The Forgotten Ones

A year of reconfiguration. 

From when my world was blown open. 

And I’ve done most of my thinking in empty parking lots. 

Perhaps this year, your world was blown apart. Grief. Heartache. Depression. Anxiety. Anger. Addiction. Death. 

There’s a hole in your life, and it’s in the shape of your worst shame, your worst fears, your worst pain. And every good, joyful thing keeps slipping right on through the rend.

And now, it’s at Christmastime when perhaps you feel the most displaced.

You dream of home, but maybe you have never really had one. You dream of home, but maybe in yours there’s a gulf between you, and the ones you love. You dream of home, but the faces of the ones you long for have faded with the fires of time into nothing but ash.

You dream of home, but maybe it’s more that you’re wanting a place to belong, a place to rest, than a place to lay your head. You want a place to set down what ails you behind walls that feel safe. 

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It’s allegedly the most beautiful time of year. Meanwhile, you feel like a sojourner. Like you’re driving down rows of homes slowly and silently on snow covered streets. Headlights illuminating the pavement, your muddied reflection in the window. You’re outside looking in at the joy of families, of people.

And it’s worse than realizing that you don’t have what they have. You’re beyond feeling the ache to have what they have. You feel like maybe, it was never for you. You want a plug for the shame-shaped hole in your life, and it can’t be filled.

You felt forgotten this year.

Others were allowed to carry on, while you just carried pain.

You’ve worn the mantle of hardship this year, and you’ve really just wanted a place to set it down. Maybe it’s been longer than this year that you’ve been carrying the luggage for loneliness. 

You’re in a place where pain feels like the primary nerve, and you forgot what it feels like to belong so much that when your heart beats in your chest, it’s actually thudding hard against hope, and with the reality that you were made for more than this. 

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We think our pain sets us aside and ostracizes us. That it casts us out, like a vagrant flung out into the night to skid across the sidewalk beneath streetlights where no one sees them. That we have to carry our anguish alone. That it discards us.

This is the lie of pain that I have become versed in on dozens of starry nights, in empty parking lots while groceries melted in the backseat, and the streetlights were the only ones who knew.

In the place where I finally breathed. Where I exhaled. Alone. I let it out. My anguish. Where it couldn’t hurt anyone. In between running errands so that I didn’t have to stop. Where I didn’t need to bother anyone. Where no one might miss me for an hour.

This was and is the wall I built tediously. Encased inside the mistruths of pain and grief and hurt and anger. The belief that the only one who should have the burden of what hurts me is…me.

After many days of feeling forgotten and discarded. Like my pain was a hot potato for others that they didn’t want to end up stuck holding. Hardly anyone wants to talk about it. Who could have even said what I needed to hear?

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The lies of pain. The ghosts of failures past that tells you it won’t ever be the same. That it might not even be worth it anymore. That tells you that you are a ship lost as sea, already forgotten and mourned before you’ve even sunk.

It took many internal dialogs with myself and with God while the radio crackled for me to see. To see how many things…never really belonged to me in the first place. That I wasn’t just grieving something lost, I was really grieving what I really am: my humanity. And grieving the reality that I controlled nothing.

I was grieving that thing that left a hole in me, wondering why God wouldn’t just patch it for me. When the truth is that we are actually the patches that belong in HIS tapestry, and have been all along. He doesn’t fill our holes, He makes us a part of his woven glory for all of the tomorrow’s. And each imperfect square tells a story of how He has hemmed us in.

It took me a while to realize that my pain doesn’t shut me out. It is my pain that actually gives me a seat at the table, and a portion beyond words.

Especially at Christmas.

We forget that Christmas was really about saving. About the frailty of humanity. About needing something to fill us and plug our holes.

The peel of the bells pierce through the dark of the night telling all to come close.

A star in the empty skies that shone forth the way.

Angels and heavenly hosts that illuminated the crests of green hills dotted with their flock, and bid strangers, the least amongst them, to not be afraid. Not anymore.

I remember that the shepherd went out to find that one last sheep, and left the other 99 who were safe while he did. And it was His joy to do so.

I remember the father who welcomed back the prodigal son who left, and got lost along the way in his own mistakes and pride. Whose redemption had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with a Father’s unwavering love.

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I remember that no matter where I go, where the wings of the day take me or where my days might eventually end, that there is nowhere hidden I could go. Because I have been seen since before I came to be. And because nothing is hidden from Him. 

