No Gift Receipt Needed

Last night I watched an episode of Call the Midwife that was really, a story about adoption. This woman was in her last month of pregnancy when suddenly, her husband died. She had two young children to care for. After her husband’s funeral, she decided to give the baby to her sister and her husband who were unable to have children. The pregnant woman went into a difficult labor. So much so that the midwife needed a doctor’s assistance to deliver the baby. The doctor used forceps to bring the baby boy into the world. The birth mother would not look at or hold the baby. She told the doctor to hand the baby to her sister who was standing there waiting to become a mother. The birth mother held the pain of the experience in her face. The baby had a head full of hair and bruises on his brow. The midwife stayed the with the birth mother and the baby to observe them both throughout the night. The promised mother went home to prepare for the baby’s intended arrival the next day. Morning came and the birth mother requested a priest to come and Christen the baby. This was the first time the birth mother held her baby. Afterward, she handed the baby to her sister who had come to take the baby home. The birth mother cried and her two little children wrapped their arms around her neck and showered her with love. The next day the birth mother went to the court house to get all the legal papers in order for the adoption. She stopped by the parish to tell the priest that it was when she put her pen to the document that she knew she wanted her baby. The priest went with her to her sister’s house so she could tell her sister that she had changed her mind. Her sister asked her what on earth she had to offer the baby. The priest took the baby and handed him to his mother. It was at this point in the story that I started to cry. Normally, any story on adoption reduces me to tears. It was the moment the baby was given back to its mother that tugged at my heart. She receives it with a grateful heart. The part of her heart that had been cut open suddenly filled up with love. I feel what she feels. I remember it all even after forty-one years.

When I was far along in my teenage pregnancy it was decided I would give my baby up for adoption. It seemed like every adult in my life advised me to give my baby up for adoption. My father lived in North Carolina. My mother, who was mentally ill and lived in Flint, MI, had her own issues to deal with. She wasn’t in any position to advise me or help me. I lived with my friend’s parents. I wasn’t their daughter and I wasn’t giving birth to their grandchild. I was in a desperate and sad situation. I cried for my unborn baby. I wanted my baby more than anything in the world. I wanted to be a mother. Because my family was so dispersed, I wanted to have someone to call my own; someone who was like me. I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt inside because I didn’t think anyone cared. Just give the baby up, I was told. It’s for the best.

My pregnancy progressed easily with no complications. When I was two weeks overdue I went to my doctor’s appointment. He told me if I didn’t go into labor by that night, that he would have to induce labor. I cried all the way home! I didn’t know what induce meant but, it sounded absolutely horrible. My friend’s mom had her hands full with me and I didn’t even realize it. Perhaps subconsciously, I believed that as long as I stayed pregnant I could keep my baby. Later that night I began to spot and my friend’s mom took me to the hospital. I soon started labor and she went home. I had contractions for sixteen hours. They grew harder and longer and although it was difficult to go through alone, I faced the pain. Finally, it was decided among the doctors to perform a cesarean-section. Gripped with fatigue and fear, I was given a spinal block and lay flat on the operating table. A guard was put up in front of my eyes to prevent me from seeing anything. I felt so alone as I listened to the murmurings until I heard a cry. My doctor bent down toward my ear and very sympathetically asked me if I wanted to see my baby. Of course I wanted to see my baby. I turned my head to the left and as the doctor held him up he told me it was a boy. I looked at my baby’s scrunched up little face and was surprised at how familiar he was. He looked like my dad. He looked like my brother. He looked like my people. He was mine and I wanted him. My heart broke in two.

I settled into the routine of my hospital stay. I held my baby and bottle fed him every day. I unwrapped his receiving blanket to look at his little feet and a mean-spirited nurse scolded me like he wasn’t my baby. He was still mine. My heart anxiously anticipated what was soon to come. I had taken my bible to the hospital with me. I knew that within its pages I would find a name for my son; a name I would always remember him by. I opened the bible to the New Testament and Paul’s many letters. In Second Timothy, I began to read about Timothy’s grandmother Lois, his mother Eunice and their sincere faith that Timothy himself possessed. I knew this was the perfect name for my son. I thought of my grandmother and how she taught her faith to my mother and how my mother had taught it to me. Yes, this was the perfect name for my son. I told my roommate about my situation and she tried to encourage me. She told me I didn’t have to give up my son and that someone would help me. She didn’t understand that I didn’t have someone. Finally, after six days I was discharged from the hospital. As the nurse wheeled me by the nursery I looked at my son for the last time. His face was turned away from me and I thought, This is the last time you’re ever going to see him. My heart was empty.

