I’ve never been one of those majorly popular girls but I did get chosen for the Homecoming Junior class princess in High School. I had a few really awesome close friends and a large group of kids I felt were good acquaintances back then. Once I got married I made friends pretty easily at church, with my children’s parents and with those I met at school functions. I’ve never really suffered from terribly low self-esteem even though I know my limitations, both physically and socially. At least until my two youngest girls became young adults.
What is up with the whole eye-rolling thing anyway? Why is it that anything I say now is either socially inept, boring, or only marginally factual? At what point did I get foot-in-mouth and OMG-Mom disease without knowing I even had the symptoms? Is it contagious? Did I get it from my own mother? Will it ever go away? Does it have any direct relation to my sudden realization that I’m suddenly gross sexually, can’t be trusted with secrets and can’t pull off anything that remotely hints at cleavage anymore?
I’m not in the least bit concerned that my own mom says things like “that’s cool” as she hits 78 but I remember being slightly embarrassed by it when she was 38 so I’m assuming this is their problem and not mine. Still I do find myself teary after a tongue-lashing of “Puh…leazzz…mom” and “Do you always have to talk for me?” (I talk for everyone, why should they be any different?) I try to chalk it up to peri-menopause but it’s really just a realization that I’m that loser mom that all teens create at some point in their lives.
The younger of these two girls turns 22 soon. Thank God my oldest is now 37. She’s no longer seeing me this way (as often) and is experiencing her own grief-stricken rejection as she kisses her boys in public. I wonder how my mother ever put up with us growing up.
Recently I bemoaned the fact to my mother that I couldn’t believe I had a child who was 37. She said, “You know what’s worse than having a daughter that’s 37?”
“No, Mom. What?”
“…Being the mother of a daughter who has a child that’s 37.”
Got me there.
We call 2014 – The Year of Pain. It is also the year we decided to be baptized. Isn’t everything supposed to be glorious when you decide to come back to God? I never expected death and devastation, trauma and pain to be a part of my pathway back. Yet there it was overwhelming me with pain and promising everything in return.
We started attending in December 2012. By December of the next year we were ready to move toward solidifying our relationship with God within a church community. We had been attending regularly and had just joined a small group that I was asked to lead. It was a privilege and an honor to be asked but we were told that since it was a couple’s group we were both required to be baptized and my husband had not been at an age of understanding. We were ready for this and looked forward to it. Then the year changed to 2014 and the world began collapsing.
In January one of my daughters, then 22, had to be hospitalized for something that can only be explained as a nervous breakdown. In February my sister, only 48 years old (two years younger than I am), passed away unexpectedly. In March our 23 year old son (my step-son), a recovering addict, began stealing and pawning valuables from our home and cashing thousands of dollars on our stolen checks. Our business took a nosedive and it was then I began grappling with depression.
My husband began to be absorbed by his son’s day-to-day life and that took it’s toll on us. In April we started writing our baptism script; the words that tell those baptizing you that you understand what you are doing and for what reason. I realized then that I was not completely over my frustrations with Christianity. It may have been due to the bouts of depression. As my husband finished his script I began arguing with someone about my own. By May I had decided to wait to be baptized, thus causing my husband to pull back, and we turned over the small group to someone else. Probably a wise decision in retrospect.
Holidays were horrible that year. Each one more uncomfortable than the last. On Fathers Day our son nodded off in addiction, in the middle of his dinner plate and I watched my husband go pale. This was destroying the family. I was in a major confusion funk. I doubted my life purpose, my ability to be a good parent, a solid wife, a practicing Christian, and an inspired business owner. I was expected to help others suffering with horrible life-choices but all I could see were the ones in my own home now.
My oldest son decided to marry his sweetheart that month. They lived on the other side of the states from us so travel would not be easy. The truth is I couldn’t do it; financially or emotionally. I thought my oldest son, always so understanding, and his fiance would understand. They did not. My son took it as a sign that I didn’t approve of his decision and they became bitter.
