About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
Search This Blog
Books that shifted paradigms
Walking Barefoot on Facebook
Login
Sunday
Jun152014

I felt God in the hardware store

The narrative began with a simple premise:

pick up the boys early from school and treat all four kids to free popcorn at the local hardware store. Return something, buy something, make a family memory, go home happy.

(I should know by now that almost anytime "make a family memory" is included in the narrative, it is not going to go as planned, and "happy" is not going to end up as the defining adjective).

 

The narrative I'd imagined included all four children rapt with attention while I smiled and pointed out various hardware items: "Look guys, this is a composter.  We can use this to help the earth. Children, this is a retractable utility knife. You can look, but do not touch. Your dad thinks it's a good idea to own at least five of these in various drawers throughout our house...do not go looking for them. 

I teach them colors through paint chips; I squeeze the stuffed toy birds in the bird seed aisle and mimic the call of the chickadee while I point out how the name and the sound the bird makes are one and the same.

The children find my earthy momma hardware store wisdom endearing, and they giggle and give me spontaneous hugs of gratitude.

Their dirt-free faces glow, while they chomp away on free popcorn without making crumbs. Nobody tips over their paper popcorn cones, nobody races their kid sized shopping carts down the aisle; nobody bickers, nobody yells, nobody cries, nobody interrupts each other.


The real narrative included everything that did not happen in the narrative inside my head, and left out everything else.

Carts were raced. Popcorn was spilled. Children cried.

Shenanigans happened behind my back while I tried to expedite the return process-getting out of line to threaten and discipline, jumping back into line to keep my place while I apologized to everyone around me and then continued my desperate attempts to train and inspire and threaten from too far away to do any good.  

I didn't have a chance to introduce my little darlings to the composter.

Not one child cared about the chickadee.  

My little family unit moved through the hardware store like the cloud of dust surrounding the Tasmanian Devil.


By the time we got from the back of the store to the front to look at paint, I felt so exposed and exhausted I could barely hold it together.

Sometimes days like this happen and I get more and more fierce, determined to STRONG ARM my children into obeying: "we are GOING to have a successful time in the hardware store, DAMMIT, and I WILL come out victorious, and you WILL appreciate the stupid composter and the stuffed chickadee, and you WILL learn how to behave yourselves in public, and you WILL thank me later, and I WILL check this errand off my everlovin' errand list, so help me GOD!!"

Sometimes days like this happen and I get more and more meek, grown tiny and weak in my awareness that I just don’t have what it takes to bend the day, and my childrens’ wills, to my own. 

This day, I got meek. 

Making a happy family memory was reduced to making it out of the store without a total breakdown.


I knelt in front of my two youngest and asked them to stay next to me instead of wandering off.  As I grabbed paint chips, I could hear their tiny little carts rattling down the aisles like bells around the necks of errant sheep.

So I chased them down, and even though I knew I was asking for greater attention-getting tantrums by enforcing my threat and taking their carts away, I took their carts away.  

They obliged by screaming and crying, as I knew they would (at least they are consistent).

In the midst of all this, my cell phone rang. I grabbed for the phone like it could have been someone offering free babysitting, saw the number, and instantly panicked.  It was the father of the boy I was supposed to have picked up from school. 

I'd forgotten him.


I'd switched up my routine by picking my own boys up early to give them a little treat and be a fun mom for once (dear god, how quickly this has devolved), and completely spaced picking up their sweet little friend.

I answered the phone already mid-apology, frantic to make it right while I gathered my kids so we could rush out of the store and drive the five minutes back to school to rescue their friend. 

It was too late.

The father was on the way to pick the boy up.

He's fine; he's safe; just waiting in the front office. The father was not harsh, but not exactly generous either. Which I completely understood.

I knew their sweet friend was especially sensitive to anything feeling unsafe, and it broke my heart to think of him waiting, wondering what had happened.  I texted his mother and then called, leaving her a message, imploring forgiveness, hoping she could still trust me.


