Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 1-6

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Draw a long breath and shut your eyes. What do you see?

I see a house on a farm. Inside the house lives a brave little girl who happens to be coloring and singing to herself right now. Her mother’s in the backyard feeding the chickens. The goats are farther back on the property. There aren’t that many acres but their first harvest will probably be decent. On Saturday, they’ll host a middle school class to visit and learn about how to grow the right produce and ways to cook inexpensively. There are herbs drying on the back porch for homemade spice mixes and seedlings just starting to sprout in the greenhouse. It smells of fresh bread and sweet breezes and the sun is playing peekaboo with the treetops.

That’s the first impossible thing. It’s the first thing I see when I close my eyes because it is the hope filling my heart. I know, I’m too girly to live on a farm, but that’s kind of the most beautiful part of the picture.

Second impossible thing: I could overcome my pride and my flaws enough do whatever crazy thing it is God is calling me to.

Third: Everything will turn out okay in the end.

Fourth: If I never get married, I will not waste time regretting it.

Fifth: We will somehow find a way to provide Eva with everything she needs.

Sixth: I can stop procrastinating.

What impossible things can you believe when you close your eyes and breath?

I’m Not Daddy Too

How many times has a single mom somewhere said, “I have to be Mommy AND Daddy,” as a means of explanation?

Probably hundreds of times of day. I have definitely had those moments. I could list all the things I’ve never gotten from Eva’s father…but the list of what I did get is much shorter:

1. Sperm
2. A Headache

He doesn’t pay child support. He lives hundreds of miles away. He doesn’t send Eva presents. He doesn’t call. He does text, but they are all about the same as the one discussed here. He is virtually nonexistent.

To some degree, I have allowed that. I don’t wonder when he’s going to step up. His name is not on her birth certificate. I have never asked for money. I do not fight or rebel against his lack of interest. In fact, on some level, I prefer it this way. It’s simpler, not necessarily easier, just less complicated. (Which is specific to my situation and should not be misconstrued as a recommendation for other single mothers.)

I do everything I possibly can for Eva. My parents help. My sister helps. My friends help. All things considered, I am raising Eva well. We make it work even though sometimes that is a gigantic, nearly insurmountable challenge. Even though sometimes I feel like I am failing miserably. I’m not a superhero, I’m just a mom.

But I am also only that; just her mom. I am not Daddy too.

Eva doesn’t have a Daddy. I don’t know how to explain that to her. I don’t know how to make it bearable or understandable. She hasn’t asked about it, but I know it will happen soon. She is old enough to make the correlation that the other kids have pictures with their daddies and she has a picture with her grandfather when they make Father’s Day cards at daycare.

What can I tell her? That he’s far away and can’t see her? In my mind, that only explains why she doesn’t have her father around, not why she doesn’t have a Daddy.

I would give her that if I could. I would be another parent to unite with her against Mommy when she’s tough. I would give her extra kisses after Mommy’s kisses when she falls down. I would tell her yes when Mommy says no. I would scare away the ambitious 3 year olds trying to flirt with her when Mommy only laughs. I would show her how a man is supposed to treat a woman, instead of just telling her. I would be the rational one when Mommy gets too emotional.

But I am just Mommy.

I carry a responsibility that two people typically share; that does not make me equal to two people. Am I a great mother? Yes. Do I struggle with this burden? Yes. But I don’t see the point of placing an additional weight on my shoulders by attempting to fill a role I was never meant to have.

I certainly don’t fault any single parent for saying they act as both parents; it’s certainly the most succinct way to describe something that no married parent understands. No, that weekend that your husband spent away for a friend’s bachelor party does not even begin to compare. But I don’t exactly understand how you make your marriage a priority when you’ve got little ones to watch either; I’ve never had to do that. I’ve never lived your life and you’ve never lived mine. Single parents provide on one income with one pair of hands, one pair of eyes, and emotional support from a network of loved ones instead of the one you love most.

I’m sure my choice mom friends may see this issue a little differently. I definitely see (ahem, hope for) adoption in my future regardless of whether or not I ever marry. But no matter how many children I have, be it just Eva or a handful more, I will always choose to just be Mommy.

Enough

I’ve clicked through a lot of blog links on Twitter in the past few weeks. Especially the ones that seem geared towards feeling overwhelmed, making big decisions, or being a single parent. I’ve been struggling with writing and just wanted some direction, a filter to make all this nonsense in my mind coalesce into a cohesive post. A flint stone to throw myself at until I spark. I have 8 unfinished drafts in my queue. Not joking. This is the ninth attempt at saying what I’ve been agonizing over for two weeks.