I went home with my friend’s mom and tried to heal from the inside out. I could still feel my baby at my bosom where I had held him close. My body reacted to the memory of him and my breast milk flowed which subsequently added to the pain. I went to bed at night thankful to be alone where I could cry. The next day my friend’s sister came to visit with her baby boy who was three months old. He had fallen asleep and when I heard him cry I picked him up and began to rock him. I felt so broken inside. I felt stripped of everything I’d ever wanted to be. My tears flowed like a river while I rocked that baby boy who wasn’t mine. His mother suddenly she appeared and offered to take him but, I begged her not to. She let me hold him and rock him. She let me cry.

Saturday morning my friend’s mom called me into her bedroom and told me to sit on her bed. She had never done that before so I knew that whatever she had to say was very serious. She asked me, “do you want to keep your baby?”. I began to cry. Yes, of course I wanted to keep my baby! She and her husband had decided to help me. I was too young and naive to have understood what that entailed but, I understood what she was saying. I understood that I was going to have my baby back in my arms! I had to wait until Monday to call the adoption agency. my friend’s mom called her many sisters and nieces and they all came together for a impromptu baby shower. They brought me everything I needed to take care of my baby. That was the longest two days of my life. Monday, I met with a social worker who said she would bring my baby to me later that day. I anxiously waited all day. I jumped up at every sound and ran to the front door. Finally, I heard a knock and when I opened the door, there stood the social worker with a bundle in her arms. She stepped inside and talked about formula and bottles. I reached out my arms in anticipation to see if my baby had changed in the four days I had gone without seeing him. I unwrapped his blanket like a gift and searched his face over. Oh, there he was, my baby, my boy, my Timothy. I held him close and said goodbye to the social worker. When she was gone, I turned to my friend’s mom. Through tears I told her I could never repay her for giving my son back to me. I held him for a very long time.

My son and I lived with my friend’s parents for two years. After I moved out and on my own, I tried to send my friend’s mom a birthday card every year with a picture of my son. I thanked her again and again. Every year on my son’s birthday the thought occurred that he could be celebrating with some other family. His name wouldn’t be Timothy and he wouldn’t be mine. This thought made me love him more. I was grateful to God to call him my son.

Many years later when my son was a senior in high school, I found out that he was skipping school. He struggled with missing his high school sweetheart who had gone off to college. He struggled with fitting in and having the things his friends had. I had to get his attention and make him realize that I had dreams for him. He had to graduate and that’s all there was to it. I had to make him understand how he had saved my life. Becoming his mother had given me hope and a future. We sat on the front porch of our old farm house on a warm spring day and I told him the story of his birth. Through tears he told me how glad he was to have been raised in my family and to have the aunts and uncles and grandparents that he had. Through my tears I told him perhaps if he had been adopted his family would have given him more than I could give him. He told me I had given him what he needed most. He went to his classes and graduated.

A couple of days ago, I had my son Tim over for a nice dinner to celebrate his birthday. I’ve seen him experience many highs and lows in his forty- one years. When I see his brown eyes fill with tears I want to mend his broken heart. When he laughs, I laugh, too, and hard. He’s the best gift I’ve ever received and I will never forget that. On his birthday, I didn’t think of anyone else being his mom or his name not being a Timothy. I thought of the forty-one years I have been blessed and honored and most of all privileged to call him my son.

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Here’s a Remedy For Ya

In all my days I don’t ever remember coming down with an upper respiratory infection this time of the year. For crying out loud, it’s still summer. Eight days ago, I left work with a horrible sore throat and heavy feeling in my chest. I spent the weekend gargling with salt water, flushing out my sinus cavity, and drinking Alka-Seltzer Plus every four hours. I took Echinacea, sucked on lozenges and put Vicks Vapo-rub on my chest and up my nose. Still, my throat hurt and my eyes watered with no relief! I googled remedies for congestion and found out how to make a poultice from onion and garlic. I like garlic and onion and use both quite often when I cook. Because I had no cheesecloth I took on an old ratty washcloth and laid it on the kitchen counter. I sliced up an onion and added a little minced garlic from a jar in the fridge. I gathered the washcloth together with a big rubber band. Just then I happened to look down to find a button on my nightgown so I attached the poultice there and tucked it inside next to my bosom. The odor wasn’t all that bad in the beginning but, let me tell you, every time I woke up in the night to pee or take medicine or just turn over, I could hardly stand the stench that hung just inside my nightie. At daybreak I whipped my covers off and yanked that fermented pouch of no good from my V-neck and threw it in the trash. I stripped my bed and jumped into a hot steamy shower. Once I got seated with a cup of tea and had a good self reflective laugh, I realized that I had not coughed all night long.