In July my step-son finally entered rehab but quickly came home when he was able. Much too quickly. He started up again almost immediately. At that point I wasn’t sure how much more the marriage could take either. In September he asked to spend the night. The next morning we found him on the bathroom floor. After performing CPR, following him to the hospital and sitting with him for 2 days he passed away and my depression became full blown.
All I could wonder is if people younger than me could die what in the world was the use of the rest of my life? Then I began to doubt how much of it I had left and determined there wasn’t enough time to care about anything anymore. My husband, dealing with his own sorrow and grief, struggled for normalcy. Our business, which had started to thrive, suddenly became difficult to keep up with. We were both exhausted, both trying to recover, and we both began making dumb mistakes and bad decisions.
I was not emotionally ready for either the news in October that ISIS was killing children or that I had a long-lost brother who insisted on getting to know me. It was a tight-rope every day. Breaking up dog fights between our huge German Shepherd and our son’s Pitt-Bull was also not an event we needed.
Needless to say, ending the year with the holidays, minus two very important people you love, has got to be the hardest way to say goodbye to the most difficult year of our lives. It felt like all the promises had been forgotten and only pain remained.
And yet, reviewing this horrible year I noted a very important thing; God had not forgotten us.
If it were not for the small group we joined, regardless of the direction it took, we would not have had the support we needed through the most turbulent year anyone could imagine. With our son’s tragedy came clarity in dealing with clients we could never have otherwise understood. His death unexpectedly brought our family closer too. We began to hold tightly to those things we appreciated about each other and to be more patient with the grief of loss we recognized.
And what about my questions and frustrations with Christianity? I am convinced that it was a very necessary part of my own personal growth. I believe if I had not been dealing with so many other things I might have glossed over this discomfort and pain and missed the very things that would bring me comfort and strengthen my faith at the end of that year.
God is good even when life is bad and He has a plan. Always easier to see in retrospect, we must learn to focus our eyes on the Father rather than on the events and people around us. We must first have faith that He can do all things, and then we must believe that he will do what is best for us.
I’ve wanted so much to reach out every day this past week to tell all of my friends of color that, sure all lives matter…but for me…YOU matter. You are my friends and I hope you know that I hate how this all feels for you.
I know that despite my cultural openness I am still guilty of assuming and pre-judgement. I am openly admitting that so that, hopefully, you will forgive me. I am another victim of the books, movies, music and even cartoon portrayals of black men and women everywhere. In my heart I don’t see you that way but my mind is forever recording garbage. It is the shaping of misconception; like movies that make you not trust old bridges.
In every movie, that involves an old bridge, something bad happens when you cross it. Maybe if they filmed happier scenes on the bridge, more often, I wouldn’t be so sure something bad was going to happen when someone went across it. Nothing bad has ever happened to me on a bridge before and other than seeing some beautiful ones in pictures I’ve never actually seen anyone plummet through one. I have nothing to base my bridge anxiety on, except those movies; but I’m still unnerved by them. I think media influence can do that to you; make you feel emotions that you might not otherwise feel.
People of color, who know me, come to know quickly that I don’t judge others by their skin color but how do I express that to those who do not know me? I am always kind to everyone, I meet them with a handshake, a hug when appropriate, and look them in the eyes. I laugh with them in elevators and ask how their vacations are going when we’re out of the state. But truthfully, sometimes I am still afraid; afraid of offending you! So, I say nothing because I’m afraid to say the wrong thing.
I do see your color, I acknowledge it because it’s beautiful and it’s an important part of your life and culture, but I treat you with respect like every person I meet. Still, I trip on myself not refer to your skin color because I’m not sure if I should use the term African American or Black American or just black. I don’t tell you how beautiful your weave is or how jealous I am that you can wear the brilliant colors you’re wearing because I wonder if that feels like I am “trying too hard” even though I sincerely mean it. I want to say something in the summer time about my fear of blinding you with my neon white legs and how I wish I was that beautiful golden brown you are, but I stay silent because I am worried that you will think I’m being fake about it. I look in envy every time I see a large black woman wearing tight clothing because she is so much more secure in her body than I am in mine, but I wouldn’t say that out loud for fear that she might think that I was actually being condescending and not flattering.