I remember Mother Mary of sorrows. At the foot of a rugged cross wondering why, and what it must have felt like for her three days later. 

I see time and time again that being in pain, is never reason enough to not be found. Never a reason to be forgotten. That it is never a reason to be lost entirely.

I see time and time again that pain is actually the reason that God came for us. That the author of all of me must know what it means to hurt. That to taste sorrow is to taste God.

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We find that we weren’t forgotten at all. We had just forgotten who are. 

Or maybe, we had to learn who we have really been all this time. 

And when we arrive at the place we were always been destined to be, we find He has already been there. Before us. Each step measured, each point charted in His map of the stars and eternity.

Every beautiful AND hurting thing named. 

And our heart will not beat so that we can live. 

It will beat because we are named.

Because we belong.

Because we are free.

Because we are home. 

 

 

 

 

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Grief is not the end of you

I’ve been trapped in the same hospital room for a year.

I can still see the two rows of glass standing guard on either side of me, my fractured reflection in each pane as I walked past the silent sadness in each room. Doors and windows and off white curtains running into each other down a beige hallway. Dated floor tiles with brown specks become a river as the smell of antiseptic and thin cotton perfumed the air.

I can tell each hospital I have visited over the last ten years apart by the aesthetics Even though they all seem the same to me now. Even if it doesn’t matter anymore.

On my worst days, this is where I end up.

I replay this scene, and many others, over and over again in a devastating loop. And I hate myself for it. For being so weak.

A long road with nine years of hospital stays, visitor badges, and frantic phone calls that came late at night or early in the morning. How else would bad news travel save for 6 a.m. Sunday morning phone calls or 11 p.m. texts on a Tuesday? The faintly blue walls and fake flowers on side tables in hospital hallways were like lipstick on a pig.

Because no one could ever assure us that it would get any better.

It was a slow siphoning. A meandering descent.

Like a giant bucket full of water, with a minuscule hole drilled in the bottom, we didn’t notice the changes at first. We didn’t notice that the silver thread of my father’s life was nearly gone until one day it suddenly was. But we had silently been careening to that moment for nearly a decade.

And still, we weren’t ready for the impact.

On my worst days, I’m back by his side, swallowing a brick of tears and burning anguish as we all waited for the lines on his monitor to flatten and anger singed a bitter blister inside of me.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted him to stay or go, to keep holding on or to infinitely release, even though that had been his life for the last decade. Even though I had already asked that of him again and again. I couldn’t ask that from him even once more because he had done all of that, and more. What else can a father give?

On my best days, I remember that it won’t always be this way.

After his funeral, we made our way to a familiar small, sandy beach. The sky churned in a wild sea of gray, the clouds turning over like a river of lava, like they were hot and flowing until they piled on top of one another, building something unknown. The water was murky. The grainy sand bone white as it crunched beneath our feet.

Somehow, the fact that it was a less than ideal day that we had chosen to spread his ashes was actually comforting.

I’m new to this grief thing.

Before that day, I had thought that maybe, by the time we stood at the edge of the water he loved so much and let him go, eight months and a few mornings after he had left us, that it would begin to feel like true closure. When in truth, letting go of some of the last tangible pieces of him was a painful act more than it was transcendent.

The day was a confusing mess of gray, rain that spit from the sky, and winds that churned the waters below. The air stung our faces, and we let him go into something wild. We gave him over to the uncertainty, and that seemed to make a modicum of sense after eight months of being confused over how someone can truly be gone.

It didn’t mean that it was over. But it meant that we began to accept that truth of the matter. That we all fade, no matter what. That those around us will fade, and we might have to be here to watch. That life was still infinitely mysterious in its at times unforgiving nature. But in the tangled web of uncertainty and beauty, something beautiful still throbs even when we are broken. In darkness, something hopeful and light pulses even still.

We accepted the inevitable that we couldn’t escape. But by setting him free into the mist, right in the middle of it, we agreed that we were trying to figure it out. To discover our way through it. To make peace with everything.

I sat on that same beach, two months later. On Father’s Day.

Aviator shades on, shoulders out, freckled skin hot, the weather and the day could not have been any more different. This was my first time back to that same place, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. Or in what state I would find myself.