The most significant issue in the mix is my career. One day, driving on the highway, I was so struck with an achingly painful certitude that God made me a writer, I started weeping. Not the pretty, romantic kind of weeping, but the ugly hyperventilating, pull-off-the-side-of-the-road kind of weeping. And as much as I know that’s what I was made to do, I am equally struck by the weight of my responsibilities to provide for Eva. I’m not exactly in a position to drop everything and make it happen. It’s not an impossibility, it just can’t happen today. But I desperately wish it could happen today.

So I kept reading other posts, hoping that maybe someone has said something that will help. Lots of people have said things, good things, but none were the words I needed.

Sunday I arrived at church starved for hope and comfort. I was relatively confident I could find a bit of each while there. Mark, our pastor, passed out a stone to each person before he began his sermon. They were small, smooth black stones, probably something you’d normally use in a decorative water fountain or floral display. He gave no explanation except that we needed to hold on to them. I chose a triangular stone with a little crevice on one side. I held it in my left hand, calmly nestled in my palm through the whole service, as I listened to Mark and tried to sift through everything on my heart.

I’d really hoped that the sermon would be an easy answer to my problems–some variation on “Do what God made you to do” or “Go where the Holy Spirit calls you,” something I could latch on to and run with. But it wasn’t. It was about love. God is love, not just that he loves us, not just that we love him but that everything about love is God and everything about God is love. So my job as someone that follows God is to love. (Yes, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack did just start playing in your head–“The greatest thing you’ll ever know is to love and be loved in return.”)

At first I thought, “God, this is not helpful, this is not an answer.” But then I realized it was an answer that made my question obsolete. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I do, I am still able to love on people–Eva, my family, my friends, you readers. It doesn’t matter what I do to provide financially, I can still be a writer.

I am already exactly the woman God made me to be.

I’m not perfect, I have so much learning to do, so much faith to grow into, but I am just as capable of living a life set apart for Him now in a job I hate, without a home of my own, with Atlas’ burden on my shoulders, as I would be if I had my dream life. In fact, I might even be better off this way because I am reminded of my desperate need for God every single day. If I had a cushy job, a house, a dog and the stability I crave, would I crave God’s grace so much? Probably not.

So if I am who I need to be, if I have everything I need to love and fulfill that purpose, what is stopping me from feeling fulfilled?

Mark finally told us what the stones were for as the service ended. Each stone represented a fear, just a single fear, and we were supposed to place the fear on the altar and let God deal with it. (Yes, some objects lessons are simplistic but no less meaningful in action.)

And with a rush of clarity as strong as the day I wept in the car, I knew that the only thing holding me back is my fear of not being enough. Not good enough to succeed, not smart enough to make the right decisions, not in tune enough with God’s plan to go the right way, not woman enough to ever be a wife, just simply not enough.

I know exactly where those feelings of inadequacy originate. I know that even though they resulted from real situations and feel like legitimate worries in my mind–they are not legitimate. They are damaging and debilitating. They prevent me from loving myself and loving others because I am too scared to try. They stop me from feeling fulfilled.

I laid the stone of that fear on the altar; I didn’t fully relinquish my fear to God. I acknowledged it. I said to God, “I know this is getting in the way of…everything, help me give it to you. Help me see the opportunities you give me to heal.”

I will struggle to place that fear before God every day. To truly be free to believe I am enough requires a daily overhaul of how I think about myself, but I am going to try. I’ll probably fail more often than not, but I am going to try.

Dancing With Demons

This past weekend, my family and I joyfully celebrated my sister’s college graduation. (Please refer to previous post as to how incredibly awesome she is.) During the ceremony in which she received her nurses’ pin, there was a slideshow of pictures. Sister picked the accompanying songs (proud of her for excellent musical taste), the second of which was Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days are Over. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

My tumultuous relationship with this song goes back to its cover on Fox’s Glee in the fall of 2010. If you aren’t familiar with it, please take a moment to watch it here:

“Dog Days are Over” via YouTube

I saw it performed and absolutely fell in love. I loved how Glee interpreted it; I loved its message; I loved what it meant to me.

