“Healing is an inside job.” B. J. Palmer
Every Mother’s Day is a reminder of what a counselor told me 39 years ago, “Until you make peace with your mother, you’ll never be at peace with yourself.”
After trying and failing to make peace face-to-face with Mom and then with her memory, I tried dismissing his counsel. After all, it’d been decades since he said it.
My children having children changed everything, though. My grandchildren were a wakeup call. I couldn’t keep believing my own lie, “We’re getting better.”
I shook while holding my daughter’s hand when the nurse doing her ultrasound revealed my first grandchild was a girl. Afterwards, I bawled in a parking lot for 20 minutes before I could get out of my car and grocery shop.
Before Claire ever arrived, I wrote a blog post entitled “Girls Aren’t Safe Here” about not wanting a granddaughter because girls weren’t safe in our family. We weren’t healed enough. The dysfunction hadn’t stopped. I wasn’t at peace yet. Thankfully, God ignored my whimperings and blessed us with that girly bundle of glitter, gab, and emotions anyway. If you’ve ever met her, you know what I’m talking about.
God was also gracious with His timing. Mom died three weeks before Claire was born. Like the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; …”
We mourned, but Mom’s death made way for laughing and dancing too, things my daughter and I hadn’t done in a while. Maybe we had never done them. Generational curses run deep, which meant instead of lightheartedness, we’d gotten stuck in familiar places we didn’t want to be – anxiety, control, and resentment. It’s true what Christine Langley-Obaugh said, “We repeat what we don’t repair.”
The irony of repetition is this: the thing I desperately wanted (a relationship with my daughter) didn’t happen easily for the very reason I desperately wanted it, because I didn’t have a relationship with my mom.
Claire jumpstarted a whole nother (it’s a word) level of healing and “getting better.”
Since then, our family’s grown by three more grandchildren including another granddaughter. Margaret belongs to my son. In light of the way she studies me during FaceTime, then giggles at her big brother when he pretends to sneeze, I suspect she’s just as intense, questioning, and excitable as Claire and me. It’s a good thing too because we could use backup fixing our family.
Joking aside, I can’t put into words the joy I’ve felt having grandchildren, or the lows I’ve hit recognizing how my brokeness affects them. When I detached from my family of origin’s drama, I caught a glimpse of the peace (and legacy) I wanted to pass along. However, getting comfortable with that peace and letting it settle my soul would have meant sitting still for longer than a few minutes or a few days.
Even though I like being alone and I thought I sat still plenty, it’s turned out to be true what philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
The same counselor who told me about making peace with Mom also asked, “What’s your first painful memory of your mom? Let’s go back there.”
I remember sitting with my back to the furnace in our basement because the heat and hum of it felt safer than being upstairs with her. Mom cried a lot and Dad stayed gone. I blamed myself for her sadness and for his absence, and felt desperate for one of them to assure me it wasn’t my fault.
Until the pandemic, I’ve never sat for long with my own blame and desperation. I’ve found fast fixes instead, which explains why I have trouble going to bed early, being quiet around people, and sitting still to complete projects.
The past few weeks of being at home, I forced myself to go back there. I’ve imagined sitting in front of the furnace a dozen times, I walked through the fire – symbolism I didn’t recognize until writing this post. I felt afraid all over again. I felt desperate all over again. I cried all over again.
It helped to hear in a recent sermon that God doesn’t excuse us when it comes to the fire. In fact, that’s where he fixes us, which is why we have to walk all the way through the flames. We can’t go back and expect to get the better stuff on the other side. Our stories are just like the Israelites who grumbled they wanted to go back to Egypt, back to what they knew even if it wasn’t good, instead of making the hard choice to keep walking all the way through the desert to the Promised Land. The comforting news is Jesus walks it with us.
I’m guessing everyone’s got a fire to walk through, a demon to face, or “a come to Jesus moment” (what my daughter calls it) they need to experience. It turns out it wasn’t my mom I needed to face and find peace with after all. I needed to face myself.
We either face ourselves and find peace or ignore our problems and face their consequences. It’s that simple and that hard.
I’d really like to hear from you – your thoughts about facing the hard stuff and healing.
In This Together,
I attended Solid Rock at Market Common in Myrtle Beach, SC on this Pentecost Sunday. I should stop being surprised when God prompts a sermon on the same topic I’m wrangling with and writing about, but better. Way better. When the church posts it, so will I. Be on the lookout.