God Quilts with Mother Love

soul blossoms amy butler quiltI’ve seen a lot of great posts on Mother’s Day circulating the internet this week. Many advocate legitimate reasons why this holiday does more harm than good.

I understand these perspectives and in many ways I agree with them..

Often, Mother’s day hurts more than it helps, and those of us who have lost mothers or who never had one in the first place understand that with sharp clarity. We go into this holiday feeling like the outcasts, the ones with no one to celebrate, no one to celebrate us.

Anne Lammott said it best (have a I gushed about her enough lately? Get used to it.)

“But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat.”

There are so many people who kept me afloat after my Mom died and while she going through her long process of disappearing into depression. Continue reading

Praying Songs and Fighting On

my hand's wet on the wheel

I walked out of the grocery store discouraged, pushing my half empty cart to our dusty mini van with one hand as I grasped my daughter, Noelle’s hand with the other.

When I finally got it loaded up I plunked my head onto the steering wheel inadvertently causing the horn to blare and startle a passing shopper while my four year old burst into laughter in the back seat.

As I put the van into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot I started to chastise myself for overspending as I reviewed the receipt in my head.  “Where did I go wrong? Am I ever going to go out grocery shopping without leaving the store feeling so guilty?”

Thought trains like this can quickly escalate to a session of beating the crap out of myself so I began to look for footholds that would help me stop the downward spiral.

“One grocery trip doesn’t define your life, neither does one morning of writing work.  You are more than this snapshot.”

Suddenly Noelle called out: “Hey mom!  How ’bout some music?”

Yes music!  Something grounding, foundational.  I made my request to Siri and miraculously she understood and cued up the appropriate track, Come to Me by Bethel Loft.

“I am the Lord your God.  I go before you now.  I stand beside you, I’m all around you.  Though you feel I’m far away, I am closer than your breath.  I am with you, more than you know.”

I started to sing these words, belt them out like a prayer my life depended on.  Suddenly, instantly, I was transported back in time to my mother’s car, myself a little girl in the back seat.

I was years away watching her sing along to powerful music, dancing with her hands and drumming on the steering wheel with a passion that spoke to the depth of her need to cling, to hold on tight.

I didn’t know it at the time, but she was praying through music, unintentionally teaching me to lean into the power of lyrics when my own prayers weren’t flowing.  When I was losing my way again.

She was teaching me that when you feel too weak to speak truth into your own life, find a song that will do it for you and sing. Sing loud and squeaky and off key.  Sing like your life depends on it, because right now, it does.  

For all the times I saw my mother give up, there were twice as many times that I saw her fight on.

Through her depression, her fear, her crippling anxiety.

Whatever people may think about those who take their own lives, there is depth beneath that one choice that goes unknown to those on the outside.  There is more to a life than that final choice.  Yes, it speaks to sickness, weariness and defeat but it doesn’t tell the story of all the other times when they prayed a song and fought on.  

It started with a shopping trip, it almost turned into session of despair, but instead it became a prayer through song.

A moment to remember the good practices that my mother left behind.

Ultimately it ended in passing this practice onto my own daughter, who stepped out of the van singing…  “Come to me, I’m all you need.”

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31 Letters to my Mom- The Wrap Up

 Dear READER!

That’s right I’m talking to you, the one on the other end of the computer screen, for the first time in a month.

The Mother Letters are over and I can honestly tell you that writing to my Mom, Sally, for 31 days with a beautiful, cathartic challenge that broke me apart and put me back together a different person.

To write the letters I spent a lot of head-time in my past, pulling up every memory of my Mom that I could.

Some of my memories are just snapshots I only remember in pictures.  Some are vivid and when I recall them they happen all over again (for better or for worse.)  

Overall, The more I delve into life with my Mom the more I see the decline into depression.

The more I spoke with her sisters the more I saw the ghost of the fun and lighthearted woman woven through my childhood.  I really do remember her being easy-going, laughing and being silly with her kids.

The anniversary of her death was a heavy, hard day complete with darkness and storms, both in the stratosphere and in my soul.  Every anniversary that passes brings with it a desperation to save her that I can’t do anything about.

Many of my readers told me that in the progression of the letters they could see my heart lighten as I unburdened my anger and guilt.  I would agree with this and tell you that as I pulled everything out and examined it that my current view of my mother changed completely.

She went from being the heavy, dark woman at the train tracks to a free spirit, laughing and light, full of the joy that comes from being in the presence of our Father.

I really do feel her on the edges of my soul, spurring me on.  She’s cheering for me on the tough days and laughing with me in the moments where life is too ridiculous not to.

Friends I have to be honest with you, this challenge was not something I put a lot of thought into at the forefront.  It was a flash of idea that I knew I had to commit to the second it came to me, which was actually the night before the challenge started.

Also, I always thought that I would get a few letters ahead and have everything planned out and well-timed.  Yeah no, some nights I had everything ready to go for the next morning, but most days I was flying by the seat of my pants.

October was crazy beautiful-busy: we had a wedding, Kel’s 30 birthday, the anniversary of my Mom’s death, my brother’s graduation from Army Basic and two rounds of company in our home.

