Thursday, June 23, 2016

Go, Team!

I haven't really let on, but the past week has been a struggle for me emotionally. Ever since church, despite my continued efforts at giving myself pep talks, praying, listening to worship music, and talking to a friend, I've been feeling weighed down. I've been feeling kind of oppressed.  I've been feeling a bit defeated.

The parenting struggles have been many, the exhaustion has been exceeding, and the reminders of the life we had for a while are many.  There have been multiple avenues bringing me back, and not as many leading me forward this week.  I know that happens from time to time for everyone, so I haven't been trying to dwell on it much.

But a dear friend pointed out midweek that she could tell, and we talked about it.

Today, we prayed about it together.  She lead me to break off the spirit of defeat that has been weighing me down.  I feel silly admitting the spirit of defeat, because obviously, from outside looking in, I haven't been defeated.

As we prayed and commanded it to go, she reminded me to ask God to fill me up with something to replace the defeat, to speak to me or show me something, and fill me with his love and peace.

Almost as soon as we finished praying, I felt my shoulders rise and my mind felt clearer.

Then, I heard "I know you feel defeated, but I AM undefeated. I AM un-defeat-able."

I sat there, quiet, thinking about it, and feeling myself regain the consciousness that I had been lacking for most of the week, just muddling through each day.

I have never been really into sports.  I collected basketball cards as a child for no reason I can discern as an adult.  I've watched them occasionally, but I've never been a die-hard fan of any sort of sports team.

But here I was, sitting there, hearing God speak to me in sports analogies.  Perhaps it's because my kids like to play ball.  Who knows.

It's been almost 51 weeks exactly since the children and I last saw their dad, or since they had any contact with him whatsoever (despite our efforts to be in contact with him over the weeks).

I felt Him telling me, "You've played these last 51 innings, batting hard.  You've been struggling through them on one team, with half of your team having forfeited already. You've pressed on. You've played hard.  Overtime is done."

I realized that when my former husband and I were raising kids, we went to church, but we didn't really do much more than that in regard to God in our family.  We were our team, and for most of that time, I really was the only one fully invested in outcome.

"You're on my team."  I had goosebumps, chills, and tears.

Of course I am, I thought.  But I felt it again. "You're on MY team."

"I'm the coach.  I'm the quarterback.  I'm the MVP.  I AM. And my team is bigger than yours.  You aren't going at it alone on my team."

Well then.

He's right.  I am on His team. I have been all along. He's been on my side, and I have been on his.  But I haven't fully invested in my draft, because I've been still longing for my old team.  That team that failed me.  And why should I want to play alone, investing in that team, when I have the undefeated champion right alongside me.  He's got it all under control after all.  He defeated death.  

I realized also that, as I have been reminded numerous times by my friend, that we aren't supposed to live life alone.  We don't live life alone.  He gives us people to support us, to play on our team with Him, and to help through each tricky inning.  I know this.  I've known it.

But, apparently, I didn't see it as clearly as I should have, and God had to show me through sports.  Go figure.  I'm an art person.  I married a sports person.  My oldest son is definitely a sports person.

Go, God!  Go, Team!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Just Mom on Father's Day

Here it is.  Father's Day.

Today, I've already been wished a Happy Father's Day and a Happy Second Mom's Day, more than once,

In some ways, it's been a very typical Sunday. I woke up this morning singing "Good Good Father" in my head, at 5:45 when Norah decided we should get up and get ready for 8:30 church, bathed the two-year-old princess, fed the kids, watched Norah tattoo herself so she can look like me, gone to church, came home, and fed the kids lunch,.

But in other ways, today feels like agony.  I sat through church and heard, as I have many times before, the various ways that children can be screwed up by not having a dad in their lives.   From home life, to church life, to school life, to social life... there's numerous, detailed effects that have been studied and documented linking the lack of a father in children's lives to problems later on.  I get it.  I have heard it all before.  And each time, I always break down in tears.

That's not the only thing that I got from the message at church, mind you.  But it's always a lingering reminder that just a mom just isn't good enough by worldly standards.

I'm mom. It's just me.  I'm not dad.

Yes, I have the responsibility of both parents.  I provide the income and stability that way, and the emotional and educational development.  I love with a momma's heart and discipline with a father's hand.  I do both sides for the most part and I do them the majority of moment I am with them  every day.

But, I'm not their dad.  I'm not a father.

God calls on me to show them a mother's love and to show them His love through the heart of a mother.  He calls on father's to show them the father's love and discipline, and I do that too.  But I am not their dad.  I am not a father.

They have one.  He's somewhere out there.  He's not showing them the Father's love, though, or a father's love.  He's not fulfilling that role God called of him, so I have to make up the best I can.

But I am not their dad. I am not a father.  I never will be. I can't be.