When I first heard that song, I was happily engaged. Blissfully anticipating the beginning of a fulfilling and satisfying life. We had so many dreams. A wedding. A home together. More children. We had hopes of getting pregnant immediately. Hopes we were so committed to that while furniture shopping we considered kitchen tables and sofas based on their suitability for a family of 5 (him, me, Eva, and the twins). We even had names picked out. He had promised to find a way for me to be a stay-at-home mom. We both wanted to travel.  He offered me everything I’d ever dreamed of. Basically.

But I think what I wanted from him–the part of our relationship I craved–was his ability to erase my shame as a single mother.

I didn’t consciously think about it that way. “Yeah, let’s get married so I can be a real mom,” was not how that happened. In fact, I’ve only really just started processing how my insecurity affected our relationship and how many red flags I glossed over. There weren’t many, but there were enough that I should have taken things slower. But with him, I felt whole. Not just whole, but also legitimized. His presence gave me credibility. “That’s right, there is a ring on this left hand, you can’t judge me–so there!” I could walk in anywhere with him and Eva and know that we looked “normal” together. Do you know what an absolutely stunning relief that was? To be released from all that nasty shame?

It was intense. And the freedom was so great, I found myself dancing constantly. I danced at home, in the car, and even in my workplace. Not just a little white girl head-bobbing, but full on booty-shaking, head-banging, jumping around kind of dancing.

My dog days were at an end. I remember baking Christmas cookies, with the song on repeat in the background, wistfully dreaming about all the holidays we would celebrate together, the family we were going to grow, and the love we were going to share.

When I found out that my dreams were all based on a lie, that burden of pain reappeared on my shoulders and its impact was a hundred times heavier than before. I imagine it much like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill the first time; reaching the top, feeling elated that his sentence served–his punishment at an end–only to see it roll right down to the bottom and know with utter certainty that reaching the top again would be much, much more difficult.

In the aftermath of our break-up, in my grief and shock, I immersed myself in denial. To have fully faced that reality would have been the emotional equivalent of ripping all 20 fingernails and toenails past the quick–I would have been raw and exposed. Hours after giving him back my engagement ring, I met a co-worker at the mall and helped him pick out a Christmas gift for his girlfriend. I remember smiling the whole time and didn’t speak of what had happened. I worked that night without breaking down. I know I emailed a few friends and simply said, “I am no longer engaged” with a small please-don’t-ask-me-about-it clause. I deactivated my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I dropped off the face of the earth as much as I could. I may be remembering the details incorrectly, but I definitely told my parents to not bring it up to me and for us to pretend like it never happened.

So for a long time, I pretended like it never happened.

To an extent.

I walked out in the middle of a church service about marriage. For months afterwards, I cried every time I heard a baby cry in my restaurant. Sometimes I would be so overwhelmed, my chest would feel so tight, I thought I would stop breathing.

Grief observed is a terribly difficult thing. Grief ignored is silently devastating.

I have no idea how long it will take me to move past this. It’s been nearly 18 months and the grief stays with me. I cried on Friday listening to that song. It’s beautiful and moving and I know that if I made myself listen to it enough, I could repossess it emotionally. I have repossessed boots, earrings, scarves, and other gifts that came from him, I’m sure I could get that song to a safe place. But I think I would rather leave it and instead walk forward with Shake It Out.

After I heard it the first time, I posted this to my Facebook:

Dear Florence + The Machine,

Last December, I danced around my house to “Dog Days Are Over” almost every day until That Day. And for the past 11 months, even the first 2 chords could bring tears to my eyes. 
This December, you gave me “Shake it Out.” And you’re right; it’s time for the demon to come off my back. 
Breaking off an engagement was a bitch. And it still hurts. But a year of grief is enough. It’s time to bury my regrets.
We just came full circle.

With gratitude,

abby


Florence + The Machine’s Shake It Out via YouTube

If that’s not a powerful song, I don’t know what is. It’s been nearly 6 months since I wrote that post and I don’t know that I have truly buried anything. Maybe the regret? I don’t know that I could have done anything differently. It’s not like thinking about it changes what happened. Maybe my vision is a little less colored by it? I don’t know. But it’s a part of my story, a part of who I am.

She’s so right; you can’t dance with burdens weighing you down. You can’t allow the demons to paralyze and define your existence. But neither can you erase the memory. And honestly, I wouldn’t erase it even if that was an option. (I have other memories much higher on the delete list.) The truth is that what happened with him is just a piece in a much larger section of my puzzle.

Maybe right now I am learning to dance with my demons. Learning to accept the awful truths and move forward in spite of them. I have started dancing with Eva again, because her joy is my best joy, but I haven’t quite been able to shake it out all over the house yet.

