Being loved.

It’s been a year, since I have been carrying her keys on my key-chain; there are days that I’m trying to unlock my door, and I mistake her keys for mine; I get so frustrated and I tell myself that I am going to take them off. But I refuse. I don’t take them off, they are a reminder of the door that opened when I knocked on her door for the first time in 10 years, almost to the day. I’ve read her journals several times over, and I know she suffered her own trauma, but I know she could have made better choices; she was still my mother. So I read in her journal, and found that date and read what she wrote on the day I came to see her; the day I introduced her to my son; she said it was the best day in her life, besides the day she was born.

It’s been a year since I sat by my mother’s side; every day for a month, I remember making that trip with my mom from the nursing home to the radiation treatment facility to treat her inoperable  brain tumor; I remember holding my mother’s hand; I remember the thin white sheet that covered her and the doctor moving in real close to hear her faint voice, as he asked, “Do you want anything?” And she responded, “I want one more day…with my grand-babies.”
It’s been a year, since I brought Carter to see my mom, they would draw together; artistic expression made all of our faces smile. Maybe my Creative Arts Therapy degree prepared me for those moments, in which I could clearly witness the power of healing that transcends pain. In those quiet moments, I felt more connected than I had ever felt before; these moments transformed my heart and life.
It’s been a year, since my brother became angry with me, since he quit talking to me, since I saw my nephews and nieces, since he stepped out of my life, for a second time. As teenagers, when i was in foster care, I could barely comprehend his words, “I want nothing to do with her.” But as a 30-something adults, his actions have severed the tie that bonds and that loss is the greatest loss of all.
It’s been a year, living with this ache….hiding, crouching, much like I did as an adolescent, in which I knew despair as the covering of my soul; this time around, my heart dropped and my faith was dismantled but it did not fade away. I’ve learned that it’s still possible to be suffering and to push the world through the eye of a needle just to try to prove that I don’t need anyone, but I do. Imperfect I shall remain. Striving for a better way; I seek the best path for my family, for our future, for whatever comes next. I stand up and walk out of the past and claim my life back, like never before to connect with others more purposefully and earnestly.

I can’t believe it took 365 days to get to this moment; to let go & to hold on; I have been avoiding this moment; I told my counselor that if I just had my “coming to Jesus moment,” I would be more whole.  I have sat in many churches this past year; sitting, waiting, contemplating, complaining, and sometimes fuming; and this past Sunday, the tears flowed but I did not move forward to kneel at the alter to say a prayer; rather, in the middle of the closing benediction/prayer, I wiped away the tears and stepped out into the foyer, into the beautiful vestibule and kept my eyes down, as to not make eye contact with anyone; I went into the bathroom, checked my mascara and gave myself one heck of a pep talk, prayed and walked out, chin up, to see familiar faces that did not really know me anymore.
Did I have my “coming to Jesus moment?” I think Jesus came to me; I don’t speak religion, I don’t quote the Bible, I don’t try to pry in the lives of others, because I don’t have the right to judge others and no one has a right to judge me.Over the past year – I have been in wrestling with my story, with my inadequacies and failures; the skeletons in my closet are strong boned, they have choked me in a mental head-lock; I know how important it is to move forward, but the loss of my mom and my brothers took a toll on my heart, and I have been experiencing great sorrow while facing my fears of abandonment. This has meant being reflective and really looking within to figure out what’s going to be next.

I have to accept being loved.

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The challenge of compassion…and a few lessons along the way.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

Within the past year, I have been asked, “How did you find the strength and courage to love your mom?”

When I was fifteen years old, my mom gave up her parental rights to stay with the man who molested me. As a teenager, this reality broke my heart. My mother and I never had a very close relationship; I felt like a burden, rather than a blessing. I have referenced these feelings before, I felt worthless and rejected; the pain I endured, left an imprint on my life. I spent a lot of my life struggling to overcome the odds of feeling less than, rather than greater than these emotional hardships.

