My “Fairy Tale”… Complete With Wounded Relationships...
I suppose I should start at the beginning of this fairy tale….
When I entered the scene in January of 1950, my life had already been surrounded by sadness. Each of my parents had already lost one of theirs. I would only meet two of my grandparents and, at five, say goodbye to another. My father had been in the Philippines and was honorably discharged from the army after contracting malaria and double-pneumonia. When he came home, he was so weak my mother, who was 5’6”, would have to drag his 6′ body to the bathroom and back. He regained his strength and began working for my great-uncle in the early stages of his grocery conglomerate. He later went into business as a life insurance agent and continued helping others, by giving them financial peace of mind, until he was physically unable near the end of his life.
My father had a good business head and an even bigger heart, so what could have been great financial success became great personal success. Everyone loved him. When my handsome dad entered a room, he brought light and life with him. He was vibrant and personable, kind and tender, warm and loving and he made everyone feel as if they were the only person in that room with him. Oh, I wish you children could have known him….!
My mother was the perfect partner for him… beautiful and feisty and personable… candid and self-assured. They mirrored each other’s dark hair and blue eyes, but their souls, although perfectly connected, were very different. They say opposites attract and my mother and father were just that… opposites.
My mother’s family was from Germany and Romania. They were very industrious people; mostly entrepreneurs. Her parents owned a deli/bakery combination when they settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and my grandmother ran it, even after my grandfather’s death. She later remarried and successfully operated a beer distributorship with her second husband. My grandmother’s family still owns a vineyard in Mundelsheim, Germany. Hard work was foundational in my mother’s family and she and her sisters helped out as early as they were able.
My earliest remembrance of our home was that it was clean and neat and always smelled fresh, like the laundry Mom would bring in after it hung in the sun and summer breeze. She was a great cook and followed in her parent’s footsteps when it came to baking. I don’t ever remember a meal I didn’t like, except liver and onions, and I had to eat that because it was “good” for me. I never understood that term since it tasted really BAD, but parents always know best, right? Suffice it to say that I never made you children eat liver.
Anyway, my mom had the heart and mind and abilities of her ancestors and so did my dad. His family came from England and were the thinkers and visionaries. They surrounded themselves with people who could carry out what they dreamed and, although hard work was not foreign to them, they saw it in a different light. Hard work was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Relaxation was not looked on as a waste of valuable time, but as a time to exercise the mind and clear the head.
My parent’s idea of fun was entertaining, dancing and enjoying friends and family, but they did it quite differently. My mom would be playing the piano while my father would be singing. When we had company, my mother would spend hours in the kitchen with the women and Dad would be cracking jokes with the men in the living room or den. If Mom were reading a novel, my father would be listening to the radio or, once it arrived at our house in the late 1950’s, watching television. My mother would mend or crochet and my father would browse the newspaper. Mom would read to me. Dad would play with me and ask about my day.
It seemed to me, as I was growing up, that my dad always had time for me and my mom rarely did. Oh, she was a great mother in the sense that she would always provide for my needs; good food, clean clothes, enough rest, proper books and play things. But after I reached school age, I felt distanced from her and never knew how to regain the closeness we once had. It was as if once my “need” for her was gone, she had no way to connect to me; as if under all that beauty and grace and ability, there was a person longing to be somewhere else. That was only a child’s perspective and one that could be entirely misread. The feelings linger, nonetheless.
So, as the years marched on, I took the requisite ballet and piano lessons, sang in the school choirs and acted in the school plays, all the while seeking the attention and admiration of my mother and gaining the attention and admiration of my father. As he taught me, I learned to play baseball and ride my bike and enjoy the outdoors. I would help him with yard work and odd jobs around the house but when asked to help my mom, I found the chores tedious and boring. It was as if I had set my mind against the things that kept her from me and it caused even more tension between us. My young mind found it hard to enjoy those things that always seemed to come between Mother and me and I never did them quite right. So, since criticism came with my mom’s household chores and tolerance with Dad’s chores accomplished outside, I began to look forward to being with my dad and resent the time I had to spend remaking my bed. I wonder if sometimes I could have made it perfectly but didn’t just to make her mad…. Sadly, the tension only grew between Mom and me and I wish, with the wisdom of age, that I could sit and talk with her… could ask forgiveness and make it all right again. Years were wasted as I grew into a woman with a mind of my own, just like her, and the wish to nurture my family. If I could, I would ask her why I never felt nurtured. I would ask her why I felt that I never measured up. I would ask her why she pulled away from me when I needed her most and why my child’s mind remembers needing her and missing her when she was just in the next room. I would ask her how she missed the obvious. I would ask her why her “mother’s heart” could miss the ache that her child felt. Sometimes I felt like I was silently screaming for her love and attention and she was emotionally deaf to my call for help. Resentment grew.
