with what I had.  No matter the outcome.

interruptions & change

My daughter just woke up, her face is red and puffy from sleep.  She’s regaling me with a play-by-play of a book she finished late last night.  She is going on, and on, and on! Step-by-integral-step of the harrowing story of a boy who escapes an earthquake.  I don’t care, but — it’ is important that I listen.  All I want to do in this moment is sip my first cup of coffee of the day and write.  But I listen.  Nodding and “Um humming” at what I hope are the right moments.  I am listening.  Sort of.  I am also distracted and hoping she doesn’t notice.  Ironically, in this moment being her mom means listening to her.

That pull of my desires against the desires of my children is one of the most complicated things about being a mother.  The choices we make, day by day, hour by hour.  We’ve all felt that tension.

Children are always “interrupting” all the other things I’m doing.  But when one comes running up the stairs in tears because they got walloped in the eye playing Wii they still run for the comforting kiss right on the spot, my ‘magic’ kiss still has power to heal.   (Mothers have magic kisses if you didn’t know.)   The day they stop wanting those kisses will mean they have moved on to the next stage of their development.  I have four very different kids so that day will be different for each of them.  I cannot prescribe it.  But I won’t stop until they push me away.

They grow.  I grow.  We keep adapting, all of us.  The whole family continues to change.

Tom declared on Wednesday that he thinks the kids are too old to sleep in our bed.  This has been a  long time in coming.  It’s really the nine-year old that likes to go to sleep in my bed.  Being a musician Tom is often up late in his studio, perhaps five nights a week.  I get up at 5 am so I go to bed when the kids do.  I savor those few minutes of reading myself to sleep.  J just likes to be with me and so we’ve developed a habit (some might say an unhealthy one, to which I say rubbish!)  of letting him “warm up” Tom’s spot by falling asleep there.  I like the companionship.

Is this a bad habit?  I don’t know whether I’ve let it go on for so long for myself or for J.  Is he too old?  Parenting is full of lots of conflicting ideas.  And when Tom says J is too old to do it anymore, I really think Tom feels too old to do the required transporting back to the boy’s room, up the ladder and back into his own bed.  And then we also have to deal with the other two who are jealous of this time.  It then becomes something “special” for which they are compelled to compete for Mom.  I’m sure plenty of expert mothers would want to tell me all the ways this is harmful.  I don’t know. Mostly, I don’t care.  But I respect Tom’s wish to fall into bed at one in the morning and not have to move a near comatose child.  So we changed.  And I must learn to go to bed alone.  And so does J.  It’s hard to grow up no matter your age.

unconditional love

I have had moments over the last seventeen years of asking myself what were you thinking becoming a parent?  I write about how I was raised and what that did to me knowing that based on what I experienced I am not qualified. I realized the other day that I don’t know what it feels like to believe you are loved unconditionally by your parents.  If that’s true, and it is, then how do I possibly convey unconditional love to my kids?  Can I?  I believe in it intellectually and even on a spiritual level.  But I don’t get it.  Tom shows it to me – for sure.  So I wrestle with what he does that helps me believe him?  And to this day, my internal voice is pure disbelief.  You surely cannot love without conditions, without criticism, without expectation, without a grumpy disapproval, without your own insecurity pushing you to love  … If you haven’t experienced it.  Then how do I know my kids are feeling it from me?

I think unconditional love is the most important quality a parent should have.  Then you can push, and you can encourage, and even disapprove.  They will know they are okay. Somehow Tom’s parents managed to show him that kind of love.  These are the things that I think make me unqualified to be a parent.

learn from others & trust your gut

Some days I think I’m just a reactionary.  I react to how I was parented.  I react to things my kids are doing.  I react to books.  I react to teachers.  I react to the culture.  I am not very good at deciding a good way of doing something and sticking with it — mostly because I don’t think there is a right way.  I really needed about five years of study on parenting before I even got started.  And that’s an absurd impossibility.  Who has the time?   So we learn as we go.

I became a mother the day we married in 1993, a year before I was a footloose single woman planning on heading to the mission field.  I didn’t think about kids.  They simply weren’t.  They didn’t exist in my worldview.   Falling in love with Tom, hard and fast meant learning to love his four and a half year old daughter.  And when we married I became an instant mother – the “extra” mom to a five-year old daughter.  Extra or Other — whatever you get called, being a step-mom was a crash course in parenting.  And like nothing I had experienced before in my life, it brought out my insecurities and need for control!  Wow!   Perhaps some day, perhaps, I will write about the years that I worked in full-time ministry while parenting a step child and having three biological kids.  I’ll call it “How I was an Ugly, Paranoid, Controlling Step-Monster.” My daughter M graciously loves me still and has forgiven me for those years.  When she moved back in recently, at 22, I realized God is gracious and gave  me a do-over.