I worked incredibly hard to graduate college, participate in AmeriCorps, and attend graduate school; I transitioned from my own personal struggles to focusing my energy on making a difference in my community.  No matter my professional accomplishments, my heart was still fractured and all of my relationships suffered. So, when I reconnected with my mother two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Throughout life, I learned to have zero expectations; but this time, I earnestly hoped for reconciliation, but I never imagined  that we would have so little time to overcome a lifetime of ache; the challenge of compassion revealed the possibilities, including forgiveness.

All along the way, I felt an ever-present peace and abundance of hope through my faith. This abundance made itself known when I became a single mom a couple years ago. Hope was the ultimate message communicated to me and I learned that everything, is indeed possible. I was strengthened most by the people who came beside me and loved me—without judgement. God essentially prepared my heart to love my mom, by blessing my life with a child. It was through the process of becoming a mother, that I surrendered my heart to my creator. In this context, my heart was prepared for the challenge of compassionate action; this was the path to loving my mom.

My mother was adopted; as far as I know, I know she was loved, but she always felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mother came into this world feeling unloved and throughout my mom’s life,  she sought love in all the wrong places; after three marriages; she ended up very alone. Seven months ago, when my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, I made a promise – I wanted her to know she was loved. No matter the struggle, I chose to stay and be present with my mom, offering my time (and as many milkshakes as possible)!

Loving my mom was a process and gradual evolution of my heart progressing towards loving authentically. In the beginning, I was angry and frustrated; especially when my mother refused to get the care she needed or when she refused to tell her children the truth we deserved to know. We had questions and wanted answers. Over time, I learned to shut up, let go and be open. I think that’s an enormous lesson to practice…the art of learning to listen; listening requires that I purposely let go of my agenda. It was important for me to step into her experience and feel a fraction of her ache; this didn’t excuse her from the pain she caused in my life, but my heart surrendered my resentment and hurt.  I relinquished my demands, questions and anxiety to know peace that passes all understanding. I forgave her and I believe that forgiveness set her free and helped us to understand each other better. Forgiveness didn’t erase years of disappointment and estrangement, but my pain was eased and I was able to let go and finally  love without creating conditions or rules; the process of surrendering created a safe space for love to grow.

There were other key influences in my life; I definitely drew strength from my faith and people like Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen. I have always had people in my life who offered their support. Their acts of kindness kept me from diving into depression, they motivated me to keep my chin up, and inspired me to accomplish my dreams.  I attended a Christian college and had mentors and volunteer experiences that changed my heart. I learned about living compassionately and love in action. Those lessons and influences are integral to the woman I am today. I experienced generosity and was inspired to pay it forward; my heart experienced growth because seeds were sewn into my life. Those folks were mostly women, who I still have connections with today; my elementary art teacher,  high school english and spanish teachers, my foster family, job  supervisors, mentors, roommates and classmates.

My heart was prepared/cMom_9onditioned for healing; whenever I found myself in the same room with my mother, I wanted to find the nearest exit. I didn’t know what I could offer, but I learned to offer simple things, like a milkshake or smile. After my mother’s diagnosis, during the first few months, whenever I sat with my mother, I saw her as a person first, and a mother last. For years I suffered a great loss, because she gave me up. There is a unique irony to our stories, because we both felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mom never took responsibility, she never apologized, she never acknowledged my experieinces with her understanding, until this past October. During my childhood and adolescence, she ignored my suffering and disposed of me, when she should have fought for me. This stung a thousand bee stings (and I am allergic to bees). Ultimately,  this painful cycle convinced me to be the best mother I could become; I’m thankful for my son and the lessons I have learned over the past year.  I focused on letting go and actualized forgiveness; as a result, I became my mother’s daughter; we were no longer estranged from one another. My mother and I learned how to be family once again. That transformation changed our lives forever.

Over the past two weeks, I have had time to reflect and recognize the power of moments; some of them will always be indescribable, but I’ve attempted to encapsulate them into 5 challenges/lessons; I’ve written them as as a way to honor my mom; I am thankful for the gift of transformation….

