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My Two Different Fathers

I had two different fathers. The first was loving, kind, intelligent and witty.  He told me how much he loved me, how proud he was of me, and how beautiful I was. He would follow this up with a phrase I heard often through the years: “You look just like your daddy. Aren’t you lucky?”  He was fiercely loyal and protective.  He taught me respect that has been beneficial in every aspect of my life.  Everyone-whether a boss, coworker, friend, cashier at the store, complete stranger-appreciates respect.

He took us camping and played softball and kickball with us.  He loved canoeing.

He attended college for sociology but due to a variety of factors wasn’t able to finish. He loved to read and write. Perhaps I get that from him. Yes, I’m sure I do, along with the sarcasm and family loyalty.

He would call me just to see how I was doing and we would have long conversations. He would ask me if I needed money (though I knew he didn’t have much himself).  He would invite me over for dinner.

He loved to garden.  I specifically remember one year that he planted a bunch of hot peppers. I remember because he told me to make sure not to touch my face after I picked some. I forgot and while I was driving home I rubbed my eye. I had to pull over and wait for the searing pain to subside.

This was the dad I wanted my kids to know.  He would have been a wonderful Grandpa. However, due to my other father, I kept them at a distance.

My other father could be very mean. He had vulgar language and made me cry with his words on more than one occasion. He got in fights. He demanded respect, but not in a loving way.  I never really knew what he might say and do.  I was afraid of him.  So were other people. This dad was selfish and had a hard time seeing outside of his own world to consider other people’s feelings.  This was the dad who drank.

It was a roller-coaster ride throughout his life- brief times of sobriety followed by longer periods of bondage to alcohol. Each time he was sober, we hoped this time it would be for good, but in our hearts we doubted it.  He attended AA meetings at one point, he even helped run the meetings for a time. Then he believed he had learned all he needed to and could do it on his own. He was wrong.

Finally, because of the condition of his liver, amongst other things, his doctor told him he was going to die if he didn’t quit drinking.  He was 58. He said he wanted to be around for his family (even this father had a deep love for his children). He quit-at home, alone, cold-turkey.  He went from drinking around 2 fifths of whiskey a day to nothing. He called me disoriented, unsure of where he was or even what time period it was.  I hurried over and called an ambulance.

His body was in shock and he was having hallucinations and violent episodes. They finally sedated him and put him on a thiamine treatment. This worked but he was suffering from alcohol induced dementia and the doctor wouldn’t release him without a guardian. So, I became my father’s guardian for the last year of his life.

The dementia mostly cleared within a few months, but the damage to his body had been done. He needed someone to dispense his medications and care for him, so the only choice was an adult foster care home. We all had families and children, and it just wasn’t possible to care for him and our own families.

Despite the fact that this terribly independent and prideful man wasn’t pleased with the way it all turned out, it ended up being a blessing in a lot of ways. It forced him to remain sober. In the last year of his life, his grandkids finally got a chance to get to know him. They have funny memories of things he said and did when we visited. He also repaired two relationships that his sheltered world of drinking allowed him to ignore and pretend didn’t matter. One was with his sister, and one with his father. It brought my grandpa and my dad peace to repair this relationship.

He was also able to attend church with us on a fairly regular basis. I actually heard my dad pray aloud, and he told me he was making things right with God.  When I wish things could have been different at the end of his life, I remind myself of these blessings.  God made some beautiful things out of the ugly.

It is coming up on three years since my dad passed. I had to stop and make sure. It seems unreal that it could be that long.  I still think about how different things could have been if I had been able to have the first dad I wrote about all the time. What kind of relationship would he have had with his grandkids?

I have debated with myself whether it was better or worse to see the glimpses of how great my dad could have been had alcohol never gotten a hold of him.  Would I be as sad? Would it have been better to never know and just rest in the fact that I was better off not having him around?  I don’t think so. I think it’s good to know that some of the qualities I see as assets in myself and consequently my children, actually come from him. I have good stories to tell my kids. Alcoholism isn’t my dad’s only legacy.