I worked a couple of days or at least tried to. Finally I went to my doctor who checked my ears, nose and throat. She listened to my lungs as I breathed in deeply. I proudly told her it’s been five years since I quit smoking. She called in a prescription and sent me on my way. I stood in a long line at the pharmacy waiting patiently and looking pretty pitiful. Once home I double dosed my antibiotic and dove into my nice clean sheets and slept. Oh, it was heavenly. Here I am, three days later, bored out of my gore. I’ve watched everything, read everything, facebooked everybody and slept. I even went grocery shopping and bought healthy stuff trying to make up for all that comfort food.

I don’t feel up to par but, I’m going to try to go to church tomorrow. I’ve learned some things while I’ve been sick. I’ve reflected on who I am and what it is that I want. I’ve forgiven myself for self-ridicule and self-defeat. When I am weak I am strong because I lean on Jesus who stays right by my side. This enables me to encourage others even in my sickness because that is my gift from God. I woke up to sunshine this morning streaming through the window and into my soul. I’m gonna walk in it. How ’bout you?

Special Delivery

When I was in school back in the seventies, I never heard the term special needs or mentally challenged. All I knew about was special ed class which took place in the same school as regular class where I went. The kids who were in special ed weren’t referred to as special. They were retarded and there wasn’t anything politically incorrect about it. It was just the way it was. I figured they were learning reading and writing and arithmetic just like I was only at a slower pace. They roamed the halls and ate lunch with everybody else. It didn’t matter to me or my peers how well these students did academically. What mattered was how they acted socially. That’s what determined how they would be treated by their peers.

There was the bully who saw the special ed student as weak and felt the need to throw his weight around to show the special ed student who was boss. There was the jock who was nice to the special ed student as long as he thought someone of importance was watching such as teachers, coaches or principals. Otherwise, he was indifferent. There was the cute cheerleader who was friends with just about anybody who would vote her the homecoming queen. She never got too close to the special ed student for she secretly feared that he would like her too much. And then, there was me.

I noticed the special ed student who chewed the gum she found in the drinking fountain. I never said anything to her. I never thought to tell her not to do such a thing. Maybe that’s what she needed. I noticed the special ed students who couldn’t run like others. They struggled in gym class because they weren’t coordinated like others. I struggled in gym class because I was fat. The humiliation was real. I did not see that I and the special ed students were comrades. There was this boy who was a special ed student in the last high school I attended. He was skittish and had jerky body movements. When he came around, you knew it. He took everything literally and I and my peers took full advantage of his naivety and teased him to make the crowd laugh. I am not proud of this and I have forever remembered with shame.

When I became a mother I tried to teach my children to be the opposite of anything bad I had ever been. It was my way of making things right. Terminology changed with the times and new understanding. Kids that had once been hyper were now diagnosed with ADD and then ADHD. Kids that had once been retarded or slow were called mentally handicapped and then mentally challenged. Now they are people with special needs. We all have special needs in some way or another, don’t we? I once dated a guy who kept telling me his son was special. My sons were special to me, too. I finally realized his son was autistic. There are all these levels and spectrums and it can all be so confusing. All that really matters is that we treat people with kindness. All people.

My mother was mentally ill and lived in adult foster care the last ten years of her life. After a lengthy hospital stay, she ended up in a home temporarily. This home housed six young women who were special on six different levels. My mother was not crazy (no pun intended) about living with these women who talked non-stop. She had no patience for their nonsense and didn’t believe she belonged in the same room with them let alone the same house. I went to see my mom every day as this home was not far from my place of employment. I’d ring the door bell and those girls would yell, “Evelyn, your daughter’s here, your daughter’s here!” They’d greet me with hugs and my mother hated it. She didn’t like to share her affection toward me with others. She wanted me all to herself. The girls would gather around the television to watch Oprah and my mother would roll her eyes. Those girls were full of love. They were special.

I have worked in geriatrics for many years. I have known some residents who lived with their parents their whole lives until their parents died. They were special and had special needs. Some of them went to special ed and some of them stayed home. It all mattered on how their parents dealt with their disabilities. Some of them worked and learned a special trade. Some of them never learned how to count money or even the value of a dollar. Some of them never learned how to interact with anyone outside of their home. I have learned that these residents are smart and funny and have manners. They have great memories, and most generally know every word to every song that they ever loved. They are affectionate and generous to a fault. They are sensitive and fearful and apologize profusely if they think they’re in trouble. These residents love to love and want to be loved. What I’ve learned from these residents is that when their family is gone, there is nowhere for them to go. There is no no one left to take care of them. People say it takes a lot of patience to care for people with special needs. It does. We, in our humanity must take care of them.

