Month: January 2016

Re-purposing the brokenness

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I just got my phone evaluated by a “phone expert” the other day. It wasn’t working the way it used to and I didn’t understand why. It was the same phone I had gotten a year ago, so why wasn’t it functioning the same way it had before? This is my first experience with a smart phone, a world I’m totally ignorant to, so the poor phone guy had to keep explaining terms that were foreign to me. He said that I needed to upgrade my phone to a new one. But why? I just got used to the one I have—I don’t want a new one! I want it to work the way it did before. He explained if I wanted to experience what I had previously with this phone, I’d have to get a new one, because this one was outdated. Done. But I resisted. I don’t want a new phone. I just want to make this one better! In the phone world, I guess I can’t have that, but it does make a good metaphor for what I’ve been learning in other areas of my life.

I have been waiting for my inner wounded soul to “get better.” Waiting for the day the clouds would part and all of the sadness and loneliness and anger and despair would lift and I would just feel…better. I didn’t really know what “better” would look like, but I catch myself fantasizing sometimes about what it would resemble, not being able to put a finger on anything in particular or in great detail, but honestly, “better” looked like anything that was total opposite of how I’ve been feeling. Only now, something has been stirring inside me to abandon “better.” Truth is, I’ll never be what I once thought my ideal of “better” was, and I don’t really want to be “better.” God prodded me to seek a different meaning for my new…whatever you want to call it—life? Chapter? Season? And there’s no instant upgrade involved in God’s timing here on Earth most times. The only way to get there is to re-purpose the brokenness; not replace it.

Perfect, tangible, visible examples that come to mind as I’m trying to grasp what is happening in my own grief experience is best explained by a specific art form of re-purposing broken materials into something that the object wasn’t at first intended to be, but is worked with and formed into something completely different than before, transformed from the original pieces. Take mosaics for example, or the ancient Japanese art form, Kintsugi, of taking broken pottery and fusing the pieces together with gold or silver—the end result is far more valuable than its original form.

In our culture today re-purposing, or up-cycling has become somewhat of a cool, hip, artsy thing, but it’s nothing new. God’s been up-cycling from the beginning. Taking broken things and not necessarily upgrading the broken thing to a brand new thing, but taking the broken pieces and using them for a re-purpose, a more valuable purpose, a greater purpose.

So while I do have to give in and upgrade my phone in order to have it work the way I need it to (OK, I don’t HAVE to do that, but it might simplify tasks a little bit). I don’t have to sweep my brokenness under the rug or into a dustpan and throw it away, praying all the pieces will just go away. If that was the case, how many more pieces would be lost? Precious pieces that, though painful, are so beautiful, like the pieces of cherished memories; our first kiss, our wedding, dancing in the living room, holding our twin babies… the bittersweet pieces of my husband holding our daughter for the first time as he struggled to breathe, or my taking his hand when there wasn’t anything else I could do in the middle of the night, or watching a man so broken give all the broken pieces of his life to God and in turn, receive a peace that overcame him in his last breath…and all of the tiny, unbearable shatters of my former life through this grief journey. All those pieces are painful–crushing at times–but I can’t throw them away and I don’t want to upgrade to a life where those pieces don’t exist. All I know is that while I can’t see it completely right now, the pieces that are being put back together now will resemble nothing of my former life, but will still contain all of it. There is beauty in my brokenness and one day I’ll see the final result, but until then through painstaking patience, I’ll keep giving each piece, no matter how deep it cuts, to my God.

I’m not a dad

Copyright: Annette Shaff

I have heard a lot from single moms and dads, widowed or otherwise, that now they “have to be the mom AND the dad.” While practically I totally get that, I find I can’t burden myself further with that thought; feeling like I need to be the dad for my children, now that theirs is dead. It’s too exhausting to try to put pressure on myself to do the impossible because I will never, ever be able to take the place of their dad or take the place of a father figure that may be there in the future. Ever.

The kids and I went out to lunch with my children’s godfather a while back and the kids weren’t used to going out, as I know all too well, going into a restaurant with three children under five is exhausting and not enjoyable at all, so they were testing the boundaries along the way. Needless to say, I was already frazzled at the ‘kids being kids’ behavior at the table—nothing too crazy, just a little loud for my nerves, but it was what the waitress said that derailed me. She told the kids to “ask your mom and dad if you can have….(insert whatever it was they requested, I can’t remember, a soda? A pony?)” It was a logical assumption on her part since I was there with a male, but nevertheless it threw me into a pretty dark place and the only thing I was able to see was the absence of the man who was supposed to be there to help me during the crazy restaurant times, and the endless waking at night, the tantrums, the amazing milestones, the how-to-throw-a-ball moments. Even more glaring was the obvious fact that after spending just a few hours with their godfather, I could see their mannerisms change, how desperately they need a man to help them in this crazy journey of life and, no matter how much I try, I can never ever be that for them. So I stopped putting that unrealistic expectation on myself.

Sure, I can, and do, lots of “dad” things with my boys. I know how to change a tire and check my oil. I am not into sports (their dad really wasn’t a diehard fan either), but one thing he always looked forward to was playing catch with his boys, one of the first things he showed me when we started dating (he was a sentimentalist) from his childhood box was a glove and ball he saved for “his kids one day,” he said I can play catch with them; I can throw a baseball and catch one too, I can even throw a football in a way that it spins…a spiral? Shows how much I know… I can go to Home Depot and take a class and figure out how to use an electric drill or build a birdhouse, the pictures would hang crooked and the birdhouse may lean, but I could do it! I can figure out how to grill a steak. We wrestle and play pillow fights all the time, I give them piggy back rides and teach them right from wrong, I take them on hikes and dig for worms—but I do all of this as their mom. Doing all those things with a man, that ideal situation boys have to learn the ropes of manhood, will remain untouched by me, no matter how good I am at all the above.

