The Village It Took

In the spring of 1988, several weeks into our new normal, my class was working on an assignment, probably colouring a map of Canada or something.  One of the boys, let’s call him Johnny B. Jerkface, asked to borrow one of my pencil crayons.  For whatever reason (I guess I was a Jerkface that day too), I said no.  He proceeded to threaten to hurt my feelings if I didn’t.  Okay, go, I taunted back.

“At least I have a mother.”

Ooooh that pissed me right off.  I escalated this to my dad, and perhaps what followed resembled Schwartz getting licks from his mom on A Christmas Story, I don’t know.  Years later, our paths crossed again and when his memory was jogged, he apologized and I forgave him.

So it’s Mother’s Day, twenty-six years later, and this time I’m thinking about my village.  There were so many times when I wrongfully subscribed to Johnny’s cheap shot.  That I was motherless and alone.  But eventually, with each passing year, my surroundings came into focus and the blur sharpened into recognizable faces.  Even before Mom died, people were stepping in the gap of her absence at home, delivering hot meals to our house.  And in the many years after, an army formed to pick up where she left off in raising me.  My older sisters, my aunts, my grandmothers, and later my stepmother and my mother-in-law, they all had now-unmistakably active roles in shaping me into the woman, wife and mother I have become.  And the army continues to grow and nurture me, from my younger siblings (yes, lil’ bro, even you and Dad are my mother) to friends old and new.  It turns out, I never really lost her.

We orphans need never feel forgotten, because God has us on His heart.  He cares for us (Psalms 146:9)has always been there (John 14:18)and asks His people to follow suit (Isaiah 1:17).  I remember it and I recognize it.  So this year, I am celebrating the brilliance of His greater plan to assemble a tribe of men and women whose touch in my life personified both a mother’s and His outrageous love for me.

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P.S. I still toast to all of you today too!

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My name is Leah & I am 35.

I am at that age when many of my peers, mostly women, have celebrated a handful or two 29th birthdays.  To each her own, but I only had one, and the year after that, I turned 30.  And I celebrated it.  And now I can’t stop.

I think it’s funny that, as kids, we wanted to be grown-ups so bad, and then one day we changed our minds and started wishing we were Benjamin Button or something.

If I spend the rest of my life turning 29, then I am devaluing the lessons learned and wisdom gained in each year that follows.  I would have never learned to appreciate and take better care of my body.  I would still be saying “yes” more times than my life could really accommodate.  I would never have as full an understanding of my own parents’ parenting.  Caring about what others think about me would still be too high on my priority list.  I would not have learned the lessons that came with starting (and then ending) my own business.  I would never discover the miracle that is mascara.  I would never have started blogging (how sad for you!).  I would not have learned how to feed my faith in God or how to put it into action.  I wouldn’t have a sense of urgency to achieve peace in almost all areas of my life.  I would not have learned the need to create my own legacy independent from my past.

Note to Self:  “Self: Request a t-shirt for Mothers Day that reads: Every useful thing I know I learned after 29.”

Acknowledging every new year of my life with appreciation and gratitude not only shows respect to the sources of my life (both divine and earthly), but also honours those whose shortened lives did not allow them the opportunities or experiences that I have.

My name is Leah and I am thirty-five.  And a half.

Probably, as per daughter

This weekend we are celebrating Mom’s anniversary and, as it always happens every year, the weeks leading up always find me hyper-reflective about the ordeal and the journey our family has been on.  This past year, though, I’ve come to a much deeper appreciation of a different angle on the whole thing….

Imagine that you are in your early forties and that you and your spouse have been blessed with six children, ranging in age from 2 to 17.  Thanks to hard work and the Lord’s good favour, you have a nice home that can comfortably accomodate such a large family.  The car’s getting a bit tight and showing its age, but it gets you all where you need to be.  You’re the only one in your family living in Canada, with most members still in your birth country and a couple in the States, but you are surrounded by a great community of extended family members and friends.

Your spouse is then diagnosed with cancer.  And so begins a new daily routine of putting in a full day’s work and then spending the evening at the hospital until visiting hours end.  The hospital is maybe 40 minutes from home, so an already exhausting day is that much longer.  Thankfully, the older kids are taking care of the younger ones back at home, and that incredible network of family and friends is doing everything they can to help out, even dropping off already-cooked dinners to the house.  The ordeal lasts almost a year and slows down only for birthdays spent at the hospital or short visits home.  You throw the traditional debut for your daughter’s 18th birthday and it is bittersweet to say the least.  There are some good days and there are some setbacks.  The car is hanging on for dear life, and there is even an unwelcome adventure driving home from the hospital with the kids one weekend where it overheats.  Your spouse’s physical existence is ever-transforming in to something farther and farther away from what it was only a year ago.  But through it all there is God, and you know this because your spouse has posted inspiring reminders on the wall.  They have done this to keep themselves positive and motivated, but you are probably relying on those just as much.

Imagine next that, a week before their birthday, your life partner, co-parent and best friend for almost 20 years succumbs to the illness.  The days that follow are a chaotic blur as the whole community rallies with love and support.  It’s likely a welcome distraction from moments like when you have to explain to your little ones what they’re about to see and experience in the funeral home.  Or when you return to work after only a week, leaving the children to also begin figuring out their own new realities.  You gotta do what you gotta do.  But how on earth do you do it?  You are now a single parent of six children of such varying ages that each one has very different needs than the next.  You have three teens in high school and one still in diapers.  You are so busy trying to take care of everybody and everything that there is no time to be lonely.  Or maybe every effort to take care of everybody and everything is lonely.

Fast forward 24 years.  Practically another lifetime.  The children are all grown and you have over a dozen grandchildren.  You too now have another wife and, while the early years had their share of blended family growing pains, you are all together, happy.    Somehow all these years you found a way to manage all the roles of father, widower, son, new husband, in-law, mediator, teacher, and maybe at times student.

Now imagine that today, your fourth child, who lost their same-sex parent at the cusp of adolescence, has taken a hard look at how it must have been in your shoes, and realizes that you did the best you could back then, and in the years that followed.  And it was the best.  And you know that, even as a grown woman, married with three children, she misses her mother every day, but hopefully those extra-tight, just-that-little-bit-longer embraces you give her every time you see her channel her angel’s love to her and remind her that she was never alone because you were always right by her side.

Probably.