Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Prodigal Daughter.....and a mother who prayed

This past week we were cleaning out some storage areas in our home. In going through old bins and boxes, I came across a box taped closed, with my mother's writing on the outside of the box, labeling the contents as "Stacy-Childhood." I must have received the box from my mother sometime in my adulthood, never to have looked at the contents, for the box was almost like a Christmas gift waiting to be unwrapped....I had no idea what laid inside.

Just before coming upon this box, I had travelled down memory lane with some other boxes and a big trunk of my husbands. I sat with old high school yearbooks and leafed through pages of high school history....history I shared with my husband. It was fun to read through what we said to each other our junior and senior years....not really knowing then what we share now. And then I came upon shoeboxes filled with letters and notes I had written Barclay during high school and into college...pledging my love to him and be silly and waiting for the day that we wouldn't be having a long distance relationship. (He went to college in Syracuse...I, in Pittsburgh....it was a long drive!) I was having so much fun and getting quite distracted from the task at hand....organizing and consolidating these boxes.

And so, I come to the box holding the contents of my childhood. I was eager to get inside and see what treasures lay waiting. My mother has always told me that it is important to have visual reminders of history, of your life. So, she, over the years collected important memorabilia and pictures, report cards, pieces of schoolwork from each grade, and just stuff that resembled who we were. She kept all of these over the years, and then sometime in my adulthood, probably when I got married (I don't really remember), she gave me this box. Well, as I had been walking down the halls of my history, I kept walking and eagerly tore in to see what treasures my mom thought important to save.

When my sisters and I were little, my mom gave each of us a book called "School Days." This book had pages for every year of school, with a place for your school picture, lines for important information and then a pocket to hold loose articles. I pulled this out of box, as it laid on top, and starting flipping through the years, laughing at those school pictures...the one in Kindergarten taken the day after I decided I needed a haircut and cut my own hair on my bedroom floor. And the picture where I had terribly chapped lips and it looked like I had three lips instead of two. That was really pretty. And then I get to high school and for some reason, I put my hand into the tenth grade pocket. Thinking I would pull out my report card or something, I pull out a letter instead. The outside of the letter was addressed to my older sister Heather, but it was addressed to my Dad's home. Now Heather, at this time, was in college in Ohio, not living with my dad. So, I was a bit puzzled by the letter. I open it up with curiosity. This is what I read:

Dear Stacy and Heather,
It was so good to have you home and all your hard work was greatly appreciated. Heather, I sent your tuition money off so that is taken care of. Whatever you charge, you pay for.

Stacy, you made a very big, difficult decision. I'm so proud of your and know it is right. We prayed for you in church today and look forward to getting you at the airport. I hope you never doubt that you are very wanted here and though I don't ever show my feelings, they run deep. I've prayed much and for a long time for this day. I know God will work it all out though He can't always take away the pain and difficulties of life. Fire always burns but God will bring us through it. I love you very much. Mom Hurry Home!

I have tears streaming down my face. I never remember this letter. I know I received it, but I never processed the words that my mom spoke....until now. Her words cut deep into my heart on many levels. Let me explain.

My mother had a stroke when she was 34 and pregnant with my little sister. My memory is rather foggy for most of my childhood, so I am so glad my mother had the wisdom to give us "visual reminders." Anyway, I was sent to live with my aunt during the time my mom was in the hospital (almost a year-I think 9 months or so). My younger sister, a newborn, was given to my other aunt to raise during that time. My older sister, who was in school, stayed with my dad. I don't remember much, if anything during that year. I was 3. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate what my aunt did in graciously bringing me into her home and family. Anyway, when I came back home, my mother was in a wheelchair and we had family members and hired nannies come and stay with us to help my mom care for three small girls. By the grace of God, my mother began walking again and relearning much of what she had lost physically and mentally....but her ability to express emotion.....seemed to be lost...or deeply suppressed. Little by little, over the years, the help was no longer needed. And it was my two sisters, me and my mom.

