What I Think About Today

There’s so many good posts out there today. There’s a lot of meaningful writing, hilarious videos, and there’s even some movies out there about Mother’s Day. But I want you to know what I think about on Mother’s Day. Perhaps it will resonate with others of you moms out there who loved your mom but she’s gone. And you can’t rest in her soft hug today. Or smell her. Or be annoyed by her. Or get advice from her. Or get her to hem your pants by asking really nicely. Not anymore.

Truth be told, I don’t love this holiday. But it is holy. Flowers, cheesy songs at church, and well meant greetings just remind me that my mom’s gone.

And yet, here’s these four daughters wanting me to feel special. They know I’m sad today and I love them more because of it. I know some look at people like me and just wonder what I am thinking on this day.

So here’s what I’m thinking…

About her.

Her hair. Her smell. Her hugs.

Her voice. Her hands. Her legacy.

Her quirks and annoying habits. The way she said my name. Nobody says it like that.

Fighting with her moments of hate and moments of love.

Laughing with her. Feeling the weight in her face when I held my first baby.

Watching her live and watching her die…

About each of the days I became a mother. How magical and painful those days were…each of those births created a new me….

About the baby I lost…

Being real with each of the girls….

What they need from me, each uniquely.

What they don’t need from me…

How they have helped me mother….

How we change each other…and the gift that is for me.

Also what they have forced me to face…in letting go of myself and keeping it all the same.

And as I watch their hands grow….

Hug them…

Smell them….

Laugh with them…

We live.

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She would…

 

She would have been proud of us…for growth, change, accomplishments, pain…while she also worried if we were okay.

She would smile big at that new driver’s license, Anna.

Her chin would raise in support for that first golf tournament, Maile.

Her blue eyes would sparkle at how tall you are, Lydia,and she would comment on how straight your teeth are.

Her thin hand would run over your shiny, blonde hair, Claire as she pulled you into her soft hug showing her love for you the youngest.

She would widen her eyes and open her pretty mouth in wonder at how all four of you race in on your horses and ride hard to win. 

She would be glad I’m not as thin as I used to be while she clucked her tongue at the training for the marathon….shaking her head…”too much.”

Her other thin hand would rest on your shoulder Matt and rest there in the joy and the pain of the switch in sails.

She would delight in all the new great-grands born lately.

She would laugh hard at the silly family pictures we take.

She would look around at her large family and sign happily, proudly…and hope all in one breath that we are all really okay.

The Story of Place Part 2

 

The chapel was small, and there were some people in the middle aisle. We sat on the right with only two people in front of us. Sitting there quietly, I watched every person curiously. One man came was friendly and came to shake our hands, and then the service began. The pastor was an African-American woman, and she led everything. There was one pianist.

The pastor read the obituary, and then she invited friends and family to give testimony of Karen’s life. A friend went up first. She was open, smiling, sincere, and she knew a lot about this place. She met Karen through AA. They had just started volunteering at the Salvation Army together. She was sad for Karen to say goodbye. But Karen knew Jesus, her friend said, she knew Jesus, and she is with Jesus now. She smiled and returned to her seat.

The man that had greeted us went up next. He had known Karen through AA also for a long time. He said she was his friend. He said he loved her. And he said she was so frustrating at times. He knew her too well and he could always tell when she was using again. He said it was hard to be with her sometimes. He said, “But she was clean and sober the last three years. She was clean and sober when she died and that was a victory. And she loved God…like a child. And she was with God now; and her struggle is over. ” He sighed in relief and sat down.

I felt heavy. Most of the places Karen had been were places I had never been to until now. Hard places of addiction, places of sorrow, places of depression, poverty, and illness. What a gift she gave me to not be in those places with her.

A cousin went up to talk about Karen. She was trying her hardest to be positive. The strengths she found to speak of came with details behind them of how much Karen must have hurt her family…the family she came from. They all looked nice enough. It was all weighted. Every word.

My head spun around my whole life to try to see hers. She was my flesh. She is gone. I had already said goodbye to my adopted mother with the sorrow and pain of a child and I miss her so very dearly every day even now. But, now. I was saying goodbye to the one who bore me into this place.

My heart was heavy, but there on that pew, nothing was hanging out there for me anymore. I felt myself open-wide. Open. I knew it all. I knew she was too young to have me. I knew there was something broken in her life. I knew the rest of her adulthood was filled with addiction and pain with some points of light. I knew she was probably using when she was writing me letters. I knew she had somehow made peace, made friends, and made this place her church. I knew that her story and my story and our places were coming full circle in this moment to find redemption in the bigger story of God in us.

After the last prayer, the man who spoke of Karen in the service came straight to me. He knew me.  He held my hand and said, “I know it must have been a very hard decision to come here, but I’m so glad you are here today in this place.” I smiled and squeezed his hand. “Me, too.”  I was welcomed into the reception warmly. I spent the next hour meeting people who knew about me and those who didn’t. All of them were delighted to talk with me, curious, kind. It was like a big exhale for all of us. As my dad and I stood in front of my car to say goodbye, we just looked thoughtfully at each other, satisfied. “I’m so glad you came with me,” I said.

