Loving all the broken things is BRAVE.

Do you sometimes feel as if you are surrounded on all sides by broken things?

Things that once were whole, and could not be kept that way. Things that fell. Things that were knocked too hard. Things that you tried so hard to hold together, but which seemed determined to pull themselves into pieces. Things you stood and promised to bind yourself to, bind yourself with, but which unravelled like a slippery satin ribbon despite all your desperate fiddling and knotting and tearful pleading. Things that undid themselves unseen and unhindered while you were busy doing other things. Things that sent themselves flying against the wall while you cried, rocking yourself and begging for them to stop it, please, stop it.

Broken things.

Marriages. Promises. Minds. Hearts. Spirits. Resolves. Families. Plans. Hopes. Confidences. Trusts. Dreams. Agreements. Contracts. Covenants.

Childhoods. Brotherhoods. Sisterhoods. Parenthoods. Grandparenthoods.

Broken things.

Some were not your fault. Some were. Some you would’ve stopped if you could. Some you helped. Some you knew were inevitable. And you hated yourself for thinking so. Some you would’ve died rather than see go that way, would’ve rather it was you that was broken, that broke, that had it broken upon you.

Broken things.

The pieces of things that were once worth more to you than life itself. Those whole, hoped for, wondrous things that were answers to prayer, blessings, fulfilled dreams to you, but now which sit in drawers and pockets, pricking you with their sharp corners when you reach in for something you needed to work out a knot in something, stinging your palms and fingertips and leaving their grit under your nails. Their hems and seams undone, their nails rusted and their edges chipped. Their colours faded. Too precious to ever throw away. Bits of you and all the ones you loved, wished for, wanted, birthed and bound yourself to. Their essence is in the fragments, and every piece is steeped with all the thrill, the fear, the longing and the letting go. Sweet and bitter.

Broken things.
……

This last few days, we’ve been reunited with our family after six months interstate on the farm, and almost a year on the road. Our four children. Our two grandchildren. Brothers and sisters. My parents, grandparents. Cousins and aunts from an uncles first family, a man long since passed. It was a different homecoming this time. We were all more relaxed. Age, and watching the older ones grow more fragile mellows a person. The thing I noticed the most about this time was how we all seem to not be trying quite so hard. We seem tireder, more worn out, but yet we all looked and sounded more like ourselves than ever before. It was quite remarkable.

As I reflected on the weekend I began to understand why our conversations were so markedly different this time, particularly between my brother and I. It seems for once, we were not talking about our discontent and what we’d achieved to alleviate it. We were talking about what we’d lost, and what it felt like to let it go.

We were talking about acceptance.

Of self, and of others. Of all that is ours, and of what we would never have. Of what we lost. Of what we found in the losing. And we spoke of the broken things.

In fact, we were surrounded by the broken things.

And it was, we decided, more than enough.

Our hearts, and our minds, we mused, have been broken. And yet here we are, all loved, and at last also capable of love, of self and others, which is probably more important. Our relationships, ambitions, and aspirations have been broken. Marriages we tried to help that could not be saved. Souls that escaped the mawing throat of death and divorce and addiction and cancer and indescribable loneliness and aloneness with just with the skin we stood up in, a shell of a person remaining behind, yet that was enough to start again with. And all the fragments of all of us, assembled for these few days to make up a joyous mosaic of shared history and experiences, places, times, tragedies and celebrations. We compared our salvaged bits, like trophies. We held our pieces up side by side along the broken edges to find they almost got together, well enough. Acceptance.

You were not there for me. we lamented, you were not there for me, but you are here now, and that is enough. All the broken pieces of us and all the things we were not able to make good, to put right or to fix up, all laid out, edge to jagged edge, and it was all right, it was just fine. Yes, it was very good.

Broken things.

Imperfection is hard, because brokenness is pain. But time mellows, and peace comes to all eventually. We can embrace that peace this side of the grave, or after, but sooner or later, accept it we must. Trying to secret away the bits and the chips and the broken shards of failures and shortcomings and disappointments leaves us weary from trying to hide our bulging pockets with hands bruised and grazed by shame. Show me your palms, broken dreamer, all isn’t lost. Gather them all up, don’t lose a single one. There is a day coming when you, like I just did, will lay all your broken things down around you and realise there is beauty in them, and in you. The whole may have been your dream, but that essence remains in each sliver, every shard. There was love there at the beginning, and there is love there still.

Acceptance is brave. Loving all the broken things is brave. Broken things. Yes, even the broken things.

……….

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In Which God Answers My Big, Fat Prayer.

There’s this thing that happens every once in a while – this feeling I get. No, that’s not quite right. It’s a feeling I don’t get, when I’m actually supposed to get one. I know I’m supposed to get one, because everyone who experiences these particular events is supposed to feel a particular way.

Sad. Kind of melancholy. That’s how I should feel today. Because when your eighteen year old daughter leaves home, as a mother, you should feel sad and melancholy, right?

