Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

May12, 2013

         I'm sitting in my dark, quiet living room enjoying a cup of coffee that is mostly flavored creamer. In just a short while, I'll drive 20 miles across town to pick up my children so we can spend Mother's Day together. I've got some fun activities planned, and my camera ready, and I'm sure it's gonna be a special day. 
          Before I absorb myself in being a Mother, however, I'd like to spend a few minutes explaining why this Mother's Day is so significant to me. I'd like to define what I'll be celebrating. 
          This ties in to the topic of my last post: honoring dreams. In that post, I mentioned that I had no idea what truly lies at the bottom of my lake. Something HUGE came to the surface a couple days ago, and if it's alright, I'd like to share it with you, and pay my respects.
            Several years ago, my first marriage shattered in a brutal, heartwrenching way. It had been dying for a long time, but it didn't go peacefully, and it's last moments were sheer agony. In the months that followed, I shoved much of my grief and hurt to the side, and concentrated on looking forward. My big focus was the three children that I left with my ex-husband, and the baby I was carrying inside me. My goal was simple: get on my feet and get stable enough to petition the judge for shared custody. I wanted to live in the same school district they are in so I could ask for a week with me, a week with their dad. 
            Over the last couple of years, this goal has been challenged at every turn. Financially, there have been multiple setbacks, and I've struggled deeply with the feeling that I've failed them. Yes, I'm in their lives. I'm close enough that they can come and stay with me for weekends, and I can make it to school programs and special events. But in my mind, it's not enough. I spent months convincing them that, just because I left their father I wasn't leaving them. They seem to have healed from that, but I just realized that I never did. 
              When the screen door slammed 3yrs and 2 weeks ago, more died than just my marriage. My identity as a mother died too. Not that I wasn't still their mom, but what that meant to me; how I defined myself and my role, that died. In the slam of a door, I went from being a full-time mom who was there to dry every tear, listen to every story, and schedule every dentist appointment, to being a "sometimes mom" who would pray fervently that her oldest daughter doesn't start her cycle until it's my weekend so I can support and guide her. 
               When my son was born, I worried that my other three would resent him for getting to be with me all the time. I have wobbled back and forth on a tightrope of guilt and sadness that I am not the mom to them that I'm "supposed to be", and confusion and self-loathing that when they are here, it's loud and messy and just plain exhausting to be the mother of four. I've berated myself time and again for loving the silence that settles over the car after I've dropped them back at their dads'. I've wondered what's wrong with me, that I get worn out after a weekend, when other moms, real moms can handle it 24-7.
                Jared's recent diagnosis of AIDS has added some new ingredients to the concoction. First, there is a tangible reason to be thankful that my custody dream hasn't come to fruition. See, if there is one person who can't EVER know about this, it's my ex. He will hit the stratosphere if he knows that his children are around someone with AIDS, and he won't come down. He will allow fear, rumors, and his own opinions to consume any shreds of common sense, and he will do everything in his power to take the kids away from me completely. There will come a time when Jared is feeling better and AIDS isn't center stage in our lives. But right now it is, and it would be impossible to keep it a secret from the kids if they were here day in and day out. 
               Then there's this. My three older kids didn't resent their new brother, in fact they adore him! Never has a little boy been so spoiled as when he has three older siblings fussing over who gets to play with him! It has been such a joy to watch them love on him. But because there is a significant age gap, and because they aren't here all the time, Jared and I wanted another one. I had a wonderful relationship with my siblings, and I want that for my baby too. Someone close enough in age to hide in forts with, share toys get the idea. 
                With the miracle of my negative HIV test, another dream died. The blood test that would confirm my immunity is thousands of dollars, and not covered by insurance. Jared and I are in awe at God's blessing of protection on me, but we are not willing to take risks. So here is something I have learned. Many times, when a woman experiences a miscarriage, or can't get pregnant, or the adoption doors slam shut, people don't understand the depth of her loss. When Mrs. Dugger recently lost her (18th) pregnancy, I heard comments like, "She's too old to be having kids anyway." "She already has too many." And you know what? Those comments made me mad! And I cried for her. Because if there is one thing I do understand, it's that mothers hold their babies in their hearts long before they hold them in their arms. There are physical miscarriages. Those are heart-wrenching. And there are emotional and spiritual miscarriages. And those are equally heart-wrenching.
                Although I believe this, I have struggled with how to grieve this baby-who-won't-be. And in the struggle, God showed me something. It's not enough to let that dream die. I also need to acknowledge the death of the Mother I thought I should be. The Mother I wanted to be. Who I was as a mother to my children died on the driveway the day I left. But instead of grieving those dreams and expectations, I have been lugging them around with me, day after day. As a new mamma tries to emerge, I hold her up to the ghost of the old one, and criticize her for being different. I look at the other mammas around me, and hang my head in shame that I'm not that kind of mamma anymore. I freely give grace and understanding to other women who get tired of noise and mess, but I won't give that grace to myself because my way of being a mamma is different than theirs, and in my tortured soul, that is the only good kind of mamma there is!
                 So. All this nasty stuff came floating to the surface last week. I listened to this song: and I cried. I finally cried because I'm not the mother I wanted to be. But in those tears came release. It's okay! God has this facet of my life in His hands as well. He knew how my decision to leave would impact the kids. He knew all of the doors that would close as I tried to make my life the way I thought it should be. He knew my heartache and anguish, and as I allowed myself to cry for that dead mamma, the guilt and the heaviness washed away.
            I replayed the song, and as it finished a second time, a peace that I thought I would never have settled over me. New mamma timidly lifted her head, and for the first time, I smiled at her through my tears. She is worthy. She is enough. She loves my children fiercely. She answers the phone when they want to tell her about their day at school, even if she was just about to watch X-files. She shows up at school conferences, arranges testing for a struggling kiddo, makes all the phone calls, and sees the process from beginning to end. She teaches them how to shave their armpits, buys them female supplies, and sings dumb songs with them even when her head hurts. Her job, any mamma's job, is not to dictate the path her children travel. It's to cheer them on, take their hands when they reach out for support, and show them how to see God in whatever they face. 
              So this Mother's Day, I am celebrating being a new mamma. I am wiping away a tear for the Mother I thought I would be, and I am laying her to rest. She's gone. And it's a little sad. She was a good mamma. But my children don't need a shame-filled woman who can't accept her unique contributions. And, my sweet, beautiful, friend, neither do yours.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Casualties of the Storm

