When Mother’s Day is Hard

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Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

We have 5 children, one each from our first marriages and then our 3 youngest together.  Our two oldest are only 3 months apart in age, just 3 and almost 3 when we married, nearly 31 years ago.  

Blending a family is no joke, but when you are 25 years old, still swimming in brokenness and ignorance of who Our Pappa God is, then even your best efforts mostly end up a pile of mess.  We did family counseling, family get-aways, and took every opportunity to become a loving family.  I longed for our sons to feel safe and loved without condition.  In some ways, we succeeded, but in so many more, we failed miserably.  I’m sure so many blended parents can relate to this.

We were each overly protective of our bio-sons and had damaged relationships with their other parents.  Some of our family members on both sides were less than supportive.  We came from different ethnic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds and got married after only dating for 5 months!  I don’t think we could’ve set the scene for massive failure much more if we tried.

I’d like to say, “Here we are, still standing,” but that wouldn’t be the whole truth.  Those two sweeties, who are older than we were when we started this crazy journey, are now estranged from us.  For more years than I can fathom, at times, they have chosen to have nothing to do with us.  It is painful.  As time passes, I admit, my hope diminishes that we will ever reconcile.  I sometimes imagine calling my firstborn and saying, “Don’t you remember who I am?  How I have always loved you so completely and without condition?  Why was it so easy to just cut me out of your life over such pettiness?”  But, he has repeatedly made it clear that he wants no contact from me and tbh, I mostly feel at peace that we are, each of us, right where we need to be right in this season.  

I read something by Beth Moore today in CHASING VINES that gave me such comfort, because there are still moments that creep up now and then, when I feel like after all I poured into my son, to have him turn on me so completely,  it was a waste of my life because the fruit of that seems so rotten now.  I’m going to pull a few sentences out from her book to share with you, after my disclaimer.

*Please no judgement here.  I am being honest about the really dark and difficult days of this brokenness as a mama.  

“Why, Lord?  Why did this turn out the way it did?

He knows.  He tells those who listen….

The vinedresser does a curious thing with the rotten fruit.  He turns it back into the soil and then, underground, by some spectacular organic miracle of nature, it fertilizes a future harvest.”  – Beth Moore, CHASING VINES

I think many of us have experienced deep disappointment(s) in an area of our lives that was significant.  Then we wonder why and feel discouraged that it was all for naught, when, in fact, it wasn’t.  It never is, because when we choose to walk through that difficult season with Our Pappa, learning from the mistakes we’ve made, then the next season is full of sweeter fruit.

I poured everything I was able to into all of my children.  They were my life’s work and joy.  I messed up plenty out of my own brokenness, like every other human being that walks this earth.  I’ve spent the past several years asking My Pappa God to show me the places I’ve needed healing and where I’ve needed to help others heal from my sins.  I pray my firstborn is growing with Our Pappa God, as well.  I pray that one day we will find reconciliation and grace for one another because I believe it is His will.

Tomorrow will be hard in some ways.  I think of him every day, but he is the one that made me a mama, so this one is one of the harder days.  He will probably send me a text that hurts more than blesses (again) that says, “Happy Mother’s Day” and I will wish that he didn’t because years of texts that seem to check the box more than have true sentiment, are a reminder of how little I seem to mean to him anymore.

Tomorrow will also be lovely because my three youngest children and my husband of 31 years are still standing, sometimes limping, but always striving to grow together.  They love me and will celebrate me, flaws and all.  I am blessed beyond measure, but on my road to being whole I must honor that part of me that grieves the loss of another year with the boy who made me a mama.

 

Tita

I recently became a Nana for the first time.  My older, precious twin, Caleb, became a daddy in a less-than-traditional, but not terribly uncommon manner.  During the end of the pregnancy, before we knew with any certainty that He was related to us, we all experienced a gamut of emotions that were extremely difficult and exhausting.    

