Forgiving before you've faced why forgiveness is needed is like sewing up a wound and leaving the bullet inside. Forgiveness can't happen until we have gone back to the dark place and experienced the feelings that have been unacknowledged since childhood, named them for what they are, and then separated from them. Taking this journey back in time requires courage. When possible, it helps to have the guidance of a gifted and empathetic professional. ~ Jane Fonda
I am only 39 pages into it so far, but I'm really enjoying this book.
This past week has been a tidal wave of sorts. Not the way you might imagine, necessarily. But lots of thoughts and emotions, interactions with people I haven't interacted with in quite some time, healing moments mixed with sad reflections; all enveloped in steady waves of thankfulness. I am eager for the reflections to stop. However, the magnitude of my thankfulness is in large part due to the memories of another life.
For the last nine years, I've had the only recurring nightmare I've ever been plagued with. I've dreamed over and over that I was trying to get away from someone and couldn't. The magnitude of heaviness in those dreams is overwhelming. The dreams were merely reenactments of scenes that used to be my life (no worse than what I actually lived all those years). But it always felt so much worse because I had now experienced a life so polar opposite of what used to be my ordinary life. So, when I would wake up and realize it was just a dream, the emotion would be very intense. This will sound dramatic, but the only way I can describe my relief was that it seemed to me how a person would feel to walk into the sunshine and know they were free after being in prison. I know. It really sounds over the top. But I'm writing it anyway because it's the truth.
As recently as a month ago, I had two or three of these dreams within a few nights. In the dreams, I'm being belittled and objectified; I feel trapped and afraid. I am always intrigued by the intensity of my despair in the dreams, since my dreams are not of the worst moments I lived through; rather, the more ordinary forms of contempt that I just accepted. In my dreams, those ordinary moments are sheer anguish. But while I lived them, I just pushed through them and constantly tried to rise above them. Some of my friends have told me I was in denial. I just thought I was doing the right thing. My dad used to tell me that some people spent their whole lives trading one set of problems for another set of problems and if they would just accept the problems they had and work on them instead of running away, they would have a better chance at being happy. So I thought I was trying to accept the problems I had.
It took me a long time to figure out (with the help of a counselor) that instead of being very noble and strong, I was really an enabler who was constantly engaged in self-preservation. I was unintentionally doing the wrong things, and I really thought I was doing them for the right reasons until counseling exposed that I was doing everything -- at all times -- simply to protect myself from unwanted consequences. I wasn't helping the other person. And by constantly pursuing someone who was abusive, I was literally feeding the monster and enabling -- in the words of my counselor -- "ungodly behavior." He made me see that if I really loved this person, I would tell him the truth about his behavior, not tolerate it. I would risk rejection by confronting the unacceptable behavior for the sake of that person's condition and relationships with others. I began to think in ways I had never considered. And I began to make efforts to change my unhealthy responses.
That period of time is now "long ago and far, far away" for me. But I recently had to watch someone else make the difficult decision to detach and refuse to enable. And, as a result, I relived a lot of my own experiences with the rejection and objectification. But I knew I wasn't bitter because even in the midst of the disappointment and even occasional anger I felt, I could always feel some level of compassion for the person who was inflicting harm. And in light of these recent events, compassion is 95% of what I feel. It kind of amazes me, to be honest. But I believe God has done that for me.
There is a cost incurred in loving someone enough to be honest with them. It's far easier to placate people and make patronizing excuses for consciously backing away from them when they become difficult or draining. But when we do that, we are hurting their opportunities for growth and our collective opportunities for more meaningful relationship. When I ask John a question about myself, he always tells me the truth as he sees it. Even when he knows it's not the response I'm looking for. It's never mean-spirited. It's just honest. I love that about him. I don't want to be lied to. Even if it might make me feel good in the moment, it doesn't show me any respect.
One of the things John has said to me many times in our eight years together is, "I know you think you're doing the right thing and trying to be humble, but sometimes your attempts at reconciliation deteriorate into groveling. That upsets me because you invite people to walk on you. You need to have more self-respect." One time when he said that to me, I knew he wanted to see reconciliation as much as I did. But he said, "You are wanting this too much. If you have to grovel to have this relationship, it isn't worth having."