Outside of work I help care for a young lady with special needs. I take her to my home and make dinner for her. I take her to the park and to get an ice cream cone. I take her shopping and to dinner. In the car, we sing along to the Christian music on the radio that we both like. She is the sweetest, kindest and most loving young lady I’ve ever known. She is love in the purest form. I let her hug me as long as she wants to (which is long and hard) because I need that kind of love. It is a privilege to be a part of her care giving team.

Last week, this guy moved into the assisted living home where I am employed. I could see he was around my age. He had on a yellow shirt which he had tucked into his black pants that were pulled up kind of high and his belt was buckled tightly. He had jerky body movements and stepped into my personal space to shake my hand. I asked him his name and when he told me, my mind slowly filled with the memory. I heard the voice of God in my head telling me that this was my second chance. I told this guy that we had gone to school together but, he didn’t remember me, thankfully. The shame of my past disappeared into the present moment. I smiled because I know that the wonderful thing about God’s timing is that forty years doesn’t matter. What matters is that this time this guy is going to be my special friend. For life.

They Say Old Lovers Can Be Good Friends

She waited nervously for his car to pull into her driveway. She really didn’t know what to do with herself. She wore little makeup and had hardly done anything with her hair. She stopped at the store earlier in the day to buy some Vanilla Musk perfume because he said he liked the scent of vanilla. Thirty-six years is a long time.

She had talked to him on the phone every night for the past three weeks. Their conversations were long and easy with never a lull. Ever since her oldest son found him nine years before, she’d been waiting for this opportunity to talk to him. There was so much she didn’t know about her son’s father. He had recently had an unfortunate ending to a long term relationship. She had not been in a relationship for a long time. They spoke of the love they shared back when they were young. Diggin’ up bones, he’d called it. They talked about how it all ended and how they were both hurt. Their history was brief after all. It was a story of two troubled teens who talked on the phone more than they saw each other. When they did get the chance to see each other, they truly enjoyed each other’s company. They both saw the sunny side of life. He was cute and funny and brought happiness to her not so happy life. They never had a fight nor did they ever say harsh words to one another. She believed in true love always. He told her that he loved her. When she told him she was pregnant their communication stopped when he hung up the phone. He was too young and too troubled to worry about a baby. She faced her path alone. She allowed his rejection to leave her bitter. His persistence softened her heart and they reunited long enough to sing the song and make it theirs. He was on a different road that took him to places she wanted to stay away from. When their son was four years old, she said goodbye and married another. She was a twenty-three year old mother who made life decisions that had a major effect on all who were involved. Decisions that she has eternally paid for.

She waited by her phone for his call every night. He was witty and made her laugh heartily. His voice was as familiar as an old pair of socks thick with warmth on a cool summer night. She lay on her pillow long after they had hung up and heard his words telling her about his family and what had become of his siblings. He told her of his childhood and her heart was heavy for the little boy who had to endure an abusive home. It seemed they had so much in common; both had lived in the housing projects, both had single mothers and lots of siblings and not enough food. They both had been survivors. She found his story intriguing. She, who loved reading autobiographies listened to his words every night with anticipation of how he ended up here. How had he gotten to this place? How had she? He said he could tell her anything. He told her of his past mistakes. He told her of his hopes, his dreams and his fears. He thanked her over and over for talking to him and for listening to him.

They talked late into the night. Sure, she had to get up early, but it was worth it. He was worth it. She told him of her childhood and her fear of abandonment which had started when her father left their family. Every man she had ever loved had left her. He knew he was included and he expressed his remorse. She told him of her troubled marriage and her failures. She shared her deepest sorrows and in a very small voice described scenes from her life that left her a little dead inside. She told him how she went to God for healing and how God peeled away each layer of hurt until He found who He had created. She told him how she had found peace and joy and she was living in it. She understood his yearning to belong. They had both wanted to belong to someone long, long ago, yet didn’t know how to belong to each other. They both had tried to belong to others, but that didn’t seem to work out either. All this talk of belonging awoke something within her that she had put to rest long ago. Something tugged at her heart. Of course she knew she belonged to Jesus and that His love was enough. But in the heart of a woman who loved to love, something stirred.

They talked about their son. She told him stories of his youth; stories he missed. He told her how much it hurt him when she took their son and moved on. She had no idea she had hurt him. She had only focused on her own hurt. He expressed his love for their son all through the years and she believed him. She had always carried a picture of their son in her wallet just in case she were to run into him somewhere. But, she never did. Never did their paths cross. A lifetime went by.