May 9, 2013

            I'm going to ask you to stop and listen to a song for a moment. It's just a short little song, but the message is SO powerful. Here it is.

              Amazing, isn't it? Tell me you didn't cry. I had never seen the video that plays along with it, so I cried too. Especially...well, no, there was no especially. Every image was potent and represented something significant to me.
              This post has been sloshing around inside me for a long time now. I thought I was just putting it off so I didn't have to feel unpleasant, but I know better now. I wasn't ready to share my heart on this topic until I realized what is actually in my heart. Because what I knew was just the tip of the iceberg. There are things inside me that I had no idea were there. I had no idea
             When an intense storm hits an area, there are often casualties. People who didn't hear the warning. Or heard it and couldn't-or wouldn't-heed it. Sometimes people die saving someone else. These people are acknowledged as heroes, but their families, the people who loved them, are just casualties of the storm.
               Life storms produce casualties too, but unfortunately, for many reasons, these casualties often don't get the recognition and honor they deserve. I'm talking about hopes, dreams, and plans that get uprooted and swept away. Many times, we minimize their loss, especially--and please understand, I'm not picking on anyone here! But especially Christians, with their "count your blessings" mentality. We are led to believe that if we have something to be thankful for, we have no right to gripe about what we don't have. It's good to count your blessings. I do really believe in that. But I'm going to paint a picture for you of what can happen if we don't pay tribute to our lost dreams.
                This is a vision that God gave to me a few years ago. It's very vivid, so I apologize in advance for any stomachs I turn. Imagine a lake that looks calm and clear on the surface. If you want to totally get into this imagery thing, add some beautiful trees, plants, and maybe some mountains in the background. These represent the beauty in your life. The blessings. With me so far? Okay, good. Now.
               Imagine that somebody throws a bunch of dead bodies into that lake. Some are people, some are animals; all are newly dead. They hit the water with a splash and sink quickly out of sight. The ripples slosh against the shore for a minute and then everything settles into its peaceful state once again. There is no discernable difference. Not yet.
            As time goes by, however, those bodies begin to rot. Bits of decaying flesh drift throughout the water. Bacteria thrives, and before too long, the lake is contaminated. It may look the same on the surface, but drinking or even swimming in the water can make you deathly sick.
            The same principle applies to our souls. If broken dreams aren't brought to the surface, honored, and released, they decay inside of us and contaminate the essence of our spirit. In order for life and health to flow through us, we have to regularly "dredge the lake" and eliminate the longings, however small, that died an untimely death.
           So that is my wisdom for you today, my friend. Dredge your lake. Allow yourself to mourn. It may be a letter written to that child you never had, a song or a poem that puts words to your feelings. I have a sweet friend who planted a flower for each of her miscarried babies. I think I'm going to try making a scrapbook of images that represent the wishes and hopes that were taken from me. And one final note: performing this process will NOT detract from the beauty of the blessings around you. You can look up from your lake and still appreciate the trees, flowers, and mountains. I guess it's just one of those funny things about life, that pain and beauty can exist in the same breath, and we can smile through our tears.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Forty Days and Forty Nights

