This morning I awoke earlier than usual, which was okay because my Honey is feeling extra yucky and is playing guitar with our son, Aaron, this morning at our Central campus (church) at 7:00 a.m., so I was able to make him a nice cup of chai with coconut milk and a few drops of cinnamon oil. I’m especially thankful for insulated cups on chilly days like this, knowing it will stay warm for him and he can sip it throughout the morning.
After he was on his way, I began making the sausage and scrambled eggs for our South campus (church) band and production teams to go along with the crockpot oatmeal my Hannah started the night before. I delivered that and then headed home, fully committed to showering and attending a service at each campus in order to support everyone in my family.
It began to rain harder and the temps dropped about 15 degrees as I was drinking my own cup of chai, curled up in my new-to-me comfy chair, listening to a recently discovered podcast. I began to think about some of the relationship difficulties I’ve experienced recently and what/who I am thankful for and then I decided to stay home and spend some time with My Pappa and write. I am fully embracing the freedom in this, only struggling a smidge with the guilt of not supporting my family and playing hooky from church for no really “good” reason.
A few years ago I would’ve beat myself up for not setting a better example for my kids – and then I would’ve gone to church full of resentment, or I would’ve told my family what I was thinking about doing and someone or two would’ve tried to shame me or used it as an excuse to do the same. I know it sounds silly to say we’ve grown because now I can play hooky from church without the guilt I used to experience, but I am thankful for the growth my family has experienced in this way and for the lessened guilt that comes with that growth.
I’m thankful for a husband and children who work at seeing me, just as I am, with flaws, scars, ugliness and sin, through the eyes of Our Pappa. I’m more than grateful for the grace I’ve experienced as I’ve stepped out of my Stepford wife persona and revealed that I am more Eve than I allowed anyone to see for the greater portion of my adult life.
In recent years I have experienced great loss in my life, some of the people who have chosen to walk away are the ones who have given me life, known me all of my life or all of theirs. While I’ve developed a certain peace about this as I’ve turned it over to Pappa, again and again, I still have a day or two every once in a while when I give into the grief of my relationship casualties. I’ve never doubted, during these times, that Our Pappa is holding each of us and working everything out according to His will, so my sorrow isn’t a result of doubt or hopelessness, it is simply a lament of love and time lost.
There are times when it will sneak up on me and I don’t even realize where the melancholy comes from. When I first feel the tug of this, I usually shove it down and try to carry on, telling myself I am fine and I don’t have a good enough reason for this drama. That is when my Hannah almost always will ask me, “What’s wrong, Mama?” At first my mind will spit out, “Nothing. I’m okay.” Almost immediately after telling that lie, I will burst into tears and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t have any good reason. I am just so very sad.”
And the glorious beauty of my only daughter’s response is that, at no point, does she try to make it all better by minimizing my right to be sad, nor does she attempt to shame me by telling me how blessed I am and therefore not entitled to feel grief. She almost always says, “Well, that’s okay, Mama. Sometimes we just feel sad. No emotion is bad, Jesus gave all of them to us.” And then she’ll ask me what I need – offering to hold me or make me a cup of tea.
Can I explain to you what a truly lovely gift this is to my wounded little girl who grew up in a family of “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “Stop being so dramatic/emotional?” (*There is no judgement here, I fully understand my parents believed they were preparing me as best they could for the world). We live in a culture of positivity and pushing through. I think we are afraid if we let someone grieve too deeply, they may never come out of it. A lot of us spend those precious, rare moments when our grieving loved one is expressing their anguish, thinking of the most profound thing to say that will end their suffering and help them to move on – and make us feel a little bit heroic, as well as a lot more comfortable. Who in the world told us that this was loving?! Why is it so difficult to just listen with empathy and sit in pain with the person who just handed us their hearts with such beautiful vulnerability and trust?
I think this is our culture. I grew up seeing 30 minute shows that ended happily and miraculously resolved with someone wisely speaking into another’s situation and then everything was fixed perfectly, cue the upbeat theme song and roll credits. I don’t recall EVER watching a television show in which one character listened to another’s woes and then simply said, “I’m really sorry you’re going through this. What do you need from me in this moment?”
When I am given permission to sit in my agony, I find myself able to invite My Pappa in to my pain, move past my reactions, into my true emotions and finally I am able to face where the original trigger came from. This almost always results in an epiphanal moment that helps me to see why I over-reacted to a more recent event or why I was feeling such intense emotions internally that overwhelmed me or spoke extreme negativity into my heart. This is growth and it comes by way of pain and struggle. While, in the moment, it feels like a lot of work, discomfort and inconvenience, the rewards are healing, clarity and progression toward who He always meant for us to be.
I spent decades of my life being told, by myself and others, to push through, to stop feeling sorry for myself, to get over it. So, I tried, with everything I had I tried to follow this advice because I thought that’s what grown-ups did and I believed I was extra flawed and self-centered for sitting in the pain of offenses or expressing strong emotions. I did it all with a smile on my face, because that what I was taught a good woman does. And then I began to notice that too many of the women in the generation before me were miserable, and afflicted with illnesses that I believe were a result of all of the stuffing of emotions they had done most or all of their lives. They were largely unknown, even by their husbands, children and siblings. I began to realize I was blindly walking the same path with my children, my husband and my family of origin. All the while, my life was imploding. I was imploding. You can’t stuff sadness, anger and frustration for decades with a smile on your face and believe that it won’t find an outlet. There’s only so much room in there, after all. It festers inside and turns into cancer. It finds a crack in your smile to escape, seeping out as fierce contempt. It discovers a bitter hole in your integrity which justifies your manipulation of loved ones, which results in a loss of trust and more distance from the people you love and need most in the world. It is much more work, a constant discomfort and inconvenient in the worst of ways, but still, this is the path I chose to stay on for much of my life, believing it to be the more noble. This newer path began as much more work, and brought untold loss, but the freedom and reward in walking more in the identity My Pappa has for me far surpasses the struggles along the way. Continuing on the same path would’ve kept me in “relationship” with many who I’ve lost along the way, but those were relationships that had little or no depth and certainly no grace. I was not known, nor was I allowed to know them. The relationships I have been left with are more precious to me than I can put into words. They are deep and hard. They are lovely and challenging. They are safe and encouraging. They are, each one, a gift to me in my sojourn here.
In this coming year, I want to be a gift to others and their journeys. I want to listen without trying to fix. I want to lovingly hold space for others, without pushing for resolution. I want to try to focus on what is true before jumping to conclusions and choosing a reaction I will most assuredly regret. And while I strive to make these things a part of who I am becoming, I want to extend grace to myself, knowing I will stumble and trip along the way because growth is worthy, hard work, but the freedom and health that comes as a result of the struggle is SO much better than the alternative. I can’t live there anymore.