My parent's marriage, apparently was rocky, prior to the stroke. I don't know to what extent, even now, I've never asked many questions. But a couple years after the stroke, my parents divorced. Now my mother, she grew up in the Wesleyan Church. She loved Jesus Christ more than anyone I knew, but sometimes was a bit too disciplined. We had family devotions every night at 5:00 before dinner and read from the Bible and the Daily Bread devotional and then had to take turns praying outloud. Sometimes, my mom would ring a bell and call us all into her room for family devotions....even if we were in the middle of something...it had to stop. None of us girls really liked family devotion time, but we begrudgingly obeyed.

I grew up going to church every Sunday and Wednesday night. We attended a Christian Missionary Alliance church for many years and then a non-denominational Bible church. A personal relationship with Jesus was encouraged and taught. I accepted the Lord, with my mother, at the age of 6. I remember it clearly. My mother made us all tithe any money we received and I vividly remember the tithing jar. My mother loved us dearly, she gave everything she had to us girls, but she was hard to get along with. She tried so hard, but she didn't show emotion. She didn't give us warm embraces. We worked hard around the house and we had to. It was ok. But life was hard for a young girl. And I was a stubborn girl (much like my mother...and we often butt heads.) I didn't submit to her authority. If anything, I rebelled against it.

I struggled with the appearance of my life to others. My mother was physically handicapped and unable to work any longer. My father lived about 30 minutes away and we saw him every Sunday and once a month for the weekend. We lived up on a hill, on a dead end street, not in walking distance to much. And we were rather poor. As I type that, I must say, I never felt that growing up. If you looked upon me or my sisters, you never would have known that. We had so many people give us "designer" hand-me-downs and we always seemed to be in the "popular" groups. My mom made every sacrifice imaginable so that we didn't go without. But we didn't have a car. That was hard...and many times embarrassing. Embarrassment was a big one for me, over the years. I was embarrassed that my mom was handicapped, I was embarrassed that we had to ask for rides everywhere, I was embarrassed and insecure that we "looked" different than many other families. I longed so much for a "normal" family. I longed for stability. Little did I know at the time, that we were stable....we had a mother devoted and fixed on Jesus. He provided for and sustained us so many times.

This was the beginning of my need to control my circumstances and life situations. This was the beginning of fear and worry dictated my thought and emotions. This was the beginning of living life my way...not Gods. Now you might be thinking..."Come on" I was only young and growing up and learning as I went. But I wasn't. I became rebellious and longed for, ached for something normal. So, when I was 11, and in the middle of 6th grade, my mom and I got into a really heated argument. We screamed at each other and in the midst of yelling my mom tells me to go live with my father. Being the stubborn girl I was, I called her bluff and went into the kitchen called my dad and told him he had to come get me. I was leaving. And I left.

This was my way out. My mom opened the door and I ran. I ran into the arms of my father and his wife. This was the normal family I longed for. Security, safety, peace. Over the next week or so, my dad allowed me to make the choice about where I would live. I was insistent. I would not go back. Maybe I didn't leave him the choice. But my mind was set. This was my new home. And so, I lived with my dad, my stepmom and my two new siblings, a younger brother and sister for almost 4 years. I love my dad dearly. I love my stepmother and my brother and sister.....but this is not where I belonged. I was running. I was fleeing the difficulty. I was fleeing that which was uncomfortable. I saw an open door and I ran, as fast as I could through it. I didn't stop and consider my mom, my dad, my stepmother, or my sisters.....and God's will for my life.....didn't even enter the realm of thinking. I only thought about me.

Well, as we all know, life isn't always greener on the other side. And I had the appearance of a "normal" family, but there was brokenness all around. There was brokenness in me, in my mom, in my sisters and probably in my dad. My mom and I didn't talk much. My sisters pretty much hated me, and my relationship with my dad and stepmom was strained.

I didn't have peace because I was walking my own road....not His. I was living my way. I wasn't a bad girl.....I didn't rebel like some teenagers and drink, or do drugs, I wasn't promiscuous. I worked hard at school and I got good grades. I did my jobs around the house and tried to help out. But rebellion covered me. I was difficult to live with as a result. I was confused, I was hurting, I was broken and my brokenness ended up breaking any relationship I had with my dad or my stepmom. We fought....all the time. Life wasn't getting better, it was getting worse. I remember a couple times crying so hard in my room and considered taking my life. I couldn't do it anymore. I still prayed. I still went to church (each Sunday I walked to a Lutheran church with my cousin....I remember going through confirmation and having many in depth conversations with the Priest about God, because the ways of thinking and teaching were different than what I had learned.) God was present with me. He never left me. But I didn't allow Him room. He was on the shelf.

