The barren branches of a mature lilac bush shiver as winter’s breath exhales on them. From the warm and peaceful place inside our new home where I sip my coffee I see them.
Fragile leaves and blooms gone. Awaiting spring.
Thick branches crossing over one another. Roots unseen stand through the bitter cold.
I used to believe my mom was a weak woman.
Physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse by many different men in my young years ripped through my innocence like rain on tissue paper. She was supposed to be my umbrella. Big and obvious. Shielding and protecting, not folded up in the corner.
I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to play football and tackle. Play Army and shoot. In fourth grade, I shoved my knee hard into the boys because I knew where to hurt them so I could watch them fold over, cower, and cry. I wanted to be a truck driver. I refused to wear dresses, and she knew why.
When I watched the 1985 Chicago Bears Superbowl, she said to me, “Girls don’t watch sports.” I never did figure out who she wanted me to be. I just knew it was never who I was, so I stopped trying to please her and everyone else, and I took the sopping wet and torn tissue paper life and recycled it into something more like a cardboard shipping tube.
And I ran.
Away from that life and dysfunction. I met a gorgeous cowboy driving a semi in a traffic jam. I became a truck driver. A couple months later I ran away with him to a new life, a new state, a new family. I learned to stop hurting boys.
Mom called regularly. We made fun of her for always asking what we were making for dinner. I taught my husband Slovak cuisine handed down from my mother, the only part of my heritage I wanted anything to do with.
She visited often. Then I had a boy. She stayed with me after his birth because my husband was still over the road, only home only one out of every twenty-nine days. She hated pictures of herself, and except for a few of my newborn photos, I don’t have a single image of the two of us. She let me take a few of her with my boy, though.
We fell on hard financial times soon after, and mom welcomed us back into her home. I hated being there. Failure washed over me. I did nothing but work to get out of there. Just like before. And I did. I got as far away as I could.
She visited often. And called to ask what we were making for dinner.
Then doctors found a five-centimeter brain tumor on Dad’s birthday. She had brain surgery on their thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and she could no longer talk, and she tried to write notes but strung all her words together into one big long word, then just letters and numbers and then she was dead in eight weeks.
It wasn’t until then that I realized how constant, consistent, and predictable she was.
The deep roots of her love are like the veins and arteries of my heart pumping, beating, giving life. The branches of her love, even when exposed and bloomless in winter’s grasp, still reached out and survived. The lilac blooms of her love, the ones that happen quick and fade fast but are full of fragrance–that was her laughter.
I started to see how fiercely she loved. How her protection wasn’t in the fight, but the hearty nature through harsh climate, the slow and steady growth of downward roots and outstretched branches, the expected budding, the hopeful blooms.
I don’t have her to run away from anymore and I find myself running toward things. I make art now to speak the words my soul can’t bear saying. I take pictures of expecting mothers who are full of joy and full of baby. I take picture of moms who smiling lovingly at newborn wrinkles because my mom’s frown in all the photos I possess hurts my heart. I take pictures of families and of moms and daughters so that the daughter will have at least one photo of her and her mom to cling to because I don’t. I try to fix things for people who don’t even know and will one day silently thank God for it.
She didn’t physically visit my last house. And she won’t physically visit this new one. But this old lilac bush will soon be full with lush greenness and spotted with purple cascades that have waited out the harshest winter and it will inhale the warmth of a new season.
4 years ago today I created my first Visual Prayer.
2 years ago today, I sang Amazing Grace to my mom as she took her last breath on this earth.
today is difficult. this whole week has been challenging. we almost lost dad. it was so close, i couldn’t think of anything except how are we (my brother and sister and I) going to hold it together if we have to bury dad the same week we lost mom?
I’m sorry I didn’t have more faith. I’ve asked God’s forgiveness over and over for that this week. “I believe, help me in my unbelief!”
After we knew dad was making a pretty miraculous recovery, A friend said something about answered prayers. I thought to myself, this hasn’t happened before. This recovery is a new thing for me. The list of very close friends and family members I’ve lost in the last 6 years is staggering. I think I counted 9. Jill, Sara, Uncle Ed, Grandma, Mom, Phil’s Dad, Grandpa Jack, Grandma Schalk, and Grandma Barnes. Almost 2 a year. When dad was intubated I’m sorry to admit I didn’t even think recovery was an option.
And so today is…bittersweet.
Grieving my mom in a way I haven’t experienced. Watching my dad reach for my sister’s hand the way he did mom’s was so touching. I’m glad my sister can be his comfort. He and I haven’t had that kind of relationship. My mom and I never had that relationship. I distanced myself and pushed away for most of my life. And on top of the grieving, so relieved that dad is ok. Amazed that he didn’t die. I’m exhausted physically and mentally and truthfully cannot process yet what just happened.
Reading this post again again and trying to remember to count the blessings not dwell in the pain.
Five Minute Friday.