The Challenge of Compassion, #1- Approach forgiveness as an opportunity to help, rather than be helped. In the process, all hearts have the opportunity to be changed.

The Challenge of Compassion, #2- Hope despite all impossibilities; healing is possible, when you stop giving the past power over the present; forgiveness truly mends the broken-hearted; fragments are sewn into wholes, the empty spaces are filled with love.

The Challenge of Compassion, #3- Simply being present is a gift. Kindness isn’t about what we can give, but it’s about how we give- it’s about the quality of presence, not the quantity or value of many presents. The worth of our presence will always surpass everything else.

The Challenge of Compassion, #4- A small gesture of kindness can be monumental; live graciously—

The nurse who took care of my mom, came to the nursing home and was by her side during her last moments. During the past 7 months, she was very supportive to my mother.  She eased my mother’s pain with her presence; she always appeared to offer her help, especially when she wasn’t working. She made the choice to be with us. In one minute, she was getting us coffee and the next, she was listening to my mother’s last breaths. No one that morning at the nursing home took care of us. They had other things to do, I suppose. My mom’s nurse totally went out of her way, many many times and never asked for anything in return. I am so thankful for the gift of her caring presence (#3); it was beyond comforting. Since my mom passed, we have told one another, we would be friends for life.

The challenge of Compassion, #5- Don’t wait. Make time in your calendar to love without reservation. Don’t wait for the ah-ha moment when things make sense. Chances are, none of it will make sense. People don’t always make sense; cancer doesn’t make sense, but we deal with the nonsense, by doing something as simple as making time to love without reservation. We can’t say we cannot love because….we must say, “We must, we can and we will love because of HE, who entrusts us with His love—

Two years ago, I didn’t know I would lose my mom this January. I can’t change the past. Honestly,  I spent the first year and five months, being distant and reserved. I was taking baby steps, trying to play it safe; I justified my actions;. After all, I did not have a relationship with my mom for 10 years. I was careful yes, and I should have been, but looking back, I could have done more to express my desire to get to know her again. All and all, I didn’t think I was ready. And I wasn’t. But if I had pushed myself just a little, we might have had more time together in the beginning. I am very thankful for the past seven months and for what happened between us- our hearts aligned in a beautiful constellation of understanding. Courage provided the strength, but I could have done so much more.

So? Increase your measure of knowledge  by implementing these challenges in your life. Reach deep within and reach out and around, you just might feel a squeeze in return, but don’t give up, “just keep on, keeping on.”

Move the World

My mom finished her radiation treatment on Friday; she wore a mask  (like this one) to keep her face from moving during each of her 18 radiation sessions. For her, the mask was very uncomfortable, but I think she was extraordinarily brave to undergo treatment, knowing that her type of brain cancer is terminal. She put on the mask to have more time on this earth to spend with her grandchildren. I don’t know how much time she has, no one does; not knowing is not easy, but we are taking this all, one day at a time, and I think that her determination is a reflection of the love she wishes to share…..

Image

At the end of her treatment on Friday; my mom asked to keep her mask; she is going to make it a piece of art.I can’t wait to see what she creates.

Throughout my mom’s treatment, I have been contemplating masks and why we wear them; a mask protected my mom; positively or negatively, we each have our own reasons for wearing masks; but the motivation is not always to hide or conceal; sometimes, it’s meant to heal. So, be sensitive to the needs of others; you never know what they will reveal…..

Today’s post was inspired by this quote (please explore the links):

“One day you wake up and realize the world can be conquered… I’m going to put a mask on and scrawl my name across the face of the world, build cities of gold, come back and stomp this place flat, until even the bricks are just dust. So you can just shut up. All of you. I’m going to move the world.”
Austin Grossman, Soon I Will Be Invincible

Ready to win my life back

Today’s post is inspired by a phrase that Dolvett Quince speaks to his contestants on The Biggest Loser. During workouts on the show, he shouts, “win your life back!!!”