In time, right?

Yes. In time.

Writer’s Block, Family Time, and A Big Happy

So I promised via social media that my next post would be about tricking you into loving White Trash. I have literally drafted 7 different posts and can’t find it in my heart to like any of them. Mostly because when I try to be funny, I sound like a bitch instead, but also because I have had the cold/sinus infection from Hades and am still not 100% better. And we’ve been busy. And also, I’ve had a mental block on writing anything else since “Never Alone.” I may have drained my emotional reserves on that one.

So to power through this hiatus of soul-diving, I’m dedicating this post to my sister in honor of her college graduation.

As a four year old, I prayed at dinner every night that God would give me a sister. I intended for her to be an older sister, but God saw fit to start Emily with us as an infant despite my request. Although, to her credit, she often (read: nearly always) acts older than I do.

She is my greatest friend, my dearest supporter, and my favorite everything. She is the best Auntie in the world to my Eva. And as of tomorrow, she will also be the coolest, smartest, soon-to-be most successful B.S.N (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing) recipient to ever walk the Earth.

We are here to celebrate her graduation, ceremonies and things to attend galore. And she deserves it all. She has overcome so many obstacles to reach this goal and I couldn’t be prouder or fuller of heart. She can find the fetal heartbeat in twins, stick an IV in a high risk “the charge nurse can’t even find a vein” patient, and stomach cleaning the nastiest and smelliest of bacterial infections. She can make me laugh when I’m crying and throws my good advice to her back in my face with zeal. And she held my hand as Eva was born.

I could tell you lots of cutsey stories from her childhood, or funny stories about her clutzy-ness. I could even tell you sad stories of all things she has survived–cancer, major car wreck injuries, broken bones, etc. But all you need to know is that she always makes it out on top. Because she is strong like that. (And no, I cannot take credit for setting that good example.) She has the sweetest spirit and the most compassionate heart. She has been–and will always be–the better sister.

She has such a wonderful clarity of purpose; I envy her deeply. She knows it is her place in life to care for those who are hurting and heal those who are sick. And she will not only perform her job well; she will be a light to those around her and a hope to those who need her.

So here’s to you, Emily. You are one in 7 billion. There is no one else in the world like you.

 

P.S. I am probably going to bawl my eyes out tomorrow.

Five Parenting Tips… from a Single Parent’s Child

So I have been wasting away thanks to a vicious, irrepressible head cold and trying my hardest to write something funny (and/or ironic) instead of subjecting all you lovely people to more tear-jerkers. But a dear friend has come to my rescue and we have here our very first, bright and shiny, GUEST POST!

Get excited. She is a wonderful writer and this list is highly relevant for EVERYONE. Not just single parents, not just all parents, I mean FOR EVERYONE. Because at the heart of these parenting tips is a single, poignant message:

Words have power; be careful how you wield them.

Enjoy!

–Hi, I’m Abby’s friend. We met back when we were both still living in Nashville. While I’m an avid blogger myself, there are some subjects I’m not in a position to write about on my own blog, under my own name. My upbringing is one of those subjects. I usually don’t feel the need to talk about it, but Abby’s recent posts here (as well as others she’s linked to on Twitter and Facebook) have gotten me thinking and inspired me to write out my own thoughts on the subject– but from a backwards perspective:

I’m twenty-seven years old and I am the child of a single mother.

Sort of. It’s always more complicated than just one sentence.

My mother was only nineteen when she got pregnant with me. My dad was twenty-four. It probably goes without saying that they weren’t married at the time. Based on the information I’ve pieced together over the years from them and an assortment of family members, I was definitely an accident and I’m about 75% certain my parents weren’t even really dating (who knew that hookup culture existed back in the eighties?). Since it was the 1980’s and out-of-wedlock childbirth was way less socially acceptable than it is now, they got married.

It was a terrible idea. The older I get, the more I realize just how fundamentally incompatible my parents are, both in terms of their personalities as well as their values and outlooks on life.  The only good thing that came out of them getting married is my little sister. Much like Abby and Emily, I would be completely lost without her. I honestly don’t know how I would make my way through life without her beside me. Otherwise, though, the marriage was a total failure. I was four and my sister was three when our parents split up, and we therefore spent most of our childhood dealing with Single Parent Issues.