He was born a month early, under slightly scary circumstances.  (Did I mention that mama went into labor a full month early, on Caleb’s birthday?!)  Caleb decided that he wanted to be in the delivery room to support the baby’s mama and to witness his child’s birth with no regrets.  I remember when he asked me what he should do, I asked him if the baby turned out not to be his, could he recover emotionally.  He assured me he was fine. My mama’s heart wanted to help him make the right decision without emotions clouding things up, but that was just simply impossible.  Caleb was there when Charles was born and he even cut his son’s umbilical cord.  A few days after the birth, my son was informed that the paternity test would not be done until little Charles was six weeks old and the results typically take about six additional weeks to return.  This would mean that the baby would be around 3 months old before anyone would know who his daddy was.  The news was almost unbelievable to our family!  Waiting that long was not beneficial for anyone.

I’ve learned SO MUCH since this all began.  I found out that you can order a profesh paternity test online for about $120 or less and have the very reliable results in about 48 hours from the time the company receives it.  I learned that no matter how hard you try to stay neutral, when you are a 2 Mama and Nana, you are ALL IN as soon as you know that baby is your baby’s, in spite of your wise children doing their best to prevent your possible heartbreak.  I know the wonder of having another woman birth a clone of your baby.  I finally understand all the hype about how awesome it is to have grandchildren because you have all the fun with very little of the tedious day-to-day responsibilities.

Arlo looks SO much like his daddy – and quite a bit like his Auntie Hannah, as well.  Also, Arlo’s parents look like they could be related, so there’s that…  He was in the NICU for just over 2 weeks.  He was released from there the morning after we got the results that confirmed Caleb is his daddy…  interesting.  He and his mama then spent several days in the “Nesting” area of the hospital before they allowed them to go home, and she graciously welcomed this Nana and Papa for daily visits.  

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We received the paternity test results the day after Valentine’s.  Caleb came over so he and I could process together.  I prayed silently as he experienced the HUGENESS of the situation in every way imaginable.  He mourned the end of his carefree life.  He expressed deep shame and regret.  He questioned whether he could rise to this occasion.  He lashed out in anger.  He shut down.  He began to accept the responsibility of it all, and then, bit by bit, he gave in to the cresting dam of love he had been struggling to hold back in order to protect his heart, in case he wasn’t Arlo’s daddy.  At first it was just a little trickle of the acknowledgement of the wonder of it all, leaking out in the most beautiful and fragile way. I watched this grow into the new joy of fatherhood and all the possibilities that lie ahead.  I am humbled that I bore witness to this sacred moment in my son’s life.  I count it as one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Once he was on level ground, again, he showered and we headed up to the hospital to meet his son (my grandson!!!!).  This is when I got to witness another absolutely lovely and horrible moment in my son’s journey to fatherhood.  He walked in, worked his way around all of the cords and medical “stuff” so that he could pick up his baby and inform him that he was his father.  When about 20 minutes passed and it was time to change his diaper, Caleb told us that it was time for him to learn to do everything.  It was excruciating and glorious watching him almost drop Arlo while diligently and lovingly changing his little preemie diaper with three women looking on.  I could feel my son humbly saying with his heart, “I’m all in.  I’m your daddy.  I love you and I will do everything I can to make you feel loved and to make your life better.”  

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In the past almost 4 months I have watched my baby mature exponentially.  As soon as Arlo’s sweet mama had to return to her job, Caleb changed his schedule at work so that he could be with his son Monday through Wednesday each week.  He works double shifts Thursday – Saturday in order to do this.  He can change a diaper, swaddle and burp a little one with the best of them!  He can tell you, with amazing accuracy, what Arlo is crying about within seconds.  When they come over for dinner on Monday evenings, we all vie to hold him, feed him and diaper him to give Caleb support for our own selfish reasons, and I am always so proud of him for making it clear to everyone that he is the one responsible for his son’s care.  He doesn’t show up and step back while everyone takes care of Arlo.  He’s the kind of daddy I have prayed my sons would be.  I am proud of the way he has lovingly stepped up and fully embraced the responsibility of fatherhood in spite of the extra challenges it has brought into his life.  