Here’s the thing.  I believe kids just want to be loved and kids are the most forgiving of all people.  All they know is you. You are their parent.  Okay, later they will figure some things out.  Like perhaps you didn’t know anything.  That’s the risk.  That’s the fun!  And then when they become a parent, well, perhaps you won’t look quite so crazy.

Luckily we have twenty years with our kids and have time to make adjustments.

I have learned is that there are no rules.  Rules in parenting is crap. The best guide for me has been my gut.  My gut has never failed me.  My gut disagrees or sometimes agrees with parenting books.  My gut disagrees or sometimes agrees with other parents giving advice.  My gut disagrees or agrees with pediatricians, teachers, supposed experts.  If you follow your gut, your intuition, I believe you’ll be okay, eventually.

For many years I doubted my gut and my voice because I doubted myself.  My own insecurities played into who I listened to and what I believed.  I’d boomerang from one theory to another intellectually.  But in practice usually my inner voice said do this or don’t do that.  We make mistakes.  We are unusually lax in response to having strict parents or vice versa.

asian vs. any other parenting

I have not read Amy Chua’s book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother mostly because there’s a lot about the stereotypical Asian parenting style that I respect, but I know I don’t have the will power to follow through on.  So it would just make me feel bad and I am really not in to feeling bad about myself right now.  So I’ve ignored the articles, reactions and furor.

Frankly many modern parents are far too lax with their children, but I have seen this with every kind of parent  from many different cultures. I know that I could and perhaps should push my children harder.  I mean, now I wish I had been pushed academically.  In hind sight, I was a slacker, intelligent but insecure and I would have benefited from my parents lovingly pushing me just a bit more (or a lot more!)  On the other hand, I felt I never measured up to what my dad expected of me.  I lived in that limbo of that craziness.   His insecurities drove him and we were a reflection of him.  We were a mirror of his success or not.  This is a very Asian characteristic I have been told by one of my friends who is also Asian.

And so I push my intelligent but lazy daughter, but not too much I hope.  I consistently fight the internal shame that says I don’t expect enough of her and I am the thing standing between her and Harvard or Yale Law school.  Me.  And then the countering voice reminds me what I really believe.  That she needs to find the balance herself.  Know that she’s loved no matter what she chooses but also know that more opportunities will be open to her if she applies herself academically and learns to work hard.   I want each of my children to be able to ask the question what they want?  Then help them to see what they have to be willing to do, in order to get it.  By empowering my daughters especially in those moments they learn their own power.  It is a choice.  I hope I am right.  My gut tells me I am.  In the end that’s all I have.  My boys are different, completely and my approach is also different but instilling in them a sense that they control their future is important.

I have a Japanese friend and I love how she parents.  She is an incredible mother and I learn from her every time we get together.  “When I am cleaning my children are cleaning“, she tells me.  Wha?  I am so not there! To be honest my kids emulate Tom and I who hate to clean. Do I want to be more like my friend?  Hell yes!  I guess what I am saying is that there is something to be learned from a culture that promotes hard work, excellence, pride and discipline. I admire it.  I want those to be things my children learn from me.  But no, my ten year old does not know how to clean the toilet.   I find that reflexively parent like I was parented — growing up cleaning is a pain!  To be avoided or to be endured, …  If I want to change this little legacy in my family it will take effort and discipline. I don’t know if I want to make the effort.  I don’t know if I have the discipline.  Which is where I started above.  I find a lot of things are great ideas but practically speaking I am unable to maintain them.  We all have to know ourselves.

what’s your highest calling?

This morning I read something that startled me but I agree with it:

“… parenting is not our highest calling! Faithfully serving & following after Christ is our highest calling!  —  SortaCrunchy

We are going to make mistakes, perhaps even a lot of them.  You’ll compare yourself to others and wonder if perhaps their way is better.  But in the end you have to look at your kids, unique individuals that they are as well as look at yourself and your partner/spouse who are also unique people, and do your best.

Parenting is its own religion, and engenders its own faith. Debating it serves no purpose other than inciting holy war.  –@kmaezenmiller

Our calling is to follow Christ.  Behave as he did.  Emulate him.  Do our best.  And if I can let go of all of the above and relax, well then there’s hope for us all.  It’s not simple nor would I ever want to imply that.  But there is a level of trust you must have in yourself, in the person you partner with to parent and in God.

MH

——————————————————-

This is what got me thinking this morning.  http://rachelheldevans.com/moms-scare-me