Although I haven't exactly felt wonderful about myself in the moments when he's told me that, I have appreciated his honesty because I know he always has my best interest at heart. He is trying to help me outgrow the need to be loved by everyone. And I think I've made a lot of progress in the last eight years. But I still have to consciously resist my impulses at times. Groveling used to be a way of life for me and it was expected of me. So, of course, it can be a default setting for me when I really don't want friction or confrontation.
I do sometimes feel angry at myself for the abuses I have willingly subjected myself to and participated in through enabling (or groveling). I feel embarrassed that I didn't have more self-respect at those times. But being angry or embarrassed gets me nowhere. The answer is to learn from past mistakes and grow in God's grace on a daily basis. And I know I have.
I may sometimes feel embarrassed, but I'm thankful I do not feel bitter about my past.
I like this quote from a book I just finished.
"For the one who would be neither victim nor victimizer but experience true freedom, there is no place for bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. To succomb to these impulses because of life's injustices is, unhappily, to perpetuate the hold these injustices have on the victim and turn victimhood into a full-time occupation." (William Dembski)
My mother-in-law had her regular check-up today. Her nodes and blood counts all look good. Her only issue currently is that she is anemic. So Dr. Flinn ordered an iron study. But the anemia is not severe and there is certainly no crisis.
Marian has now completed the 12th 28-day cycle of her clinical trial and joins John in the extended phase study of CAL-101. It's hard to believe it has been almost one year since she began treatment already.
Both my "patients" are doing very well on CAL-101 and I am so thankful to be able to report such good news! I realize this is a very short update from me, but things are uneventful -- in a good way! -- and there just isn't much more to say!
I wrote my last blog post Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon I got a phone call from my son, telling me he had just gotten the news that his dad had died suddenly. I had mixed feelings about the post I had just written in light of that event and who might be checking my blog in the next few days. But I left it the way it was.
My blog is a public journal. I share from my heart. And I've thought about what would be appropriate or inappropriate to share in this moment. It felt strange to say nothing. But I wondered if maybe nothing was the most appropriate under these circumstances. And then I read the comment left by an old friend on my last post and the words came to me. So, this post is simply being published to direct you to the comment section under Sunday's entry.
Rest in peace, Dennis. The pain of being in your life was great. But out of that pain came many blessings. I hold nothing in my heart against you to this day. I always cared. I always felt compassion. I always wanted the best for you, whether you knew it or not.
I don't write about spiritual abuse nearly as often as I once did. I think that's a positive sign indicating the status of my own spiritual and emotional healing. It's not a subject I give a tremendous amount of thought to; nor do I spend nearly the amount of time reflecting on my past or obsessing about how people from my past feel about me these days. There was a time (not that long ago, in fact) when I wondered if I would ever be able to put it all behind me and live fully in the present. But it has happened. Today, I have little more than a passing interest in the current "goings-on" of the group I came out of. And although there are people from my past whom I will always love, I don't need them to love, approve of, or understand me anymore.
That is a level of freedom I could only dream of a few years ago.
I share this for the benefit of anyone reading my blog (or my book) as a result of an online search on the topic of spiritual abuse recovery. I am living proof that you CAN heal and not be stuck endlessly in the hurt, disillusionment, anger and bitterness. It takes time. And it takes help. You need support and encouragement from others you can relate to. But you do not have to feel damaged forever. And since I am a person who has not only survived this experience, but has thrived spiritually and emotionally since leaving it all behind, I always want to be a source of encouragement to others whose wounds are fresher than mine. That is why I wanted to share the above link.
God is doing new things in my life at this very moment. Things I never dreamed of Him doing. I don't know what all is next in my life's journey. But I believe the last eight years have prepared me for whatever God has planned. I'm not a very adventurous person. And I don't like change. But I have learned from experience that while getting outside my comfort zone is only temporarily uncomfortable, it always facilitates and promotes growth.
Even though I'm a long way down the road in my own healing from spiritual and emotional abuse, I still related to the above article regarding the trauma inflicted by those who damage us spiritually and emotionally on such deep and vulnerable levels. I was a victim of emotional, verbal and sporadic physical abuse in the past -- as well as the spiritual abuse I detailed in my book. I didn't scratch the surface of the other abuses that left their marks on me as a woman. And I never will write in depth about any of that. But I am someone who strongly relates to abused people and no matter how complete my healing becomes, I always will.
I frequently am asked for my suggestions on where to eat in various places, since I am well known as a "foodie" by all my friends and relatives! I have been writing for a PCB website and thought I would share a link to my growing list of reviews for anyone who may be interested...