He had been building a relationship with their son for the last nine years. It was a friendship. Just by talking to him on the phone she could see the similarities between them. He was quick witted and smiled with his voice. He was almost overly confident but, much too humble to be. He admitted that he kind of obsessed over his appearance. He and their son both took time to match their clothes. She remembered how their son loved to look into the mirror as soon as he was tall enough to reach it. With every face he made she thought of his father and wondered. She was genuinely glad they had found each other. They were still learning about each other.

She saw the white of his car pull into her driveway. Her heart raced as she paced the floor. At his knock she opened the door to see him standing there with his head tilted just so and smiling that smile. She opened the door and he stepped inside. He took her into his arms and held her. Her emotion was in her voice as she said his name. They stood like that for minutes and upon their release he kissed her. It was sweet and soft and heartfelt. They bumped glasses and laughed.

They spent the rainy afternoon listening to songs of the seventies. They laughed and sang along. She remembered how she once cried over those songs; over him. And now, he was holding her, slow dancing and swaying to the music. All their past heartache was far from them. They talked about when their parents died and she held his hand to help him get the words out. Every now and then they would embrace because they wanted to stay in this moment. She showed him her home and its warmth. She showed him pictures of her family that he never knew. She showed him pictures of their son when he was young. They ate together and talked and laughed through the meal like two old friends who hadn’t seen each other for a very long time.

Although their time together was long awaited it had now come to an end. Thirty six years is a great gap that runs deep. It bears the scars inflicted by others and by ourselves. It’s where wounds easily break open when poked or prodded. It’s where tears fall and pool and never dry. She walked him to his car and when he hugged her she held on a little tighter. He kissed her goodbye. It was soft and bittersweet. Once again they bumped glasses. Cheers, my friend. Cheers.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, With Thy Spirit from above.

Tears Are Healing

I woke up in the night and heard the rain beating atop the sky light in my master bathroom. It rained and rained and rained. I suppose it’s God’s way of washing things; keeping his stuff nice and clean. Some people complain about the rain. They see it as dark and gloomy. They think they can only be happy if the sun is shining. Yet, when the sun is shining they don’t rejoice. They only find something else to complain about because they are dissatisfied with life. I don’t want to be that person. I see rain as a prerequisite to the greenness of the grass and the vibrancy of the flowers soon to bloom. I see it from a bird’s point of view. It’s dinner and a bath. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sunshine but, I love to see the result of a good rain; the wellness of it.

One of my fondest memories as a child is dancing in the rain. On a hot summer day, when a rain came, my mother would let my siblings and I go outside and dance in the rain! We’d twirl around in the wet grass. It cooled our bodies and washed our boredom away. It left our skin feeling damp and clean. Our mother was happy to have us out of her hair for a few minutes and we laughed at this simple pleasure. I still smile at the memory. Rain brings on the scent of things like dirt and worms and sidewalks. Rain falls softly or comes in sheets. Tiny drops are sprinkles and big drops are full like tears.

I suffered a third degree burn when I was very young. It didn’t take me long to figure out that crying didn’t take the pain away. In every childhood tragedy I experienced, I stood firm and relied on every once of strength within me. I was proud. If I did cry, I didn’t let anyone see. I held onto my pride for many years.

Whenever my husband and I argued (which admittedly was too often) I’d run to our bedroom and slam the door and cry. I’d look at myself in the mirror and watch the tears flood my green eyes and then fall down my cheeks. It was as though I had to see a reflection of my sadness. I’d feel sorry for myself and the more I thought of my husband’s harsh words, the more I’d cry. My husband never cried. I cried enough for the both of us. After he died I cried buckets of tears; enough to put out a fire.

Some time ago, Christian artist, Michael W. Smith wrote a song titled Healing Rain. Tears of joy and tears of shame are washed forever in Jesus’ name. I used to stand in the shower after a night of drinking and carousing and cry as I tried to wash my sins away. My tears mixed with the flowing well water still did not leave me feeling clean. But, He is patient.

There’s a meditation I found in a book somewhere and I’ve used it often. I’m driving through a desert and I pull over to the side of the road. I get out of my car and walk through the hot sand to a big tree that’s great and abundant with leaves. I hug the trunk of the tree and pull up on it to feel how deeply rooted it is. I feel at one with it. Just then I hear the sound of running water and see a rock formation. I walk over to it and stand under the waterfall. The silky water flows down my face and hair. The joy wells up in my heart and bursts forth in laughter. I hear the crackle and pop of wood burning. I see flames and smoke rising. I’m not afraid. I carefully approach the fire and dance around it drying myself. I write words on little strips of paper and throw them into the fire. Words like guilt and shame and unworthiness and loneliness. I watch the words disintegrate and lose their power right before my very eyes. I walk back to my car and head on down the road of life to my destination. There is healing.

