Don’t Prove Yourself: Be Yourself

Stop! Stop! Stop!

I wanted to scream at the cynic talking to the young artist last week. The cynic was saying, in effect, “People creating art in South Dakota are just fooling themselves; they aren’t doing anything of worth. Art only matters if it is validated in major art centers like New York City.”

When I tried to offer another perspective, he talked right over the top of me. I finally pointed out that I listened when he spoke, and asked him to listen when I spoke. He agreed, but couldn’t seem to help himself. I was not allowed to complete an entire thought.

I finally got my message down to a sound-bite: “better” is not a word you should bring into a discussion about creating art.

My art is not better than the work that dear friends create, nor is their work better than mine. Our work is not better or worse than well-known artists working today. Rather, our work is different.

Even artists creating work within the same movement have individual, recognizable styles. I can tell a Monet from a Renoir even if I am not familiar with the individual pieces. That’s the beauty and joy of being an artist — that the medium we choose gives voice to what is in us, gives voice to who we are as remarkable individuals sharing a journey through life.

After that discussion, which disturbed me more than I could articulate at the time, I found myself thinking of my artistic journey. I stumbled into being an artist. In my heart of hearts, I longed to create images from the time I was young, but I didn’t have much natural talent. Still, when the opportunity arose, I took a design class, thinking a design class wouldn’t require talent, that I could learn something about creating art without revealing how hopelessly inept I was.

What I found was a mentor, though Signe would probably not see herself in that way. Signe helped me to see that art went far beyond what I imagined. After the design class, I took a drawing class, a color theory class and a painting class. With that foundation, I just began to practice.  Signe believed in painting from life, so I painted still lifes — often fruit and vegetables, but also plants and pieces of pottery or copper from my kitchen.

I would challenge myself with color exercises, limiting my palette to three or four colors plus white to see what I could accomplish. I would paint at night after my children went to bed, first at the kitchen table and later in a studio I set up in the corner of my living room. I would paint to find a center of peace that existed no where else in my chaotic world.

My abusive marriage was ending; I was a single parent; I had dreams of becoming a university professor but didn’t know how to get there. In the midst of all that, I had to provide emotional stability and a home for my children. I also had bills to pay, and little money with which to pay them. When I painted, all that dropped away and I entered into the present moment in a way that healed and strengthened me.

I have often joked that I paint to stay sane, but it’s not really a joke. It was my truth then, and it has been my truth every year during which I have painted since that time. Granted, sometimes I’ve allowed life to send me on a meandering detour which took me away from my brushes and easel, but when I paint, I am whole and more authentic than when I am not creating art.

It’s not about the art. It’s not about the validation of public recognition. It’s not about proving myself; it’s about being myself. It’s about being authentic, about being the person I was created to be.

I was well into my 30s when saw a major art exhibit for the first time. A friend and I went to the Chicago Art Institute and I saw the work of Cezanne for the first time, and Renoir and Seurat and Monet and Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe. I saw other works as well, but it was a piece by O’Keeffe that tipped the scales for me.

The Modern Art wing was under reconstruction so “Sky above Clouds IV” was hung over a doorway. I looked up and thought, “I could do that.” I’d been at the museum for hours by then, and was suffering from what I’ve since learned is called museum fatigue. My response probably seems disrespectful of a great American master, and I could probably claim fatigue.

In truth, something else entirely was happening. An inner shift was occurring. Having studied the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists intensely, I’d strolled casually through the other galleries, pausing here and there to look at work by an artist whose name I recognized. I was saturated with richness of it, with the diversity of styles and images, with the timelessness of it.

I had realized that creating art is about bearing witness. Creating art is about staking a claim in the great ocean of time and saying, “This is where I live. This is what I see. This is what I experience as true in this place and time.”

When I said, “I can do this,” I wasn’t talking about replicating that piece. I was acknowledging my call to be an artist, to be a witness. I knew in that moment that unless I created art, my life would be wasted.

Nearly 30 years later, I feel the same way even though entire years have passed when I have not picked up a brush. I feel that creating art has given meaning to my life even though I’ve not gained national, international — or even regional — acclaim. My art — and my writing — are my legacy, but they are also more than that.