By the time I hung up the phone, I was trembling all over. 

Whatever vestiges of willpower I had left to try and complete my errand were swept away by waves of shame.

Even the children seemed to sense the shift in my resolve.  

They stood quietly around me, waiting.

I bent down to tie a child's shoe. My seven year old asked me what was wrong.

Having to admit my mistake out loud brought me to tears. I stayed bent over the shoe to try and get it together, when I heard a voice from behind the paint counter, where apparently a male employee had been watching this entire scenario play out.

"You are being a really good mom," he started to say.

I shot to my feet, and whirled on him, cutting him off before he could finish. 

"DON'T say that, or you're going to make me cry," I said through clenched teeth, the bitter taste of failure in my mouth.

And then, of course, I started bawling, right in front of him.


I dropped my paint chips on the counter, hustled my children together, and told them we were leaving.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his face- so compassionate, so gentle.
Everything I couldn't seem to be with myself.  

How did I end up here, with all my aspirations for being fun mom and giving my children a happy memory?

This is what I get? 

Humiliated in front of a stranger.  Unable to control my emotions in the paint section of a hardware store.

My mothering aspirations reduced once again to checking something off a list and endless disciplining.

I had children because I wanted to love them and enjoy them, not just get them and myself through the day without falling apart.

 

It was a walk of shame, heading down the long white aisle to the exit, past all the employees who had witnessed me in the very intimate act of unsuccessful parenting for the last thirty minutes.

"What must this look like," I thought to myself. "If I was them, watching this whole scene play out? It's not a show I would want to watch." 

I didn't know if people were being kind not to stare, or if it was honestly not that big of a deal-maybe it happens all the time-even though I'd unfolded a new mothering low in front of an audience not of my choosing.


And there's the rub, really.

I say I long for vulnerability, and I do mean it; my truest heart desires vulnerability, at all costs.

I cherish vulnerability in those around me.

Being invited in to someone’s real life feels like being invited in to the delivery room to watch the miracle of a child being born.  

I stand in awe.


It is the greatest honor to witness someone’s becoming process, to watch them get a little more real right in front of my eyes.

But of course, for the person who is unfolding, nine times out of ten there are apologies and backpeddling: "this is so embarassing, I'm sorry for dumping on you, I'm sorry to be such a burden," and I have to reassure them over and over that it is my joy and honor, to be trusted in this way, to be let in.  

Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you" (Daring Greatly, 114).

 

I felt it today.  Today, when the cost was high, another truth was revealed: just like most everyone else, I like to choose when and how I decide to be vulnerable.

This is not to say there isn’t wisdom to be had about who you let in to your life; indiscriminate vulnerability is not vulnerability, it’s what Brene calls floodlighting, a way to “use vulnerability to discharge your own comfort, or as a tolerance barometer in a relationship or to fast-forward a relationship” (159)

The truth is, when vulnerability is about YOU proving something, it’s not vulnerability, it’s still pleasing and performing in order to self-protect.  

 

But today, I had a human moment, a lot of them, that unfolded my well-constructed social image, that revealed my very raw humanity despite myself, and it felt terrible.

Although there was some small part of me, maybe the part of me behind the imaginary camera lens, watching it all unfold, that was aware of the almost epic quality of my narrative.  

I called a friend to tell her about my humiliation, and I remember saying, “Some part of me thought that even though I wouldn’t have chosen it for the world, I offered to each person who saw me that day, a completely honest glimpse of life. 

They saw real humanity played out on a real stage.

Not a reality TV show, not a mediated through a screen relationship, and how often does that happen?

To be let in to who someone really is, without any hiding or pretending or masks? I bet some of them are going to remember that day when the mom with four kids fell apart in the store. Maybe they’ll even remember it when they have their own terrible day in public, and it will help, in some way, help them feel not so alone.”

 

I really do believe this.