For Panama City Beach Dining options:
Shari's Restaurant Reviews (click on "Continue Reading" to go from the summary page to the full article).
You will also find articles in a variety of categories located in the drop-down menu under PCB Guide at www.visitpcb.com.
However, my favorite articles will always be the food reviews!
John had his routine eight-week doctor visit and labwork today. He continues to do great on CAL-101. He was required to have scans every 16 weeks for the first 12 cycles (clinical trial protocol). But ever since he's been in the extended phase of the trial, he has only had to have scans every 32 weeks. I hate it that he has to have so much exposure to radiation. But we are thankful he is in this clinical trial and will gratefully comply with the requirements. CAL-101 has been a miracle drug for John thus far.
He does still have moderate fatigue in the late afternoon and evening. But he feels good in the morning, is an early riser, and still has no trouble working a nine hour day. (Believe it or not, he has eased up as far as his hours. He used to work eleven to twelve hour days.) He goes in early (leaves the house at 6:00), but is always home by 5:00 now and sometimes earlier. He works part of the day on Saturday (used to work a full Saturday) and has gotten really good about taking off regularly to get away for a few days to relax.
One of the positives to come from John's CLL diagnosis that I am most thankful for is that he is finally taking better care of his health and getting more rest. I have always accepted that he is a very driven businessman with the work ethic of a bygone era. I could complain (and at times I have whined a little), but he is equally consciencious at home. It is a rarity for him to let me wash a dish after a meal. He never asks me to do something he could do for me. And I never have to make a "honey-do" list -- because he even notices what needs to be done before I do. I recognize that all these things I so appreciate about him are aspects of the same "worker bee" personality. So I've tried my best not to harp on him about working too much. But I'm really happy he is seeing the importance of not pushing himself quite as hard as he always has in the past. I believe it could extend his life -- and definitely his quality of life. (Not to mention the quality of MY life!)
John started CAL-101 on May 27, 2010. For CLL patients who have not previously followed this blog, his lymph nodes (which were very large) began shrinking immediately. He has had no side effects or infections. And he continues to have no disease progression. Everything is stable. Blood counts are normal. Nodes are undetectable. He looks great and is running on the treadmill again three times a week.
During our visit today, Dr. Flinn told us that he has more lymphoma patients on CAL-101 than CLL patients. Not all CLL patients have done as well as John. Some have had disease progression and/or side effects. But John has had optimal results at the lowest dose given. We are so thankful.
So often my thoughts go back to those first few weeks and months after John's diagnosis, when I was on such an emotional rollercoaster. In those months, John did not want to tell anyone about his leukemia. He is so private (and I am so NOT private). He didn't want to have to talk about it. He didn't want attention focused on himself. He just wanted to be treated no differently than before the diagnosis. He took it in stride so much better than I did. All I could do was throw myself into doing research and trying to make sure he made informed treatment decisions when the time came. It was a very hard time for me emotionally. And all I could think about most days was the threat of losing my husband. Anybody who knows me knows how much I adore him. He is so good to me and such a good man. When I would think of possibly losing him even twenty years from diagnosis, it just about killed me inside. (I'll never forget the day I looked at him with tears in my eyes and he said, "I'm not dead yet" and made me laugh. He always makes me laugh.)
I told John today, "If I had only known at diagnosis how well you would be doing right now..." And then I said, "Good thing I'm so stoic and hid my emotions so well." And we both had a good laugh.
Whenever I think about those early weeks and months, I always remember the day I was watering my flowers, crying, and begging God to let John have all "good markers." I had read so much and knew there was a very indolent form of CLL and a more aggressive form, and then patients who feel somewhere in the middle of those. I knew the prognostics would put him in one of those categories. And I was so scared he would fall into the aggressive category. But as I prayed that day and cried out to God, He spoke to me. His voice was not audible. But I can tell you absolutely that the thoughts He impressed on me were not my thoughts.
I mentally heard these words: I don't want you to put your faith in the markers. I want you to put your faith and hope in Me and in My promise that I am working all things for your good. Even this.
And then a little later, this: The day may come when I take John. But you haven't lost him yet. He is not only very much alive, he is healthy. There may come a time to grieve. But that time isn't now. Don't give up today grieving an uncertain tomorrow. Everyone's tomorrows are uncertain ... diagnosis or no diagnosis.