Shortly after my husband died my mother went into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for a significant length of time. She seemed to have lost touch with reality and lived with the voices that were in her head. Changes in medications didn’t take her hallucinations away. She called me every night and I would listen to her pleading voice as she begged me to get her out of there. She had forgotten that my husband was dead. She had forgotten that I was broken. I felt helpless but, I tried to stay strong and encourage her. One evening she called and I broke down. I didn’t have anything to give anymore. I had a lifetime fear that in my breaking she’d break, too. I felt responsible for her mental well-being. I couldn’t speak. I could only cry. All went quiet on her end of the line and then I heard her say,“oh, honey, don’t cry. Your mommy loves you!”. The damned tears flowed and I soaked up her long yearned for words. “Tears are healing”, she said. I let the healing rain cover my face. In my brokenness my mother became my mother again.

When my dad was bed ridden with terminal cancer, I found myself in the routine of my daily caring for him. After he was freshened up I made sure I told him that I loved him before I left his room. Sometimes, I think, when you form the habit of saying the same phrase over and over, the words lose their richness and become mere words. One day, he asked me with his voice weak with sickness, “why?”. I approached his bed and leaning over him, I asked, ’why do I love you?’. “Yes” he said. My tears began to flow in my realization that my words had sounded empty to my father. My tears fell on him as I choked out my words. I looked into his blue eyes and told him I loved him because he loved me for who I was; he loved me for me. I didn’t know my father’s love when I was a child because he didn’t know how to express it. As an adult, I knew his love in phone conversations and scattered visits. In his dying I knew my father’s love, as well as his regret. I know his love now, twenty years later, and if I think of him too long the tears fall.

I’m not afraid of storms anymore. I rarely stand out in the rain because I finally feel washed clean. I rarely cry anymore, either, unless I hear a song or watch a scene far too familiar in a movie. I’m thankful every day for the tears I’ve shed. They’ve made my joy sweeter. Tears are healing.

It Was a Good Friday

When I was in the first grade I went to a small Lutheran school on the east side of Saginaw, MI. A crucifix hung in the hallway and it was bigger than life because it was bigger than me. I looked up to see Jesus hanging there on the cross with the crown of thorns on his head. The pained expression on his face left me with a deep sadness. I saw the nails in his hands and feet and my young mind couldn’t understand that kind of brutality. I looked at it despairingly. I learned the song Away in a Manger and I liked that Jesus much better, lying there in the manger with parents who loved him so. The song Jesus Loves Me taught me of his strength. He didn’t look very strong hanging on the cross like that. In church service we sang the hymn Beautiful Savior. He didn’t look beautiful hanging on the cross like that.

As I grew older I was taught that Jesus died on that cross for me and he did this on Good Friday. I accepted this but, I was never taught how he truly suffered. I didn’t know that Jesus was taunted and beaten that day. In the 1970s there was a miniseries on television called The Greatest Story Ever Told. I watched it while living in an orphanage. One of my fellow orphans and I cried when they nailed Jesus on the cross. His suffering became real to me. The Bible tells us that darkness covered the land that day and that the sun stopped shining. The temple curtain was rent from top to bottom and the earth shook causing rocks to split in two. That’s power. In the 1980s another miniseries aired on television called Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was portrayed as a patient, kind man full of love for all mankind. His actions showed that he was God and man in one. It hurt my heart to watch him carry that cross, and then hang upon it, bloodied and broken. How could he have done this for me? How could I ever forget? It was a Good Friday.

In 2004, just months after my husband tragically died, I went to see a movie by myself which is one of my favorite things to do. The theater was packed and I sat among strangers watching and reading the subtitles of The Passion of the Christ. Many tears were shed and when the credits rolled you could hear a pin drop. It was powerful. It touched me to my core. I cried as I drove home because once again, I understood it. He suffered greatly on that cross for me. We all have a cross to bear.

I’m ashamed to admit that on many Good Fridays, I sat in a bar during happy hour trying to be happy. I was searching for love and acceptance for who I was. It took many years for me to go back to the cross where I found those very things I yearned for. I found Jesus patiently waiting for me to return. He didn’t condemn me nor was he ashamed of me. Like in the parable about the prodigal son, Jesus was glad I was home again. He loved me the same as he did when I was a child.

As a youngster growing up in church, I was taught about the crucifixion of Christ. I read about it in God’s word and could only imagine what it had been like. I watched man’s version of the event on television and in movies. The images left an impression on me for a lifetime. In the middle part of my life I lived selfishly and by my own will. I put my hope in people who disappointed me every time. I looked for love in all the wrong places. I had forgotten where to to find it. It’s at the cross. For the past several years, I have kept these scriptures close to my heart by reading them often. I watch these movies to keep the images vivid so that not only do I remember what Jesus did for me, I allow him to keep me from returning to a life of shame and condemnation.