Only on that day, in the place of my sorrow months before, I wasn’t alone on the beach. Families lounging on plastic chairs and beach blankets dotted the shore. People played in the warm and clear water. I found a spot beneath a tree and sat. Watching.

You would never have believed this was the same place.

I took my children swimming yesterday. Three busy bodied children in fluorescent swimsuits stood at the edge of the shore. The older two hesitantly let the water lap around their ankles, while my third child alligator crawled through the water, the soft sand pillowing under her knees.

My two oldest were afraid of the jelly fish. They were afraid of what they could not see. My youngest child hardly took notice of their worries, instead enjoying herself on a perfect day.

She hasn’t learned to be afraid yet. She just dives right in – to anything.

I assured my children that I was watching over them. That the waters were clearer than they thought. That they were safe. From jellyfish, from waves and all manner of scaled and clawed sea creatures.

They doubted me, while my youngest continued her fun, soaking up the moments and almost becoming too brave as she inched further out.

I marveled at how brave we are before we learn to be afraid.

I realized that I might never be like that again.

 

I remember being like them. Being stung by a jellyfish hidden in the gray waters. Rocked over by the waves until I swallowed mouthfuls of saltwater. Raw wounds on my shoulders and knees as the ocean flung me back and then began to pull me out again.

I remember feeling helpless. So many times in the last year, I have felt so helpless.

How weak we feel when life mercilessly knocks us to our knees. How it clutches  at us and shakes us until the air is ripped from our lungs. How it rubs us raw even while we still suffer. We feel small, like will never be brave again. Like we couldn’t ever be again even if we had the choice.

But really, it is after life has shaken us, has devastated us, has reminded us that its language was always uncertainty, that we should feel the most brave.

Grief is a torch that will only light our steps so much.

But it is peace the illuminates the way.

Grief is not the end of us.

Even as we make bedfellows with it for many days in the dark. Even as we begin to comfortably wear it. Even as we swallow it, hold it close to ourselves and count it only as ours.

I’ve marked my grief these last twelve months. I’ve made it my own, unwilling to share it. To talk about it. To expose it would leave me helpless. It has become a shield, something to wield. As I let myself cower behind it. As I try to forgive myself over and over again for feeling so weak that I can’t move forward. When I tell myself that I can’t. I can’t move on from when he left me. What if my life is unrecognizable without him? What might he think? 

How does one move on without a place for the ones they have lost?

Grief is a torch that shows us the path, but it is peace that illuminates the way ahead. It is peace that compels us to move and find our footing again. It is peace that wills us to be brave. It is peace that tells us that we must trust the uncertainty.

One day, I pray I will be far away from that room. Where our bodies were crowded close together. Where we held his hands and whispered to him as we silently prayed that maybe he heard us one last time. That he heard us tell him that it was okay, that we weren’t going to ask him to stay one more time.

Peace tells me that grief isn’t the end. My ashes become an adornment. The thin soot of my pain. It tells me that fire can be both devastating and cleansing, and that death can make the things left behind beautiful. It can be a catalyst. The fire that sparks. The end is only the beginning, for him in eternity and now for me, still on Earth.

Grief is the end of the chapter. But not the story.

Not of me.

 

 

 

Three ways I’m a more confident mom now

I remember my child’s first public meltdown. 

No parent asks for their child to turn red and wail like they are being abducted by a stranger over a 99 cent toy. 

I remember feeling like such a failure when this happened the first time. It made me question everything because I used to be the person who didn’t understand why children were “allowed” to have meltdowns in public. I thought I would never be that parent. 

Isn’t that cute?

Now that I have been mom’ing for a while*, I have noticed that things that may have gotten under my skin in previous years don’t seem to have the same affect that they used to.

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No, this doesn’t mean that I consider myself a perfect parent. No, this doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally feast on a box of bagel bites in an effort to eat my feelings because my children have destroyed what little bit of patience I have left. 

*”A while” is a relative term. For me, it’s been almost seven years. 

And no, it doesn’t mean that I love my babies any more than a mom who feels like she is struggling to get through each day without ripping her hair out. It just means that we moms grow more battled hardened every day that we love our babies. It’s one of the perks of the job.

Here are a few ways that I am more confident now than when I first became a parent:

1.) They’re fine. 

It used to be that whenever one of my children bumped their head, scraped their knee or climbed on top of the coffee table, I would toss whatever was in my hands to the side (so many poor casserole dishes), and rush to rescue my beloved baby. 

