it should have been easy. it was not. after getting her momma reconnected with her stepsisters, she also re-engaged with them in the hopes of learning more about grandma.
she talked with the oldest of momma’s stepsisters, then with the youngest. it was great to visit and talk with them. yes, it was. but it did not provide any of the answers to her questions.
what was grandma like?
what was her personality? what were her hobbies? did she like music? horses? dogs or cats or both? did she bake or cook?
no one could really say. grandma had been ill and in hospital often. she was there more than she was home. her daughters didn’t really know her, either. there were a few photos of her left. she asked for copies to be sent to her but they never came.
was there any family resemblance?
did momma look like grandma? did she look like grandma? hmmm. another idea came to her. would it be possible to see grandma in the cloud of witnesses? could she, would she make herself known? could she share more about her life in a visitation? maybe. it was worth asking daddy god about.
he did have one answer for her. he told her one morning on her commute to work. in a brilliant movie reel playing in her mind, so many things became clear.
“your grandmother was a worshipper. she loved to sing.”
the mystery of this place began when she was small. once the beckoning began, it never really left. indeed, it grew over time as more clues were given to her. it was akin to following bread crumbs. when ‘birds’ got to them (aka distractions) before she did, the trail would grow cold.
the first trip to the enchanted land was to celebrate a wedding. their little family got in the car for a two week long vacation, nearly unheard of for farmers in the midwest. you simply did not leave your cows in someone else’s hands for that long. but here they were, taking a break from milking cows and slopping hogs. the adventure took them across the country to hillsboro, oregon.
the memories were foggy. she was in second grade at the time. momma’s momma had died, and the relatives on this side of the family were dwindling. it quickly became important for momma to meet her momma’s surviving relatives. there were two uncles. this visit would introduce them to uncle dwight, married to aunt joan who had three daughters from her first marriage. her oldest daughter was getting married. it was hard not to get it all confused.
the ride across the country was almost tortuous for her and her brother. neither of them fared so well in the back seat of the chevy malibu. there were a lot of stops to manage car sickness, especially over high mountain passes. daddy was angry and frustrated, often getting sick himself just because the kids were. momma had the baby in the front seat with her and daddy, too.
after endless miles, they got into a big city with bridges everywhere. she vividly remembered the double-decker bridge with police sirens and lights going all around them. it was a lot for farm kids to take in. they got to uncle dwight’s house, stayed a few days and went to a wedding. she didn’t remember much else. the place stayed with her, though.
oregon came back into focus via a long-distance relationship years later. the fascination grew like wild ivy. it seemed father god was using the relationship to draw her. it worked. she made plans to visit her friend and looked into a job transfer at the same time.
she went west for a short visit and was completely enthralled. this place was like narnia in every good way – flora, fauna, climate, mountains, ocean. it was all there. it was alive and it called her name.
as she dreamed of moving and transferring her job, a roadblock appeared in the form of an angry boss who wouldn’t approve the transfer. complications, delays, frustration came again. more time passed.
then that book came out, the one that made everyone crazy. it was called, “the shack.” a friend sent her a copy in the mail. when she got it, she opened it up and began to read. by 2 am, she’d read through it twice and within 24 hours, she’d been through it three times, laughing, crying, sobbing. it wrecked her through and through.
not only was papa god doing things in her heart, he was also calling her home, back to her roots. this time, there was no doubt. she had to go. the relationship had fallen apart almost two years earlier after his sister had died from breast cancer. it had devastated him.
she decided to check in on him, and they picked up right where they left off. they talked on the phone every day, sometimes for hours. it was good until she told him she was coming for a visit. he wasn’t ready, afraid of loving again, but he didn’t know how to say it. he stopped answering her calls. he was on the run.
she bought the one-way ticket anyway, she had marching orders. when he didn’t show up at the train station, it wasn’t a surprise. inconvenient, yes, but not impossible. it was a rocky beginning to a new life, but she kept moving forward even in the uncertainty.
after nine months of scraping by, she got a full-time job. her dialog with papa god shifted to asking more focused questions that began with ‘why’ and ‘what.’ “why am i here? what am i doing?” those were the big ones, the questions that burned in her.