I can't tell you all my tears dried up that day or that I never had any more anxiety. I still struggled to come to terms with this diagnosis and our uncertain future. But from that day forward, I had peace. When I struggled, I reminded myself of those words. I made up my mind not to give up the joy of today for the fear of tomorrow. And I have reminded myself SO many times that God did not have to give me John at all. But He did. And I determined in my heart to make the most of every day He gives us.
Right now it's so much easier because things feel "under control."
But they always were under control ... God's control.
I think my fear (maybe yours, too) is always that God's plan won't line up with my plan. But the only solution to that fear is trusting in Him and in His promise that He is working all things for our good. Even the things we don't understand. And especially the things we cannot control.
By the way, John's prognostic markers did not turn out to be all good. The first three (out of four) were the best he could have (13q deletion, CD neg., Zap 70 neg.). We had to wait longer on the mutation status results. But the CLL specialist at Mayo (Dr. Clive Zent) told us he would be very surprised if the result did not come back mutated - which is the better prognosis - because of the other markers all being good.
I remember breathing such a huge sigh of relief at that point. And then we got the phone call weeks later that John was unmutated. This doesn't mean anything to you if you are not a member of the CLL community. But being unmutated means you are more likely to progress faster, need treatment sooner, and not respond as well to treatment. It was disappointing, to say the least. Dr. Zent was surprised. I was surprised. But I reminded myself of the words I'd heard the day I prayed for all good markers. God knew John's markers before we did. He was not surprised.
God knows every aspect of the rest of our journey. I don't have the promise that I will never lose John any more than anyone reading this blog has a guarantee of tomorrow with their loved ones. On the flip side, I could be gone tomorrow and John could be here for another 25 years. But even if we live to be 90, this life is short. We will all "go" one day. And every day is a gift.
I am more fully appreciating the gift of today than I have at any other time in my life. I told John the other night that I am in touch with my mortality. He laughed and said, "No, you have a firm grasp on your mortality." (He thinks I'm a bit morbid because I think about it - and talk about it - regularly.)
But the up side of that is, I don't take one of my days or one of my blessings for granted. And I am thankful. I'm thankful I have realistic hope that John will be here for a very long time. But I'm even more thankful that our hope extends beyond this life.
I shared the above link because reading that story online this morning inspired the thoughts I want to share in this blog post. It is a really cool story with more than one great message, and it is well worth taking the time to read.
I am going to share something personal from my past. But in no way am I sharing the experience to make you feel sympathy for me or to cast a shadow over anyone else. I see God at work in the experience from the vantage point of today. And that is why I want to write about it. At this stage of my life, there is absolutely no bitterness. It's just a part of my journey.
I now see this as just one example of how God takes something painful and uses it for our ultimate good.
My mother died when I was 28 years old. I have two younger brothers. And at the time of my mother's death, I had one sister-in-law. Three years following my mother's passing, I gained a second sister-in-law.
In the last weeks of my mom's life, she wanted to have a very personal and private conversation with me about what she had chosen to leave me. She told me that my dad would have control over all her jewelry because of the monetary value. My assumption at the time was that she thought he might sell some of her diamonds to recover the financial investment. (She had several large diamonds in rings and in a necklace). But she told me she wanted me to have the item that was the biggest surprise and the most precious to her of all the gifts my dad had ever given her; her white beaver fur coat. And then she proceeded to tell me how to care for it and store it. It was a hard conversation because I didn't want to talk about things and I didn't want to acknowledge that she was going to die. But, at the same time, hearing her tell me how she felt about this coat and that she chose it for me herself was very meaningful. As a daughter who felt she could never quite be what her mother would have chosen in a daughter, this bequest made me feel extremely valued by and special to my mother.
Quite honestly, I have never cared for fur coats. So the value of the fur was zero to me. I rarely ever wore the coat. It was almost too special to wear. (Something I strongly related to in the above story.) The value of the coat was 100% in the sentiment and love it represented. And ultimately it began to disintegrate no matter how carefully I tried to preserve it. But with or without the actual coat, the memory of my mother's words and wishes that day will always be a part of me. The fact that she needed to have a conversation with me in which she conveyed how special and valued I was to her as her daughter meant more to me than any gift of any monetary value she could have given me. I treasured the fur coat because she treasured it and because I finally realized that she treasured me. I am now a 52-year-old woman (three years older than my mom was when she died) and remembering that conversation still brings tears to my eyes.