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Lastly, I am thankful that he repeatedly forgives us for being so excited every time he  walks through the door with Arlo and we gush all over our sweet grandboy and treat him like an afterthought… 

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Honestly!!!  Can you blame us?!  Just look at that precious little face… 🧡

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Bearing

I am tired

In my flesh

Triggered

Abandoned

Broken-hearted

I am resentful

Unable to be perfect

Unable to arrive

Human

I am not willing to justify my actions to those who have yet to live anything near the last 35 years of my life

I am sad for the loss of what it “should” have been, but never will be

For the realization that this is forever and will never be “normal” or easy

Rejoicing in the tiny perfection, the heavenly smell, the precious sounds

The overwhelming, all-encompassing love

The witnessing of care-taking and manliness in the grown clone of this new blessing

The beauty of godly men stepping forward with grace and encouragement, bearing witness to Our Pappa’s power over shame.

Redemption

In His will

In His love

Thankful that He is in the waiting with me while my heart is breaking, reminding me to release the doing, the reaching, the striving

Reminding me to be who He made me to be, extending grace to others

Extending grace to me

But, first, I mourn, because I am weary and I am a woman

I am His

 

 

2, Fix You

I am learning the sweetest lesson that I would almost swear is changing my body chemistry and slowing down the aging process.  I am simultaneously trying not to regret spending so many years not living in this truth.

So much of my struggle comes simply from being a mama, but it seems to be compounded by my 2-ness.  I have always loved to help my husband and our children “figure out” how best to navigate all kinds of difficult situations.  If any one of them is in the midst of a mini crisis, there is nothing this 2-mama loves more than being needed, and if the tangle is between any 2 or more of them, well then I’ve always felt it is my responsibility to get right in the middle and help them to understand the other person’s viewpoint so that peace and love would once again be restored in our family.

ick.

Right?!

Recently, as we have been walking through this trying season in our family, I am seeing so clearly that satan wants division and isolation among us.  In the past, this would’ve panicked me and I would be in full-on mama-2-fixit mode.  I’d convince myself because of other broken relationship history that any conflict between my children could be permanent.  I’d be on high-alert for any harsh word or action, lest left unaddressed, would sever the ties that bind us so that reconciliation was impossible. I’d force myself, my husband and our children into conversations that none of us was anywhere ready to have, thus resulting in deeper wounding all the way around.

Often I would listen to one of my lovie’s  emotional assessments of a situation, all the while getting amped up about the other lovie who was clearly in the wrong!  Then I’d confront this “other” only to find out that I was only getting one side of the story, and in the name of reconciliation, I had jumped the gun, crossing several boundaries and hurting everyone in the process.

Holy Spirit has been unconditionally patient with my insanity.  He has gently and consistently grown me in this area.  Initially, my first milestone, which was more work than I care to admit, was curbing my yelling (screaming) at my immediate family.   This is embarrassing, but the truth is, I lost my temper and turned into an insane banshee with my babies on a somewhat regular basis for more years than I care to admit right now.  This would happen for important and worthy reasons such as forgetting their schoolwork at home, not emptying the dishwasher when I asked them to, and their all time favorite:  when they would leave someone out, especially one another.  The amazing thing is that I can’t even remember the last time I went full-on banshee on anyone.  So, that’s a win.

My next goal was staying out of my grown children’s disagreements with each other and with their dad.  This was SO, SO HARD for me!!!  The interesting thing was that they asked me to do this and we all decided to make it a family rule, but when they would argue, someone would inevitably look at me and say, “Aren’t you going to say something?!  Why are you letting him/her say that without saying anything?!”  I also discovered that my children had become champion busybodies, thanks to my example, and staying out of arguments that didn’t involve them became a family goal.  So, that objective was not obtained as smoothly, but I’m grateful and proud to say that when 2 of us are having a spat and all of us are together, the other 3 stay quiet and refrain from taking sides 95% of the time. 

My latest ambition has been to stop being the fix-it girl. When my children share a challenging situation they’re dealing with, my mind is racing to think of the best solution for them.  Half the time, I’m not truly listening to what they are communicating, because I’m so busy trying to make it all better and be the hero! (insert another “ick”)

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I’m learning I should not attempt to solve the struggles in other people’s, especially my children’s, lives.  It is perfectly acceptable, nay, preferable to stay silent, truly listen and simply ask what they need from me.  I’ve found that in actively staying focused on what is being said to me, I can more easily wade through the emotion and opinions that feel like facts to him/her.  I don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions as much as I used to and that’s a double win, imo, because people don’t get hurt by possible untruths and satan can’t use this against me like he has so much of my life.