There was always emotional depth to process, something to think about, talk about, reflect upon.  The entire month was spent trying to process all the beautiful, painful life playing out all around me.

Overall, I have absolutely 0 regrets about committing to this challenge and I very well may do this again next year, although not with the same topic.

I want to end with a special thanks to The Nester who challenged me, as well as over 1200 other bloggers, to spend the 31 days of October writing.  I’m sure that she didn’t have anything as heavy as “letters to a mom who took her life” on her mind, yet my grief journey is forever better because she issued this challenge.

To this woman I have never met, I am deeply thankful.

To you, who faithful read these letters and spurred me on I am utterly grateful

To my husband who encouraged me, pulled me back up and even wrote one day I am beyond blessed.

To my family who loved the letters and gave me memories and encouragement I am unspeakably thankful.

To my Mom, in Glory, I love you, Thank you for being so gracious as the topic of this month.

Amen, Selah, Thank you.

(PS Tomorrow I am going to do an official Post about my new writing gig over at EpicTot.  If you want a sneak peak, I am writing there today about the little ways we can teach our kids the practice of thankfulness, see ya there)

31 Letters to my Mother {Day 31} Healing, Forgiveness, Stars and Dandelion Fluff

 Dear Mom,

Late letter, only two hours to spare. Forgive me but today was a mad dash of a thing.

We were in Oklahoma City early to take Noelle to see a specialist  (Don’t worry she’s absolutely fine.)

Then we rushed home only to run out the door again for Halloween and Trick or Treating.  It was a gorgeous evening graced by a foggy Harvest Moon.

The stars above us were so clear that Caedmon kept trying to reach up and touch them.  He squirmed in my arms straining for something so beautiful, ethereal and clearly out of his grasp.

What a fitting picture to close these letters with because so often in grieving the loss of you, I have felt like a child reaching for something I’ll never grab hold of.  All the components and pieces that made up your life and death will never come together cohesively for me.

I won’t ever really understand why.

And now, through these healing days of writing, I’m done grasping and striving for things out of my reach.

As I wrote and questioned, wondered and wept something inside of me changed.  The hard barbs and anger softened up into dandelion fluff and sort of floated away in a breeze of grace and forgiveness.

 I forgive you, I forgive me.  I know that at your core you were always the cheerleader, the one who loved to laugh, the woman who longed to be a mother, the mother who tried to make it work.

And now you’re spirit, light and free.  I feel you always in the corners of my life, no longer the heavy, burdened soul but a gorgeous presence in my life. One who laughs and rejoices at what she sees in her daughter and grandchildren.

The little child in me will always long for the comfort of your lap and the safety of your arms. The grown woman in me longs partner with you in the struggling and striving of adulthood.

We stand Mother and daughter, one on each side of glory.  You know fully and I squint into a mirror most days, hoping for a glimpse of the divine that you are surrounded by.

And this is how we shall be until we meet again, until we can see each other fully, as God intended.

Forever and always I love you, I miss you

LeaRae

31 Letters to my Mother {Day 30} Peacock apologies

Dear Mom,

My house is a weird and cluttered mess of coffee cups and laundry right now.  My floors are sprinkled with dead leaves, cheerios and little people toys.  My sinks need a good ol fashioned “soft scrub” treatment and our toilets well, let’s never mind those.

Life has gotten away from me again and I have the piles of dishes and laundry to prove it.

I don’t have anything pretty or polished to show off and my eyes are purply baggy-saggy from all our recent sleepless nights of coughing and fitful dreams.

Remember when I used to come through your house in a huff?  I would strut around like a snooty peacock making snarky comments about what you were eating, wearing, watching and the state of your refrigerator.

I know that I made you feel awful about yourself and I claimed that I wasn’t doing it on purpose.

But you know what?  I think that I was. 

I think somewhere in my messed up head I thought you’d see me in all my fake perfection and want to make some healthy changes in your life.  

Yet, I know now that no one ever inspired positive change in others by rubbing it in their face.  Real, loving help comes with side by side humility and oodles of patience.

And honestly, I’m not sure that would have worked either.  Some days I’m not sure if I ever could made a difference in your overall health and then other day’s I’m certain that I could have, but went about it all wrong.

Some days I blame myself and other days I blame you.  I always blame the depression but I’m still not sure where the line is between what you could control and what was beyond you.

Yet none of it excuses the bitchy peacock treatment I so often gave you.

So for the strutting around, I’m sorry
For the talking down, I’m sorry
For the lack of love I am ever and always sorry sorry sorry.

I hope you felt loved, I hope that somehow your mother heart could see that my behavior stemmed from feelings of abandonment and confusion and not malice or hate.

It was love mom, confused, misspoken love.  I’m not sure you could have ever interpreted it that way.

Tomorrow I will sign off, our letters in this space are nearly coming to a close but I think they’ve started a conversation between us that will never end.

I love you, I miss you,

LeaRae

31 Letters to my Mother {Day 28} Mamas and Costumes

Me as Raggedy Ann and you as an Angel, complete with Christmas garland Halo. Can we talk about that wallpaper yet?