Writing Prompt: Remember
Start the timer…now…
Remember sneaking out of my bedroom window. Chilly air. Black hoodie. Meeting my bff and walking around the block again and again talking and giggling.
Sneaking out, thinking I was getting away with something. Climbing out so quietly. Climbing back in without a sound. How many nights did we do this?
Never did we do anything more than walk around the neighborhood. We could’ve talked anytime during the day and could’ve sat on the phone for hours, but yet, we both liked the excitement of sneaking out. The adrenaline rush. It starts early.
And then one night, I pushed the screen out and it didn’t give. It was locked in place somehow. In the morning I rushed out to see what made it stick.
A nail for my sin and deceit.
My father had nailed that window shut
And now, hasn’t my heavenly Father also come to the cross, with nails…
(and time’s up.)
(whew. I did NOT expect that.)
and I had to go searching for a photo that would go with that…
Not that we would’ve chosen to move, Phil was fired so we were kinda forced into making decisions faster than is comfortable for me. We didn’t have a choice. It’s difficult to deal with the change of losing a job and a house and a lifestyle all at once.
I’m learning to love the new place. I admit, I was hesitant. The yard is so small compared to what I’m accustomed to.
We have neighbors.
One one side is a vacant house, yes, but the guy two doors down raised a walking stick to my sweet Patches. I yelled at him. On the other side is a guy fixing up a once abandoned house and he plays really loud music at 6:45 AM on Sunday morning. The houses here aren’t more than a car-length apart and for this girl, that’s something to get used to.
Let’s not talk about how the dogs think every single car and person around is invading their territory. The barking is outrageous!!
Not to be overshadowed by negative, there are good things. We’re on a lake. Phil is using his fishing boat for the first time in a decade! He’s more relaxed than ever. He looks out the window, sees the calm lake and tell him, “Go.” And he does. And it’s all good.
We’re remodeling the kitchen to be functional for us. Which means more counter space than we’ve EVER had!
We have a cute master bedroom suite. Basically, we’ve taken the whole upstairs for ourselves. Our room has double sliding glass doors that overlook the lake. It really is beautiful.
I’ve been spending time at Pinterest planning my back yard. It will be stunning when I’m finished, I promise you that.
Here’s what we started with in the back yard
So if you’re a Pinterest fan, I’ve created a public board called “You think I might like” if you see an amazing backyard idea, Pin it for me on that board!!
Want this button?
Just last week, I blogged a Praying In Color entry.
When I started praying, I had no clue it would end up to be a picture of a canoe camping trip, but subconsciously it must have been on my mind. I know that getting Phil to relax was weighing on me. I’d been trying not to nag him so I’d say, “I’m worried you’re not getting enough rest.”
“Got things to do.”
“They can wait, they’re not as important as your health and you need to rest.”
“When I’m done.”
“You’ll keep adding to your list.”
“What do you want me to do? Things got to get done around here.”
“I want you to at least take Sunday off.”
“How about Sunday afternoon?”
So I compromised for a few weeks. Phil works from seven in the morning until nine or ten at night five days a week. Then on the weekend, he’s out mowing the lawn, fixing the cars, and tending to all of the other mishaps that inevitably happen. We’re Murphy’s red-headed step children. Seriously. Ask people who have seen the chaos in action.
For the last few weeks, I haven’t had to beg Phil to relax, he’s taken to enjoying an entire Sunday off. Except cooking. But cooking is one of those activities that bond and solidify our relationship. I’m his perfect sous chef.
We took a two day float trip last summer on the Tippecanoe River. We camped at Tippecanoe State park. I don’t necessarily enjoy the work-out a canoe trip on a windy weekend gives me, but it melted my heart to see Phil truly relax, fish, and enjoy himself.
He doesn’t do well relaxing at home. I think all of the things to do dangle in front of him and taunt him. I know, they do that to me too, but mothers have the ability to tone out frequencies that are annoying. Sure dads tune out things, but typically if they’ve tuned one thing out they’ve tuned everything out. Moms can tune out the irritating stuff. Tell me I’m wrong!
So we go camping.
I love, love, love campfires. Cooking breakfast over a fire brings out the maternal in me. Who knows why. I don’t care why. I know I’m up at the crack of dawn wrapped up in a flannel shirt, throwing another log on the fire. I get the water boiling for the coffee and sip it while I add bacon to the cast iron skillet. Phil gets up, drinks my (by then) cold coffee and I make another steaming cup for myself. We take turns flipping the bacon and Zane yells from the tent, “I smell bacon!” and we sit by the fire waiting.
So I prayed for some extra money and for Phil’s boss to let him have a weekday off and I planned another float trip for our family. Next year, my goal is for more than one camping trip.
*originally posted August 4, 2008
A few weeks ago my brother and his friend took their weapons out to the Knox property to target shoot. My nephews got straight A’s on their report cards and this is what they wanted to do. Phil, Zane and I tagged along.