I walked right past her…

I was out shopping a few weeks ago, searching for a winter coat.  My white coat finally retired after eight cold Michigan winters full of sledding, shoveling, shivering, and a little bit of skiing.  I haven’t thrown it away because it is still storing some memories.

The store was fancy.  People seemed frantic.  I walked right past her.  I didn’t even see her sitting there, alone.  My friend Karen stopped, smiled, and said the friendliest “hello” to the little old lady sitting alone, on the edge of what must’ve been a very uncomfortable square block shared by the mannequins behind her.

At first, the little old lady looked startled. Quickly, she smiled back, and her heart filled up.  I saw the sweetest transformation!  Her heart filled up and she smiled right back! Karen made her day.  She noticed this woman that I flew right past.  She saw her, and connected with her.

Karen’s smile and “hello” must’ve brought the little old lady back to a time when that was the norm.  I see it happen in all of the old movies, so it must’ve been the norm.  Waving to people as they pass, stopping to say hello, or just a sweet smile.  Making people feel… important.  Valuing them.  Seeing them.

I wonder if the little old lady went out that day, with her daughter perhaps, just so that she wasn’t alone at the nursing home.  Stuck in a small room, silence as loud as a deafening concert.  Loneliness screaming at her.  I wonder if she knew she would get tired of shopping rather quickly, but she’d rather share a mannequin’s uncomfortable square block than hear the silence.  I wonder if she felt the world passing her by.  I wonder if she gave up on people saying hello, waving, and smiling at her.

Whatever the reason, Karen’s gesture was exactly what the little old lady needed that day.

Karen taught me something that I was able to teach my daughter this past Friday.

We went to the gym to play tennis.  Sometimes, the people at the gym aren’t very friendly.  This past Friday, my daughter had a bad experience with a staff member who who was very stressed out, and not so nice to her.  As my daughter relayed the story to me, I tried to explain all of the reasons why the staff member might have been overwhelmed: the tennis area was busy, several people were demanding things from her, we were a few minutes late for our court time, we didn’t know how it all worked, and we had a lot of questions…

My daughter was still very upset about how she was treated.

I thought back to Karen, and the little old lady at the fancy store.  I told my daughter that we will experience stressed out people almost daily throughout our lifetime.  We can either take it personally, or we can be merry & bright. I know it sounds fluffy and fake, but it works. When we want to respond to negativity with negativity, no one wins. If we respond with positivity in the form of a smile, even in the midst of the figurative arrows that might be shot right at us, we might just make someone’s day.

I hope that the little old lady returned to her home a little bit happier that day.

I hope that, even in the midst of the negativity that this world brings, we never forget that we have love, and hope to share.

There is darkness in the world, but it has been overcome.  There was a battle, between good and evil, and good won.  There has been a victory.

An endless love pours out over us, allowing us to be

Merry & Bright.

 

A room full of tears

My grandfather’s brother’s wife passed away this past week.

I went to her funeral today.

It was the first funeral I’ve ever attended where tears were shed, by every single person in the room.

The room was large, and the tears that fell filled it.

This woman, my Aunt Betty, left a great impression on everyone she met.

I’ll never forget the way she looked at me with kindness, smiled at me with love, and affected me with genuine care. Even though my Aunt Betty had 10 children, and several more grandchildren, she still treated me like I was the only one in the room when she spoke to me. Her heart, and her smile, made me feel special.

I have to believe that every person in that room today had a similar experience with my Aunt Betty. I have to believe that every tear that fell held a similar memory.

She was a devoted grandmother to the young young boy who knew she’d read to him every time he requested a book.

She was a mother who “worked hard at loving all of her children,” according to one of them.

Her daughter found this poem, and read it to her before she passed away:

Aunt Betty held a torch. She held it when she married young, when she fought to marry the man she felt was worth fighting for. She held it when she lost that man several years ago. She held it even when she was ready to go.

She passed the torch this past week. She passed it to all of us.

We will do our best to love the way she loved, to look at people the way she did, and to make people feel as special as she made them feel.

2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Divorce (through a child’s eyes)

When my mom and dad were together, my world was full.

I was not fearful.

I felt protected.

I loved when we all smiled together.  We played at the parks, we flew kites, we jumped the waves in the ocean, we climbed trees in Washington D.C., and we looked out for each other.

If you saw us, if you were walking behind us, you would have seen this great big heart around us, with small hearts above our heads – full, and flashing.  That’s how you would’ve known we were a family.

One day, the big heart broke, so the little hearts above our heads were empty.

My dad left.

My mom changed.

I was scared.

I felt like I was out in the middle of the ocean with no boat, nobody nearby to help me, and nothing holding me up.  I was just floating, alone, waiting for everything to go back to the way it used to be.

Sometimes my mom would pop up, but her eyes didn’t look at me.  She saw me, she made sure I was still alive, and still floating, but the heart above her head was still flashing, still empty.