Last week, when I heard him shout, “Win your life back,” I wept.

Since I was 11 years old, food has been an inappropriate coping mechanism.

At first, I ate, because I thought if I was fat, I wouldn’t be (sexually) abused.

But he didn’t care; he abused me daily, for three years.

Eating food was the one thing I had control over, so I kept eating and eating; Unfortunately, this has been my fight for the past 25 years; even when I was in foster care and had a supportive foster family, I kept over-eating;  even after I had my gallbladder removed, I kept over-eating;   even when I earned my MA in Creative Arts Therapy and knew better, I kept over-eating.

(Deep breath)

Over the past month, while spending time with my mom during her radiation treatment (for her brain cancer),  memories have resurfaced in full force about my childhood. At first, I wanted to maintain a safe distance; but during the process of forgiving her, I realized how important it is to accept grace and forgive myself too (daily).

Over the past few months, I have gained weight; everyone has been kind; no one has pointed it out, except, I feel it every day, when I try on my clothes and they don’t fit like they should. It’s as if my childhood is mocking me; I’m definitely ready to stop reaching for the comfort food; it’s so ironic, that comfort food actually makes me feel so uncomfortable; I just want to build a fort and hide; instead, I just need to sit at the table and give myself permission to eat healthy and be thankful for a new day to begin again.

I always wanted my mom to fight for me (she didn’t), but now, I need to win this fight once and for all. It’s time to win my life back…25 years is weigh too long to be carrying an albatross around my mid-section. I am ready…

The following is a poem/narrative of sorts, that I Initially wrote in 2010:

Thick

A pinch turned into a roll into curves into the full-figured voluptuous woman that appears before you today, but when I was a child, a natural instinct to eat three meals a day was warped when self-confidence diminished at the hands of an abuser.

A candy bar turned into a bag of chips into a pint of ice-cream into stuffing my body with food; this process insulated my body with a layer of protection to fight off his advances at age 11.

I had convinced myself that if I was overweight, he would leave me alone. I figured that if I was unattractive on the outside, that he would stop looking at me; all of this thinking and eating did not stop him at all.

Worst yet, my mother ignored the abuse and told me that she wasn’t going to have a fat daughter, so she forced me to exercise each day, proving that she didn’t give a damn about what I was feeling on the inside.

Three years passed and I was thickened like a plump chicken; I wanted nothing more than to die; a recipe for redemption was inscribed upon my right thigh and I found a way out by speaking the truth.

Years of molestation ceased to be a part of my daily routine but food continued to console my mind and 126 pounds turned into 157 into 176 into 198 into 210 into 234 into 246 (what I weigh right now).

A pattern of compulsive eating without exercising has given my body an over-sized shape and created a false facade; my curves are my battle wounds; they have been gaping open for 25 years.

Today, I begin to heal, inside out….

The Experience of Hoping…..

ImageJust a little while ago,  I cleaned up the living room and managed to make a path from here to there. And then I decided to turn off the TV… Thankfully,  this process prepared me to clear my mind. I now hear the rain, my son’s cough and the humming of the fridge; thank goodness, I can finally listen, at midnight, to what is important;

And so, I finally picked up a little blue book called, “Gone from my sight.”

For the past two weeks, I have been sitting by my mother’s side; I have been traveling to her radiation appointments to give her support. I frequently feel full of  feelings and empty of emotion; the emptiness wipes me out.

While sitting with my mother, I  remember happy moments of my childhood and equally, I  recall the pain that accompanied me during the best and the worst of times. In this moment in 2013, tears cascade into a reservoir of ache; I intentionally stop to breathe; I inhale and exhale and think upon my life, before it was too complicated. Honestly, I have never had the best relationship with my mother, but I have been thinking about our shared experiences that were more positive than negative. And so, I’ve asked myself, what if?