Yes, I am aware of the differences in our skin colors but not in the way you think. More like in the way someone admires all the shades of blue in the sky at sunset. Yes, I’m sometimes afraid of you when we meet but not for the reason you believe. It’s usually because I’m wondering if I can smile at you and you will honestly believe I’m not “one of those” white people (insert whatever unkind thing you’ve heard about us). Yes, my eyes follow your children. But because I love children and find your children fun to watch or beautiful as teens growing into adulthood. You are not all the same. We are not all the same. We are not all thinking the same things.
Please don’t be frustrated with me for not knowing what to say. So much has happened in our family’s pasts to make it hard to know for sure how you will respond to me. I am not my ancestor but just like a new husband I am paying for your ex-husband’s sins until you get to know me better.
So why haven’t I said anything before this? Because I don’t know what to say. And I desperately want to say something. Each time I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “In the end we remember…the silence of our friends,” I feel the responsibility of saying something I don’t have the right words to say.
What can I say to the people I love and care about (and to others I don’t even know as well) that coming from my white mouth, would not feel like phoniness to your black ears? How can I make you feel my heart when I say, “You matter to me!”, and that I die a little inside as I empathize with the injustices that you feel?
A couple of days ago I talked with a couple on the phone for almost an hour about helping them adopt a baby. I didn’t know until the end of the call that they were an African American couple. Yesterday we met with a single, black woman about adopting. We spent over an hour visiting because we had so much fun and so much in common. For some of us life goes on the same in both worlds. We meet, we laugh, we visit, we are touched by one another. The world does not define us or our relationships. This cloud exists only to darken what could have been an even more enjoyable relationship. And yet we each feel the impact as if the world is shaken in two.
And we, straddling the divide, look at that bridge and dare to cross it.
© 2016 Dee Shihady, The Quiet Christian
(photos by internet research, not by author)
I am often reminded, in my stupor of personal wallowing, that the fact that I have plans for my future is of no consequence to God. It’s not that He doesn’t let us choose our future, it’s that He is, after all, a Father.
When my college-age daughter comes to me with a plan that I believe will ultimately not be good for her I have two choices; I can support her decision-making process (even while telling her how I feel) or I can tell her I know better than she does and that she will do it my way or not at all. I’m sure you can imagine that I would like to do the latter most of the time!
And yet our relationship has been steadily built on the premise that she is an individual and, as such, may want to do things differently than I would do it. Truth be told she has made some very good decisions and I’ve been proud of her. However, for the most part, I know her potential, her weaknesses and her strengths and I know what she should probably be doing so I could save her a lot of time and effort by just insisting on my course.
Here’s the glitch though. She may end up in the same place I would’ve sent her but if she doesn’t make it there on her own she will have missed the opportunity to grow in that area. What could be the most important thing she does can quickly turn into the thing she resents because it wasn’t her idea in the first place.
I think God is that parent when we try to make our own plans. He listens, He nods, He celebrates our willingness to think for ourselves and try new things, He laughs with us and cries with us when it doesn’t go as planned and He could say, “I told you so” but He never does. He actually knows us better than we can ever imagine, what we’re here for and what is best for us and yet He allows us to come to that conclusion all by ourselves.
Dee Shihady © 05/09/16
A little girl visited my daughter a few nights ago. They’re best friends. She claims to be an atheist but I’m confused about how anyone younger than sixteen knows if there is a God or not for sure. I remember when I was that age and thought I knew though. It must be possible to have that strong of a feeling to the contrary.
We spent the evening together having a rare teen-adult connection during conversation where she blurted out that her parents were not very kind to her. She recounted some stories that made me hurt for her and, even if only remembered wrongly, I still recognized as life-shaping. This is a girl, I kept thinking, that will turn into a woman who questions everything about the relationships she is in. She will wonder if, when he says he loves her, if he really does. She will second-guess her best friends (as she already does) and she will wonder if there is anyone who finds worth in her, even as she painstakingly dresses for another date or business meeting.