For much of the last year, I've been trying to pull double duty. I've been told I'm an awesome mom and an equally awesome dad.

But I'm not.  I'm just a mom.  I'm just filling in father type roles when I can and am capable.

I don't have to be a dad.  I don't have to be a father.  As much as I want them to have one, it's not going to be me.  It doesn't have to be me.

I'm finally becoming more okay with that.

Someone messaged me a week or two ago, telling me something very similar.  Her exact words were, "Sometimes it feels like you are trying to be two people. In some respects, you have to be both mom and dad, but you are physically one person, and you need to allow yourself to live within that limitation. Some days, you just need to put one foot in front of the other, and call it a successful day. You don't have to make up for their father's absence, and some days, as long as your children's basic needs are met, you have had a successful day."

Since I first read her message, I have been dwelling on it. I've been letting it sink in and been trying to wrap myself around the truth that is in the sentences.

I've been trying so hard to make up for the loss of their dad. I've been trying so hard to be both a mother and a father.  But it's not what I'm called to do.  I'm called to be their mother, and to raise them in a home filled with Christ-like love and examples.  I'm called to surround them with others who live in the same way, and let the influences of those people also shape my children and show them the love of fathers and of the Father.  I just have to be the best mom I can be.

So yes, it's Father's Day, and it's my second Mom's Day of the year, and I will, in some respect, celebrate that I am pulling double duty in many respects, and that it's just them and me, and that we are living in a love-filled, happy household. We will smile, laugh, cuddle, and play.  We will relish the joy that flows among the four of us as we continue to move forward and shape our lives together.  I will cry for myself and my children and my former husband.  I know it. I already have cried more than once.  But, despite the aching hearts and the longing tears, we will continue to pray for their real dad, that his wandering days end and that God can transform him miraculously, so that someday, his heart will be turned back toward his children.  We will acknowledge that dad is still lost in this world and we may or may not see him again some day, but we will also acknowledge that mom is here, she loves them boundlessly, and that there are other fatherly men in their lives who show them a Father's love through the heart of a father.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I won't never...

As my oldest child grows older and is able to understand my words and their meanings and express his thoughts and emotions better, there are a few things I have found to be true.  I've known them to be true in the past of course, but when you have a little-big child who depends on you, things take on even deeper truth, I think.

One of these things is that you say what you mean and you mean what you say.  Yes, my dear five-year-old understands some sarcasm and jokes, but if I don't point out that I'm kidding, I can't be sure that he knows when I'm not actually thanking him for taking thirty minutes to find his underwear.

Consequently, when you're meaning what you say, you best not make a promise you don't intend to keep.  Now, this is an ideal most people with decent morals attempt to operate on anyway, but when it comes to kids, a broken promise equals the end of the world and dire heartbreak on most occasions.  It doesn't matter what your excuse is, legitimate or not, when you promise, that's your word, and a child understands that.  If you aren't sure you can keep a promise, you probably shouldn't make one.  If nothing else, at least assert that you're going to try to whatever it is you would be promising, instead of promising it straight up.

Another thing I find to be crucial is to never say never.  If your child is anything like mine, he or she can come up with a scenario for almost anything in which never may actually fail, even if the scenario is non-sense.  Try to out-logic nonsense in a child who swears up and down that they can fly up a tree.  It's exhausting to try and prove them wrong, especially if they're not willing to try to fly up the tree because they know it's all talk.  Just sayin'.

When it comes to my own children, but especially my oldest, I've seeing these ideas to be more important as days go on.

He's got some trust issues.  I know this.  I know it's largely because his dad promised to love him forever, that he would always be his daddy, always take care of him, stand up for him, be with him, and love him... and then he walked out.  Now, he may still be his daddy, be with him in his heart, and love him... but it's definitely harder to believe, even if it is true, when your dad has been missing in action for almost an entire year.

Recently, my son has been questioning me.  I ask him to trust me, and he isn't sure he wants to.  When he does trust me, I better not fail him, that's for sure.  I ask him to believe me, and he doesn't always want to.  I know this is normal for most children, of course, but I feel like I need to take extra care to produce what I say I will so his belief in me doesn't dissipate by my own fault.  I very rarely tell him never, unless it's something like "you should never run away from home" and so forth.

This morning, there were a few struggles with my son while we were in a strange place with a bunch of strangers.  He already doesn't like large crowds of people he doesn't know, but I told him his grandma was going to be there, and then I got there too early and he started to doubt me.  The more he doubted that, the more stressed out he became.  I ended up taking 15 minutes or so to calm him, persuade him the place was safe, that I was with him, and that it would be fun.  I "shared my brave" with him, because he kept telling me over and over he was afraid.  I then made the mistake of walking away where he couldn't see me, and he shrieked.