Having lived through that, here are five things I wish I could have said to my single mother as a child that, had she implemented, would have made things a lot easier:

1. Kids aren’t stupid and they pick up on way more than you realize. I’ve read at least half a dozen articles and books over the course of the past few years that have detailed the multitude of ways in which small children (we’re talking five years old and younger) absorb information about the world around them. Not only do they see more than we previously thought, they are also highly attuned to interpersonal behavior and don’t miss much. So while they may not be able to communicate that they know what’s going on because they don’t have the maturity to process what’s happening around them or the vocabulary to describe it, they definitely know what’s up in ways you probably don’t realize.

 In other words: you are being watched by someone who will likely emulate your every move when they’re older. Make your choices wisely.

 This brings me to my next point.

 2. Everything you do sends a message, and the message that your actions send may be a lot louder than the message that comes out of your mouth. We all know the old saying that actions speak louder than words, and that goes double for kids. They’re like tiny information sponges just itching to expose your every hypocrisy to the entire world.

 Example: I was going to describe something that happened when I was younger, but instead I feel like I should take this moment to apologize to Abby for (unintentionally) teaching Eva how to make my Judgmental Face and undermining any and all talks, past, present, and future, on the subject of respecting other people and their choices. (I will not, however, take responsibility for the epic eye-rolling skills. She definitely learned that from you).

Moving right along…

 3. Kids become teenagers. Teenagers become adults. Then they wish you’d saved for therapy instead of college. Even if kids were stupid, they pretty much all eventually develop into teenagers and adults later on, and then there will be A Reckoning. Remember all that stuff that your kids picked up on when they were younger? Well, now they have the maturity and vocabulary to process and describe it, respectively, and your words and actions from then will come back to haunt you.

 Case in point: when my parents split up, my mother moved back home, an hour and a half away from my dad’s place, because she had nowhere else to go. Rather than moving and taking a job near us, my dad decided that his family, having a job in that area, and acquiring a new wife (who, by the way, detests my sister and me) outweighed seeing us on a regular basis and playing a more active role in our lives. While I was willing to swallow his excuses at the time (because I didn’t know any better), the older I get and the more life experience I require, the more I realize how incredibly selfish his choices were– and just how low my sister and I ranked on his priority list.

 Remember, folks, your kids choose your nursing home.  Even if you don’t care about scarring them for life with your narcissistic decision-making processes when they‘re little, you should at least consider the ramifications of them figuring out that you’re a giant douche when they get older and wise up.

 Therefore…

 4. Don’t lie or cover for the other parent when they screw up and do something assholish, and don’t sugarcoat their actions to your kids. You know the old saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it’ll piss you off?” Well, here, it’s “The truth will set you free, but first it’ll hurt like hell.” No matter what happens where deadbeat parents are concerned, the pain’s gonna come, and shielding your kids from it now will only guarantee additional hurt and confusion on down the line. Remember, they’re not stupid and they‘re going to have to deal with the repercussions of these events as adults– and sending them mixed messages now isn’t doing them any favors.

 So when their other parent bails on visitation for the third time in a row and they ask you why, an honest, “I don’t know” is a lot better than, “Other parent loves you and will come next time.” One is truthful and allows the kid to have his or her own feelings on the subject, the other is downright crazy-making, even to adults. Rather than putting the onus of the skipped visitation where it belongs (on the deadbeat parent), the evasive non-answer puts it all on the kid. Not only is that totally unfair, it’s a surefire way of ensuring that they start internalizing the blame for the other parent’s screwed up behavior, and that doesn’t lead anywhere good.

 Bottom line: “But they love you, so it’s okay if they treat you like crap,” is not a lesson you want to be teaching your kids, especially if they’re girls.

 That being said…

 5. Please keep the dirty details to yourselves, even when the kids are adults. For the most part, my parents did a good job of keeping their spats out of my and my sister’s line of sight when we were kids. However, as soon as we were both eighteen, the gloves came off and I learned waaaaaaaaaaay more than I ever needed to on the following topics: my mom’s relative hotness when she was 19, each parent’s drug of choice back in the eighties, how batshit crazy my grandmother is, my dad’s penis size and relative prowess in bed (there is not enough tequila in this world to obliterate that conversation), and many more that I’ve successfully repressed. Thanks be to Cuervo.

 Even though my sister and I are old and mature enough to handle these discussions, it’s still pretty uncool for our parents to bag on each other like that. It makes having a functional relationship with both of them really difficult– not just because I’m hearing things I could have gone my entire life without needing to know, but because that kind of behavior is incredibly juvenile and it’s hard to respect people to engage in it. Even–no, make that especially– when it’s your parents.  Resist the temptation and don’t go there.