To give her grace, maybe there were things in her life that were going on that I didn’t know about. I did know that my great-aunt, Eleanor, had skin cancer and so Mom took me to the church where ladies would make cancer dressings to cover the ulcerated sores that came with the disease and we would regularly go to my great aunt’s home where my mother would help to tend her. My mother was always busy helping others… maybe because they needed her and that gave her satisfaction. Mom’s younger sister’s family stayed with us off and on for two years while Aunt Betty underwent two open-heart surgeries. At first, my five-year-old, only child mind saw my younger cousin, Steve, as a burden and a toy-stealer, but I grew to love the company. Then, at age ten, my father’s younger sister, Agnes, died and her only child, Carol, came to live with us. Carol and I were close, but had our rivalries. She needed a mother and shadowed the only one I had. Carol relished kitchen and household chores, while I simultaneously hated them and hated the fact that my cousin was spending time with my mom. I never shared these feelings with Carol during that time. I loved her and she was the only “sister” I would ever know. However, these situations caused more confusion and some unwarranted jealousy. My relationship with my father only grew deeper during those years. Mom and I grew further apart.
High school brought softball and basketball, choir and solos. My dad was always there watching each game or performance. I don’t remember my mom coming very often. She had a part-time job by then and couldn’t always get away, but I just saw it as one more way that she showed me how unimportant I was. I tried out for and made the All Philadelphia High School choir and Dad would drive me to the three-hour Saturday rehearsals that were held about an hour away. Eventually I was able to take the elevated-train, lovingly named the “El” in Philadelphia, and the subway, on my own. Though feeling grown-up, I missed the drive-time we had together. Granted, he was a soloist and enjoyed the time listening to rehearsals for Handel’s Messiah and other well-known and lesser-known pieces. But he also enjoyed the time spent with me. We talked about everything and, once conversation ceased, we sat in a comfortable silence while I drank in the pleasure of his company. I knew my dad loved me… I wasn’t so sure about my mom.
I remember the story shared with me about the fact that I was a “miracle.” My parents tried for eight years to have a baby. My mother had an “infantile uterus” and only one ovary, so the very fact that she got pregnant at all was a miracle. The fact that she carried me to term was an even greater one! Why then, if I was a miracle, did I most often feel like a big pain somewhere in her anatomy?
My mom and dad were so completely different and yet the love they had for each other was palpable. I always felt that same love from my dad, but rarely felt it from my mother. I knew that she loved me but, even in an effort to show her love, the love felt strained and distant.
Dad died when I was twenty-two and I was never able to say goodbye. Mom came to live with us after Jason was born and stayed during most of the rest of her life. I’m not sure if that decision stemmed from practicality or a deep-seated need to connect with her, even in my adult years. It’s hard to live in the same house with someone and constantly feel disconnected from them… I did it for most of my life. It brought me sadness and longing and regret. I’ve asked my Heavenly Father to intervene and to tell my mom that, with the writing of this book, I’ve come to understand a little more about who she was and even why we never fully connected; that I miss her and wish that we had more time to make things right.
That’s why it is important to me and to you, my children, that you understand the human dynamics of relationship and that you keep a finger on the pulse of yours… especially the relationships that are the most intimate. Ask, listen, respond, even when it is inconvenient… no, especially when it is inconvenient! Meaningful communication is more than small talk, it is delving into deep-rooted feelings and sources of contention and great pools of thought and unspoken fear and pain… unidentified pain. It is caring what another person thinks and feels and IS! It is putting aside our selfish endeavors and laying aside our own needs and wants and looking into the eyes of the one we say we love and letting them know that they are more important than anyone else in this world, save God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! It is turning off the television or the current CD. It is laying down the checkbook or the mail to look into the eyes of that precious family member that God entrusted us to treasure more than we do our computer or our chores or our game or our phone or our reading material.