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All 5 of us are NFP’s on the Myers-Briggs, so there is no shortage of the feels in our family.  Learning to keep our emotions in check has been such a blessing.  We still have tiffs and we are not terribly calm or logical when things get heated, but we stay in our lanes most all of the time now, we listen to each other in a way we never did before and the banshee is gone.  I’d say we’re winning.

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Becoming Beloved

In the midst of tribulation I am finding such joy in the smaller things that sum up my now.  I am beyond grateful for moments like this when I can contemplate what is good and how My Pappa has always and continues still to work through every season for good in my life.  Writing has always helped me to center by focusing on Him and becoming still and quiet in order to hear His voice over the noise of my racing mind that naturally falls prey to pulling myself up by the bootstraps and plunging ahead in my own “power.”

Today I met with friends, sisters, who see me and choose to trust me, hold space for me, truly love me and encourage me.  I’ve spent most of my life without this kind of agape love and I do not take this gift from My Pappa for granted.

Yesterday I worked with a family that I simply adore.  They invite me into their lives with such intimacy, sincerity and appreciation.  It is a gift to love and be loved by them.

Today I received the wall hanging for my office that I’ve been waiting for.  The office that I have longed for and is now becoming a reality.  I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window at various tree limbs against the cloud-filled sky.  Having a space where I can ponder, pray, write and contemplate, filled with things that remind me of joy is a dream come true.  Having my husband and my Caleb help me put the room together has made me giddy, at times.

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I am learning and relearning so much during this time.  I am repeatedly reminded to lean into My Pappa.  I am also reminded again, and again to trust that what I’ve instilled in my children will not lie dormant, but that they are amazing ADULT human beings who love and serve Our Pappa.  They will flounder and fall, but unlike 20-something-year-old me, they have relationship with a God that loves them without condition and earthly parents who have a relationship with that same Pappa God.

As James told us:

So, I will keep remembering to consider this season a gift.  I daily remind myself to be confident that Our Pappa is growing our faith, maturing and developing us more and more into who He made us to be, all the while being aware of how very loved and blessed we are and always have been.  

This is a great way to remember who He is:

’tis the season

Christmas is so different now for my family and me than it was just a bit ago.  The first year we moved here from Michigan and we saw plastic, light-up snowmen on balmy green lawns, it was somewhat disconcerting.  It felt weird to drive to the mall to do our holiday shopping on dry streets and in short sleeves.

Now this is our normal and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I LOVE living in Austin more than I can say.  The blow-up snowmen and snow globes look perfectly lovely and I don’t think twice about the owner probably having no idea what it is to build snowmen on the regular.

I’ve lost a lot since moving here.  I only have contact with one of my brothers regularly.  My parents and my other three siblings haven’t spoken to me in years.  My oldest son rarely reaches out more than to text an obligatory holiday wish a couple of times a year.  My marriage has run a triathlon or two and only slightly resembles what it used to be.  We sold our beautiful house after 10 years – 9 of which I felt imprisoned in it.

After spending far too many years in a toxic little city where my world was nearly destroyed, I am finally in a place that feels more like home than any other has.  It is smaller, older and a rental, but it is exactly where I want to be.  

When I look back on our Christmases past, especially when our kiddos were little, I remember how hard I worked to create traditions that would make our children feel special, a part of, loved and while I’m not sorry for any of it, I’m over it.  We’ve kept the ones that matter to us and we often reminisce about the matching Christmas outfits or pajamas, the huge, formal tree in our living room & the small colorful tree in the den, the trips to Bronner’s for a new ornament each year, the crazy family Christmas pictures & letters (please!),  or the debt we went into trying to “buy” a merry Christmas.  We still go to Christmas Eve service and then gather to eat obnoxious amounts of snacks (shrimp, baked goods, an amazing charcuterie board and more) while opening our gifts.  While we are all perfectly okay with others joining us on Christmas Day, the night before is ours, alone, and we protect it fiercely.  Aaron insists I still make red & green breakfast on Christmas morning after they get their stockings, always with apples, oranges and pears and more.  Hannah makes sure we watch A Christmas Story while lazing around together after breakfast and we always have a really nice, usually beef tenderloin, for dinner.  