Creating art is an honest and public acknowledgement that I am living in this world in a way that is authentic, that uses the gifts God has given me and allows others to bear witness with me of life in this place and this time through one set of eyes. That’s enough. That’s all any of us ever needs to do.

We just need to live authentically. We just need to be ourselves.

 

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No Place Like Home

Finally! By the end of today, I will have everything I own under one roof. 

When I decided to move back to South Dakota in July, I had no idea what I was going to do. Worst case scenario: move into income-based housing and take early Social Security.  Ideal scenario: get another newspaper job. Workable option: get a clerical job of some sort and move back to Pierre. 

Pierre was the home of my heart. In that community, more than any other place else in my adult life, I had found a place to belong. I knew people, they knew me, and for the most part, we liked each other. Leaving Pierre is a decision I have never ceased to regret. I thought I needed a newspaper job; what I really needed was that home.

To begin yet again, I packed my stuff in a moving van — getting rid of living room furniture and dressers, so there was room for what was important: three desks, four easels, all my art and all my books. I drove — yes, me alone in a 16-foot moving van, the largest I was willing to tackle — through two mountain passes and across the never-ending (or so it seemed) terrrain of Nevada and Wyoming.

When I arrived in South Dakota, I dumped most of my stuff in storage, and moved into a friend’s guest/storage room. Within weeks, I was working — in the newspaper business, a real godsend. I rented a cozy cottage (i.e., small house with tiny bedrooms and kitchen that may — if I am lucky — hold half of my baking stuff) and have been rebuilding my life.

The challenge has been getting my stuff out of storage. Drenching rain, work and a bout of some kind of croupy cough that knocked me out for two weeks have all worked against me. I bought a small dining room set at the thrift shop across the street from work, so I had a place to sit, eat and write. I bought first an air mattress and then a futon, so I’ve had a place to sleep.

One weekend, I made plans to move, but ended up losing my help. I used the rented truck to move my art, the clothes I could find and what I thought were kitchen supplies. Unfortunately, I have no need for bundt pans, cookie cutters and a mixer at present, so the kitchen boxes weren’t terribly helpful. However, with that move I was able to get art on the walls and begin to envision how I wanted to live in this space.

But, when I got sick and had to buy not only the ingredients, but also the pot to make homemade chicken soup, I decided I couldn’t afford to wait much longer. Buying stuff might be good for the economy, but it isn’t  good for my bank balance. With winter coming, I will need snow tires and winter clothes. I can’t afford to spend money unnecessarily.

Equally as important — perhaps more important — is the need to create a home, to stop living transiently. I am not a terribly materialistic person, but I find comfort in surrounding myself with things that both reflect me — books and art — and reflect back to me evidence of the life I have lived. I sit down to eat a meal on Corelle plates with the iris pattern and I remember the friend who gave them to me. I look at the raku-fired bowl I made at a weekend gathering of artists and remember the fellowship of those years.

These small things are a bulwark against the never-ending march of time and all the changes it brings. These small things offer comfort in the midst of life’s inexplicable hardships and disappointments. These small things strengthen my emotional and psychological armor in a world that feels more threatening every day.

However, my need also makes me acutely aware of how blessed I am in this moment, despite the inconveniences I have been experiencing. So many people have lost so much in recent months. Hurricanes and wildfires have wiped out all evidence of the lives they have lived. 

And with disaster after disaster hitting our nation, we cannot even respond to all the  needs being created, to all of the trauma being experienced. There is too much. We want to turn in upon ourselves. We want to turn our backs on others. But we will pay a great price if we do that.

We will lose that within ourselves which makes us human, which makes us good. Our true home isn’t the roof over our heads or the things we own. Our true home extends beyond our local communities.

Our true home is the human family. Our true home is the world in which we live. We have to care. We have to bear witness to heartache and loss. We have to share resources rather than hoard them. We have to live with hearts and arms wide open to our brothers and our sisters.

We have to love.

Evacuation Blues

Five days a week, I slide into my Honda Fit around 6:45 AM, pull out of my assigned parking spot, enter Forestwood Drive from the parking lot, and turn left at the corner. A few blocks later, I turn right, cross the Queens Street bridge over California Highway 99 and enter the freeway with a left turn. An hour later, having left Highway 99 ten miles south of Yuba City and picked up Highway 113, I exit the freeway at Davis in order find a parking spot on the UC Davis campus and go to work.

