Wednesday, August 22, 2012

hands open

she and i sat in the car.  me clutching the steering wheel.  she clutching her hands in the passenger seat.  both of us in tears. i hadn't seen her cry like this since the rare temper tantrums of toddlerhood.  she's not a crier, this girl.  but today, sitting in the parking lot of the local garden shop, my 16 year old daughter sat sobbing.  "i can't do this mama, i just can't do this. you are asking too much. why are you and daddy making us do this? why? why? why?"  that's what she screamed at me.  that scene took place about a month ago.  we were still in atlanta.  just days before leaving for minnesota.

and really, what could i say?  i sat there wracking my brain trying to do my mother-best:  trying to come up with the perfect combination of words, trying to sooth the thrashing emotions of my teen girl,  trying to battle my own similar feelings.  i laid my head on the steering wheel and quietly prayed. desperately prayed. i had nothing.  sometimes we just have nothing.  we sat in our separate seats for a bit, not saying anything at all.  strangely enough, a mom and her son from our church, pulled up and parked alongside us in their minivan.  i kind of made eye contact, but turned away fast.  the moment was too raw and i wasn't able or willing to share it with anyone.  i needed a sign on my window,  like those "baby on board" signs.  except this one needed to read:  "danger --volatile teen and fragile mother." and that's how we sat. volatile and fragile in our front seats and in our sadness.

"emmy, i don't have any easy answers.  i don't know how to tell you to get through this.  i don't know what it's going to be like in a week, a month, six months...i just don't.  i know you are 16 and leaving everything behind...and i can't even wrap my mind around what that must feel like right now."  she continued to cry.  i continued to pray. we sat a little longer. my words only inadequate. my mothering feeling so futile. finally, i climbed from the car and headed into the garden center.  "i'll be right back." i knew she had no desire to accompany me down the colorful aisles of annuals and perennials.  i closed the door quietly, watching her body slump against the passenger window.

i was at the store attempting to purchase glazed pots for some friends.  i wanted to give the ladies who were hosting our going away party something special. i had decided on choosing different beautiful pots and filling them with ivy from my yard, wanting to give them something they could take home and plant in their own backyards --a little piece of the mcnatts or something like that. at this point, with only a few days left before leaving georgia, i wasn't really sure what i was doing.  this errand happened in the midst of movers at our home and suitcases in our backseat and piles of loose ends to wrap up.  we were all over the place.  of course emily and i sat crying in the car, we were a wreck.  all of us emotionally wiped out.  we had had friends stopping every day that week to give hugs and say goodbyes.   blurry-eyed in my shopping, i was tempted to go curl up on the garden bench in the far corner of the store and drift away to the soothing sounds of the water features nearby.  couldn't i pull a rip van winkle and sleep my way through these next few days of yuck?

the gal at the checkout was cheerfully attempting to sign me up for the garden club card. "no thank you," i said.  "oh, but you can save this much money if you sign up now...." "no thank you," i said again.  "it will only take a few minutes, mam," she rattled on, "all you have to do is..."   i cut her off abruptly and said with all the restraint i could muster,  "i don't want the club card, we are moving to minnesota in 2 days. it snows there." i had this sudden urge to pull her out from behind the counter and drag her to my car, pointing at emily, "do you see my daughter?  see. look. look. look at her.  this is what i'm dealing with.  i don't care about the lousy garden club savings card (which wouldn't work in minnesota anyway)....the garden club card won't fix this."  instead, i gathered my arms full of planters and soil and headed (without, you'll be glad to know, the cheerful clerk in tow) for my suv.  my arms were full.  i was anxious to get home and dig up pieces of my yard and arrange it in these beautiful pots.  and that's when it hit me.  i had something to do.  it was in this doing, that the pain of leaving lessened -- at least a little. and i knew this message was whispered in my ear for me and for my daughter and for right now.

i climbed back into the car.  "em, i still don't know how we are going to do this.  i don't have a really good game plan, honey, but i just had this thought while i was checking out and i wanted to tell you one thing i do know."  she eyed me suspiciously.  she knew well enough where this was going.  my kids get nervous when they know i have something to say. i took a deep breath and began, "we have to serve our way through it. that's what we have to do.  we have to take our eyes off ourselves and our own sadness and see a place to serve someone else." she sat, with her red rimmed eyes, watching me.   i explained to her that's the only thing i knew to work. and it's true.  i thought back to some of our more recent struggles we'd had...that's what really helped me cope with some of the hard stuff...doing something for someone else.  it sounds kind of elementary...sounds kind of sunday school-ish, right?  but it works.  when you are feeling low and left behind, when you are feeling sad and sullen, useless and used, broken and battered...serve someone else.  if we keep our eyes on our own pain, we stay there. we camp out. we dig deeper into the black pit of our despair or discouragement.  we just do.  it's our human nature.  but if we can push through it for small moments at a time, busy our hands and open our eyes to the need of another, we somehow start the healing process in our own hearts.  i don't really understand it.  i don't.  it doesn't exactly make sense to me, but i know it works and i know it's what Jesus would do. i'm not saying it's natural for our sinful selves.  and i'm sure some of you are reading this and thinking me unsympathetic and highly unrealistic with my girl.  but it was all i had.  all i knew.  all i could give her at that moment in that garden store parking lot.