In this fifty ninth year of my life I am privileged to work at an organization that honors God by caring for the elderly. Yesterday, in preparing for the Good Friday service to be held in the evening, I gathered some of the ladies to curl their hair and brighten their cheeks a bit. My sister-friend sat watching and patiently waiting her turn. The lady in my seat seemed quieter than usual and none of my cheerful words cheered her. When I was finished with the lady’s hair, she stood and as she walked away, Sister called her name. She stopped and Sister took her into her arms. The lady reached her arms up and hugged Sister’s neck and they stood like that holding close the love between them until the lady smiled and smiled and smiled. Sister kissed her and let her go filled with the love of Jesus. It was a Good Friday.

When Easter comes we remember that Christ arose and we find joy in that. However, with his resurrection we must remember that first, he died. When I look upon a crucifix now and see the image of Christ, I am still filled with sorrow for his suffering. But mostly, I say thank you, Jesus. Thank you.

A Long Walk Home

The snow crunched under my feet as my brother and I marched out to the field behind our house in Birch Run, MI.  It was January and too cold for children without boots or mittens.  At least I had a hood on the scruffy old coat I wore.  We had been sent out by our oldest brother to find our mother who had left in the late afternoon to take a walk.  Evening was falling and she hadn’t returned.  My brother and I followed my mother’s foot-prints in the snow.  The sky was overcast with the gloom of winter and foreboding was in the air.  I knew which way she went because I had started the journey with her.

I saw her through the kitchen window heading out to field behind our house.   Where the corn once grew, now lay fields with snow-covered soil that had been turned up and laid to rest for the winter.  Everything was black and white like an old family photo.  I ran to my mother and asked her where she was going.  She told me she was going for a walk.  I didn’t think it strange as we all walked wherever we wanted to go.  We hadn’t had a car in a very long time.  She agreed to let me come along.  I had only walked beside her for a couple of minutes when she turned toward me with frightful eyes.  I had never seen my mother afraid.  She was very brave and I had relied on her bravery for all of my ten years.   She told me to go back to the house and watch the baby.  My youngest sister was six years old and hardly a baby, but we all babied her.  I reluctantly left my mother there in the farmer’s field.  It was strange that she headed toward the woods.  She had never gone that way before.  As I walked back home, a neighbor girl my age asked, “Bonnie, is that your mother?”  She asked in a way that let me know she had thought it strange, too.

A sense of mystery came over me as I marched through the snow in my penniless loafers.  I looked down at my mother’s footprints in the snow and I remembered when she took me to Cookie’s shoe store on Main Street to buy me some new shoes. When we walked into the store I heard the jingle of a bell that hung at the top of the old door.  Out of nowhere Cookie appeared to assist my mother in finding me just the right shoes.  We followed Cookie as she strolled down the massive aisle with her heels clicking on the ancient wood floor.  There were shoes on either side of us and soon enough with the help of a shoe horn and Cookie, I had a pair of penny loafers on my feet. My mother put two pennies in their slots and I proudly clicked my way out of Cookie’s store.  We went next door to the ice cream shop where my mother bought me a  Blue Moon ice cream cone and told me not to tell my siblings.  We occasionally had ice cream at home, but never Blue Moon!  It truly was our special day and one I never forgot.  Of course I told my siblings several years later only to find that they each had their special day with my mother, as well.

I noticed there were tracks over my mother’s foot-prints.  Snowmobile tracks!  My brother and I couldn’t figure out who would be following our mother on a snowmobile.  With uncertainty my brother and I crossed over the small creek and the ice beneath my feet felt as unstable as I.  My mother’s footprints were so confusing.  She followed the trail into the woods and then she took a few steps into the trees only to back out and return to the trail.  In the midst of the trees there was an oil pump with an iron stairway and platform next to it.  It was painted caution yellow, but weathered.  My mother left the trail and climbed the stairway and stood on the platform.  I wondered how long she had stood there and what she was looking for.

My siblings and I had spent the previous ten days on Christmas break from school.  There were some events that took place during that time and in my faded memory, that Christmas break seems like one big, long day.  One day,  I stood by my mother while she sat on the davenport.  She gently pushed me away and appeared to be reading something on the wall.  I looked at the wall and could plainly see there was nothing there.  But, I loved and trusted my mother so much that I wanted to believe in her.  So I asked, ‘What does it say?’ She didn’t answer me.  This was my moment of truth.  I knew there was something wrong.