I’ve been doing this for nearly two years. I’ve driven on dark winter mornings when the fog was so dense the trees which line one stretch of 113 were hidden and only the white dashes down the center of the road kept me going in the right director. I’ve driven during pounding rain with wind so fierce I was afraid I would be blown into oncoming traffic. I’ve driven at dawn when the rising sun glinting across flooded rice fields turned the world to gold or cast color across the cloud-dappled sky like spilled strawberry milk.

I know that road well. I know how long it takes to traverse in all kinds of weather. I had no idea how an evacuation order could change things.

I have to confess, I wasn’t watching developments at the Oroville Dam in Northern California. Even though I was transplanted from South Dakota nearly four years ago, I still don’t know the geography of the state. I knew Oroville lay to the north of Yuba City because I pass the Oroville exit once a month when I head for Chico to see my spiritual director. Beyond that, I had no knowledge of the community, and had no idea the tallest dam in the United States held back a vast reservoir in that area.

Late Sunday afternoon, my neighbor knocked at the door to tell me that he was “bugging out,” and advised me to do the same. The expression on my face must have told him I had no idea why I should leave my home. He told me the Oroville Dam was in danger of giving way. I thanked him for the news and checked the news on my iPad. The evacuation order at that time — approximately 5:30 — was for communities in the Feather River basin. Although Marysville, across the bridge from Yuba City was on the list, Yuba City was not. I decided to go to Walmart to pick up a second cat carrier and a few supplies I might need for an evacuation.

The Walmart parking lot was nearly empty and exiting employees told me an evacuation order had been issued for Yuba City. I checked the news again, and discovered that in the 30 minutes it had taken me to change and drive to Walmart, the situation had changed. I drove home, packed a bag with clothes for a week, picked up my personal computer (heaven forbid I lose the book I’m writing!), caught my cats (which took time because they were terrified by the sirens), and began a drive so familiar to me I could almost make it in my sleep.

An hour later, I had managed to drive six blocks. Traffic from Oroville, and all the small communities between Oroville and Yuba City, was heading south on Highway 99. Although I didn’t know it, evacuees from Marysville were being routed through Yuba City because Highway 70 lay along the Feather River and was closed. And, of course, Yuba City residents were heading out. At that point, I made a mistake that cost me two hours.

I was two blocks from the entrance ramp to Highway 99, and ignorant of the traffic gridlock associated with evacuations. Keep in mind, South Dakota has a population of approximately 850,000 people; an estimated 180,000 people — more than 20% of the population of South Dakota — were being evacuated along one highway. Vehicles were crawling — and stopped at those junctures where a driver pulling an RV decided to block an intersection rather than follow state law. I checked Google maps which advised me to take Highway 70 instead of Highway 99. Google maps didn’t know Highway 70 had been closed hours earlier.

I zipped across town, only to discover the bridge blocked and myself at the end of a slowly moving queue of vehicles miles from the highway entrance ramp. At approximately 10:30 PM, three hours after getting into my vehicle, I made the left turn which allowed me to enter the flow of traffic on Highway 99. Three hours after that, I reached Woodland, approximately 40 miles to the south of Yuba City. After six hours in a small car with discontented cats, my legs were cramping, my back ached and I had a headache pounding loudly enough to accompany Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

I still had 20 miles to drive, and had realized during my drive that I had forgotten a few important things, which meant I needed to make a stop at the 24-hour Walmart store in Dixon before going to my daughter’s house. I arrived around 2 a.m., unpacked the car, settled the cats, and finally crawled into bed around 3 a.m. I was too exhausted to be concerned about the future. I had to be at work at 8 a.m., and I just wanted to sleep, and sleep I did, deeply and soundly.

That was a little over a day ago. I haven’t checked the news this morning. As of last night, the evacuation order remained in place. Some news sources reported that Yuba City was under an evacuation advisory, not an evacuation order, but with the highway closed, that’s a moot point for me. If you can’t go home, you can’t go home.

Contributing to concerns at this point is another storm expected to arrive later this week. The design of the emergency spillway has concerned folks in the area for at least 10 years, but the folks operating the dam hadn’t been concerned. In their defense, until the recent storms (which have pounded our drought-stricken area for weeks), water had never in the dam’s history reached the current levels. So, now we have a damaged spillway, a damaged emergency spillway, and little more than sandbags and rocks standing between a huge reservoir of water and major disaster.