My dad didn't do anything with my mother's jewelry for a while. And then one day he gave me my mother's watch. He said he had chosen that particular item for me. Again, the watch was not at all my taste. It had little diamond chips sticking up in every loop of the white gold band; chips that pulled snags in all of my clothes if I tried to wear it. And I had hoped he would choose to give me one of my mother's rings. No particular ring, just one of them. She had many. But I would not ask because I never wanted anyone in my family to be able to accuse me of caring about "things." The only item I had ever specifically asked for was my mother's recipe box -- because it had handwritten recipes and my mother's handwriting was -- and still is -- valuable to me.
Shortly after I was given the watch, my dad gave beautiful diamond dinner rings to each of my sisters-in-law. And I was deeply crushed. Not because of the value of the diamond rings being so much greater than the tiny diamonds in my watch. But because that action conveyed to me that I was the least special to him as his actual daughter. I felt humiliated as well as wounded. I felt insignificant. I felt devalued. I never wore the watch again after that. It became a symbol of my lesser value to me and it stayed in a drawer for years until I had the idea to remove the band, add posts, and wear the two sides of the band as drop earrings. I still don't wear them often. But the "stigma" I once felt over the one gift my dad chose for me personally seemed to go away after I changed them into something I could actually enjoy wearing.
As a side note: I was once married to a man who told me emphatically that no matter how much money he ever had, he would never "waste it" on a big diamond for me. A little more "devaluation" added by another significant male.
Fast forward to 2003.
After a bitter and painful divorce, I met John and fell in love. Just as I had never asked for a big diamond in the past, I did not ask John for a big diamond. When he would take me into jewelry stores and ask me to show him what kind of rings I liked, I was shy about pointing to anything large. It was all about him, not what he could give me. I didn't want him to think I was interested in "things." Little did I know that he had already chosen a ring for me (a surprise) and was trying to make sure I would like the cut and setting. AS IF any woman would not have been absolutely thrilled with a 3.86 carat marquis diamond. (Are you kidding me???)
I've gotten used to wearing an ice skating rink on my left hand, but in the first few months of wearing that engagement ring, I could not look at it without tears. Not because I had ever longed for such a large diamond. I really had not. It was never about the diamond or the monetary value. I'm truly not a "things" person. I am a relationship person. I just wanted to be loved and valued. It's all I've ever really longed for. And every time I gazed at my diamond, I was in awe that any man would love and value me enough to WANT to give me a ring like that (even if he could afford to). And, to me, my ring screamed that someone really, truly loved and adored me.
In reality, a large diamond doesn't always represent love and value. In the case of a Kobe Bryant, a big diamond can be a symbol of betrayal and forgiveness (or tolerance). But because of the wounds inflicted on me through jewelry "statements" (both spoken and unspoken), John conveyed such worth to me through the choosing of that ring. He had no idea. But God knew every detail of my life and every wound I had ever suffered.
I believe with all my heart that God chose John for me. And I am humbled to this day, eight years later, that God would be so good to me. Any time someone tells me I deserve John, I am quick to correct them. No way. I could never deserve him. He is a blessing. If I took credit and allowed myself to believe I deserved my blessings, then I would have to view anyone who lacks my blessings as being less deserving than I am. And I know that isn't true.
I got over the injury of the way my dad chose to distribute my mom's jewelry a long time ago. I got over it because I wanted to get over it. I didn't want to be defined by it. I didn't want to make it a focal point of my life. And I truly wanted to forgive from my heart. One of the ways I overcame my emotions was to acknowledge to myself and to God that obviously He did not see fit for me to have those items for some reason. And I chose to believe that in His wisdom, He was teaching me something far more valuable than diamonds. I chose to cherish my mother's recipe cards as more meaningful than a piece of expensive jewelry. But for many years, there was still pain associated with the memory. Until God brought John into my life. And only after God had taught me not to over-value something like a diamond, He (through John) put a stunning diamond -- the likes of which I had never even seen -- on my finger. And I remember saying to God, "In all those times I felt less valued because I wore a cubic zirconia or because my dad chose daughters-in-law over me, You knew I was going to one day have not only a spectacular diamond, but something of much greater value ... a spectacular husband who loves and cherishes me. You knew this was going to be a part of my journey, too. And You knew there would be deeper meaning and joy because of my wounds."