We left our house behind, and moved to a new house.  My dad picked me up every other weekend.

I kept trying to find that big heart that used to surround us.  I wanted to fill my mom’s heart up, so it would fill mine again.  I was tired of floating, alone.

I tried to make new friends at our new school, but I just felt so… lost.  I didn’t think anyone would understand what I was thinking.  They all looked like they were swimming laps like pros while I was still out in that ocean trying to figure out how to swim.

My mom started dating someone new, so now she didn’t pop up as much.  I wasn’t even sure if she saw me most days.  She looked happy, but the heart above her head was still flashing empty.

My dad started dating someone new too.  He still picked me up every other weekend.  He looked happy too, but the heart above his head was flashing empty too.

Why couldn’t they see me?  Why were they acting like their hearts weren’t empty?  How could we get back to climbing trees in Washington D.C.? How long could we exist this way?

My questions started screaming at me.  The water I was floating in felt bigger, and scarier everyday.  I felt like I was running out of air.

“Mom!”

“Dad!”

“Someone! I need help!,” I yelled, out to the silent sea.

At school, I walked around with my head down.  I tried not to let my tears escape, but sometimes they did.  I could feel the other kids wondering what was wrong, but I wouldn’t look up.  I wouldn’t let anyone in.

I came home from school one day and I noticed that my mom’s heart wasn’t flashing empty.  It started filling up, just a little bit more each day.  I didn’t know why, or how it was happening, but I loved it because she saw me again.  When I asked her what was happening, she told me that God was helping her.  She said that God protected us, and provided for us when we were out in that ocean.  She said that without God, we would have drowned.

I didn’t see God the way my mom did.  I was thankful, (if what she said was true), for the protection.

I’m glad we didn’t drown.

My mom kept changing, a little bit each day.  She was becoming the mom I used to know.  Her heart was pouring out into mine, and it never seemed to be empty.  I couldn’t figure it out – how could she pour so much love into me, but never run out?

When I asked her, she told me…  “God’s love for me, and for you, is so big that it never runs out.”  She explained that God’s love is like a great big barrel, bursting:  “As it bursts, and flows out over me, it is so full that it flows out over you.”

It didn’t make sense to me at first, but as time went on, I felt it.  I accepted it.

I still wanted to climb the trees in Washington D.C. with my family and that great big heart around us, but I know that the great big heart is with me even though my mom and dad aren’t together.

I’m not scared anymore.

I feel protected

I am loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vanished…

I watched “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts last night. Ok, not with Julia Roberts! I do think it would be cool to hang out with her though!

I read the book several years ago, but I never watched the movie. Sometimes when I’ve read the book, I don’t want the movie to spoil it. Watching the movie last night, with myself, reminded me of how great the book is!

I used to be able to relate to so many of the things the main character, Elizabeth Gilbert, discovered about herself.

“I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my #!#, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my
dog’s time—everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family.”

She realized that she became who she was dating. That other person became her identity. She was never Elizabeth, “the one who wanted to help everybody.” She only identified herself with the person she was married to, or the person she was dating.

Similar to an empty vase that became the flowers that filled it. When it was empty, without flowers, it didn’t realize it was still beautiful with a purpose.

She was on a journey to find out who she was.

She had to vanish and re-emerge in order to become who she wanted to be.

I like how she described it:

the same way a cartoon circus performer dives off a high platform and into a small cup of water, vanishing completely.”

In that moment, hearing that word vanish, I realized that’s what I did. The old me had to leave completely to become the new me.

It is such a powerful thing, to leave it all behind. To want to be more than you’ve ever been.

At this point in my life, I must acknowledge that I couldn’t have vanished on my own. I took the hand of One who offered to help me let go of who I was. I had to TRUST (and that’s extremely difficult for me to do!) that He would be with me every step of the way.

Looking back, at that moment, I see my old self melting into God’s hands. He formed me all over again to be who I am now.

The beauty in that image is that He didn’t toss out the memories and the toughest moments. They’re all still part of me. Pillars of strength.

It is a process, the vanishing and becoming new. Falling back into who I was when I’m weak. Allowing negative thoughts to consume me sometimes.

I’ll never regret letting go.

What is a single mom?

I’ve been pondering this title lately.

“Single mom” used to be the identity that came with the expectation of pity.  Over time, it became a medal worn proud.

A single mom used to be someone in survival mode, treading water, longing for a break.  She wasn’t the best at making her kids feel important and empowered.  She couldn’t see past her own need for oxygen.  She did what she thought she had to do to succeed.

Unfortunately, this single mom looked past her purpose.  The ladder she was climbing wasn’t steady.  She wanted so badly to prove to the world that she wouldn’t fail, that she kept climbing the ladder, knowing she was headed for destruction.

She had a house, a steady income, and a few close friends.  On the outside, it looked like she was doing pretty well.