Hope rests in lowering water levels enough to avoid a disaster if Thursday’s storm brings the anticipated precipitation. If it doesn’t, even UC Davis may have to be evacuated. Having coped with one evacuation, I’m hoping — really, really hoping — that sandbags and lower water levels are enough!

What is Real?

Juliet thought a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Today, if she made that comment, a controversy would be unleashed. First of all, there would be a problem with the generalization; while there is a scent recognizable as “rose,” not all roses actually smell the same. Then there would be folks who have a problem with the whole identity aspect of the statement; names do matter — there is a huge difference between calling someone morbidly obese and saying the person has generous proportions; change a name and you change how something or someone is perceived.

Few, if any, would even remember that Juliet was actually saying, “I love a boy who will be rejected simply because he was born into the wrong family.” No one involved in the controversy unleashed by a young girl’s longing to get past cultural barriers will consider how she is affected or how the boy is affected. They will become entrenched in their positions and set out to annihilate one another.

Oh! Right! That is the dynamic that Shakespeare was exploring in one of his most popular tragedies, “Romeo and Juliet,” the way our allegiance to ideas can destroy what we love. When it happens in our personal lives, it can lead to remorse and personal transformation, but what happens when it plays itself out on a larger stage? Anytime groups of people are involved in this destructive pattern, the conflicts have a tendency to escalate.

I have been ranting for years about the destructive polarization we find in our nation today. I have been angry at every leader who has contributed — including the Catholic bishops who have misled the faithful in their dioceses, telling them to vote based on one issue only, which is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. [I believe they are going to be held accountable before God. After all, Jesus did say, “If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV).]

In recent months, it’s become glaringly apparent that information and misinformation have been used to reinforce entrenched allegiances and exacerbate the polarization. The GOP has denied the economic recovery to such an extent that 60% of folks who voted for Trump didn’t even know that economic indicators demonstrate we currently have a strong economy. I suppose that was a face-saving measure. After all, it would have been pretty humiliating to say, “Despite everything we did to thwart him, the current president’s administration has succeeded in cleaning up the mess made by the last Republican in office.”

Who benefits from this practice of denying facts? From denying the truth?

No one benefits. It’s that simple. No one benefits when important decisions are made as a result of misinformation. We create a self-perpetuating cycle of escalating violence until people are worn out by the pain and suffering, until there is nothing left from what anger has wrought except despair.

The Internet has a lot to do with the dissemination of misinformation. Folks can post anything they want, and fabrications can go viral, misinforming thousands — or perhaps millions — of people. However, distrust of the mainstream media also contributes. People are skeptical — due in part to the fact that it’s easy to label reporting which doesn’t reinforce our opinions as biased, but also due to the fact that bias does exist. What most people don’t realize is this: that bias is a reflection of our humanity, not as a result of a desire to mislead.

This blog reflects that bias. I am not Republican, and I have been appalled by some of the decisions made by elected officials who are Republican. Because some of these decisions have violated my core value system, I am hyper-alert to other transgressions. I cannot tell you nearly as much about what Democratic candidates said during the last interminable presidential campaign as I can tell you about the outrageous comments made by the president-elect. He offended me, and I watched him closely to make sure I had complete information regarding his unsuitability for the office he will — gag — hold.

That’s human nature. Because every reporter is human, every reporter is going to bring to every story values and biases that have nothing whatsoever to do with misleading or misinforming anyone. The filter through which they perceive information shapes the story they write. But, the same is true for all of us; unfortunately, few of us have the capacity to recognize this. Few of us can step back and take a good hard look at the way we process information.

So, what I am trying to say is this: Yes, the news we receive will be biased, and we’re going to hear things and read things we won’t like because we’re also biased. But, we have keep making the effort to educate ourselves; we need to reject “news” sources which are actually disseminating propaganda (or at least recognize the nature of the information we receive), and we need to be diligent in pursing stories that interest us — preferably by checking several sources.