Well, in high school, everything came to a head. Nothing was easy or good. I sought counseling at school for I knew I needed help. She helped. It was someone to talk to to help me understand and reason with me and comfort me. I continued to rebel against my dad and stepmom-more in my heart than in action (but sometimes in action, too). They were very strict. I wasn't allowed many friends, and wasn't allowed to go many places. I always thought that if I just did what they told me, they would love me. I knew they loved me....but I mean really love me. I realize now, that years later, I put these same constraints on God's love. If I follow everything He says, He will love me. But He loves us regardless. He desires our obedience. It pleases Him greatly, but His love is not dependent on our obedience. His love has no condition.

But I felt alone. I needed help. I reached out to my older sister who was in college. I told her I needed help getting home. My sister and I went back to my moms house (now in Virgina) for Christmas during my 10th grade in high school. I apologized to my mom for all the hurt I caused her, all the pain I inflicted on her those last 4 years. I asked her if I could come home. After I went back to my dad's after Christmas, I packed my things without telling my dad.....and the morning of my flight.....I told him I had to go home......and I left.

My mother welcomed me with open arms....arms of love and forgiveness. You see all those years, my mother had been praying. She prayed for my safety, my well being, that I would grow in an understanding of God....she prayed for my return home and she never stopped praying until I came home...and then her prayers just changed.

"Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James 5:16

I didn't know my mother was praying like that until this week. I didn't realize the depths of the pain I caused her until this week. I didn't know she longed deep within her for the day I decided to come home. She didn't force me home. She never made me feel guilt for leaving. She loved me inspite of it all. She modeled Christ to me. That is how Jesus Christ loves each one of us. He doesn't force His way upon us. He doesn't make us feel guilt and He loves us no matter what.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." Revelation 3:20

"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:1

"Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost! I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." Luke 15:6-7

All He desires is that we submit to His authority and obey. He knows the way. He wants to take my brokenness and make it beautiful......and He did. It took a long time.....because I resisted for so many years. It was easier to live with the brokenness than to have Him heal because I didn't know how to walk through it all. For so long, I didn't know how to let Him lead, and guide me. I didn't know how to surrender because for so many years, I had to control just to make it. I needed stability and I needed to feel a sense of power, even though I was really powerless and weak. Really, it wasn't until Sweet Joshua came into my life, that I learned how to lay it all down and let God do the work....not me. So this blog....His Way....Not Mine, oh, it began in me at a young age. It took a long time for me to live it. I understand the "theory" behind His way not mine, but I didn't live it until 6 years ago......and I'm not going back.

My childhood.....being the prodigal.....it was part of the pavement of learning that my true home, my true security, my true peace is only with God, my Father. I can't control the circumstances, I can't control outcomes....but what I can control is my choice to follow HIM.

Thank you my dad, for loving me and allowing me a resting a place.....and thank you mom for praying without ceasing and leaving the back door and the front door open for the prodigal.....and thank you for the arms that took me in and embraced the brokenness of me. It is by God's grace that the pieces have been put back together.

And so, I hold that note tightly to my heart as a piece of my "visual history" from my childhood. My mother's words were so true: "Fire always burns, but God brings us through it."

"To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness: That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

2 comments:

Sharon said...

Stacy- what a gift your blog is to me. It shines a light on truth from a vantage point that only you have.

Having the 3 of you back in our lives is better than winning the lottery. The tears are falling faster than I can type.

Love u, s

Jill said...

WOW! That was beautiful! I understand now what you were trying to say yesterday when we saw each other.

Oh how sweet is God's love for us -especially when it is lived out through a prayful parent. What an awesome reminder to each of us who love our children and pray they too will draw ever close to our loving Father - Abba! Who they too will call upon in times of trouble.

I love you! Such sweet words when they are filled with Him!
Jill