One night my mother told me we were having a party and that my father was coming.  I put my coat on and stood by the door waiting until I woke up late in the night lying on the floor in the dark.  I went upstairs and got into bed with my sisters, covering myself with my coat.  There were no sheets or blankets on our beds anymore.   Often, I could hear my mother sobbing at night in the living room where she slept.  If I went downstairs to use the bathroom I could hear the hush of her voice and see the glow of her cigarette.  I never wondered who she was talking to.  I thought this is what mothers do at night.  I felt helpless and sad when she cried.

Christmas Day was like the rest of the days.  We didn’t have a tree and we didn’t have any presents.  In the past we were usually given a box of food by our church, but this time there  was no box given.  We hadn’t been going church.  Some of the girls in Sunday School had teased my sister and me because of our clothes so we never went back.  My mother quit going long before we did.   We didn’t have any food because my mother had run out of food stamps.  She had a hard time making them last a whole month.  My aunt came over with presents which distracted us from our hunger.  My mother was too proud to ask for help.  She was good at pretending that all was well.  There is despondence among children with no Christmas.  It sets a tone of unworthiness.

The pipes in the utility room broke forming a frozen geyser along side of the mountain of dirty clothes.  My mother took an old enamel pan outside and filled it with snow.  She placed the pan on top of the fuel oil furnace in the dining room.  She ripped a bed sheet into little squares and dipped one into the snow-water to wash my dirty face.  She held my face as she washed it with a far away look in her eyes.  With the coolness of the rag I thought of the many times she had washed my face.  Sometimes she’d wet a Kleenex with her spit and wipe the grime from my face before taking me into the doctor’s office.  My mother wasn’t always gentle because she had so many little faces to contend with, but, this maternal duty instilled in me the need for a mother to have a clean child even when life gets messy.

I climbed the steps and stood on that yellow platform.  I looked as far as my eyes could see, but my mother was nowhere in sight.  My brother and I continued our treck until we came to a clearing where the flashing lights of a police car reflected upon a house.  A police officer walked toward us and asked, “are you looking for your mother?”  He led us to her.  She was sitting in the back seat of the police car with the door open.  I climbed in and sat next to her.  Her hands shook as she tried to smoke a cigarette, barely able to bring it to her mouth.  ‘What’s wrong, Mom?’ I asked.  It was as though she hadn’t heard me or even knew I was there.  She had  the most frightened look in her eyes.  Apparently, my mother happened upon this house in her wandering, and she broke into the back door.  The home-owner came home to find her there, in the kitchen sweeping the floor.  When the police arrived, my mother told them that she needed this house for her children.  Two police men took my mother, brother and me back to our house.  Without a word, my mother went in and took a small case which held all of her family photos.  The policemen went across the street to the IGA store and bought Hostess Snowballs for us hungry children.  Being in a police car was very exciting to my brother and me as we loved the television show, One Adam-12.  We asked the policemen if they watched the show.  With my mother and siblings tightly squeezed into the police car, we were taken to the State Police Post in Bridgeport, MI.

When I was young, I couldn’t understand why my mother’s family hadn’t done something.  They had to have seen her symptoms.  I understand now, that there was nothing they could do, except wait.  Waiting for someone to completely lose their mind leaves one helpless.  My mother’s family had to have been very worried about her.  When it all came to an abrupt end, they were there to pick up the children.  My brother overheard the police officers talking about arresting my mother for breaking and entering.  In that moment, everything became real.  We didn’t care about One Adam-12 anymore.

My grandfather and my aunt came to the police post.  Each took three children.  How they chose, I have no idea, but my fate was set that night.  My oldest brother and youngest sister and I went with my aunt and were subsequently placed with other aunts and uncles and their families.  My three siblings who went with my grandfather were placed in fostercare within three days.  My uncle and his wife and children picked me up late that night.  My aunt took me to my room and gave me one of her nightgowns to put on.  I crawled into a nicely made bed with sheets and blankets tucked just so.  My uncle came in to say a bed-time prayer about if I should die before I wake.  I knew it well.

I had no idea how much time would pass before I saw my mother again.  All I knew was that already I missed her.  I yearned for her to take me into her arms and comfort me.  The separation cut deep and my heart mourned her as though she had died.  I enjoyed the softness and warmth of the sheets and blankets and my hunger was satisfied beyond belief.  But, if I could have gone back home with my mother and hugged her tightly with her soft skin against mine, gladly, I would have.  For it was there, that I belonged.

I had no idea when I was ten years old that I would never live with my mother again.  But, that one day, she would live with me.  I had no idea that even though my mother was mentally ill, she was still herself.  I had no idea that although she had been my strong-tower and protector my whole life, eventually, I would become hers.  I started my journey with my mother.  I followed her footsteps through life which wasn’t always pleasant.  But, what I found in her, I found within myself.  All the best parts.