What if, I just focused on the happy memories for one day; what if I just made a conscientious effort to completely fill a room with positive energy; what if I left my disappointment and ache in the past? Instead, I  need to focus on what I can completely bring to each day, especially tomorrow and the next day.

Tomorrow, I will dwell in happy memories from my childhood, this is my current roster of experiences that I choose to celebrate and acknowledge, in honor of bringing positive energy into my mother’s room:

1) As a young child, I had ear-aches; I would be in a lot of pain; during hospital visits, my mother brought me great comfort; I sometimes felt closest to her, when I was sick, whether it was an ear-ache in first grade or phenomena in 4th grade–I felt loved.

2) During elementary school, I would go  clothes/supplies shopping with my mom; it was an annual tradition; I went shopping with my mom without my three brothers tagging along. I can still remember sitting at the Woolworth’s counter in Heath, drinking milkshakes with my mom. I felt so special during these trips….I always wished that the start of school came twice a year….

3) One day, we were walking home from Meijer and I did something silly and fell. My mom, brothers and I, had a really good laugh. For some reason,  I remember that moment so vividly; too often, it seemed as if we knew  only how to hurt each other with words, but when we laughed together as a family, it was if we really loved each other and all the pain was an emotional mirage.

4) My mom is an artist; I watched her make art  when I was just a little girl; she inspires my art-making today; I’m truly thankful for this gift, which she helped me to develop in my own life, again and again. I am a creative soul and I have my mother to thank for teaching me how to draw and express my inner-being.

5) My mom loves my son, her grandson; to see her with him, is to see someone completely untouched by heartache and cancer. She smiles with so much love, it is a miracle to share this moment (and hopefully more) with her.

I wish I had more to write; I know there are more…I promise. Maybe I will add more examples to this list, as I remember special memories……..Right now, I’m finally feeling rather tired and need to get some sleep!

Take care,

Kim

Free

So, I had this moment (yesterday), where I told my mom I loved her….and she said that I shouldn’t love her, because she caused me so much ache….

I cried. I truly wept. It was if a hole was finally patched up–I can only explain what happened in a poem-

Free

To forgive
is to give
Myself permission
to step back, waaaay back
22 years—

I was pulled out of school early in 8th grade (during 8th period class)
My mom and step-father picked me up-
We rode in the car for 6 miles,
An awkward silence permeated my senses-
fear invaded my gut,
The weight placed upon my shoulders, doubled-

We finally arrived at the house and exited the car-
Ironically, I tiptoed next to each of the Christmas stockings
And walked up a hundred stairs (or just 22)
and entered my bedroom.
At first glance, I saw–
my bed-sheets were gone,
I quickly checked all my hiding places–
Clothes neatly folded in drawers
Closet organized (all of the hangers faced the same way)
Even the book shelves were neatly displayed–
What in the hell, did she find?
I walked down the stairs,
through the dining room
and sat on a stool in the kitchen–
She unfolded a piece of notebook paper
Time scathingly obliterated my outer-shell,
she accusingly read my secrets
(my abuser stood by her side or she stood by his side)
I felt his gaze piercing my existence;
His threats pressed nails into my spine-
Tears finally escaped through ducts
previously cemented by terror-

And my mother set me free,
While the floor completely fell away
She called me a “bitch”
And recklessly let me go—
And I never returned.

She told me that she wouldn’t leave him
(I want to believe that her mind
was violently petrified by his control).

In other words,
She abandoned me and I was placed into foster care.
As they say, The rest is history. (scratch that)

Until now-
I’m opening my heart.

To forgive
is to give
Myself permission
To step forward
Fully accessing
The present moment—
To hold her hand–
Not because I am completely healed
(Because I still have scars).
Not because she contributed to the cycle of abuse
(Because I am a survivor).
Not because I am a Christian
(Because I am filled with hope and a purpose).
Not because she’s dying
(Because she’s still alive and can hear my words, when it matters).
Not because she has brain cancer
(Because she’s my mother).

To forgive is to give
Myself permission
To love her—

And finally set her free.