I imagine him free now. Free from chronic pain. Free from bondage, and enjoying peace.  Someday, I’ll get to see that dad again, and it won’t be fleeting.

Despite the personal pain, I like to tell this story.  I hope that it will help someone in some way. Whether it’s a child of an alcoholic who can see that other people know where they are coming from and can understand what they have felt, or whether it’s a parent who may be able to see the pain they are causing their children and can stop it before it’s too late.

For help:

http://www.aa.org/

 

 

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It Didn’t Matter Anymore, Grandpa

I don’t feel like the issue was fully resolved. I don’t feel that you completely understood where I was coming from or just how much you hurt me in those years of disconnect.  I don’t think you fully took responsibility for your part in it, though you apologized in your own way-not really ever using the words “I’m sorry.”

But it got to a point that I didn’t care. I hated not having you in my life and not really knowing my kids. I hated them not knowing you-the man who had had an immeasurable impact on who and what I had become.  The hole didn’t go unnoticed. I spoke of you often and then, like today, I felt you in many of my words and actions. There were many, many days in which I wanted to let it all go, and I would call you and see that you were still bitter. I don’t blame you entirely, perhaps I could have put in more effort.

I know that in that time (the few years in which we only spoke a couple of times a year), all the comments you made about being disappointed in me, or about my “head not being in this world” came from a place of hurt.  I know from experience, that pain often manifests itself as anger and bitterness. I know it was hard for you when I “stopped needing you” as much, as my own family was forming. What you didn’t understand was that I still needed you, just in different ways.

So, perhaps the God-ordained timing was just right, perhaps we were both at a place in which it didn’t matter anymore, but that one summer visit changed it all.  I am thankful that I had an “excuse” to come over to see my Aunt, (I’m not sure I would have come otherwise,) so I could see that the bitterness was gone. I felt we were finally both in a place to let it all go and just be Grandpa and Cyndy again. I told you I was sorry I had stayed away so long, and you told me I had misunderstood the things you had said to me about not finishing college to stay home with my son, and the comments you made about me homeschooling the kids as they got older, and that you didn’t mean it the way I took it. In my mind I disagreed, I still thought you had meant them exactly as I took them, but at that point it didn’t matter anymore. You told me you were never truly disappointed in me, and I took that. It was enough. You were 87, I believe, and I knew we were limited on time.

We found out a year later that cancer was widespread and aggressive. My emotions were so mixed as I was thankful that we had reconnected, and deeply saddened that we didn’t have more time. My older kids would remember you, but my little guy definitely wouldn’t.  I was thankful that you got to see me in my girls and it brought you back to when I was that age. And I will forever be thankful for that visit, right after I found out about the cancer, when it was just you and I, and I was your little girl again. It could have been 25 years prior and it was just us.  We reminisced about the past and you retold your favorite stories about us, and we laughed, and I cried. I told you that I wished we had more time. You said, “I guess our time was always limited, we just didn’t know how limited.” More words of wisdom, Grandpa-good for everyone to remember.

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I’m That Kind of Person, Mike

I listened to a vlog by Mike Rowe recently in which he read an email his mother had sent him. In it, she told a story about losing her purse at the grocery store and meeting the woman who had returned it. The lady told her not to feel bad because she had actually left the store before without her cart of groceries. Mike’s mom ended the letter by asking what kind of a person leaves her cart full of groceries in the parking lot. I’d like to answer that for you, Mrs. Rowe: this kind of person.

I had forgotten (or perhaps blocked it out) but the day came back to me after hearing that story.  The kind of person who leaves a cart full of paid groceries in a parking lot is the kind of mom who paid at least 20% more for those groceries to shop 5 minutes away instead of driving 3 young kids 40 minutes round-trip to get a better deal.

