If you are a parent, I am sure you have been in a group where other parents were complaining about their children, rolling their eyes or uttering disbelief at their child’s inability to perform or behave in a way that is expected of him or her. Often, the infractions are laughable. They are modest imperfections. But when a parent expresses concern about Jane or John and provides very few specifics, I find myself wondering: “Is this a case of Jane getting a B on a paper when she is capable of achieving an A? Or, is this a case of John swinging a baseball bat at the window of his father’s sports car, or cutting his wrists and a hair-raising race to the hospital before he loses too much blood?”
If other parents are like me, they hide the most painful experiences with their children to protect them or to protect themselves from judgment, rumors, or a permanent scar to their reputations. We are all capable of growth, maturity, and change, right? But it seems like when we are in the most desperate need of help and support from others, we clam-up. There is too much danger in speaking the truth.
I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma of speaking out versus hiding in my relationship with Skye. I believe we are on the way to a better place, but the steps along the way are wounding. I want to be comforted, but I don’t want to be judged for my inadequacies. Most of all, I don’t want to freeze an impression in time that can’t be undone like a proclamation or picture posted on Facebook. On the other hand, keeping the feelings hidden may result in self-loathing, unfiltered anger directed at others, and an inability to appreciate the positive. There has got to be some way to shout out to the universe: “I am miserable! Help me! Make it stop!”
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Women’s Retreat in the north Georgia Mountains with some women from my church. It’s an annual event. This year, our leader was a young woman pastor who helped us explore our images of God. Our project was to create a portable box (about the size of an Altoid tin) that contained the images of God that would remind us of God’s presence and relationship to us in course of our busy lives. For someone like me, who spends many hours a day commuting kids to school and activities, the box might stay in my van.
Some women chose images from nature because they feel closest to God when digging in the dirt or walking through the woods. Some chose mother or parent images. Some images were tranquil. Other images expressed power and might. I was drawn to an image of three tall and thin dark-skinned women balancing bowls on their heads, playing instruments, and dancing. This became the centerpiece of my box. I love the flexibility of the trinity. For me, it evokes both contrasting and complementary characteristics: creator, other/outsider, redeemer, forgiver, human fragility, strength, everlasting presence with me, and more. The image of women of color, together, who work but, simultaneously, play is appealing to me. I want more of that in my life.
My box also contains a wooden circle with a heart on one side and stars on the other to represent my husband, as well as five stones representing my children. They are burdens, ever present, carried wherever I go, but musical instruments when the box moves in my daily travels.
For the top of the box, I chose a contact paper that resembles a brick wall and affixed the first initial of each family member’s name. You may be thinking, “A brick wall doesn’t sound much like God. It evokes “trapped,” “imprisoned.”… One of my favorite people, Bill Mallard, taught me a lesson years ago when my ears were opened to hear. He taught me that taking a stand, declaring yourself to be in one place, allows others to have a conversation with you. We aren’t really “free” as we float around. “Anything goes” is only the illusion of freedom. It is, instead, limits that create possibilities. For example, an intimate relationship with one person one night, followed by another person the next night and so on can never result in any depth of intimacy. But making a commitment to one person provides the opportunity to explore and expand the depths of an intimate relationship. My brick wall, my commitment to my family, focuses my energy and provides the opportunity to dig deeply into what it means to love.
Heavy stuff for a blog entry on adoptive parenting. Yes. The point is: When it gets tough, we have to figure out ways to get a new perspective that helps us move on. Some may get this new perspective through a religious belief system. Others may get it through a therapist or a group of close friends or family members. But we have to get it some way so we don’t stay stuck in: “I am miserable.”
Our retreat leader also shared a prayer that spoke to me as a person whose fertility – or lack there of – has played a HUGE role in my adult life. (This prayer is glued to the inside of my box.) New ways of talking about “birth” that don’t depend on human conception, pregnancy, and delivery appeal to me. Perhaps you will find something of value in here as well:
You rejoiced at the birth of creation. I hold up to you the intuited mystery of something new being birthed in me. It has no face, no name, no sound, no shape. I only know that something unperceived is meant to come to life inside the womb of my deepest self… I know I must trust in your unfailing care. You will be attentive to this unnamed one who struggles mightily to be released within me. Help me to be attuned to the contractions of my spirit, to relax when I ought and push when I must. Encourage me to believe in what I cannot see. Be by my side as I await this mysterious new life, still curled up inside my pregnant spirit. Let me have faith in something good slowly taking shape, and be trusting enough to stay in the birthing process. Let me be willing to endure the sweat and groans and to cheer wildly when new life comes bursting forth.
Joyce Rupp, 2000