“Thank you for letting me be part of this with you,” he said, emotional. I couldn’t say much more. I needed him that day. I needed him that day in 1975 also. Thanks, Dad.

This story is one I have never told. I’m not sure why. I guess I wasn’t ready until now…until this place. I tell it to you now to remind you of all of the stories, all of the places that have never been told. I tell it to you now to remind you of all the stories, of all the places you have never been yet. I tell it to you now to remind you of our place in God’s story of redemption…..messy, circling, love, openness and sacrifice.

And so we find that God uses place to open us wide. Or we must open to the place we are in or the place God is sending us….for

St. John of Chrysostom said “It is not enough to leave Egypt. One must also enter the Promised Land.”

I’m not in the place you are in. God is. That’s what I do know. Being open to seeing value in the place you are in suddenly opens up places within you that you knew nothing about!

You might have seen hints…you might have smelled them or glimpsed them through some crack. You were searching for this place all along, praying, writing, grasping. You lit some candles. You’ve been on your knees and nothing happened. But then it did perhaps in a place you would have never imagined. Opportunity knocks right here. Light comes in, into all these places within you that you never knew and then you knew. After all, perspective is about the lighting, right?

Your places are there for the seeking. You might be surprised where you find brokenness, redemption, true love, and sacrifice. Don’t be afraid. There might be some fear, maybe the whole thing is closed up by fear. Be afraid and remember that perfect love drives out fear. You’ll be okay. Perfect love is the place, the whole story. So, crack it open, that place you’re in.

Eph. 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

For this place’s sake, don’t miss it.

My Lord God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road, though we may know nothing about it. Therefore we will trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face my perils alone.

—Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

The Story of Place Part 1

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a
place that he was to receive as an
inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going
.” Hebrews 11:8 NRSV
There is a story of place within all of us, did you know? It is rich with detail. You’re thinkingyours might be boring. Maybe it is. However, in that boring story there is detail and meaningand reason and mystery…you just have to zoom in a little.
Too often we are afraid to experience a life that has an interesting story…listen to the Psalmist:
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help
14
rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.
16
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17
Do not hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress
make haste to answer me. Psalm 69:13-17
We are always searching for security, safety, comfort. We must know in the deep that our
individual stories of place belong in a much bigger story.
God’s story.
It’s who we are as human beings. Did you know my story? I have written several parts
of it in a book, on a blog, and in journals. Ugh, my journals. They sound a lot like that Psalm I just read. I hate reading my journals.
But, there’s more to my story. ..more I haven’t written, or told. Just like there’s more to the Psalmist’s whining and there’s more to Abraham’s story than he hadan inheritance and he set out for some place. There’s more to the friend’s story you are
sitting by now and it is far from uninteresting.
I was born in April 1975. But there are no photos of me that day. It was three days later that
I would meet the family who raised me.I always wonder what Karen’s day was like on that day?
Karen was my birthmother. My parents were older than her.They had 5 other children.
And some kind social worker brought me to their home on that day and I was welcomed into their happy home and given my place as the youngest child. I had a happy childhood, and there were no differences between me and my siblings. I knew I was adopted, and my mom and dad would patiently answer my questions when they would come up.
I thought of Karen some growing up; did I look like her? Was she nice? Was she pretty? where was she now. My parents told me God chose me to be in their family which made me very special. When asked, they gave simple, limited information. Yes, she was very young. She wasn’t able to care for you. She had problems. They didn’t elaborate.
It was the 70’s after all, and this was a closed adoption. No one relished in dramatic details of sad stories. Our home was a very happy place with lots of love and affection and laughter.
I grew up happy in my family. A few years after getting married, Matt and I were considering starting our family. I decided to try and find out information about my health history. I was able to get some bits and pieces, but then I decided to try to connect with Karen. My folks were okay with it, but they weren’t pleased. It didn’t take long because Karen was trying to connect with me. We sent pictures and wrote letters. Real letters. Remember the 90’s when we all actually wrote letters.
She told me it had been a long hard life for her and she had been in a place of addiction for a long time. She assured me that she was clean now and steady with a job
and a church. We talked on the phone a few times. Then she became upset because I wasn’t ready to meet her in person. I felt cautious. I was a social worker now, and I wasn’t naive about this situation. Karen began to say strange and demanding things. I realized that I was bringing up things I couldn’t understanding in a place I wasn’t part of. Finally, she told me she didn’t want to have contact with me anymore unless I met her. I wasn’t ready for this especially with her strange behavior. So, that was it. We didn’t have contact anymore.
Life moved on, and we started our family with one daughter and then we had two. We movedto Indonesia to do mission work and in 2003, and in 2008 we transitioned to back to South Texas. My mother Maureen died of Leukemia in 2012, and I was glad to be with her through the very end of her life. (Btw, Mother’s Day is no picnic for those who have lost their moms.)
I did think of Karen in different moments while living and travelling in different places. I was content to pray for her from afar. I hoped she was well and still in a good place…a place of wholeness.
This past summer, I received a letter from a lady named Theresa and onthe same day a
Facebook message from a lady named Leslie. Both said the same thing. Karen was gone. She had been very sick, and she had died at home. She had gone to a better place. I was in shock. I read the letter and the message over and over again. Both people who had reached out to me were professional and courteous. Both of them knew they had to tell me. They told me of the funeral, and I held the information close for a few days.
Finally, I picked up the phone and called my dad. I told him. I also told him I wanted to go to the funeral. He was quiet; then he asked if he could come with me.I was so glad.
That Saturday morning, I woke up early and I drove 5 hours to get to the funeral and my dad was waiting for me in an old inner city church parking lot. I jumped out of my car and gave him a solid hug glad he was there with me. He held me tight. I hopped in his car, and we drove down to a Subway. It was surreal in that booth chatting with him about the girls and his morning at the car race track. All at once our food was gone, and he was asking me if I was ready. I said yes, very sure albeit nervous.
To be continued…