I guess. But I don’t. I feel proud, and not just because she’s worked for and earned her independence, and our trust. I also feel pleasantly surprised it’s all worked out for her relatively easily – she was approved for the first rental property she applied for, in a market which dictates you can apply for twenty properties before being approved. I shouldn’t really be surprised. She’s not just lucky, she’s fortunate. Our family generally believes you make your own luck, and that girl sure knows how to make her own luck.

I feel relief. Another one pretty much raised – three down, one to go. This one’s been a toughie. She’s a strong woman, and she was a strong girl too. She always knew what she wanted, and sometimes, it wasn’t her mother. But we worked it through, and she was always willing. We’ve made mistakes, but I’ve made most of them. For all I did wrong, she’s become an amazing person, and there’s something very right about that.

I feel incredible admiration. I would never have had the strength or the sense to live the life she’s living. I was too insecure, unfettered to anything, unfocussed, needy and scattered. My girl is a lot of things, but scattered isn’t one of them. She had to grow up quickly. Sometimes I forget of all the things Ben and I have been through – my having cancer, and Bens’ alcoholism and recovery – our kids have been through those things too. We are survivors, all of us. No wonder she’s so wise and strong. She’s had a lifetime of experiences she never asked for, wasn’t to blame for, couldn’t have prepared for. But she did those things like she does everything else. Capably. Wisely. Insightfully. Nothing like me.

So, I do feel something today. Proud, relieved, grateful and admiring. But not sad. I am elated. I’m grateful. Whenever things like this happen in my life, when my kids take another step away from me and become able to lead their own lives without me carrying them in another small way, I always feel kind of ecstatic. Why? Because nine years ago, I sat in a hostel dormitory four hundred kilometres away from my baby girl and her three brothers, all because I had to go away to have radiotherapy to cure me from cancer. Night after night, I lay in that bed missing them so hard it physically hurt, and prayed one day I’d see them all grow into adults, and leave home.

I didn’t want to leave them before they were grown up. I wanted them to leave me because they were grown up. Because that’s how it should be.

I begged God, please, please……

And I didn’t die.

How could I be sad on days like this? Big fat prayer answered today, people.

Three down, one to go.

Thank God He very rarely holds us to these kinds of bargains.

*****

 

Why Families Are Like Sandwiches

Discussions continue regarding what actually constitutes a family in our society, in light of proposed and imminent changes to marriage legislation. Conservative Christian groups in particular claim that children are better off when situated in a certain arrangement of opposing genders and “appropriate” sexual preferences, i.e.: parenting is to be carried out by one heterosexual man and one heterosexual woman cohabiting, and joined in a church-approved, legal, marriage. Many Christians – and some non-Christians – continue to strongly defend their view that same-gender co-parents commit a kind of child abuse just by carrying on their relationship in the proximity of any children, regardless of whether those couples have superior parenting skills to heterosexual individuals or couples with children. It should be obvious that as long as the sexual preference of the adult – heterosexual or otherwise – is not towards the child in their care, every family can be judged on its own individual merits where child abuse is concerned.

And now, on a lighter note…..

*****

Families are kind of like sandwiches.

Sometimes with a sandwich/family, it’s the same old thing every single day. And some people really like it that way. Sometimes you get to change it up, and then every day brings something totally different. Provided everyone gets something that’s good and wholesome most of the time, both ways are perfectly okay.

Sometimes with your sandwich/family, things can get a little messy, both in the creation and the enjoyment. Sometimes everyone wants everything all at once, and it can get a little stressful. And sometimes someone decides they don’t want sandwiches any more, and that can be sad and confusing. The thing to remember is that sandwiches are not nailed to the ground. They were made to go where people go. They were also made to be divided and multiplied and shared, and even to be consolidated. It can all be done. Sometimes the best part of having a sandwich is being able to share it, and have one shared with you. If you have a sandwich worth sharing, there are plenty of folks out there eating lunch alone, you know.

Now, some people like to make themselves the boss of sandwiches/families. These ones like to go around saying there’s only one way to make a sandwich, and only certain things you can use to make one. Don’t listen to that garbage. You may feel at times like you’re expected to come up with honey-baked ham, swiss cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes on organic sourdough, and you can really only do a good old peel-back-packet ham, week old tomatoes from the bottom of the crisper and plastic-wrapped pretend cheese on thin sliced white. You may only have one piece of bread to work with, or maybe you’re coeliac, or vegetarian. How do you make a HCT without any ham in it? Can you even have a sandwich with just one piece of bread to work with? Who knew lunch could be so stressful? You know what? Screw ‘em. They’ll just have to deal with it, especially if they will never actually have to eat your damn sandwich. You just go ahead and make the best of what you’ve got, honey. If you like it and are prepared to live with it, and you serve it up with a big smile and a lot of love, you’re doing great, I don’t care what anyone says.