What I can do, though, is teach my children how a woman should treat herself and, in turn, be treated. I have been implementing one-on-one date nights with my boys so we can talk and have fun and they can see Mommy not-so-stressed. I can implement door-holding and pulling out chair rules, but I hope that one day they will see these date nights as something more; that Mommy is out with them, taking the time to spend time with them, investing in them and their importance and responsibility to one day grow up not only chivalrous, but strong, grace-filled leaders. When my daughter is a little bit older, I will do the same with her. While their dad may not be here physically, his finest attributes shine brightly in his boys. I see his heart when they constantly praise and compliment their little sister telling her how cute and beautiful she is. I see it in the quiet times we sit together and they look at me and hug me tightly and whisper to me, “You know what, mom, you’re beautiful.” In my ugliest moments (inside and out), their dad never failed to remind me that I was beautiful to him and now my children who have seen all my weaknesses and ugly moments can see that beauty too and all is right in the world when, for a moment, I feel their daddy shining through in those small, but powerful moments.

The last time we got dressed up for a date, my son tugged on my shirt and motioned for me to bend down to eye level. He swept my hair gently and whispered into my ear: “When I grow up, I’m going to be Daddy and marry you.” While my heart melted, I know in the future this will change, but how do I want my children to remember how I handled this situation that’s been handed to us? With dignity and grace, and fierce perseverance. How do I want them to remember me? As their mother. Nothing more and nothing less.

A father to the fatherless, and a judge (defender) of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary (lonely) in families…

-Psalm 68:5-6 (KJV)

Impatient knitter

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Anything involving sewing, knitting or crocheting is beyond me; I just don’t have the patience for it. In fact, I have always struggled with patience and wanting to see the final result quickly, rather than enjoying the time in between the raw material, or the process, and the finished product or result. Sometimes the time between start and finish can be boring, sometimes elating, and sometimes, it can even be painful and oftentimes, really hard, but a skilled seamstress pushes through and sees the value in the finished product is well worth the hours of work put into it.

I have been slowly going through my late husband’s things for the past two years since he’s been gone. I have avoided his clothing all together, until I saw another widowed friend who told me she had a company make a quilt out of her husband’s shirts. I have been carefully going through his things, putting a lot of thought into the things I want to keep; not just to stay in a box, but to re-purpose them in some way that would be useful, beautiful and meaningful for his three children. The quilt was my answer to what to do with some of his clothing.

One day I finally gathered the courage to cut up my husband’s shirts to prepare them to be sent off for the final product; three quilts for our three little ones. The first cut was the hardest, and then it was therapeutic, going through each article of clothing and remembering all the moments held in those clothes. I held his shirts to my face and breathed them in deeply, trying to retain his scent, even if for only a moment. I was on a roll when one of my four-year-old twins came bounding down the steps and he stumbled across my project.

“What are you doing?” he cried, and he crumbled at my side, sobbing, clamoring for all of his daddy’s shirts and hugging them tightly.

I tried to explain to him that I was making something special for him, his brother and sister to keep for the rest of their lives.

“But these are already special,” he sobbed. “Glue them back together, or Daddy will have nothing to wear when he comes back!”

My heart broke for my little boy, wrapping himself in his daddy’s clothes, and I realized that seeing the brokenness of something that was once whole, the shirts, brought him to the final realization that Daddy really wasn’t coming back. The floor was a mess with scraps and pieces of items that were so much a part of the one person who couldn’t be there to wipe our son’s tears away.

I tried to explain to him that Daddy didn’t need these clothes anymore and we could remember him by special blankets that would keep us warm. That answer didn’t appease him and he bawled. I tried to say that God would clothe Daddy with much better shirts and he would look so handsome, so he didn’t need these, and I offered a solution that he could keep some of his father’s pants in a box to keep, untouched, and his brother, who had quietly listened in on our conversation, piped up in his thoughtful and clever manner: “People don’t wear pants in heaven?”

This grief journey has been hard enough for me to comprehend, and at that moment, I realized how much harder it was for a 4-year-old child to see this mess and not being able to see the final product. How could I explain something to them that I didn’t fully understand myself? It was a mess, this whole thing, and it was heartbreaking to look at, but the only thing that keeps me going is that I know God is continuing to knit all these unidentifiable pieces together. One day, we’ll see the beautiful finished product, but for now, I have to trust the messy, painful, unclear pieces are, somehow, in some way, valuable in their own rite to this whole journey. I don’t like it one bit and not being able to explain something to my hurting child is unbearable, but I know I can’t explain God, but I can describe Him to my children the best I can through all the ways He’s showed up and held our family.

Reading my Bible the other day, I kept thinking about the Biblical references to knitting and weaving, the most recognizable one being Psalm 139:13-14. Why did God choose that metaphor for knitting or weaving us together in our mother’s wombs? It’s significant to me to remember that God didn’t just wave a magic wand and-Poof!- here we are. Instead, raw, organic materials were taken and put together to form something even more beautiful (Genesis 2:7-8). All of life is a process, a delicate and intentional process that takes great care to develop to successful accomplishment. While I don’t understand, and, to be honest, am quite uncomfortable at times with the process, it brings me comfort and hope to know that the final product of these bits and pieces of God’s process will be wrapped around my children and I, to bring us warmth and comfort and finally, maybe finally, clarity and peace. For now, patience in watching each strand be woven together with the next brings me a little closer to the hope I cannot see, but know is there.