She’s the kind of person who just spent over an hour in the store with 3 kids who wanted everything they saw, and became whiny and tired halfway through the shopping trip.  She’s the kind of person who had one thing on her mind as she was pushing the cart out to the vehicle-getting home and putting the kids down for a nap or some quiet time so she could decompress. She’s the kind of person who took the care to buckle all of her kids in tightly and safely, then hopped in the front seat never noticing the cart full of groceries sitting in front of the vehicle.  Then she drove home thankful to be done with the grocery shopping for one more week.

She pulled into the driveway at home, got out of the big SUV, and remembered the groceries. She cried a little bit at the realization that she was minutes away from a little rest, and now had to go back to the store. She’s the kind of person who prayed on the way there that someone had taken the cart back inside and not taken advantage of the opportunity to get a week’s worth of free groceries, because she didn’t have the money to replace them.  Then she got all of the kids back out of the SUV and hauled them into the store to retrieve the groceries that thankfully someone had pushed into the store.

So the short answer to that question-what kind of a person forgets a cart full of groceries in the parking lot-is an intelligent, devoted, hard working mom who hadn’t had a good night’s rest or gone to the bathroom alone in 7 years.

But that was years ago. Even though I once again have a little one, I don’t make those kinds of mistakes anymore. I would like to say that it’s because I am enlightened, or no longer allow myself to be frazzled or stressed, but really it’s because I have a teen and two tweens who say things like: “I thought you needed to pick up toilet paper,” and “Basketball starts Monday and I still need new shoes,” and “Did you call and sign me up for gymnastics yet?” Does it really matter how or why things get done, if they get done?

Please share your frazzled mom or dad stories with me in the comments.

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If They Don’t Like Me. . .

I have heard people say, many times and in different ways, “This is who I am. People can like me or not.” One of my favorite interpretations may be my late Grandpa’s version-“He’s got a real ‘go to hell’ attitude. If you don’t like it, you can go to hell.’” Maybe not the most appropriate, but my grandpa wasn’t known for his propriety. He was known for cleverly saying what other people were thinking, but in such a way that you laughed at yourself. But this post isn’t about my grandpa. Though this quote highlights the fact that rarely a day goes by that I am not reminded of him in some way-whether in my thoughts or actions.

Back to my point. I have actually said versions of that. I used to be a great deal more concerned about what people thought of me. I also used to keep much of myself behind a wall, worried that if people got to know me really, they wouldn’t stick around long. I’d like to say that I have completely overcome all of that, but I still continue to work it out. This is why I have said in recent years things like, “They’ll either like me, or they won’t.”

While I completely agree that there is validity in that statement, I don’t think that it can necessarily be a hard and fast rule. Let’s see if I can make my point this way.  I had someone say to me recently that I “used to allow myself to be offended by” things they would say.  Now, unless I am hearing that wrong, there is absolutely no responsibility on that person’s part. It couldn’t possibly be that he/she came across harshly, or maybe said something he/she shouldn’t have, or at least in a way that he/she shouldn’t have said it.

It got me thinking about our approach with people. Most people act a little differently depending on who they are with. They know what specific people will and will not appreciate, what may or may not offend people, and how they may need to act to keep the peace. If done correctly, it isn’t an issue of not being true to who we are.  It is actually Biblical. Romans 12:18 reads, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” If there is someone we simply cannot get along with, or continue to offend, the answer is to make sure it is in no way our faults.

It may take a little finesse on our part to get along with certain people.  “I’m not changing who I am just to get along with someone,” people might say. I think we all have different aspects of our personality that come out at different times. God spoke to people in many different ways. He spoke to Moses in huge spectacular ways. Yet, he spoke to Elijah in a gentle voice. In which case was God not being true to Himself? If God altered His approach based on who He was speaking to, and how He believed they would respond, shouldn’t we do the same?