Dear Mom,

First off I hope you didn’t mind Kel writing on my behalf yesterday, I was way too sick to be upright.  The fever has passed now though and I’m doing so much better.

So the more I sort through memories the more I realize that I got out of bed at night, A LOT.

That being said I remember one October evening, when I was pretty young, that you stayed up late, determined to sew me a clown costume for halloween.  I think the part that hung you up the most was the full, gathered neck ruffle.

When I snuck up behind you, you seemed frustrated about the whole ordeal.  Yet still, one way or another you figured it out because like it or not, I was a clown that year.

And Laura was a clown a few years later so it was well sewn enough to weather multiple halloween seasons of crazy Verkaik children.

Now here I am, the mama bent over the sewing machine, pinning and cussing under my breath, determined to bring my ideas to reality, then take that reality and dress my child up in it for all the world to see.

I ache unspeakable when I think about all that we lost somewhere between that October evening and the one about 25 years later when you passed.

Because I know you started out with gusto, motivation, a drive to love your kids with warm muffins and homemade costumes.  Thanks for being “that mom” as long as you could, armed with a sewing machine and unbreakable determination.

The kids are going as a Kitty and an Elephant this year, I’m still trying to figure it all out but I’m sure a few night out I’ll be thinking of you while I’m bent over the sewing machine in the wee hours.

I love you, I miss you

LeaRae

31 Letters to my Mother (in law) {Day 27} Hi, it’s Kel

 Dear Mom-in-law,

Hey!  Its Kel.  I’m writing today because Leanne is still feeling pretty bad.  I thought I’d write you tonight and talk about something that Leanne can’t really talk about here.  I thought I’d let you know how she’s growing as a person.  Its been two years now and let me tell you, life has been full of challenges, joys, and more surprises that we ever thought would possible.  Over the last two years Leanne has been going through the grief process, this is true, but she has also gone from working to being a stay at home mom.  She’s gone from a mom of one to a mom of two under 2 and now a mom of a 3 year old and an almost 2 year old.  She’s gone from tossing around the idea of being a nutritionist to working on and becoming a writer.  All that to say there has been a great deal of life going on while we’ve been dealing with all the grief.

The thing that I really wanted to speak to more than anything else though is Leanne’s growth as a woman of God.  Leanne’s faith was definitely shaken throughout these last two years.  Who’s wouldn’t be? Yet, this shaken faith, this brokenness is not where Leanne has chosen to live.  Leanne is a fighter and as you know, when she sets her mind to something there’s nothing that is going to stop her. She’s chosen to live this faith, even though it hurts tremendously.  She’s chosen to trust and have faith even though it was one of the hardest choices of her life.  And now, here we are two years later.  I’ve been going through some crisis of my own as of late and guess who has been supporting me?  The other day I was having a really hard day and Leanne could sense it in my demeanor so she started speaking encouragement and scripture into my day.  I can’t even begin to tell you how great it is to be married to a woman like that.  It makes my life as a pastor so much easier when I’m able to know that when I have problems that I have a partner in faith.

Well that’s about it. I just wanted to write to you and brag on Leanne a little.  She really is an incredibly woman.  I know that her writing these letters has really been great for you & your daughter’s relationship.  I pray that as these 31 days come to a close that this healing with continue.  You have a great daughter and as I look to the future keeping in mind all of this spiritual growth, I know that Leanne is going to do some absolutely amazing things in life.

With Love,

Kel

31 Letters to my Mother {Day 24} Hymns and Spearmint Gum

 Dear Mom,

It’s really early, 4:45 AM actually.  The kids are both sick, although Noelle is the only one running a fever.

I have some soft, instrumental hymns playing in the background as the tea kettle starts to whistle over my shoulder.

“Be still my soul: The Lord is on your side.  Bear patiently the cross of grief, or pain.”

“Did e’r such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

“Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how great thou art!”

“Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee, thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not…”

You know what’s funny about Hymns?  They almost always take me back to Baldwin Street CRC, the evening service when Dad had run out of peppermint Mentos to keep me quiet. Continue reading

31 Letters to my Mother {Day 23} Anxiety-ectomy

This is your daughter, on anxiety. Get the picture?

Dear Mom,

I usually get a hearty take home when I drive back from church.  It may be for spiritual discipline, my marriage or parenting, it varies.

This week’s lesson stung, acutely accurate and painful.  I was hit over the head by all my anxiety for the future and my low level of trust in God as provider.  All this worry, this heart that’s empty of trust, well it’s a sin Mom, and God hates what it’s doing to me.

I always used genes as an excuse, but no longer.  It’s causing me pain and loneliness and it’s driving a wedge between me and God. Continue reading

Letters to my Mother {Day 22} So, I’m a writer

This is my work uniform, pretty nice, eh?

Dear Mom,

I know I started off college majoring in Political Science, and then I briefly considered interior design, then I told you I was going to bible college in New Zealand. As you recall, I eventually graduated from Kuyper College with a degree in Youth Ministry.

So it turns out what I really am, is a writer, and maybe a speaker.  Although don’t worry that pricey college degree from Kuyper is coming in handy, I promise. Continue reading