It's that moment when one of the fears he had vocalized a few weeks ago was true and ever-present.  He asked me once if I would ever disappear.  He's asked me if he will lose me.  He's asked me if I will leave him.

I hate to say never.  But, I have said never. "No, I'll never leave you, I'll always come back.  I would never get lost, I know my way around.  You will never lose me, I'll be your mommy your entire life."

While these statements are all well and good, and said with the best intentions and sweetest sentiment, they say never.  And sometimes, I do leave.  Like this morning, I left, only for a few seconds, but those seconds were long enough to send the fear of my abandonment in a strange place.  Of course, I come back.  But someday, I'll die.   He will lose me on this earth. We all do lose people we love.  I've said I won't ever get lost, as he says he has lost his dad, but then every once in a while I take a wrong turn in a different part of town and admit fully that I'm not quite sure where we are.  

His fear of abandonment is valid, though.  I mean, his dad did it, so of course, day in and day out, he's going to fear somewhere inside that his mom will abandon him too.  While I know I would never choose to abandon my children, his little heart just can't imagine that because one parent already did.   So, day in and day out, I have to prove to him my constancy, my stability, and my promise that I'm staying.  It's an exhausting thing sometimes.

I should never say never.   I know it.

The only one who really should say never is God.  He's the only one who will not fail us.  Mothers are human and imperfect just like every other person on earth.  God's the only perfect one.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Here it comes...

Father's Day is coming up so quickly. 

This year, it's going to be different than ever before. Last year, they didn't see their dad either, but they still sort of knew he was around and in their lives... 

It's been an emotional week, not only for me, but for my sons as well. While Collin, who is three, doesn't express himself as well as Spencer, I am lead to believe that he is dealing with some emotional turmoil and confusion as well.

Spencer, who is 5.5 now, is able to vocalize himself better, and is quite intelligent, and able to really pinpoint his emotions quite well.  All of the talk on TV, radio, day care, Sunday School, and among his peers about Father's Day seems to be stressing him out quite a bit.  He asked me tonight why he doesn't have a dad anymore. I told him he has one, but that his dad is still making poor choices and I do not know how to reach him.  We talked about God also being our father. While he is very smart and has great faith already, that concept is hard for him to grasp, I know. We said extra prayers for his dad tonight at bedtime.

At work (daycare) this week, a lot of time was spent working on Father's Day crafts and art all around the center. I took the lead on creating the gift from the children I work with, and helped out with the gift in the baby room. Each one brought joy for those children and parents, but also pain for my own children.

I have, admittedly, had some selfish "why me and my kids?" moments, moments where I personally felt betrayed and abandoned. But for the most part, each time something revolving around Father's Day was mentioned or done, I felt such loss for my children.

My two-year-old daughter who doesn't really understand what a daddy is, my three-year-old son who vaguely remembers having a dad, and my five-year-old son who misses his dad so much that he seems to be on his mind constantly...

I try to talk them through it. We talk about how Father's Day is for dads, but also for grandpas and uncles and men in our lives who love them. Each of my children made their art for Papa Web this year instead of me, hoping that helps them associate the day with the love of other family and close friends instead of the dad who up and walked out on them.

But my momma heart aches. It aches to know the right way to approach the tough questions, for the perfect answers, for the way to show them how fiercely I love them and others love them despite what they're missing.

I can only relate to my children somewhat. I can relate in that their dad up and left me too, left this gaping whole in my heart and life, left me wondering if he thinks of them or if they'll ever see him again on this side of eternity.

But I have my dad in my own life still. Fortunately, my children have my dad in their lives still.  I could have lost my dad this year, but by the grace of God, he survived a stroke and has been on the mend. I have a dad I can call, text, visit, hug. I have a dad who lets me cry on his couch and tells me he loves me. 

And that makes my heart hurt for my kids even more somehow.  Because I have had a dad for 32 years, and Spencer had his dad for 4, Collin had him for 2, and Norah had him for 1... And he wasn't fully there for most of that anyway.

I know as years go by it will get easier and tougher; easier for them to understand a Father's love through God, through extended family, and through friends. They will see and better that you don't NEED your biological dad to have fatherly love and influence. It will get tougher as the questions become more intense and the quest for understanding grows deeper.

If you pray, and are willing, please spare a prayer for my children this weekend. I know I am praying that they see joy, feel love, and have peace, especially Spencer, as they likely hear about Father's Day at church on Sunday. I pray the good memories and love outweigh the ache in their little hearts, and they are able to carry on and grow stronger as they see the day through.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

She's still with me.