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The Strongest Thing

 

There are some strong things in this world.  Some things are almost unbreakable-or at least labeled as such. Certain metals, certain rocks and gems-natural and manmade things-some things are tough and can take a beating. However, after being a mom for 15 years, I think I know what the most durable thing in the world is. I know what outlasts Tupperware, is stronger than a diamond, and could even make Adamantium metal alloy look cheap (that’s for you son).

It’s a mother’s heart. Seriously. It breaks over and over again, is repaired and filled with joy, is emptied and broken again, is repaired and filled again-and sometimes all in one day.

It’s been a long week in our house. My daughter stayed with my sister for the week to help out while my brother-in-law was out of town for work, so a piece of my heart was there as well. Meanwhile, my little guy, the two-year-old, had a pretty nasty virus that he is still recovering from. All week he wanted to be by my side, either nursing or cuddling and watching his favorite movies.  It broke my heart to hear him whimper and whine and feel his hot little body.

As he recovers, so does my heart-and something my 12 year old did helped fill it back up. She brought me Tupperware she found at a garage sale while she was gone. She spent the money she was given on her mommy. That little lady has broken and filled my heart countless times, and the love I have for her only grows as she does.

Kids do it without realizing it. A mommy’s heart can crack a little when an immature child says the wrong thing. A mommy’s heart can crack a little or even break when she has to give a punishment that she knows will be tough to handle. I have denied my children certain things that they have been looking forward to for a long time to correct a long term character issue, then gone into my room and shut the door and cried.

I have held my daughter while she cried and tried to explain why people are just mean sometimes: why the neighbor kid who doesn’t even know her would call our family weird; why her friend would talk about her behind her back. My heart would break as hers did.

My heart would break a little as I tried to explain to my sweet spirited boy why he would be overlooked and forgotten about, or why someone would steal his Kindle from the Y.

Then there are times in which my heart couldn’t be fuller. Like when I see the back of my man-boy’s head in the front of the church raising his arms in worship to God. Or when my youngest daughter turns off a show she was watching because she thought it may be inappropriate.  Or when my middle girl, the 12 year-old, tells me, “Even though you may be a little strict for my liking-because I’m 12-I think you’re a good mom.”

It’s amazing how durable God made a mother’s heart. How no matter how many times it breaks, it can be restored. How the very little-or big-children who contribute to its destruction are the very same ones who contribute to its restoration. And how no matter how many times it happens, the love for them only grows. It’s an amazing dynamic. And no matter how insane it may seem-most of us wouldn’t change the process for anything.

 

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What Joplin, MO Taught Me About Contentedness

I never imagined I would look upon the first two years of our marriage with such fondness. We were two broke college kids living over 800 miles from home. My husband had been there for college for a couple of years already, but I had no one there but him. We were both strong and stubborn, and learning to compromise while navigating our new roles as husband and wife was sometimes quite ugly.

We lived in a beautiful town-Joplin, Missouri-but I couldn’t see the positives at the time. I called it “Misery” because all I wanted was to be home in Michigan.  To me it was a burdensome detour on the way to the rest of my life. In hindsight I know I was bitter toward my husband because I had to move there so he could finish his degree. It hadn’t been my plan. I had a university in Michigan picked out.  I was already accepted and had scholarships waiting for me.

I knew before I married him that moving to Missouri for a time with him would be necessary, but as I said, I was stubborn and I would have preferred to have things my way-a trait that I unfortunately still haven’t grown out of.  My life growing up was out of control and chaotic with no stability. This left me wanting to control everything, which has caused me more problems and stress in life than if I had just relinquished control to someone as capable, or more capable.

In Missouri I could only see what I was being kept from-my family, my college, my state, my plan. I looked to the future and what I would do when I got back to Michigan. Then my life could really start.  It is good to plan for the future and have goals, but not at the expense of the present. This was a toxic looking ahead.