Parts of this will change soon.  Marriages will happen, grandchildren will be born and we will adjust.  They will make new traditions for their new families and we will make new ones with our new members.  This is how it is supposed to be.

I am excited for my children as they become independent, finding their places in the world – and much sooner than I did, thank you, Pappa!   My job has been to teach them not to need me, succeeding at that is a smidge hard to accept. I am adjusting to less time, less attention, less need of me and while I am rejoicing, I am searching for my new identity, searching for my purpose.  I’ve been mostly a mama and wife since I was 22 years old, more years than not.  And I was, for the most part, pretty good at both of those things.  But, if I’m honest, I sacrificed a lot of “me” to serve my family, as most mamas do, and I’m ready to take care of me and rediscover who I am, really, this time.

As Erma Bombeck said, “When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” 

I’ve a feeling that most people reading this will think it makes no sense at all:

“Is she brokenhearted that her children are growing up and away or is she thrilled to be done taking care of so many others all of the time?”

Yes.

Mamas with empty nests will understand. 

I’m not sure I understand, yet, but I’m working on it and I’m sure I’m right where I’m supposed to be while I figure it out.

“When I thought I’d lost me,

You knew where I’d left me”

https://youtu.be/TdqenA8k_GU

 

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Here We Go, Again

My babies are moving out soon.

Last year, in October, Hannah moved out, making our nest empty and I was ssstttrrruuugggggggggggllllliiiinnnggg for a minute.  

Then just as I was deciding this was an okay gig and I began to enjoy my clean home, inviting friends over for lunch, having dinner parties, being alone, not having to be concerned about how much food was in the house and all of that gloriousness, Aaron told me that he needed to move in with us for a bit to save some money to get a car.  Then Caleb asked if he could take the other bedroom… the one that my Honey had just put my new desk in so that I could have my own office…

I’m a mama, through and through, so, of course, they moved in with us.

Our house has SO much stuff in it now, I don’t really do any cleaning unless it’s a health hazard – like a very serious hazard, because no space.  Any. Where.  

I know I will be a little emotional mess on the day they take their things to their new place.  I’ll miss them.  All things considered, we’ve gotten along really well and when we don’t, we communicate like grown ups, which has been sublime.  I truly like our kids.  They are good people, funny, loving, honest, generous, kind, and interesting.  I’d rather spend time with them and their dad than pretty much anyone else in the whole entire anywhere.

But.

I’m SO looking forward to having my nest empty, again.  

I’m incredibly thankful that God worked things out so that I could have this last little bit mothering my babies in my home in a healthier way than I was capable of mothering them when we all were younger.  I feel like I got to know my aloof Tita in a way that I haven’t since he moved out of our home years ago amidst turmoil and mutual resentment.  I was blessed to have conversations with my sweet Enu that have healed us and helped us see each other more truly.  

It’s good.  It’s kinda like we got a second chance to do this leaving the nest thing the right way.  I know that everyone isn’t as fortunate and while I had accepted that things just happen that way when your kids move out most of the time, I am humbled that God allowed us to do this together with respect, love and healthy boundaries.

I’m also thrilled that in a month I’ll be having friends over for coffee and dinner parties, that I’ll have my house to myself and get to spend time writing in my office, and especially that my home will be much less cluttered and clean!  I sure won’t mind being able to hang with my Honey – just my Honey!

I’ll have to adjust again, so that means I’ll be sad and feel a tiny bit lost for a minute.  I’ll feel lonely when the house is quiet for too many days.  But, this time I know I’m going to be okay.  I’m more than a mama and I’m ready to get to know myself, to discover who I am now.

My nest is almost empty.

My life is full.

My heart is overflowing.

 

Violated

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It was summer time.  We lived in a quaint little cul de sac with a beautifully landscaped circle that the other houses all faced.  Our house was on the corner lot, furthest away from the pristine circle.  The back side of the cul de sac had no houses because, as I remember, there was a rain basin, which was a fenced off area with claylike dirt and rocks inside.

My older brothers had found a way into the basin area, but I never knew where it was, because that was an adolescent boy thing, not a thing for a 5 or 6 year old girl to know.  Until this summer day.