I think this was when I started to comprehend that God does care about the details of my life. He is IN the details. But that means that He was also in the painful details and the things I could not understand while I was in the middle of hard times. It's easy to give Him credit for the blessings of today. I think sometimes we want to remove Him from our pain as if He lacks the power to intervene. But the truth is, if He is sovereign (and He is), He is sovereign over all.
Today I am actually very happy that I was given my mom's watch. All feelings of devaluation attached to it are gone (as far as I can consciously discern). No females have descended from me. I have a son and three grandsons. But I have four nieces who are very special to me. And none of them got to know their Grandma Jane. They were all born after she died.
Each of my earrings has five little teardrops with a small diamond in each. And one day it occurred to me what a special privilege I have to share a little bit of Grandma Jane with each of my nieces. A ring could not be divided among each of them this way. But I have decided that I am going to take each strand apart and make a one teardrop set of earrings for each of my nieces (keeping one teardrop for myself). And I will give them their special Grandma Jane earrings on a specific special occasion (as yet to be determined by me). I'm having a hard time deciding if this occasion should be their 18th birthday, their high school graduation, their wedding day, or what. I want it to be the same for all of them. And because I'm excited about doing this, I will probably choose the closest occasion (since my oldest niece will graduate after her 18th birthday). I hope this gift will convey how special they each are to me and be a lasting reminder of how special they would have been to their Grandma Jane.
I think my idea would please my mom. And that makes it an even greater honor for me.
God knew how much it would mean to me to do something like this for my nieces. He made a greater gift possible through what I once viewed as the lesser gift. That is so like Him. He turns everything upside down. Strength in weakness. Beauty from ashes.
My worth can't come from my dad or my brothers or my son or even John. It certainly cannot come through possessions -- even treasured possessions. I comprehend my value to God through the sacrifice of His Son. But I'm thankful He has turned enough things upside down in my life to show me His sovereignty and His love in tangible experiences that strengthen my faith and my ability to trust Him.
If you've been checking my blog, you have been seeing no activity recently. That's because I have had my youngest grandson for a week while the rest of his family went to the beach. He was picked up and taken home today. It was a memorable week and I'm not surprised I'm tired. I just didn't expect to wind up with an injury.
He looks so innocent and harmless, doesn't he?
I posted lots of pictures on Facebook (so his mommy could see how he was getting along). But I never did get around to blogging. And tonight it is a bit of a challenge to sit at the computer. You see, Pax and I had a moment yesterday morning when I was trying to take something out of his hand that he very much wanted to keep in his hand. And in the tussle of picking him up and putting him on my lap, a little finger somehow collided (unintentionally) with my right eye ... resulting in a scratched cornea. (Yes, ouch!)
After the initial pain subsided, my eye just felt irritated for the rest of the day. I thought it was no big deal and would just heal on its own. But last night it became painful. And right now it hurts a little more than it did earlier in the day. I guess blinking all day long aggravates it. However, it wasn't the pain that motivated the doctor visit. When my vision was still blurred today, I realized that I definitely needed to see the doctor. And I'm glad I went. He gave me a prescription for antibiotic eye drops and said the scratch is small enough that it should heal quickly without having to wear a patch (thank goodness). I should have gone in yesterday, but I really thought it would be better on its own today. The inner part of my eye is so sore, I thought the scratch might have been to the white part. But ... I was wrong!
Right now I can tell that I don't need to be looking at a computer screen any longer. So I'm going to do the smart thing and let my eye rest a bit. In fact, I'm going to let all of me rest a bit!
I thought I would share just a tiny fraction of my favorite memories from Danny & Rebecca's special day, August 3, 2002...
Which, by the way, was also one of THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF MY LIFE!
Nine years ago, I gained a beautiful daughter. And in the last nine years, three adorable grandsons have been added to our family. I am a very blessed mom.
I am not a typical woman in a variety of ways. No need to share all of them. Some are funny. Some are embarrassing. Some are possibly very positive (no offense intended to those of you who are more typical). But when it comes to my son, I have never felt the slightest desire to control him, live through him, or be his number one priority. (I think it's no secret that some mothers do inherently have these issues with daughters and sons, but particularly with sons.)
I always looked forward to Danny growing up, having a wife and a family of his own. Yes, leaving the nest. Not because I wanted the freedom from responsibility for him, but because that is the natural cycle of life and I looked forward to seeing him grow into a man, husband and father. I also looked forward to having a daughter-in-law and grandchildren. To me, it was ALL good! Everything to gain, nothing to lose. When friends say, "Don't you wish they could stay little?" My answer has always been, "No. Not at all." I enjoy having an adult relationship with my grown son. And I love being a grandma. There are great things about getting older. (They outweigh the ones that are not so great.)