This push in me led, not surprisingly, to some hasty decisions that had very negative results. As soon as my husband graduated Bible College, we left for Michigan.  We had been offered a position at a small church with someone my husband had known for a very long time, and I thought it was the perfect, safe opportunity to ease into ministry, as I was still nervous about being a pastor’s wife. My husband was hesitant. He wanted to stay a little longer to be mentored by our pastor in Joplin, who, incidentally, told us that he didn’t feel we should go yet. I am embarrassed to admit that I pushed for it against all of this, and my husband, wanting me to be happy, took me back “home.”

As is so often the case when we make decisions based on emotion, and ignore wise counsel, things did not turn out well. We left the position with hurt and hard feelings, and it set us back in ministry for years.  Instead of feeling better about being in ministry with my husband, I felt even more unsure of it.  It did something in him too.  He had been passionate about becoming a minister and the light in him faded some.  He had had such high hopes for stepping into a role as pastor, and it was nothing like he had imagined.

Through the years we have healed. We are involved in ministry again, as youth pastors, and my husband takes every opportunity he can to preach.  God is like that. In His infinite Grace, he restores the things we ruin. The question I have asked myself often though, and that I find myself for some reason dwelling on recently is-if not for that one bad decision-how would our lives have been different?  I visualize in my mind a starting point with many different paths.  There is one that staying in Joplin a few more years would have taken us on, and one that moving back to Michigan when we did took us on. In my mind they veer off into completely different directions.  Would they actually have?

The point I started with is this-Joplin was great. I just couldn’t see it.  In hindsight, my mind’s eye sees it differently than when I was living it. We were all young and all had the whole future ahead of us. Every one of our couple friends seemed happy and full of hope.  It was a special time. The blessings outweighed the negatives, but I refused to see it. I found a great college in the city that I ended up loving.  I did attend that state university in Michigan and missed my Missouri Southern.

My ungratefulness and inability to count my blessings early in life cost me. Just how much, I’ll never know, but definitely the joy and excitement I could have had the first couple years of my marriage.  Would I change a lot? No.  I would still want the most important things to be the same-the same husband and the four best kids who were ever created, and with whom I have had the privilege of staying home as to not miss a moment.

What Joplin taught me though, unfortunately in a big way, was to be grateful and to be content where I am placed, and to not move onto the next thing until I am directed by Someone much wiser than I. I’m not going to lie, 16 years later I am still working on it. I gain more and more tools along the way to help me count my blessings instead of my disappointments, and I try to let God make my decisions.  Things go smoother that way.

 

 

 

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Trusting Your Parent’s Wisdom

Sometimes I get that look from my kids when I tell them “no.” It’s the look that says, “Why don’t you let me have any fun.” If I’m in the mood, I explain the reasoning because I want them to understand that there is a “why,” and that there are natural consequences to certain activities that I want to help them avoid. I don’t just enjoy saying “no.” But I really wish they just trusted me. I mean, haven’t I proven my love for them? Can’t they just trust that I’ve been around a lot longer, experienced a lot more, and know what I’m talking about?

Sometimes people give God that same look.  Sometimes the Bible can look like a big book of “don’ts” and “thou shalt nots.” Being a Christian can look boring-like we can’t do anything fun.  But God just wishes we would trust Him.  Can’t we just trust that He knows what He’s talking about-that He’s been around a lot longer and experienced a lot more and wants to help us avoid disastrous negative natural consequences to certain activities?  Hasn’t He proven His love for us?

As crazy as it sounds, following God’s “rules” and directives is actually freeing. We can have fun while avoiding a lot of the trouble others find themselves in as a result of making bad choices. Being in God’s presence, seeking to follow His will, aiming to please Him is what brings true joy and peace. Isn’t that what we are looking for when we engage in many activities? We want to have fun because it will bring us joy, right?

We would all be a lot better off if we quit giving our Father that look we see from our kids.  Let’s just trust that He makes “rules” out of love and in an attempt to help us avoid the trouble He knows will come from making certain choices.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11