May 03, 2013

      Nearly everyone in the universe knows the Bible story of Noah's Ark. We're all familiar with the pictures of animals going up the wooden ramp two by two, or floating about on the water with giraffe heads sticking out the top. We discuss whether dinosaurs could have been on the Ark, and seriously, why were cockroaches allowed to board? If I were Mrs. Noah, I think I would have accidentally forgotten to watch where I stepped! 
         It isn't very pleasant to think about the people who didn't get their heavenly cruise tickets. but just imagine with me, for a moment, what it must have been like when the clouds rolled in and those first drops fell. See, up to that point, it had never rained! And Genesis says the skies "broke open"! What did they think? What did they say? Someone invented the first umbrella that day. Too bad they don't get any credit!
         Now let's switch scenes to the floating zoo. I can't even begin to fathom what those first couple days were like! The noise, for one thing! Did the animals wander around freely, or were they penned into stalls? Where did Mrs. Noah do her cooking? How did they keep the animals out of the people food supply? (There's that cockroach question again!) And who got the honor of "pooper scooper"? The chaos must have been overwhelming! At first.
         Eventually, however, things must have settled down. Some sort of routine developed, and the novelty began to wear off. After all, it rained for forty days and nights. And then they floated around for another year waiting for things to dry off. What did they talk about? What did they do? They didn't even have Monopoly or Full House reruns! Even in the midst of a mighty move of God, surely there were thoughts of, "Are we there yet?" and "When I get off this boat, the first thing I'm gonna do is..."
           We are in the forty days and nights stage. Since AIDS became a part of our life, there have been specialist visits, a hospitalization, applications, phone calls, interviews, and out-of-state company. Most of that has tapered off, and we are left trying to find the balance between pretending it all isn't there, and letting it consume us. And I have to confess, I'm feeling a little whiny. Is he gonna feel this way forever? Do you even know how long it's been since there's been any bedroom action? Am I destined to have my home decorating theme be "pharmacy"? I'm ready for it to stooopppp rraaiiinninngg!!!
                As weird as this sounds, I am proud of myself for feeling this way. I know, I need to explain! See, as long as I can remember, I've always worn rose-colored glasses to look at life. My mother used to say I was her PollyAnna baby. While this outlook is nice in theory, the yang to the ying is that I end up developing expectations. This is the way life should work. This is the way I should feel. And since life doesn't often take my opinion seriously (what's with that anyway?), I'm left with two choices: bitterness or denial. I've opted for denial, ignoring or minimizing unpleasant emotions. So recognizing and allowing them is kinda grown-up for me!
            I guess one lesson God wants me to learn right now is: Wherever you are, be there. Don't dance around the pain, or paste a plastic smile on your face. Find a way to acknowledge it all, and don't be afraid. It will pass. In fact, it WON'T pass unless you DO experience it! Respect your soul by listening to everything it has to say, and somehow, somewhere, find someone else who will listen. It's only by leaning into the wind that we weather the storm. I think that if we minimize pain, we are limiting God. Telling Him to use His "nice" voice. His "inside" voice. I never thought of it that way before, but it makes sense.
          I don't want to end this with some wise, superior words of advice. I just want to open my arms and heart to whoever is reading this and tell you that you are beautiful. Every part of you, even the parts with scars or open wounds. I see the beauty in you, and slowly, I will learn to see the beauty in myself.