And this is a girl who can’t believe in God. She could never believe in a Father in Heaven who loves her because she doesn’t even believe that her parents do.
I have thought about this for days. I mull it over as one of the strangest but truest thoughts I’ve had in a while. The question seems so obvious to me and yet so vague: Does our relationship and belief in a Heavenly Father have anything to do with our dysfunctional or trusting relationships with our own earthly parents? And, regardless of whether or not those perceptions of our relationships are actually true or not, did it shape the way we formed our bond with God?
Does the man who spends his childhood with a father who is never home believe there is a God but that He doesn’t really participate in the daily lives of his children? Does the woman who spent her childhood lost in the sea of children of a large family grow up to think that God loves her but never notices the things she does? Does the child who is criticized often believe that they will never be good enough to go to heaven?
I’m starting to think a lot about my own parents these days and my perception of them.
From my journal 1993: In a few days I will be bringing forth yet another child into this already crowded world. Does anyone really care? Does it matter that it’s me or that it will be a boy or whether or not he will ever make a difference in this world? Probably not very many people. Other than those who love us and care about our day to day lives, we are just another pair. In another room someone else will be having a child also, a boy. Will he be a great and important man someday? Who’s to say? But I’ll bet everyone who knows and loves him thinks so too.
And so my mind drifts to the mother of yet another baby boy; only born so long ago, when the world was not quite so crowded, but busy none-the-less. At the moment that Mary first laid eyes on that beautiful baby boy of hers I’ll bet that there were many too busy that night to ever wonder if he would ever be something great either. But he was. And Mary knew it.
Mary, in all her innocence, was just a young woman. Not older and wiser like those who are having their fifth child, like me. Just a sweet first time Mom who would eventually unwrap her baby’s blankets and count his fingers and his toes like we all did with our first baby.
Even knowing who he was I know she felt the same protective feelings we all have toward our babies. She must have thought, “He’s so young, so vulnerable, how could he be so important?”
My heart bleeds for her as she realizes what he must endure for his mission in life. Oh how hard it must have been not to want to cry out in anguish to save the life of her child! To spare him from the pain that must surely come.
I cry too; to save the lives of each of my beautiful children. To spare them from the agony of the lessons they must eventually learn in time. I, too, know the ache of wishing that I could protect them from everything harmful and painful in life.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, she was the woman who taught him to walk, and to speak. Could it have been her who first taught Jesus the art of loving others without judgment? Could it have been his own mother who instilled in him the desire to serve God so willingly and completely? Mary taught him to share and play. Mary hugged and kissed away his bruises and tears. Mary helped him learn obedience and taught him about rules and laws. Who else but his own mother? Aren’t these the things that every mother should teach their own children? Could Mary have been a part of God’s wonderful plan to make Jesus into what he was and who he would become?
And so as I gather my children around me this day and looking from face to face, I think of Mary. And I pray that I can be such a wonderful mother to my children. I pray that I can teach them everything that God wants them to know; everything that I can give them to fulfill the purposes that they have been placed here for. I may have a rocket scientist, a veterinarian, a famous singer or just a great real estate agent in my family. I may even have a President of the United States in my home. Or maybe I’ll just have a great mother or father who will pass on family values and love to their own children. Every child represents the potential for the beginning link in a chain of greatness. All I do know is that how they are prepared today, and how much I can let them know they are loved, will greatly influence who they will become.
It’s true that many people in this huge world were too busy to care what each of my children would become when they were born, or to wonder if they would be anyone significant, but they are. I know it.
So from across the span of time and motherhood I wish you all a very Happy Mother’s Day; and a wish that you find as much delight in your own children, as much potential, as much awe for their future and your part in it as Mary did holding her own bundle of joy so many years ago and as I find in my own today.
Prayer seems to be a lot like talking to your dad
about something you both know you want.
He already knows whether he’s going to buy it for you or not
but if you don’t say “please” you look rather smug and ungrateful
and if you don’t ask at all
it looks like you’re either assuming
or you really don’t care whether he gets it for you or not.