But if you caught her, if you peeped in her window, you would have seen her exhausted and gasping for air.  You would have found her just looking for relief from the daily struggle… constantly.

She thought that being in a relationship was what she needed, emotionally.  From the moment she knew she was going to be a single mom, she desperately sought to fill that void.  The void that she thought her ex-husband left… she replaced by another man.

Relationship, after relationship, after relationship, after relationship.  Each one lasted about two to three years… it took her that long to realize that the men were hurting her more than they were helping her.  Each time she found a new one, she’d fly right past the red flags that were blaring.  The flags were as loud as firetruck sirens, as bright as flashlights pointed in your eyes, and as obvious as stains on a white t-shirt.  Her negative state of emotional health didn’t allow her to see the red flags until two to three years into the relationship.

Fortunately, for her sake, and the sake of her children, the last one did her in.   She woke up.  The day her eyes opened, she shook her head in disbelief.  She couldn’t believe what she allowed him to do to them, how she allowed him to talk to them, and how meaningless she felt because of how he treated her.

This single mom decided that she needed to figure out who she was.  She realized there was a pattern and she wanted to stop the cycle.

She completed some painful soul searching that took her all the way back to her childhood.  She wanted to find out who she was before the relationship saga began.

First, she pulled out her positive traits, (because those were easier to handle): Carefree, silly, independent, a bit impulsive – the fly by the seat of your pants, adventurous kind of impulsive, not the careless risk-taking kind of impulsive – optimistic, kind-hearted, and overall… happy.

Next, she faced her negative traits: impatient, trusting people too quickly, hard-headed, competitive, naive, and willing to give in too easily in certain situations (not valuing herself enough to demand to be respected and valued).

For the first time since her divorce that was final 9 years before, she acknowledged that several of her negative traits contributed to the divorce.  Acknowledging this freed her to stop being the victim.

No longer the victim, she felt strong enough to start over.

Starting over meant that she wanted to try to be her “best self” – the one where her positive traits won more often than her negative traits.

The “Single Mom” title is now worn proud.

She helps her children change the spark plugs in their car without wishing someone else would.  She cleans the leaves out of her gutters with a smile on her face, glad she is not afraid of heights, and happy to have a steady ladder to climb.  She encourages her children to learn who they are, seek their true, unique identity, and not let anyone change them.  She respects herself, and hopes she is modeling that for her children.  She is driven to succeed, hopeful to dream big dreams that might come true someday, and thankful for the journeys – the one she walked away from, and the one that lies ahead.

 

Two halves

She was walking around, just half of herself, unaware.

She knew something was wrong but she didn’t know what it was.

She attached herself to other people, like the wrong shaped puzzle piece. Nope.

Hmm.

She drank too much after work and on the weekends. The alcohol just left her feeling less than the half she already was.

She hated looking in the mirror. It felt like being in math class when the solution just wouldn’t calculate no matter how many hours were poured into trying.

Acceptance made her feel more complete, but still not whole.

Finally, she asked for help.

“Do you see all of me?,” she asked, to everyone who passed her on the sidewalk, at the office, and at home.

No one answered.

“WHAT IS MISSING?!?” she yelled, to the air outside.

“Me,” she heard back, from somewhere inside.

She looked up. Her other half was right there, being offered to her by the One who said “Me.”

She didn’t know who He was yet, but she fit into that other half.

Finally, she was WHOLE.

Fake pants

My daughter was told her name-brand pants must be fake.  Harsh, right? I thought so too, especially because the person who said it has been a “friend” of hers for 3 years.

I am a single mom.  I pay my bills on time.  I own my house.  We eat healthy foods, and we do fun things together as a family.  We live simply, without fancy things, but we live, and we enjoy quality time together.

I know this “fake pants” accusation shouldn’t bother me as much as it has.  I know that I tend to be a bit sensitive about things I should probably just let go of.

It took me back though, to that dreadful day in 6th grade when the popular girls told me I couldn’t wear my black Guess jeans.

“Why are YOU wearing THOSE jeans???,” they asked me, laughing.

I didn’t respond.  I wore them as often as I wanted to, and probably pranced around a little more on those days.  Who were THEY to tell me what I could and and couldn’t wear???

It made me realize how shallow they were.

They found their value in the brand of clothes their parents could afford.

I hope that my daughter realizes that her value has NOTHING to do with the brand stamped on her authentic pants!  My daughter is, and always will be, valued because of who she is, not what she wears.

My daughter still calls this person a friend.  She still invites her along with us.  She sees past the accusation.  I suppose I should do.

I hope her friend knows how fortunate she is to receive grace from my daughter.  I hope I can offer the same.

I also hope that someday, the world won’t be so harsh.

I am so thankful to have raised a daughter who sees people beyond their shortcomings.

One day, we will reach a place where there is no judgment.  Our value will not be determined by anything other than who we are and whose we are.

Fake pants, authentic pants, invisible pants… none of it will matter.