Slowing Down the Day

Do you ever hear your breath? In and out? Softly? Labored? Quiet. You have to slow down the day to hear it. I remember listening to my babies breathe as they slept in my arms. It slows down the day. I almost blogged the other day on how I should be blogging. I’ve had some things to say to you, but there hasn’t been time. Today, though. I slowed down. It’s a day of remembrance, see. And on those days, you must slow down. Three years ago this morning, my mother left us. She went to the safest place as brave as anyone, and now she is dancing around laughing with Jesus. I dreamed of her once a year or so ago doing this dancing. I think I wrote about it. Oh, here it is:

I saw her last night. She was with You. There was a meadow or a field or something. It was a green place…full of life.

She had on her boots. The ones she gave Maile. She was wearing her cowgirl outfit. You know the one she sewed herself with the material that she put on layaway at Leonard’s Department Store in Fort Worth? Yes, that’s the one.

You were sitting in a random chair at the top of the hill. She was dancing. She was so young. I just stood there and watched her beauty shine. I never saw her like this. She always looked like my mom. It was how I saw her.

She was skipping.

You were smiling at her. And then You smiled at me. Then she saw me.

I waved. Her smile brightened and she laughed. She laughed that loud, cackle laugh that I heard even in her hospice room. It was a lovely sound.

The trees swayed. She twirled around in her freedom. You were constant joy… just there.

I came closer and knelt. I put my head in Your lap. Your hand covered my head. Her hand pressed my shoulder. I heard her voice.

And I woke.

Thank you, Jesus…for this dream.

Anyways, she was lovely and she always was. I miss her. I always will. So, I slowed down. We didn’t do anything fancy. There are tickets everywhere for our school Fall Festival, and after church we all just sat and counted and sat and bagged tickets. Oh, and we watch half of the first season of Survivor. The girls had never seen that show. It was fun and slow and we ate popcorn. And we sang together in church loudly. And my heart squeezed in my tight chest while a daughter on each side of me played with my hands, my ring, my veins just as I would do with her. Her veiny hands were so cool to me and I held them in church and I moved her veins around and marveled at my thick child skin. Her hands were pretty and small and dainty. And I remember with a deep breath in holding her hand up to my cheek after she had passed and remarking, “She’s still so very warm.” to my siblings. My sister grabbed the other hand and nodded. My brother winced a little ready, kinda, to move forward, sort of. And then they came and took her body away, and we watched. And then we hugged each other wearily and left to go home. It was a slow day, a loud day, and I could hear my breathing.

And I remember her hand on my chest as a child having an asthma attack. Warm, comfort, light. Checking to make sure. Willing my breathing easier. And when any of us couldn’t sleep, she would gently play with our ears and it would work, oh wow, we would sleep. Her hands cooked begrudgingly with duty and sewed delightfully with grace.

And here these girls are, holding my hands, and playing with my veins, and I’m still here and breathing. My breath exhales in gratitude for the slow day, and maybe I’m not dancing, but I’m smiling. And I’m remembering. And I’m still loving. Thanks be to God.

What I Need to Write

1. Memories…and not just in the corners of my mind…not that my mind has corners…my head is round, isn’t yours?
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2. Good memories that might be happy and sad all at the same time. Happy Birthday Mama!
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3. Inspiration and wishes. This was her last birthday with us. Hope she is celebrating today. We are. So glad she was born.
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4. A good candle.

5. A cup of tea, of course. Perhaps a biscuit. But there aren’t any account of our healthy eating right now.

6. A sense of adventure.
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7. Support.
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