Messages are sent and received without our even being aware of them and it is our duty, as God’s children, to imitate His perfect parenting. He never leaves us alone. He never shuts us out. He never ceases to hear our hearts. He never gets upset if we ask Him questions. He is always there for us… 100% of the time at 100% of His attention. He has placed these families into our care and we cannot let them become as insignificant as the dust on the table top. We cannot see them as an interruption in our schedules or the more “important” things that require our attention. We must see them as God sees them! We must put them second only to Him in our lives. We are only to leave father, mother, sister or brother if they interfere with HIS leading! The church doesn’t take first place after God! Your job cannot take that place! Your friends cannot take that place! Your family only follows God Himself in His order of priorities.
I am passionate about this because I’ve lived the opposite of that reality. I’ve taken a back seat to many other things, both in the lives of my mother and your father. I know you’ve felt the effects of third, fourth or fifth place, too. Personally, it takes its toll on your soul. It creates great pain and a sense of loss. Sometimes we have no idea what we’ve lost, we just know that something is missing and we feel incomplete… that somehow, it is our fault. Sometimes, we cannot see God and His goodness because of it. Sometimes, we feel that we are flawed and that no one can love us, even God. Sometimes, as is my experience, it takes half a lifetime to see and hear God’s Truth on the matter.
About six months ago we walked outside to find the next door neighbor’s house cordoned off and 5 police cars in the street. After what seemed like hours, we saw an officer walk to his car, open his trunk and grab a plastic bag. He dropped a gun into it and then proceeded to walk up to group after group and tell them that one of the girls living in the house had committed suicide. I was shocked. I had only ever seen one man at the house and had spoken to him several times. He was quiet, but friendly. He spent a great deal of his time transforming the front lawn from a yellow patch of dry stubble to a beautiful green. One day, a friend of my grandchildren had thrown several items over our mutual fence and he had returned them with a smile and an apology; his dog had taken possession while they were on his property and there were teeth marks in each of the toys. We laughed about it and went on with life, waving politely as we passed each other on the street. The idea that there were others in the house never crossed my mind and I never saw another person that appeared to live there.
As the reality of the situation began to sink in, I wondered why no one had heard the gunshot. We lived less than 12 feet from their eastern wall, yet nothing loud or unusual had passed through the general laughter and daily noise of our home. Something in me longed to know what would make someone so despondent that they would take their own life. Was there no one in this woman’s life to give her comfort, or advice, or encouragement or a listening ear? Is it possible for someone to go through life so alone that they have no other person to call family or friend? Could someone make it to adulthood and never have a loved one to lean on? And what about the Creator of the universe, who loved this world enough to become its Redeemer? Did His love for each person He created escape the notice of this woman? If so, one of us who is already part of His Eternal Family missed our divine appointment! My heart was heavy and my mind in turmoil, wondering how many people I’ve passed without caring or touching them with God’s love.
I cannot say that I will always be sensitive to the need in a person’s eyes or the sadness conveyed on their face, but I will do my best to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit as I get into my car, begin my morning walk or wander the aisles of a busy store. I will listen for His whispering as I stand in line at the post office or browse the books of the library or sit next to a stranger in church. There are so many lost souls in our world, so many who need what we have; the daily reality of God’s love in our lives, the daily reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for the complete redemption of everything that God determined would be His blessing on our lives, the daily advice of the Holy Spirit as He leads and guides us, the daily purpose of our journey on this Earth that God created, the daily sense of God’s presence with us… no matter what the world has thrown our way… and the daily knowledge that He has the answers we so desperately need!
As I think of these truths, I am mindful that there were times in our lives when I missed the signs that would have told me of your hurt or need. Please know that I am open to hearing about those times because it is healing to forgive and be forgiven. I can only say that I deeply regret those missed opportunities for closer ties and greater wisdom and ongoing healing!!! There were some very emotional days as you were growing and emerging into the wonderful adults I see each time we are together. I never doubted that your Heavenly Father would be there for you when your Dad and I couldn’t be. But I also hope that you will never keep from me those things for which I can pray or refuse to share those things with which I can help because of my past failings. I know that you have your own families, but new families do not negate the originals, they only build on the foundation begun in the primary home. If that foundation is shaky, know that it is never too late for God to give it renewed substance and stability!