June 19, 1939.  A beautiful baby girl was brought into this world.  Her name was Leora Mae.  Through the years, she grew into a loving child, a wonderful mother of six children, a wife, a single mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother.  She was a cake artist, a baker, a cook, a crafter, a singer, a dancer, a friend, a mentor, a chatter, a joker... and so much more.  She left this world on February 1, 2007.  It's been an emptier place since.

It's hard to believe that it's been 9 years since I last heard my grandmother's voice.  Had she not taken her place in heaven already, she would be 77 years old this weekend.

I miss her so.

But, lately, I see more and more that she's never truly left me.

I don't say this in a ghost-haunting or angel-on-earth sort of way.  I say this as a reflection of myself and of my own daughter.

My grandmother is someone I have always cherish and respected.  I look up to her, even still, knowing that she went through many struggles in her own life, and came out of them still smiling, still believing in God, still professing His love and her faith, and still believing in the good in people and the good in the world.

She had a husband she loved, but due to complex reasons, it didn't last forever... much like my marriage.  The reasons for our divorces were greatly different, but the result was similar.  We became single mothers, never in our lives imagining that would be the case.  She raised her six children on her own, and I wonder often how on earth she did that, when I struggle with only three young ones to provide for.

She was one of the biggest influences on my faith.  I loved growing up going to church with her on Sundays.  She would bake goodies for the fellowship hall, and we would attend. I sat next to her, instead of going to Sunday School, and gladly took sermon notes.  I sang my heart out to the hymns and professed my beliefs via the Apostles' Creed, and would pray the Lord's Prayer with heartfelt meaning, not just reciting it as many.  I loved our time together.  I attribute my desire to continue to go to church largely to my Grandma as my mentor and role model in my early years.

Instead of turning away from God when life got hard and messy, she turned to Him.

Now, I can't say that my Grandma was never weary or burdened, or felt worn down raising her children, because obviously, I wasn't around to see it.    But I believe she relied heavily on grace and mercy and all of the promises God makes to us to sustain her each day, through each frustration that motherhood inevitably brings.   I strive to live in that fashion.  Though, I wish she was around to help remind me on the toughest of days, I know that I have other supports who will and often do, not to replace my Grandma, but to walk alongside me as she would if she still could,.

I developed my love for baking and crafts because of my grandmother, largely, as well.  I would often come over to her house and help her bake or cook, or we would paint things, create knick-knacks, doo-dads, earrings, and Christmas decorations.  We colored, and drew, and played card games while listening to the radio, singing along.  She loved country music, but also hymns and Christian songs.  I can still see her foot tapping under the table while her black radio sat beside the window and we played Yahtzee or some other game.  We would both sing along.  I hear songs that remind me of her frequently, and I still sing along and remember her vividly.

I miss her so, Some days more than others, but always, I miss her.  I wonder if she would be proud of the choices I've made, what she would stay when I start crying with struggles, what advice she would give to me in the trenches of single-motherhood, and how much she would love going to church with me now.  I long for her to have met my children. I think she would be amazed and overjoyed that they love to pray, that they sing "Jesus Loves Me," and that they're learning other hymns that I can't help but sing sometimes.  I think she would be so excited to hear my oldest tell his siblings about the Garden of Eden or about Noah's Ark or about the Resurrection of Jesus.

I believe she would tell me I'm doing a good job out here.

As I said, though, she's never fully left.  You see, I feel her inside me, somehow.  Not in a physical way, but in a way that's influenced my spirit, my soul, my mind, and my heart.  I think that she helped me develop so much during my younger years that parts of her personality are shining outwardly through me.  I believe I'm very much like her in ways I never saw before.  I suppose trials will bring character you never expected, and that is what happened here.

I also see her in my daughter.  Norah was named after my grandmother's blood line, the name coming from her own mother's middle name, Nora.  I've loved it forever and to be able to pass it on to my own daughter was such a blessing.    But it's more than a name.

Somehow, I see my grandmother in my daughter's eyes.  Now, my daughter has brown eyes, as does her dad, but when I look at her, I don't see his eyes.  I see Leora's eyes.  I don't know how to pinpoint it exactly, but they seem so familiar, like I'm looking at my grandmother all those years ago.  My daughter looks like me, she looks like my mom, and she looks like my grandmother.  Some of her stances, her gestures, her poses, her remarks, her expressions... they all remind me of my grandmother though.   As much as I  miss my grandmother, I love that about my daughter. 

I wish I could tell my grandma happy birthday this year, to her face, in a card, over the phone... I've left her notes on her grave in years past, done commemorative photos, poetry, and blog posts.  I miss her the most on her birthday.  It's always a hard day, and I often find myself lying in bed, crying over my loss, wishing she was around, and stunned that I've made it so long without her.  I remember the night she died I sobbed hysterically to my former husband "I don't know how I'll live all these years without her with me!"

Somehow I have.

I suppose, it's because she still exists, within me.