I was riding my bike around the cul de sac and then I parked it on the circle lot so that I could play.  There were great shrubs and trees there.  It was really lovely.  A much older boy, whom I recognized, joined me and was extremely kind.  I was playing house or something imaginative and he didn’t make fun of me like my big brothers had done on occasion.  They had also made fun of this boy before, saying he was odd, but in this moment, I felt sorry for him, because he was obviously just a nice boy and they were wrong.

We talked for a bit and then he asked me to go for a walk and I joined him.  He said he’d show me how to get into the basin if I didn’t tell anyone else.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  He showed me where the fence allowed entry and held it for me to enter.  We walked a bit before he began to talk to me in an angry way and shoved me down into the rocky dirt.  I recall feeling shocked, blindsided and humiliated.

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For some reason, I am still traumatized enough that I can’t bring to mind the next few minutes or so and I remain embarrassed enough that writing what he did to me is extremely difficult.  

I vaguely remember sobbing and running into our front door dripping with urine, not my own.  My parents were livid.  They clarified who did this to me and then my older brothers went outside quickly.  I recollect someone asking me where I had left my bike and reassuring me that they would get it for me.  My mother bravely washed me up, clearly repulsed by my urine drenched clothing, asking me several times why in the world I went for a walk with that boy!

Why did I go for a walk with that boy?  Why would a young boy do such a vile thing to a little girl who obviously thought he was kind?  

For the longest time I thought I was being punished for going into the basin, even though my brothers went in there on the regular. 

Secretly I wondered if I had done something that made him treat me that way, but what could I have done to deserve that, aside from being nice and going for a walk with him?  It was the thing that my brothers would tease me about to embarrass me as I grew up.  It was a story that focused more on what my brothers did than on what was done to me in the retelling.

Shame is powerful.  The shame of victims.  The shame of those who should protect.  

I wonder if my brothers beating him up cured him of his perversion or if he ever violated anyone again after that.  I pray something brought him healing.

almost

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sometimes the people that were supposed to love you endlessly without condition,  love you as best they can and hurt you deeply because they are only able to operate out of their brokenness and pride.  eventually this feels like they don’t really love you at all.

sometimes when i replay scenarios of lashing out in revenge, my imagination wanders to a place where you realize how excruciating the pain is you inflicted on me and you scoop me up and profess your unconditional love, explaining all of the wounds away.

and then I usually return to my “angry” scenario and realize I’m not really angry at all.

only my heart is broken in a million pieces and I’m trying to reconcile how my people of origin, some of these people I spent most of the first quarter of my life with, could choose to twist the knife and pour the salt,

again, into my deep, gaping wounds.

immediately and/or eventually, because this may take a minute, it’s time to mourn the cruelty and lack of love, time to accept that i cannot and probably will not be able to understand the why nor the how. 

and then it’s almost time to remember and stand confidently in knowing that i am walking in truth and love and that casts out all of that other awful junk, because i am His daughter.

almost.

 

Family Secrets

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Every family has them, right?  It’s just how things happen in this American culture, especially in the generation before mine, which I often call the “sweep it all under the rug” generation.  My mother was a pro at this.  It always seemed so bizarre to me that she would preach to me about my siblings and I getting along better, when she kept so much from her own sisters.  I would argue that it wasn’t really getting along and loving if you didn’t really know one another, but it was an argument that never saw resolution, because my priority was being known and loved, while hers was having “peace.”

I remember when I was around 10 years old and a cousin told me that she had visited the cemetery with her mother and there was a headstone with the name, “Baby McDowell,” (my maiden name).  When she asked about it, her mother told her that my parents had lost their first child, a girl, when she was born.  I was blown away!  I had a sister!  I know it sounds ludicrous, but with four brothers and a mom who wasn’t super chummy with me, I was thrilled that I wasn’t alone on some 10 year old level.  When I went home to ask my mother about it, probably not with an abundance of sensitivity, I was met with such anger, I didn’t know what to do with myself.  She refused to answer any of my questions and told me it was none of my business and my aunt had NO business telling her daughter about it.  In the over 40 years since then, she’s never discussed it with me.

