Friday, April 20, 2018

Struggling with Grace: Through the Lens of a Woman

My heart has been in flux these past few months. It's like I stepped through a portal that led to old Angie, and now I am desperate to fight my way out. All these old insecurities and strongholds are sinking their nails into my good reason.  Forty one years, and I am still struggling. 

I can look at the roots. I can remember from the time I was very young--the judgmental eyes, the harsh words, the scrutinizing that seemed a natural lens for a world of girls to see me through--a world shaped by women who allowed such criticisms to be everyday chatter. I think on the whispers of one girl to another about her, and then I'd step away from the conversation wondering what they'd say about me.

From home life, to school life, to college real life... I'd step forward into the net of never fully confident, always hindered by worry and doubt that I was truly accepted, that I hadn't slipped from okay to too much when I allowed my heart to speak.

Whether it be on everyday life things, politics, church, hope, faith, love, war... 

All of it, and all I thought--think--seem to be mines waiting to explode a friend's opinion of me--a person's acceptance of me.

Last night, I watched my seven year old daughter dance. She took her arms fully out from her sides, lifted them up above her head, and arched her back so far I could hardly see her chin. She danced, and smiled and ran across a room filled with little girls she hardly knows. She plunged deep in each moment, learning and dancing, giggling and jumping up and down with excitement. I sat, and smiled, and thought about how my little girl was nothing like me. Yet, she was everything I had ever wished to be at her age.

I wanted to dance. I wanted freedom to express myself so fully that the world was truly my stage and all else were just players that had nothing to do with my performance. Forget the critics. Forget the right or wrong way. Just dance, and live in it fully.

I wanted to care only about the fun, and nothing about the arched eyebrow or the mean word. She's young. And part of me wrestles with the possibility that she might one day be ensnared by the harsh reality that is the world of girls. The world of women. The undeniable gender traits--we are prone to criticize, to scrutinize, to debilitate each other, unlike most men I have ever run into.

So, here I sit.

Heaped with shame, frustration, worry, that once again, every move I make, every word spoken from my lips is being dissected and proven to show this very flawed, very unworthy person that I am. It's those old nails dug deep in my worth, tearing my confidence in shreds.

I often speak of paradigm shifts. How I had a major one when my husband fell away from Christ. My view of the world literally shattered before me in a catastrophic way. Once I caught my breath, and my will to live on, I could only manage to pick up the pieces worth salvaging, examine the pieces that were flawed, and toss them out with the wisdom of something better, something purer. My paradigm was more of a re-creation than a shift.

So, life view--check.

Now, me view--in progress. 

Today, it doesn't seem like progress at all. Today, it seems like a swirling mess. But, I have all these grace-speakers in my life. And, if they knew how much they mean to me, then they would probably feel suffocated by my appreciation. My life-giving friends have lifted my chin, and made me realize that different is out there.

Grace is out there.

I should bathe in the stuff. I wish I didn't need it so much. But, it's really the only release from the trap of my old self-image. 

I know something is different. I realize that I am foolish and selfish in thinking so much is focused on me--regardless of the good or bad.

And, in the knowing, I hope for change. I hope that one day I can say, 

"When I turned forty-something...I stopped caring so much."

One day.

For now, I'll continue to wrestle, to accept the past, and try and break away it's hardened shell. And I'll pray. I'll pray for me, and mostly my daughter, that she walks into womanhood differently. That the wounds so easily inflicted, the looks so easily ensnaring, are nothing that penetrate her strength and her image.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Borrowed Heartbits: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes was part of the literary elite during the 19th century, a group of poets and writers who shaped American literature as we know it. Think Emerson, Thoreau, Poe... writers whose work and abolitionist sentiments grabbed at the heart of my most recent heroine, Elsie Boswell.
My yiayia passed away almost four years ago. But the memories that keep dancing in my mind are from decades before. If I close my eyes and think long enough, I can smell the simmering butter from her kitchen door, mixing with the scent of saturated leaves and overgrown grass surrounding the red bricked house as I hunted fireflies. 
My memories are only a stilled moment away.

I breathe in deep the perfume of my yaiyia's cold cream and her laundry detergent and the settled scent of a well-cooked meal hours past, while I sit in 2018 with moisturizer, unscented detergent, and an unpleasant lingering of last night's take out. Yet, something triggers, coaxes my brain to trip and fall into the nostalgia of a warmer instance.

The memories enticed by smell, have been a catalyst for nostalgia beyond my own walls. These past days have brought word that a respectable first lady has passed, and that WWII vets are quickly leaving us behind for a heavenly existence, I have been overwhelmed with a longing for things of old. Maybe it's my mid-life blip of a crisis slinging my own mortality around to mourn the precious moments gone by, the loss of story-telling, and remembering, and the never forgetting. Not only did my yiayia conjure up warmth for us in her tiny home, but she was a prevailer, a hero who escaped Nazis and started life anew in my homeland. So many stories of those who were brave, so many testimonies silenced with the last breath. I fear that remembering is losing its traction against the terrifying future, as witnesses to all the history are leaving us. 

