Before I begin my story, I’d like to share two verses from Jeremiah and Psalms which have for a long time been words I lean on:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." ~~ James 1:2-3
"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You discern my going out and my lying down." ~~ Psalm 139:1, 3
As my trip unfolds, I hope you’ll see how and why these words have come to mean so much to me.
I was born into a Christian family, one that attended the
. I wasn’t baptized as an infant, but at age 9, like all my friends at church, I attended a confirmation class and became a full-fledged member. Why not? Everybody else was doing it. I’m certain that 9-year old girl had no clue exactly what faith meant. Methodist Church
Kids are like that – whatever everybody else is doing they want to do it too. You’ve noticed, right? So, I followed along with my friends at church. I went to Sunday School, youth group, church services, sang with children’s and youth choirs, attended some camps and retreats. But I can’t remember feeling a sense that I was wholeheartedly committed to pleasing God and walking with Him each day. This pattern continued throughout grade school and high school.
After high school, I attended a Methodist college. Not my first choice but I’d gotten a scholarship there. My major was in sociology and psychology – I was going to save the world! I remained active in the church and faith-based activities on campus. However, at the same time, I checked out other denominations – Episcopalian, Lutheran, Christian, Southern Baptist, and yes, Presbyterian. As I look back, I think I was searching for something.
After college, I worked for a couple of years and then life began to move along rapidly – marriage, a child, then divorce, single parenthood, the sole provider for my son, a parent’s illness and death, my own long illness. During all this, I felt so alone. I longed for someone to share my life with because life alone with a child is difficult. But life doesn’t always happen the way we want, and perhaps I was intended to live life alone. I decided to make the best of it.
Several years passed, and I met my husband and best friend, Bob, in church choir. For both of us, definitely a God moment, maybe one of the first I’d recognized in my life. All that time I’d spent seeking a partner, and out of the blue here was Bob. Obviously, God’s timing was different than mine! Blessed with such an obvious God-given marriage, I began to look back over my life to see what I might have missed. While I’d been blithely tripping along, enjoying myself for the most part, God had always been there protecting me from the abuses and dangers in my life, even though I thought I was the one in control.
A move to
in 1983 began a new chapter for me. I was now 2200 miles away from everything I’d ever known. You might think that was hard; not for me – it was like a bird let out of a cage. I could now spread my wings, so to speak. Oregon
You see, unfortunately, my childhood hadn’t been all a childhood should be, and I had lots of baggage from those years and from my first marriage. My brothers and I (I’m the middle child) were raised by an emotionally and verbally abusive mother. Her life had been a rough one; her dad died when she was 6 and the older of my two brothers was from her failed first marriage. Our dad, orphaned at 4, had no real parenting model. He was a quiet and gentle man who disdained confrontation, and I believe he somehow managed to either understand the mother we couldn’t or perhaps he just shut out the sounds around him. Or maybe he thought she got it right.
As I grew into my teens, my personality evolved into one that mirrored my mother’s in some ways. Children do become what they experience around them. I became assertive and aggressive with her and argued when I shouldn’t. I often defied her, and this made her treatment of me worse than that toward the boys. About this time, I began to experience confusion about my feelings for mom – I knew I should feel love for her and I think I did – she was my mother after all; however, I detested the person she was. I also began to see that her harsh and demeaning manner was only directed at family.
I was 37 when we moved to
, and even by long distance mom could still put the fear of God in me with telephoned outbursts filled with comments and criticisms that destroyed my self-esteem and left me feeling worthless. Yet, a part of me still longed to believe deep down she loved me. Pearl Buck has been quoted as saying “Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same.” Somehow this just never rang true for me. Oregon
Bob showed tremendous patience with my personality traits similar to mom’s. Often he would give me a gentle nudge by saying, “Honey, you’re sounding like your mother.” Don’t think that didn’t get my attention! His patience soon taught me there was a better way to get through this life. Was this another of God’s messages being insuated into my life? Perhaps.
Twenty years passed by, and our marriage grew richer day by day. Our three children grew up and began to have families of their own, and they began to give us grandchildren. Life seemed to hold something that neared perfection. We both had great jobs, and we were enjoying travel. Then we came home from a Labor Day trip in 2000, and had a voicemail from my older brother. He had called to say that he had placed mom in a nursing home; a cruder way of putting it would be to say he just took her and left her there. As the months progressed toward Thanksgiving, phone calls with mom became disturbing, and I was forced to realize something wasn’t quite right, or was she manipulating as she was prone to do. Being strapped with her care long distance and trying to sort out the details of what she kept telling me took a huge toll on me emotionally. I’m thankful for a doctor who took the time to just talk. She asked about my mother’s childhood, and mine, and helped me to see that because mom had been placed in an adult role at 11 parenting two younger siblings, she never really had a childhood and her only way to control her siblings was with fear. She had grown up not seeing or receiving appropriate parenting, and as my doctor put it, she didn’t get the right toolbox for parenting. This opened my eyes to all that may have caused mom to be who she was with us. It didn’t erase everything, but made thinking of it easier.
I made a secret trip to
, and on my arrival at the nursing facility, I was horrified to see the condition she was in and to finally realize that she was living in a dangerous situation. After three days, I knew it was necessary to get her out of there. This was going to be HUGE in our lives. Not only had I grown up not liking this woman, but now I had to care for her. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was angry, I was frustrated, I was confused, and yes, I was scared. How could I do this? How would it affect my life, my home and my marriage? WHY now when everything was so right? I frantically called Bob, and we began to pray for answers and direction. Nashville
Miraculously, everything necessary to move mom within a period of less than a week – finding a good place, locating a doctor in Oregon to sign her into the facility, airline tickets, packing and shipping her things -- fell into place as if someone planned each detail. Together, Bob and I talked about the power of prayer, God’s power, and most of all His answers to our needs, to mom’s needs.
During the 10 months that mom lived here (she died in October 2001), a relationship that was scarred with bitter memories and words healed without any words at all. We each found a place within us to graciously forgive in silence. We crossed a vast divide in our relationship without dredging up the past. Truly a grace moment for me!
God became so very real to me during this time, more real than at any other time. There is no way from that point on I could ignore His grace in the past nor the grace He provides each day of my life. Remember, that little 9-year old girl who didn’t know much about faith? Finally, she understood what being God’s child and walking with Him on a faith journey really meant.
Someday, I'll tell you more.