Now that baby number three is mobile? When I hear an ominous thud, I wait a moment…

Because she’s probably fine.

My children don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables as I would like for them to. In fact, we should probably just buy stock in Goldfish crackers at this point.

They’re fine. 

Our bedtime routine used to be a drawn out, ceremonial process. Now? We might read a book, and they may or may not even get a bath. We give kisses, say prayers and then sweetly remind them that, “if they come downstairs, someone had better be bleeding because (Batman voice) it’s BED TIME. Okay, good night, love you guys!” 

They’re. Fine.

We have learned to navigate fevers and stomach bugs, nightmares and bumps on their heads, scrapes on their knees and Dora the Explorer. We have learned that our children are okay to occupy themselves with coloring books and Lego’s while mommy and daddy have a breather on the sofa in the other room.

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I trust my gut so much more now than I used to. And my gut says that they are fine, and that a relaxed and sane parent is actually a better parent.

Even if my children appreciate Skittles way more than they ought, they are still perfectly  fine.  Everybody is alive. Everybody is happy. And that is enough for me. 

2.) Great expectations

The other night, my littlest one had me up several times, once for over an hour. We also had a storm system move through the area, so between the lightening flashing and thunder clapping, and the toddler trying to make conversation at 4 a.m., I didn’t get much sleep.

I woke up with a headache and could barely keep my eyes open, so never mind how outrageous it was that I needed to walk the dog, pack lunches, make breakfast and get the kids off to school. 

I realized around 11 a.m. that I hadn’t accomplished much for the day, and I suddenly felt guilty.

Then I decided to wait just a darn minute. I had just spent half of the night awake with the baby, the kids and husband all had clean clothes on – clothes that I washed, dried and folded yesterday – and food in their tummies that I had prepared for them.

Never mind the mess all over the house. My babies were smiling and happy. 

That’s enough. 

I realize now that my greatest critic all along has been…myself. I am always the first to put myself down. And while I believe that sometimes, this inner voice, this conviction, can encourage us to be better, I totally think that most of the time, this inner voice just needs to get with the freaking program. 

I have borne three babies in seven years, and sacrificed my abdominal muscles and private bathroom space in the process. My children know that deep down, they are wildly loved by two parents who would do anything for them. Also, my children really appreciate salads, everyone has clean underwear in their drawers, and the house is relatively clean most days. At least, if the definition of clean means not needing to fumigate.

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I realize now that the clean dishes and socks I use on the days when I can barely keep my eyes open are the fruits of labor from the days when I have it all a bit more together. Which means that I am probably accomplishing way more in spite of everything going on than I give myself credit for, even if I didn’t realize it then.

Loving your babies is the line in the sand. If all else fails for the day, ask yourself if you have loved your babies. And if you can assuredly say yes for the day, then move along.

The messes will replenish themselves tomorrow without fail. anyway.

3.) No one else matters

So, that sounds a little harsh, right? Maybe it is.  But that is a phrase I have had to repeat to myself constantly in my mothering journey. 

If you look for validation for your parenting choices from anywhere other than your spouse or yourself, you are looking for trouble. 

I could feed my babies a strict organic diet, forgo vaccinations, breast feed each of them for the first two years of their lives and co-sleep with them until they’re a teenager. 

And someone would disagree with my parenting. 

I could feed my babies a regular diet, vaccinate on time, bottle feed them, enforce rules by using time-out, and homeschool them. 

And someone would still disagree with my parenting. 

We now have this tendency to overthink parenting; to get validation from “sources” and “experts” to see if we are getting it right. I have to tell you – if in this social media driven world you look for the ultimate validation from the people on Facebook, or even from the people around you, you will eventually be sorely disappointed.

The best that you can do is…your best. Just like everyone else is doing. 

We each know our children and ourselves better than anyone else. And there is no such thing in this world as a parent who has it all together. 

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I now know how to navigate unsolicited advice with a grateful smile and nod, while letting it roll off my back. I now know how to be proud of the decisions that I have made as a parent, even if my kids are eating GMO’s by the truck load. I am now okay with the fact that I am teaching my children to love Jesus and be countercultural is this world, and that there are people who are gonna dislike me for it.

And if someone else doesn’t approve? Well,…okay then??

They are most welcome to come and see if they can do it better than me.