Once we have educated ourselves, we need to make sure we are not using information to arm ourselves against others. We need to explore ways we can use the information we acquire to build bridges. For example, I will never be persuaded that cutting taxes for the wealthy or paying CEOs exorbitant salaries is beneficial to the common good — and that’s my criteria for good policy, something that works for the common good. However, I agree entirely that government has become so unwieldy it’s a joke. So, now, I have found common ground with my Republican friends — and I do have them, surprisingly — so how can we build on that point of agreement?

The more we work to educate ourselves and the more we work to build bridges, the more likely it is that we will avoid destroying what we love. And that, my friends, is real.

Life, Death and More Life

I don’t think I have made it through a day in the past month without crying. Please, I beg God, please don’t let me lose someone else I love during the Christmas season.

Technically, it’s Advent, and technically, Mom didn’t die during Advent. She died before the First Sunday of Advent, but it was December, and the heart doesn’t measure time with calendars anyhow. The heart measures time by experience, and my heart has Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the time between tangled in a knot of heartache and grief.

About the time I turned 40, my mom’s age when she died, I suffered an existential crisis. Whether it was an early mid-life crisis or just the crisis of living past my mother’s age of death, I don’t know. I just know that I was desperate to make sense of my life, for the pain and disappointments and mistakes to make sense. I read over and over — until I had memorized some parts — Thomas Moore’s book, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. So much resonated with me, validated my experience, and in that, I found a way to make peace with my life.

About the same time, I read Motherless Daughters: Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman. What I recall now, years later, is how typical my life was; I made the kinds of choices women make who lose their mothers during adolescence. That comforted me. She also said that for women who lose their mothers when they are young, that loss is one of the defining moments of their lives. And that has been true for me, too; I am a motherless daughter, and I have never stopped missing my mother. I have never stopped longing for her love — even after realizing that my mother would never have encouraged me to become a painter or to become a deeply spiritual person, two movements which give my life its deepest meaning.

Over the years, I learned to be grateful for the mentors God brought into my life, the women who mothered some part of me — Jessie, my counselor, whom I will always credit with the wholeness I was able to achieve as a result of our work together; Signe, my art instructor, who encouraged me when I entered her class with only curiosity, but no experience; Darlene, the co-worker, who listened with infinite patience as I wrestled with the life challenges I imagined I would have shared with my mother had she lived; and so many others over the years. And now, one of those precious, precious women is dying.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis — her lung tissue is thickening, so her brain and organs aren’t getting the oxygen they need. She’s been housebound for weeks, and the oxygen she’s being given has been increased. Most recently, the decision was made to begin administering morphine to help her body relax, because it naturally fights for the oxygen  it is not receiving. My heart is breaking.

Wanda, a Lutheran pastor, was my spiritual mother. I was a deeply spiritual person when I met her, and had a healthy spiritual life, but no one with whom to share my thoughts and ideas. Wanda and I had the discussions that I hungered to have with someone, and out of those conversations — often conducted over white wine (Wanda) and beer (me) — a deep friendship grew, a heart connection that endured even when we were not able to spend time together. We talked once in a while about getting a place together when she retired, but by the time she retired, she also knew she was dying. Like a good mother, a protective mother, she didn’t tell me. She just said she was going to move closer to her sister.

I saw her a few months ago, and was reminded with that visit just how much I love her. When I moved a couple years before she retired to accept a new position, I discovered she is one of those people who isn’t good at keeping in touch. And while I missed her, I always knew that I could visit her and would be welcome, which eased the ache. As time passed, the ache lessened, and I learned to live without her in my life. I continued to pray for her and to love her, but life brings these transitions and learning to accommodate them is part of living.

The visit earlier this year, and the conversation we had, even though her energy flagged after a couple hours, reminded me how very much her friendship means to me. Together, we hatched the idea of reshaping some of her sermons into meditations for a book. Wanda selected the ones she wanted to include, and I have been editing them. I hear her voice in them, and even recognize some of the ideas we discussed. I can remember sitting at a table in the pub that was our favorite getaway and saying, “But, Wanda, think about this: if there hadn’t been a cross, would the resurrection had have the same impact? If Jesus had died of old age or been killed in an accident, would anyone have noticed when he rose from the dead? His death had to be public and it had to be humiliating.” And there it is, in one of her reflections — the question I raised.