Some of the best adivce I think I EVER gave Danny was when he began dating in high school. I remember telling him that whenever he dated someone who might possibly become a serious girlfriend or his future wife, to PLEASE not go overboard telling her how close we were or what a good cook I was or anything that sounded like she had anything to live up to (aka: compete with). I never wanted her to view me as a rival and stressed to him that he could unintentionally sabotage a potentially good relationship by getting us off to the wrong start. I remember saying, "Don't give her any reasons to resent me right off the bat."
I told him that when he met the right woman, she should ALWAYS come before me. I never wanted him to feel any conflicted loyalty issues. I never wanted my feelings to be between them. She should know from Day One that she did not have to please me or have my approval. And I told Danny that even if he married someone who didn't particularly like me, my gift to him would be unconditional love and acceptance. I told him I would do the work of having the best possible relationship with her because I never wanted my role in their lives to be demanding or stressful. I truly desire to enhance their lives and not have a lot of expectations. This may sound like an unrealistic goal to some, but it genuinely has been my goal as a mom/mother-in-law. I remember vowing to myself that even if I did not like the person he chose, I would do my best to make certain she never felt that from me.
Reflecting on those aspirations today makes me laugh because I have the best daughter-in-law in the world. She is easy to love. It hasn't been hard work to get along with her. She has never treated me like her rival. She has always loved that Danny and I are close. She makes me feel so valued as a grandma to her boys. And I consider my daughter-in-law my very dear friend.
Another memory that always makes me chuckle is of a repeated conversation I used to have with friends who reminded me frequently that I only had a son and sons just naturally gravitate to their wives' families and what if Danny married a girl who hated me...??? They weren't trying to worry me. I think they thought they were being realistic and preparing me for the inevitable. But I would always just laugh and say, "That's not going to happen. But even if it does, I will do the work of loving her so well that ultimately she will just have to love me." And I really did believe that. I never feared losing Danny to a wife. I just knew I wasn't going to compete for him that way. The most important thing to me was that Danny have a good and healthy marriage; not that my needs were met as a mother. And it has all worked out so beautifully. I'm not taking credit for that. I'm very, very blessed. I could have had the same attitude and a different outcome. But I do think I had my priorities in the right order.
Am I a perfect mom or mother-in-law? Far from it. I'm emotional. I have sensitivities.
I remember the day the kids were here and I was going into my over-explaining mode (because I thought Rebecca thought I was giving the boys something that wasn't good for them). The reality was that she wasn't scrutinizing me at all, but I have this overdrive need to please and make sure everyone knows my good intentions. She said, "Relax, Grandma Shari." And every nerve ending in my body stood on end. In that moment I had to decide whether I would just silently rise above my emotional trigger or whether I should open up and explain the origin of my trigger. You all can guess without me telling you ... I chose the latter.
We wound up laughing about it. But when I began, "I need to tell you something..." I remember the look in her eyes. I explained that the words, "Calm down" and "Relax" had -- in the past -- been used in a very belittling and condescending way to antagonize me. To this day, when someone says those words to me (even in fun), I have an internal physical reaction. And I have occasionally felt provoked enough to respond, "Don't tell me to calm down." (Leaving the other person wondering why I got so upset.) John understands how much I dislike those words, and why, and he rarely ever says them accidentally. The only times he has said them were when he was trying to tease me and even though I take teasing extremely well, I never respond with laughter to those words. (Danny said he knew exactly how the words were going to affect me the minute they were said. He said his stomach tightened at the same time mine did.)
That is just one of my little quirks. I have many. I am so far from the perfect anything. But my daughter-in-law makes me feel like a great mother-in-law. I could even tell her how much those words bothered me and she cared enough about my feelings to understand and laugh with me ... and not say them to me again. LOL. I trusted her enough to tell her. If she was the kind of person who would have used my sensitivity as a weapon at a future vulnerable moment, we would have a completely different relationship. But I know she genuinely cares about me and my feelings. Believe me, I know how blessed I am.
Oh, how the time flies when I start writing on my blog about memories and people I love. I have to get off this computer and get ready for a lunch date. But I just wanted my kids to know how thankful I am for the last nine years, and for the blessing their little family unit is to Grandma Shari and Poppy John.