Besides, if its white bread, wholegrain or no bread at all, if it’s Swiss, cheddar, sliced or shaved, if it’s salad, salami or smoked salmon with watercress and cream cheese, it’s still a sandwich, anyway you look at it. There are guidelines, sure, but in the end, you never make a sandwich for the sake of making a sandwich – it’s lunch. It exists to fill a hunger – just like a family does. And if your sandwich/family fulfils that purpose be it a PB&J, HC&T or BL&T, then it’s a perfectly awesome sandwich/family dammit, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise 🙂

*****

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When Your Love Language Seems To Be All Four Letter Words

On days like today, I think back to about fifteen years ago when those Love Language books were all the rage for married couples and parents. I remember how we just ate those books up, all desperate to learn the unspoken cry of our loved ones heart, and unravel the mystery of why we all act the way we do, when all we really want is love. According to the author of the Love Language books, there are five love languages – words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts and acts of service – and each one of these is a conduit through which we “feel” the love of others, and prefer to give it in return. Learning our loved one’s love language is apparently a bit like turning the key of their heart, leading us toward closer and more fulfilling relationships.

Now, I’m a very pragmatic kind of person. I always had a bit of trouble remembering the five love languages in the first place, let alone applying them, especially under pressure – and when you have four kids and you are crazy enough to homeschool, you often find yourself under pressure. I always seemed to forget that I was supposed to spend quality time with this one, buy that one a sweet and thoughtful gift, and always mind that I said something kind and affirming to the other one.  I tended to forget, not because I was indifferent to my kids needs, but because my own love language was total and ultimate control of everything. Just give me your complete and unbending compliance, cried the unspoken voice of my heart, and everything around here will be just fine.

Problem is, kids will have their love languages whether we their parents heed them or not. And because I did remember from time to time my children actually owed me nothing – including their mindless obedience – over time, my love language lost quite a few phrases from its vocabulary. “Or else” was one. “Because I said so.” was another. “Would you like me to pull this car over and give you a spanking?” went away round about the time I realised being spanked didn’t fit into any of Mr. Chapmans real love languages, and wasn’t actually working for me or our kids anyway.

Anyway, days like today make me think about those five love languages, how sometimes the things we do don’t really fit into any of those categories, and how someone needs to tell that to the teenage person living here and make her get with the program. Otherwise I may have to bring back some of my lost vocabulary, especially the part about the spanking.

I’ve decided that when it comes to the mysterious ways of teenagers, five love languages aren’t nearly enough. Because the things they do can be just so incredibly baffling at times I think there definitely needs to be a few new ones, and I’ve had a stab – not a word I feel comfortable toying with today, after the morning I’ve had with my teen – at creating a few categories of my own.

  • What’s mine is mine – what’s yours is mine. This morning, as I prepared to drive my teen to work, I detected a familiar scent wafting through the car. It was my expensive perfume – a gift from my husband. I, however, wasn’t the one wearing it. “Have you run out of perfume?” I asked, puzzled, as last I looked this individual had two bottles of scent on her own dressing table. “No.” And that was the only explanation offered. Later, the same teen walked past my bedroom door announcing “I’m going for ride.” Interesting. She doesn’t own a bike. “A ride?” I asked? A head appeared in my doorway, wearing my bike helmet. “Yes.” This particular love language expressed once in a day? I could perhaps graciously relent. Twice in a twenty four hour period? Both grace and surrender are abandoned. Lucky she was wearing a helmet.
  • Don’t speak to me,  just take me where I need to go. Teens reserve the right to maintain objectionable silence whilst consecutively enjoying the benefit of being transported wherever they wish to go, often at a moments notice, and without the offer of contribution, financial or otherwise. But that’s okay, really. Because they didn’t ask to be born, and being alive and seventeen is so hard. No, really it is – I remember.
  • I am beautiful, I am hideous. I hate this one the most, because it is sheer torture for the darling individual who must endure it, and for the loving family who must witness it.
  • You don’t understand me, please listen to me. I know she thinks I don’t get it, and I know I think I do. I also know there’s nothing I want more in this world than the pure trust she gives me when she finally lets me in.

 

  • I abhor crass materialism in all its forms, so will you buy it for me instead? Teens cannot abide attempts by parents to buy their affections with things, and similarly, many have denounced consumer culture and commercialism outright. But that doesn’t apply to things they need, like mobile phones and festival tickets. In this case, spending a lot of money is perfectly okay. I have noticed that a teenagers income is theirs to spend as they please, and their parents income is theirs to spend as they please too. Forget about Occupy Wall Street – to hear them tell it, teenagers are the 99%. And sometimes, as a parent, it certainly feels that way.
Five love languages are not enough. Ten are not enough. How many ways can a family give and receive love between them? There are not enough words, gestures, sacrifices or actions that can adequately express the deep complexities of relationship. Five? Try a hundred and twenty five. And all those love languages will not always be civil, or even comprehensible.  Sometimes a love language can feel like it’s all four letter words. Sometimes a love language will be more a question than an answer, more a longing than a fulfilment, more a defining than a uniting. But that is the essence of relationship – not the answer or the conclusion that you come to about one another, but the process of discovery, discerning and of understanding traversed while coming to appreciate that they are not you, and nor would you have them be, no matter how much you want to keep them safe and close and happy.
And, for the record, I just want to say there was nothing about all this in the manual.
*****
Sometimes, I don’t understand you, but sweetheart, please know that I always, always love you.
🙂