And so she lives now with me even as she struggles for each breath and her body is beginning to shut down. I have no doubt that she believes in the resurrection. We spoke of her death a few months ago, and she said, “I truly believe what I have preached at hundreds of funerals; I truly believe in the resurrection and eternal life.” Her sister said that Wanda’s mantra has become, “Life is good, but eternal life is better.”

I know this, too. I have no doubt that our Lord will wrap Wanda in his arms, and say, “Welcome home, good and faithful servant,” because she is a woman who has truly lived the gospels. But I am a selfish, selfish woman. I’m not ready to lose her — not now, the book isn’t done; not now, it’s Christmas.

Not now. But, I know this isn’t in my hands; it’s in God’s hands, and I must trust God to give me the grace to let her go with joy when the time comes. Until then, I reserve the right to cry.

Trash or Treasure?

“You shall be called by a new name, pronounced by the mouth of the Lord.” (Isaiah 62:2)

I don’t know why, but the idea of being called by a new name appeals to me.

I like being called “Mom” — very much. I think my primary vocation in life was parenthood. I base that assertion not only on my experience, but on what I’ve read. In her book, FOLLOW THE PATH: THE SEARCH FOR A LIFE OF PASSION, PURPOSE AND JOY, Sr. Joan Chittister writes, “Real passion focuses our efforts. It becomes the compass needle which presented with multiple options becomes the direction we take at every fork in the road.”

Providing a secure and emotionally stable home for my girls was the compass needle of my life for years. Sometimes, I erred — primarily when I accepted jobs in order to alleviate our poverty without really considering the impact those jobs would have  on our lives. But, overall, I think I succeeded. The odds were slim that either  of my girls would graduate from high school, because I was a single parent who suffered from depression, raised her children in poverty, and was scarred emotionally by violence. We beat those odds. My girls not only graduated from high school, but also graduated with honors from college — and the oldest went on to earn three more degrees, recently completing her doctorate. Granted, the work was theirs, but I think I gave them a stable foundation on which to build.

So, “Mom” is a good name, and “Grammy” works well, too. Hearing the twins’ beating hearts for the first time unleashed in me creativity I hadn’t experienced in years. For me, that’s a sure sign of love. I was grateful to be among their first caregivers and cried all the way from their home to the airport the first time I left — and the second — and the third. I prayed for more than three years to be part of their lives — never imagining where that would lead.

Writer. Artist. Woman of Faith.

These are good names, too, but they don’t pay the bills — at least they haven’t since I left the newspaper business. While many people my age have the luxury of enjoying retirement, spending my life in a state notorious for low wages and an average annual income that’s lower for women than men, I must work. Fortunately for me, I enjoy working. I enjoy accomplishing something. I enjoy the social interaction of the workplace.

But, at this stage in my life, I need something different in the workplace than I needed while my girls were growing up. While the girls were growing up, I needed a job that I could do well and leave, because what gave life meaning occurred outside the workplace. Now? I want to do work that is meaningful — not necessarily work that I have to take home with me,  but work that enables me to contribute to something greater than myself, work which makes me feel that I am doing what I was created to do, work that makes me feel that I have been called by name.

After the crucifixion, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, but she didn’t recognize him; when he called her by name, she knew him (John 20:14-16). Currently, I feel as though I am walking in the dark. Raising my children is behind me. Building community by reporting honestly and with integrity is behind me. I go to the tomb — to the last place I experienced meaning in my life — but it is empty. It has nothing for me now. I explore new opportunities, seeking the one which will enable me to use my gifts and to find satisfaction in contributing to the greater good, but I have not found it.

Each time one doesn’t fit, I slip into the patterns of thought I learned at home, variations off a single theme: “You’ll never amount to anything.” But the other day, when I was knitting and allowing recent experiences to tumble around inside my head, a familiar idiom rose to the top: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

And I recalled the Scripture verse that I had meditated on earlier in the day: “You shall be called by a new name.”

And I thought of Mary Magdalene, whose name I share. And I began to wonder, as I turn from the tomb and I am called by name, could the name I hear be “Treasure”?

 

Motherhood as Visionary

“True visionaries are true believers.They have the courage of their convictions because they have convictions. They transform others only because they themselves have been transformed by the power and majesty of their beliefs.And steeled by their beliefs, they can willingly persevere in seemingly impossible quests to repair the world.” — Chris Lowney, HEROIC LIVING:DISCOVER YOUR PURPOSE AND CHANGE THE WORLD

I’ve been feeling my age lately — for several years, actually. I don’t have the energy I once had, need more sleep, need more time to sit quietly and reflect, am less  willing to exhaust myself by multi-tasking. Even working full-time seems onerous some days.