That, whether we like it or not, choose it or not, every time a window is opened into real life, truth comes flooding in- unadulterated, uncompromised, truth. The kind of truth that sets people free to be their own unedited selves, that allows for a profound moment of human connection between strangers, the bond of our shared experience of inadequacy in the face of LIFE'S relentlessness.

The relief of knowing we are all in this together, just crawling our way towards the light.


It took me two weeks to return to the store, to try and finish my fool's errand, this time alone.  I walked to the paint counter, and there was the same man, my witness.

"Oh, it's you," he said.

"I'm so sorry," I launched in, "that was a hard day."

"It's life. It's ok. You are doing a great job." He looked at me with the same gentle compassion, and I started crying all over again. 

"This is so embarrassing!  I'm so sorry. I don't know why I'm crying. I'm really fine. I'm not sad or anything. I thought I was over this.  God, I’m sorry. I think I must just be crying because I am remembering what I felt like two weeks ago, and it's like muscle memory or something..." I babbled on and on as he walked me through the paint product aisle, still smiling.

Finally, he turned to me and said," You don’t need to apologize. I could tell how much you love your kids. We all have bad days.  It's brave to be seen when we are weak."

Then he asked for my name, and the names of my kids.

We met each other. 


When I told him my daughter was named Kyrie, he asked what it meant. I began to speak of Kairos, Greek for grace, the opposite of Kronos-how it’s time out of time, where God moves, where creation and connection happens.  He asked how I spelled it, and when I explained about the Kyrie Eleison, one of the oldest prayers, how its simultaneous petition and gratitude, a plea for mercy, he knowingly nodded.

“I’m a painter,” he offered. “I have two paintings called Kairos #1 and #2, for some of the same reasons you mentioned.  Did you say you named your youngest Phoenix?"

"Yes," and I began to tell him about our fire, and how I was 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth child when the baby's nursery went up in flames.

"I have a painting called Phoenix Rising,” he said, and he began to tell me about his work.

 He mentioned he had several pieces hanging in a local coffee shop but couldn’t paint very much right now because his daughter was sick, and he’s had to increase his hours at work to afford the medical bills.


"When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them"

 -(Martin Buber, excerpted from Brown's Daring Greatly, pg.150)

 

I visited that coffee shop later in the week, and saw art that would have meant nothing to me without the human story behind the work.


And isn’t that what we all are? Art? With a human story behind the work?

And how often do we pass masterpieces in the aisles of the hardware stores without even taking a second glance. Because we don’t know the stories, we don’t see the people.


I will always remember the kind artist in the hardware store who witnessed my unfolding and called it a masterpiece, and offered his own honest story in return.

I felt God that day in the hardware store.

If that’s the payoff from the cost of vulnerability, then I will pay it, every time.

Tuesday
May132014

Motherhood is not a biological designation; it is a position of the heart.

On Mother's Day, I had the honor of telling this story of ferocious love...

 

Tribute to Mothering from Mill City Church on Vimeo.

 

I first told this story on Mother's Day 2010, at our church in Northern Virginia, right after Michael and Hope (our best friends and the godparents of our children) met Donald.  I had to tell it without using any names because their desire to adopt was so fresh they had not even shared their thought process with family.  

So much has happened since then, and it is with great joy that I get to share a longing fulfilled...

(here is the text spoken in the video

In 2010, our closest family friends, Michael and Hope, traveled to an orphanage in Jamaica to work with children who have severe physical and mental disabilities.

A few days in, Hope fell head over heels in love with one of the orphans- a thirteen year old boy named Donald-but hesitated to say anything to her husband for fear he wont understand the intensity of her connection to someone she just met.  On a day trip without her, Michael also met Donald, and also felt a strong connection beyond his ability to explain.

A week went by.

Neither said a word.  

Then one night, as they lay down to sleep, Hope turned to Michael with tears running down her cheeks, and said simply, “I love him.”

Without needing any words to clarify what she meant or who she was referring to, Michael said, “I know. I love him too.”  

 

That was all it took. 