As I write this, it occurs to me that I still have difficulty asking those tough questions because few people took the time to ask me. I remember not wanting to invade my parent’s privacy on MANY occasions, so I’m sure that my choice to ask, has been influenced by that reality. I have always known, however, that God’s Holy Spirit will show me what He needs me to know as He needs me to know it. As I bring you, and your families, before God’s throne, I am aware of His constant love and concern for you… a love that far exceeds mine. If I have taken on the behavior of my mother, however, we must seek to repair the damage as soon as is humanly possible. I must be made aware of what needs to be changed, ask your forgiveness and begin to deepen the relationship that God has created in us because we are family.
So, dear loved ones, I want you to know that if a relationship doesn’t continue to grow, it may eventually die and with its death may come the death of the heart and soul of the person forgotten. Please don’t ever take your relationships for granted. The people God has placed in your sphere are there for a reason. Some move in and out of our lives, but prayer keeps them close to our hearts. Some willingly walk away, but prayer keeps them close to God’s heart. Some are difficult at best, but prayer keeps them close to the One who knows every reason for their pain. Some are fragile and resistant to us, but prayer keeps us aware of their need for God’s love and ours. Some seem to hate what we stand for, but prayer affords the Holy Spirit another opportunity to do what He has always done… draw people to Himself.
Since prayer is a two-way conversation, we must expect God’s advice on relationships. God knows what will please your spouse or what will draw your children to a place of greater love for you and those around them; what will encourage openness in conversation and build trust where none exists; what will yield a harvest of conversation in a young person or open the vaulted soul of one who’s been wounded. Be certain that God will let you know the answers to your questions through His word and through His still, small voice. He wants us to sit with Him. He wants us to listen as we sit with Him. He wants us to expect to hear from Him. God wants intimacy with each of us who are His children… His Family. Jesus desires intimacy with His church… His Bride. The Holy Spirit provides the means of communication, whether it is through God’s written, living Word or through the whispered reminders of God’s will, His character, His principles and His promises.
God has always desired relationship with those He created, but some don’t care. Even some of His family members would rather follow the rules that keep them “safe” from disobedience than follow their hearts into a place of love and submission to Him. Maybe they think rules require less work or, maybe, less accountability. Reminds me of the difference between the Pharisees and the Disciples in Jesus’ day. His word speaks to us of being His children, of being His family, of being His bride, of being His body! How can any of these examples make us feel that He doesn’t want relationship with us… close, personal, intimate relationship?
If we are honest, do we treat our family members and others the same way we treat God? Do we hope for some unseen connection that allows us to keep our distance while still being in the same house; some formula that will help us be “within the guidelines” of relationship without being too close? Do we expect that others will excuse us because of a bad day or a history of shyness or difficulty sharing our feelings? How does anyone get to know anyone unless we ask the important questions and WAIT for those all important answers? And who is more important than those closest to us… those God has placed in our inner circle with Him at its very core? He is the heart of it all! He is the heartbeat and the breath and the life behind each individual. He is the reason we exist and we owe Him relationship; close, intimate relationship. We also owe it to those He’s entrusted to us. So never stop asking those probing questions of Him or others. Relationship… or the lack of it… can mean the difference between life… and death.
I am so deeply in love with you, my children, my family! When I have hurt you or wronged you, please forgive me… it was unintentional. When I have looked past you or through you, please forgive me… there were distractions. When I have made you feel unloved or misunderstood, please, please forgive me… it was never something I desired to do! You are all treasures to me and I love you passionately and proudly! You have grown into pillars of spiritual integrity and sound judgement. But I also want you to be the solid foundation… the safe place… that your family can come to in any storm and find firm footing, knowing that you are rooted in the Rock of Revelation, Jesus; to be assured that you care more for them than you do for yourselves. I want you to love each other completely and purely… husband, wife, brother, sister, parent and child. I want you to pursue God as if He would disappear… to pursue Him and never stop until filled with the “ALL” of Him!
I’ve prayed Ephesians 3:14-21 over you since you were young and it sums up all that I desire for each of you. So, Dear Ones, “When I think of all this (God’s plan of salvation to both Jew and Gentile alike), I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Holy Spirit. That Christ will live in your hearts as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into His marvelous love and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep and how high His love really is and experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great you may never be able to fully understand it, until at last you are filled up with God Himself. Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”
May God bless your every effort as you daily place yourselves in the capable hands of His Holy Spirit in order to meet the needs of those you love and of those you have yet to know!