Sometimes I tell myself I’m just exhausted. It’s been a long and lonely life. I’ve worked hard but have little to show for it — in terms that our society sees and values. I have to remind myself that what I accomplished is significant, if not entirely tangible. I raised two girls by myself, with no child support and little family support. By myself, despite being deeply wounded by life, I  gave them healthy enough roots and strong enough wings for them to grow into remarkable young women. By myself.

I did this because Ioving them transformed me. At 60, I can still remember seeing my oldest for the first time and wanting to give her the world. I knew that I could only do this if I went before her and set an example, created a trail that she could follow. She was born on February 18; I started college in June. I was going to teach her the importance of education by getting a college education myself. I was not going to be a do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do parent.

Of course, having had a mother with an eighth-grade education and a dad whose educational endeavors didn’t extend past high school, I didn’t understand a great deal about the college experience. I’ve heard that studies have been done on the challenges faced by first-generation college students, but they didn’t exist when I was young. I just bumbled into the experience, learning as I went. I didn’t realize, for example, that I should not accept a financial aid package that included three different student loans because repaying them concurrently would  be impossible. I simply trusted the financial aid folks knew what they were doing and were doing what they could to help me. I didn’t realize that a college education only leads to a higher-paying job if you prepare for a profession that garners a decent income. I trusted advisers who  assured me that just getting a degree would make a difference in my earning ability.

The lessons were hard ones, and ones for which I’ve paid dearly. But, I don’t regret learning them. I’ve seen both of my daughters graduate from college with honors, and build careers. They’ve had other lessons to learn, but my desire to teach them the importance of education gave them a foothold to go further than I found possible.

And I stopped the cycle of violence in my family, which I consider to be especially remarkable because, in addition to the physical violence I experienced at home, I was sexually molested when I was 12, and wakened in my bed by a couple drunken strangers who took my virginity when I was 18. Today, domestic violence is a crime and rape crisis centers exist to help women whose sexual encounters are not consensual, but I grew up in a different world — one that didn’t acknowledge the toll those experiences could take on a women’s heart or psyche.

The world was starting to change when I was a young mother. One day, when I went to class with a choker of bruises that I hadn’t been able to hide with clothing accessories and make-up, a classmate who was earning a degree in counseling took me to the women’s crisis center. There I learned that (a) the abysmal mess I kept making of my life was an expression of my woundedness, and (b) my girls would repeat the same patterns if I didn’t address those issues in order to provide them with an emotionally stable home and to set a better example than my mother had set for me.

Because I did not want my girls to face the same demons that terrorized me, I worked with a gifted counselor for nearly five years. I faced with as much courage as I could muster all of the experiences I had locked in boxes and tried to shove to the back of my emotional closet. There were many nights, after my girls went to bed, when I would pull out my journal and write until the pain was so visceral, I thought I would die. I would rock and cry and rock and cry until I was too exhausted to do more than sleep. I will always love my counselor for walking  through those dark years with me, and I will always be grateful to her for helping me to find my way to a place where I could function with some degree of wholeness.

Her work enabled me to raise girls whose lives reflect none of the self-destructive patterns that characterize the lives of those of us who have been wounded by violence. While one of my daughters remains single, I have watched the other marry a truly good man and I have seen the way in which their relationship continues to grow. I see his commitment to her and to their marriage, and my heart aches with joy because she experiences every day something I have never known and will never know — love. She has no idea how hard I worked to do what I could to ensure her heart and mind were not scarred in ways that would make it difficult to have a healthy relationship.

I wonder sometimes how I managed to juggle the life I lived while raising those girls. I often worked two jobs in addition to cooking, caring for our home, going to the laudromat weekly with five or six loads of dirty clothes, and trying to carve out time to paint, an activity necessary for me to keep body and soul together. In reading Chris  Lowney’s book, I remember. I wanted to build a better life for my girls than I had, and that vision strengthened me. I may not have repaired the world, but I did persevere in what I believed was important.

I raised two amazing women by myself.