Later, as a young adult, I had to keep mum at extended family gatherings when another family member was in jail, for months at a time – not only once and not the same person.  My mother was adamant about this, so the rest of us fell in line and helped keep up the facade.  This meant telling our children to also lie to their relatives (because that’s healthy…).         When I tried to explain how uncomfortable I was, asking my kids to do this, I was berated for telling my children the truth in the first place, as if I had done something completely idiotic and detrimental to my offspring and my family of origin all at once.

 I was 19 and in college, dating the boy who would become my first husband, when I became pregnant and, as a result, had an abortion.  My husband and children are all very aware of what my experience was and how it’s affected my entire life.  While I wish this was not a chapter in my story, it is, and I believe the only way to change the trajectory of my children’s lives and their children’s lives, and so on, is to bring my secret sins out into the light and talk about what led up to and what happened because of those awful choices I made.  I can say with some disgrace and a bunch of freedom that I have been relentlessly upfront about my bad choices with my children and that the good that will result from my transparency far outweighs the shame I’ve experienced.  

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:  ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  (Ephesians 5:13-14)

With so many wounds, secrets and lies layered upon one another through the years, eventually my family of origin imploded.  Secrets of abortion, miscarriage, a shotgun wedding, an illegitimate child, affairs, stealing money, the list goes on.  It was both heartbreaking for me and somewhat of a relief.  The carnage is still scattered all over the place and I’ve collected all of the pieces of the implosion that I want to keep.  The ones I left behind are not pieces I want to include as I go forward.

The irony is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a family that doesn’t have these same or very similar skeletons in their proverbial closets, and yet, we all freak out and try to hide it when it’s ours.  THIS is normal.  We Sin.  We make terrible choices.  We are HUMAN.  The goal isn’t to get through with less embarrassing sin than your other family members or the neighbors.  The goal is to know each other and love each other through the good and the bad choices.  The goal is to take the bad stuff and help others to not take the same detours, because if we don’t use that junk to cause some good, what in the world is the point?!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—  to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,  the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”  (Isaiah 61:1-3)

When my husband betrayed me several years ago,  I remember so many things going through my mind.  I felt horrible shame because my husband turned to someone else after I had tried so hard to be a great wife in every way I knew how. I did not want anyone to know about this and possibly take pleasure in it at my expense.  I reached out to our church and they connected us to another couple who had gone through something similar a few years before us.  They advised us to tell our children immediately.  We did NOT want our children to know anything – which is ridiculous when I think of how I didn’t leave my bedroom for 2 solid weeks and they must have heard all of the crying and screaming I was doing on the regular.  After a lot of prayer and some time, we took their advice and told our children.  We also shared with them that this had happened with other family members in the spirit of getting it all out into the light and moving forward in freedom.  It was one of the most devastating nights of our lives.  I honestly didn’t think we would ever recover from all of the horribleness.

I’d love to tell you that we instantly became better than ever before, that once the truth was out, we all instantly forgave one another and moved on in perfect harmony.  I could lie, but then I’d be starting that crap again and what would be the point of this post?!  We did couple’s counseling, individual counseling, teenage counseling, and in the process of working toward health with boundaries and all the glitter, there was lots of fallout and sadly, some of it has not been resolved, yet.

I know one of the biggest reasons family secrets begin is because we are concerned about what other people think of us.  We want to appear better than we are.  I often refer to the time before the betrayal as our Stepford Family years because we worked SO hard to make it all look perfect – and by we, I mean me.  On some level (and this is where my 2-ness came into play, HARD.  * See Enneagram) I always believed that if I did enough for the people I loved, they would keep me in their lives because I wasn’t worth loving just because I was me.

SO, if you pour all you’ve got into being the perfect wife, then you finally burn out after 20 years and in your exhaustion your husband turns away because you’re not revolving around him anymore, all of your worst fears are pretty much confirmed.  Which is why I found myself rocking back and forth immediately after the discovery and chanting, “I always knew I wasn’t worth it.”  Satan had been whispering this into my ear my entire life.

In my diligent and often treacherous pilgrimage back to who I was always supposed to be, I discovered that I’ve always been worth it to My Father and that is more than enough.  As the layers of lies were peeled off of my self, my marriage and my family, I could finally hear the voice that mattered most, the voice of My Father.  Instead of the lies drowning Him out, His voice now drowns out satan’s lies.