 I don’t know that I can say that these suggestions are foolproof, much less guaranteed to ensure that your kids aren’t going to be royally screwed up when they finally reach adulthood. Hell, my parents made a number of huge mistakes (see above, plus many more that I didn’t mention), and my sister and I turned out to be more or less functional adults (her more, me less). At the same time, though, I maintain that my life would have been a lot easier– and I would have needed waaaaaaay less therapy in my early twenties– if my parents had given these ideas some consideration.

Never Alone

Quote

I graduated from a small, private, Christian college in Tennessee. You’ve probably never heard of it. I tell people it was a great experience because all of my professors knew my name. Well, it took half a semester and a concussion for one of them to remember it… But after everything I put him through in my three and a half years there, he probably wishes he’d kept forgetting.

I enrolled in one of his classes every single semester–including my study abroad term. I think I am his only student to ever manage that so far. I’d sit in the back of the class (because I’m a “W” and grade school alphabetical seating stuck with me) and pass notes, and make snarky remarks, and occasionally have something positive to contribute. He’d teach us about life without us realizing it and then say something about metaphors and sexual relations with roses and we all just loved him more.

He saved me from dropping out my first semester. He passed me when I deserved to fail. He walked with me to my first therapy session. When I showed up to his office 7 months after graduating, I didn’t even have to tell him I was pregnant–he knew. We have an understanding that if his administrative assistant ever decides to quit (God forbid because she holds that department together), I am going to work for him regardless of where I’m living, what I’m doing, or what I’m being paid.

And he introduced me to The Merton Prayer when he knew I needed these words:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”
© Abbey of Gethsemani

I prayed these words so many times; they carried me through some of my darkest, ugliest times. Still do. My final semester of college was pretty traumatic personally–I can’t even remember what classes I took–my grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer a week into the term and I had some things happen to me…that nearly drove me over the edge. I would lay on my bedroom floor with my Sacred Heart of Jesus candle burning, holding the piece of paper with this prayer to my chest, tears running down my face, begging God to make these words true. I wasn’t at the point where I desired to please Him, but I did want to learn that desire. I totally believed I was lost and in the shadow of death. And I was certain–without any doubt–that in no way, shape, or form did I know myself.

Oh, but the hope!

It was so tiny, so dim, I didn’t really know it was there. Barely a candle in an empty coliseum. I didn’t feel hopeful, I just felt like maybe I could make it through another night without taking a whole bottle of ibuprofen. That wasn’t a good feeling per se, but I was still breathing and that’s what mattered.

I found my little flicker of hope in two phrases:

“You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it..” and

“..for you are ever with me…”

Believe me, I could do a line-by-line analysis right now and still have more to say about this prayer, but those two phrases… Those two phrases took root deepest in my heart.

When I prayed aloud, I always exhaled through the “know nothing” line because I had to take a deep, reassuring breath before I could say it. That nasty being-in-control issue again. And I could almost never affirm “for you are ever with me” without my voice breaking or tears flowing.

Ever with me?

Really, Lord?

Even when my grandfather is laying in a hospital bed with part of his skull removed and it feels like my family is falling apart? Even when my sister is blacking out for inexplicable, undiagnosed reasons? Even when I have been abused and assaulted? Even when I can’t get out of bed for crying?

Yes.

Even then.

I cannot know where my path leads now, but I know I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for that professor (along with others in that department and the French one, as well). I don’t know that I would have had the courage to keep Eva. He was the one I was scared to disappoint. I knew there was no escaping my parents’ disappointment and anger. I knew that my female professors/mentors would still love and accept me. But if I had disappointed him… oh no, I could not have borne that. But he wasn’t disappointed. In fact, he told me that if he had to pick anyone he knew to be a single mother, he’d pick me.

Without his care and the love of all my mentors there, I don’t even know that I would still believe in God, honestly. That’s how much they have done for me.

I have seen my daughter in his arms when she’d never been in her father’s. I have cried in his office when I felt like i had nowhere else to go. I have gotten better life advice from him in one sentence than in whole discussions with others. And I will never, ever stop being grateful.

So I am returning to this prayer now. One, because I need to practice spiritual discipline and lectio divina is a good way to start. Two, because I am starting to feel lost like that again. And three, because when I hold those words in my hands, I am strengthened by his (and my other mentors’) support. So even when I feel more lonely than seems humanly possible, I know I am never truly alone.