These two teachers in their early 20’s, two adventurers who had just finished hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, who had plans for international travel, racing bikes, getting Masters’ Degrees, two partners who had been married for a few years already but had not even considered trying to have children, decided to try and adopt Donald.

 

When Hope and Michael returned from their trip, they shared pictures, videos, and stories of Donald with us.  I’ve never seen two people come more alive than when they described his infectious laugh, his tender heart, his fighting spirit.

 

And that’s when we realized Donald has a severe form of cerebral palsy.  All four of his limbs are constricted.  He has almost no control over the muscles of his mouth and tongue.  He can’t feed himself or go to the bathroom or get dressed.  He can’t walk. He has some level of an intellectual disability as well.  Sucking on a juice box takes every ounce of energy and focus he’s got.  As a thirteen year old boy, he weighed 35 pounds; Hope could carry him like a baby, with his rigid legs hooked over the side of her forearm.   

 

Hope told us about taking Donald down a slide for the first time in his life. She scooped Donald up, carrying him up the steps, building the suspense: “Oh Donald. These are some high steps!  I don't know. This is pretty scary. I'm not sure if we're gonna make it.  Do you think we can we make it? EEEE!!!”  The whole way down Donald was laughing so hard, and when they hit bottom, Hope asked him, "Do you want to go again, Donald? Do you want to go again?"  And this precious boy, who almost never talks, who spends most days lying on a mat with only a plastic baby toy at his feet,  said, “yeah, yeah,” through his huge grin.

 

Some people might see Donald as a burden or an imposition. They would take in his contorted frame, his wheelchair bound existence, and they would only see limits.  All the ways they would have to sacrifice if they chose to love Donald.

 

Hope says Donald taught her to believe in God again.

 


Motherhood is not a biological designation; it is a position of the heart. 

 

I am reminded of something the writer Khalil Gibran said in his piece, “On Children.”
He said, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hands be for gladness.”

 

When I first read these words, I thought of a position in yoga called "dancer." I'm going to try and show it to you so you can see what I saw.  

In "dancer," you reach behind and grab your foot, and then you stretch your opposite arm out in front of you, and as you stretch, you begin to bend. And as you bend, you end up looking like a bow. 

This is what I see when I think of motherhood.

I see woman after woman, standing in a field that stretches to the horizon line, bending. Bending like dancers.  Their faces are set like flint. Their eyes are fixed and blazing. Their intention is clear.  They are living bows. 

And they will bend until from them shoot living arrows, streaming light out into the darkness.


It is the bending that defines a mother.

 

But it hurts to bend. It’s hard to be stretched.  How do we surrender to the Archer’s hands? How do we love when the loving pulls us into pain?  

 

It took three years for Hope and Michael to adopt Donald. Three years of of endless deadlines, financial strain, this weird movement between frantic task completion and interminable waiting.  Three years where they had to defend their decision to family and friends, many of whom supported them, but some who literally interrogated them, told them they were too young, too inexperienced, too idealistic, that if they got Donald, their life would be over.

 

But one day they brought him home. And he was theirs.

And it was so beautiful.

And it was so painful.

At first, Donald wouldn't go to sleep.  He would cry until he made himself throw up. He thrashed around on the bed so hard they had to pad the entire area with pillows for fear he would bruise himself. When they fed him, he spit it out. When they went for walks, people would look at them funny. Some even came up to them and asked, "What's wrong with him?"  Some even commented on the fact this his skin color was different from their skin color.  

And they bent.

They bent beyond what they knew they were capable of.

And then one day, with great effort, Donald looked up at Hope and said, “I luh you, Muh.” 

 

I know no matter what the sacrifice, no matter what the cost, if God asked my friend, “Would you love like this again?” she would look up at Him and say, “yeah,” through her huge grin.

 

Thank you to all the women who take care of the children, no matter what you are called, no matter where they come from. 

 

Thank you for your gracious bending.

 

May it be for gladness.

 

Page 1 ... 4 5 6 7 8 ... 175 Next 2 Entries »