Once I could hear His truth and accept His love, I was able to face my own “less-than-lovely’ traits and begin to work on replacing them with healthier tools.  This meant more counseling, attending a Destiny Project weekend, working through the 12-Steps (again), inter-healing prayer, revisiting boundaries and how they are healthy, and loads more time with Him throughout.

In the year after the discovery of the betrayal, I was betrayed by one of my oldest and dearest friends (the only one I shared this horrific news with), some people in my husband’s family began (and continue) treating me awfully, and my parents requested that I stay out of their lives forever (and so I do).  There were also many other incidents that were challenging during this period, and I can say it seemed more than I could bear at times, but mostly I had a peace like never before and because I FINALLY knew I was loved fully and unconditionally, I was able to not allow the rejection of me by other people’s brokenness to be my scale of self-worth.  It was all very painful, but I can now look back and see that God was preening my life.  In order to grow He has to trim away the unhealthy stuff, so that we can move forward without that unnecessary weight dragging us down.

In the past I would continue to insert myself into the lives of family members and friends regardless of how they treated me because I thought this is what good, christian women were supposed to do.  I have more broken relationships with extended family than I would like to have, but I know that this is a chapter in my life and theirs, not the whole story, and if I continue to be in My Father’s will and follow His lead, then things will work out just as they should.  Sometimes there will be reconciliation and sometimes there will not be, and in the meantime, He is growing me and preparing me for the next step on the path He has for me.

The other thing I want to say about bringing secrets out into the light is that you don’t have to share your stuff with the anyone who feels unsafe, especially if you are still working through the pain of it.  Mrs. Smith, down the street, doesn’t need to know that your niece had a baby out-of-wedlock, especially if she is prone to gossip!  But, if it’s about someone in your family, you should probs tell your family.  The thing is, that too often those family secrets affect the way we parent, or love, or live.  We may not even realize it, but once it’s out in the open and some time has passed, we may very well notice that we are living more from a place of freedom than ever before and that’s just better for everyone.  I often wonder if the reason my mom didn’t really seem to get close to me as a child is because her first precious baby that she lost was a girl and since I was the only other girl, maybe I reminded her of her profound loss.  Maybe that’s the reason it was easy for her to walk away from me several years ago over something very trivial.  I don’t know.  I probably never will, because family secrets.

The last thing I want to say about family secrets is:  Just ask.  Don’t do it like 10 year-old me probably did, but ask with gentleness and grace.  If you think there is a family secret that you should have knowledge of,  go IN LOVE to the person you think it involves and ask for the truth.  Help him/her bring it out into the light and then extend grace.

I’ve had people come and ask me about choices I’ve made with such grace that confessing to them was a blessing for both of us.  I’ve experienced other people coming at me with such judgement and condemnation that the only result was broken relationship and betrayal.  We’ve all sinned.  We all need grace.  When we remember that and approach the people we LOVE in humility, God can make miraculous beauty out of our messiness.  I know this because, many years after that horrendous night of bringing our devastating secret out into the light, my marriage is more authentic than it ever was and my husband & I have walked numerous others through this devastating journey to healing on the other side.  Our three youngest children will always carry the pain of that chapter of their lives with them, but they have chosen to use it to help others and to grow with a kind of dependence on Our Father that often only comes from walking through a period of anguish from facing hard truths.

While the temptation to have others see me as having my stuff together is always lurking, I don’t ever want to go back to living in the dark.  I know that living with my junk in the light is how I can best follow Jesus.  It’s where He lives and even when my junk is in the dark, He knows, RIGHT?!  In those moments of shame or rejection when I’m tempted to hide a detail or two, this thought will usually cross my mind, “HE ALREADY KNOWS!!”

  “God, you know what I have done wrong; I cannot hide my guilt from you.” (Psalm 69:5)

– and it isn’t the fear of Him that steers me back onto the right path as much as the knowledge that living in truth and transparency is living in freedom.  Living with hidden secrets and festering heart wounds is a life of imprisonment.  I’ve lived there and while I struggle daily with how I appear to others, ultimately I want to be able to come to My Papa day after day, more and more in the identity He has for me.  This isn’t a straight road with no detours or break downs, but it is a well-worn path of persistence, humility and surrender with light and freedom along the way.