Even so, I will not forget. I think of my own heroes that printed upon my heart as a child, rendering my tiny part of this breathtaking whole that is humanity. What thread my life is in this great tapestry! How much I wish that I didn't focus on the knots and frays, but the secure stitchings of all my grandparents offered. I shall hold all close now. I shall treasure it all the more. And as I sit and breathe in deep, welcoming the memory, the scent of times gone, I am delighted to stumble upon this affirmation:

"Memories, imagination, old sentiments...are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel." 

Mr. Holmes has blessed me today with this borrowed heartbit. He has offered truth to what I've pondered so very much in these steps tracing back to a time long gone, now stirring aromas in my heart. I pray that we never forget those who've gone before us, and fought the good fight, raced and won, and grew us up and out to a world that needs our pasts to build thoughtful, secure futures--without forgetting.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Borrowed Heartbits: Roald Dahl

I may not have written a novel that quotes Mr. Dahl for today's borrowed heartbit, but I have a heart filled with his stories since I was a child. The BFG was a beloved book in my childhood, and I've revisited it time and again through the years.

Perhaps my own abundant bookshelves growing up have shaped my mama heart to fill our kids' lives with books...and this sentiment by Roald Dahl is an obvious one to me:

"If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books."

Around here, I struggle with screen time with my, if you follow me on social media, I am sure that is just as obvious as this quote. It seems, my children's time is divided between what they need to get done--school, schoolwork, and meals, and then screen time.

No slender pieces of the pie showing a slew of hobbies, pastimes. Just obligation and screen time.

The practical me knows that it is not entirely true. Thank you, Youth Sports, for squeezing as many minutes out of my overcrowded schedule as you can. But, THANK YOU, Youth Sports, for giving my kids time away from their screens.

Seriously, my heart shudders at the thought of what life will look like from these blue-faced sessions of cyber-living a decade from now.

And that is why, my children will tell you,

"My mom is all crazy 'bout reading. Like, real paper books. Like, away from my screen. Wha'???"

When I get fed up with their mental drainage into the world of Minecraft and Fortnite and whatever
else...they get two suggestions when the dreaded question, "What else can I do?" comes out of their whine.

"Here's a chore..."
"Get a book..."

And while they will declare their chores are done, there is always a book unread around here.

Lots of books.


The picture above shows a glimpse at the shelves in my daughter's room, only because it is the neatest display at the moment...we have books coming out our ears. And, fortunately, my children READ.

A long time ago, when chapter book assignments came home, my kids were allowed to independent read at bedtime. And now, it's a deeply rooted habit--an AMAZING excuse to prolong sleep for them...but to soothe my anxiety away that they are going nowhere with a screen attached to their palm.

And, they are my children--forever night owls...forever bucking the idea that sleep is a good thing. And while I will reprimand them at 10 pm...11 pm...for staying up with a book glued to their face, my mama heart leaps.

Books. The doorways to great ideas, imagination, and knowledge. There might be fabricated digital lands that maneuver them to someone else's imagination by day, but at night, they get to plunge into a story and come up with their own thoughts and ideas.

I rest in those moments when I know, my children are going somewhere.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Borrowed Heartbits: Doctor Marigold

Doctor Marigold had lost his young daughter, and renewed his joy in adopting
another daughter. The story is short, but the emotions are big if you get a chance
to read it! This quote appears in my newest manuscript.

I sit and watch my son light up with stories of fondness and joy, and my  heart nearly bursts. Even more so than if he were always caught up in happy things. His journey before gives these happy moments so much more shine, so much more understanding of the borrowed heartbit from Dickens' for today. 

It was not too long ago that my son and I had sat in the very same spot while loneliness consumed his little body. Heartache is the most hurtful of things, and while I wish it away when it creeps upon my children in those treacherous moments, when the present becomes the past and the future opens onto a new season against the backdrop of heartache, newfound joy appears that much sweeter.

My written stories have shown me the depth of Doctor Marigold's proclamation above, and my life stories have felt this deeply. No fictional character can truly appreciate conclusion, joy, love, without journeying through a place bankrupt of it all. And, while I want to protect my babies and keep them free from any harm, it is in the endurance of messy life that the greatest heart-training takes place.

I think upon solid wisdom, when I think on this:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
Giving them a garland instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.
So they will be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3

I pray that my children's journeys will prove fruitful and solid like oaks planted for God's splendor, no matter the muck and mire they wade through--how much more their joy will abound.