gathering pots and soil and plans in my arms, triggered these thoughts.  but, of course, it is easier for me.  as a mother of five, i always have something to do, someone to serve, somewhere to invest.  that kind of goes with the territory.  but it's not just about being busy or involved.  it's truly about doing something for someone else.  it's about seeing someone else's pain and struggle and being willing to shift the focus of our eyes.  it's about taking our hands off of our own problems and putting them around someone else's need.  i'm sure emily worried for a brief moment that when i backed the car out of the garden shop i might head straight for a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, but we went home.  we went home and unloaded those pots and that soil and i dug up the ivy from my yard and arranged it all.  i thought of the friends to whom i would be giving these pots.  i thought of the women who had invested all these years in me and who were planning a party in our honor.  i thought of these friendships as i dug out the roots and arranged the variegated plants in pretty pottery.  these women and me, we shared the history of serving each other.  warm dinners brought...children exchanged...laundry folded...library books dropped off.  in this group there were women who have fed my kids, watched my babies, driven me to appointments, taught me to knit, vacuumed my home, helped me design, journeyed with us through bella's adoption, vacationed with our family, prayed with us, brought flowers, changed my bandages.  two of them had even helped me sneak into a closed off dressing room in wal-mart to change an uncomfortable sports bra at midnight last summer after my surgery.  (long--and very, very funny--story).  these are women with serving hands, serving hearts.

in that last week before the move, i went to dinner with these women and few other close friends for a final, intimate goodbye. these treasured friends and i shared a wonderful evening together.  at this dinner, the girls gave me a bronzed cast of open hands.  how perfect.  no explanation was needed when i opened up my gift.  my friend, karen, said, "you know what it means."  and i did.  open hands.  hands willing to serve, hands willing to receive, hands willing to give, hands willing to let go.  not fists clenching, but hands wide.  it was a wonderful symbol of what our family needed to do as we left atlanta.   it was also a wonderful symbol of what my friendship with these ladies was all about.  and it is a perfect representation of who we, as believers, are because of our God.  wide and un-clutching.  receiving what He has given and open handed in giving it back to others.  one friend thought it looked liked the perfect bowl for m and m's  -- and that works too!  i have this bronze cast on a shelf in our great room right now. i look at it each day and am reminded of my beautiful friends and their beautiful encouragement.  we are here to serve.  we are here to be open.  we are here to receive.  and we are here to give back.  it doesn't make every part of everything easy.  we still sometimes sit in our rooms with hands clenched and bodies curled up.  we will sometimes sit in the front seat of our cars and cry.  there's still no easy answer for me to give emily or any friend going through something painful, but the reminder of these open hands keeps us aware of what God wants to do with us when we are willing.

last sunday marked our third week in minnesota and our family threw a party.  we hosted tyler's freshman class and their parents in our home for a back to school BBQ.  kind of funny, huh?  i'm not sure that is exactly the idea of serving which God whispered into my ear that day in the garden shop...but it sort of is.  we went outside of ourselves and outside of our comfort level and we opened up our home to about 100 strangers. it was a beautiful evening getting to know these new families. and most importantly, guess whose idea it was to host this party?  emily's. 

 "but you shall open your hand to him and lend him 
sufficient for his need, whatever it may be."  ~ deuteronomy 15:8

em made and hung this sign for her brother and his new classmates

some of the kids from ty's new class at southwest christian high school -- even cooper got into the picture!


carolyn bradford said...

Jody, you truly have no idea the impact you've had on my heart ever since Valerie sent me to your blog…this is amazing and it needs to be published! It was the most encouraging thing I've read in a very long time! What an angel your daughter is….she reminds me a lot of my Holly! I look forward to your posts so very much! Thanks for sharing your heart!

Aus said...

Jody - these past few months we've been having something of a "dark night of the soul" with issues from extended family...and we needed this today.

And you are right - there is Peace in "doing"...

Thanks for answering your Call to write this one....

hugs - aus and co.

Simply LKJ said...

We just began our study of The Life God Rewards, and one of the things we talked about was serving others. The story of Mary and Martha. I love the symbolism you shared of the open hands. When we serve, we are greatly rewarded.

3 Peanuts said...

Hi Jody,

I just found your blog through Diana's. And I have read a few posts and my heart feels for you. We have moved across the country and back and I have indeed felt many of the things you are feeling (and the kids have too). It is HARD. It is exhausting emotionally and physically. I shed lots of tears both times and so did my kids. but boy did we all grow thought those times too and I know you all will as well. We all came to love both places (Virginia and Texas) and they both became home to us at different times. I know this will happen for your family too. In the meantime, I will pray for you.

I love what you wrote about serving...I have also just recently learned that that is the best way to get through something hard. This was a great reminder.