one day, she asked the question again. keep asking, right? this time, she clearly heard the response from papa god. “you’re here in part to complete the assignment given to your grandmother.” what?? she wrinkled her brow. sometimes she wished he would just give the answer clearly, right up front. really.
he enjoyed the process of walking her through these opportunities for delight while she wanted to stomp her feet in frustration. his answer only led to another question. “what does that mean?” she asked herself. no one knew much about momma’s momma, her grandma. this woman’s life was like a mist. there wasn’t much to grab onto.
the digging began again, with more intensity. it meant more conversations with momma. and there was more reconnaissance to do. over the years, momma and her stepsisters got disconnected again. they didn’t know she’d been sick, had part of one leg amputated and was now living in a nursing home.
for the past few years, momma had talked about getting in touch with them but never pursued it. she and momma talked about it again over the phone on a lunch break. it was clear that momma wanted to talk to her stepsisters again, problem was she didn’t have contact information for them anymore. she didn’t, no, but the internet did.
she almost ran back to the office to get on her computer. in twenty minutes, she tracked down an address and phone number for the oldest stepsister in kansas city. she ran off to the conference room and made the call. she knew it was the right number when she recognized the voice on the other end. they talked for a little while to get caught up. she gave the stepsister momma’s number so they could reconnect.
there, that piece was done. now it would be easy to get the answers she needed about the grandma she’d never met met. what were her hobbies? her likes? her dislikes? had she hiked mount hood? did she like to go to the coast? what made her laugh and cry?
the most important question loomed larger than all the others. what was grandma assigned to do in the earth that she did not finish?
the finer details of momma’s life were hard to grasp, often getting further out of reach anytime she asked more questions. it was still so painful for momma to talk about it all. she was just a little girl when grandpa took her to live with his sister and her husband on the farm in the midwest. momma had settled into country life but from what she heard, family relationships were far from healthy or peaceful.
grandpa had married a second time. momma didn’t have good things to say about her. she used the ‘b’ word to describe her, and she said she was mean. when marriage #2 fell apart for him, grandpa divorced and married a third time. this was the woman she knew as step-grandma.
sorting through the memories in her head, she knew momma grew up on the farm with the big white craftsman style house with plenty of cousins and neighbors nearby. she went to a small lutheran grade school and then public high school, both in the nearby town. aunt and uncle must have doted on her. it had to be so. but what else was there?
the letters remained secret for decades, their existence revealed when momma’s three stepsisters came to visit. see unpacking old bags. momma had her own family now, three of her four children born. the girls were there visiting in part because the momma the four of them shared had died. she’d never been able to see her oldest daughter again.
as the four sisters visited and got acquainted over the span of a month, the oldest stepsister finally asked the question. “didn’t you get all those letters momma sent you?” time must have stopped right there. even now, she could feel the shockwaves go through the air as she imagined her momma processing the question.
“what letters? you mean she wrote to me?” oh, god. how father’s heart must have lurched as he watched his daughter learn that her momma had reached out to her, not just once, but many, many times.
letters had been mailed from various locations where momma’s momma, her new husband and her 3 daughters had lived. both women had been having babies at the same time, odd as that seemed.
it wasn’t clear how soon after her daddy had moved her across the country that the letters began to travel through the postal service to the well kept farm. there were more questions than answers. one thing was clear: momma never got the letters her momma wrote and mailed.
this was shock and awe, none of it good. it took forgiveness to a whole new level. the very people momma felt indebted to for taking her in and raising her were the same ones who’d kept her momma’s letters from her. her daddy knew, too. who’d made the decision to keep those letters from her and why?
from a safe distance now many years later, she wondered how could her momma process her emotions and feelings properly when the people she might talk to about it were the same ones who were accountable for the betrayal? all this mess explained a lot. her momma had bitterness, unforgiveness, trauma, betrayal and who knows what else thrown into the mix.
the spirit of religion kept a tight lid on the dysfunction and deception. no one talked about any of it. just keep looking good when you go to church on sunday, and everything will be fine. what a bunch of dung.
and there was her poor momma, sick and broken in her soul from all of it. it broke her so badly that any chance for healthy relationships with her own husband and kids was virtually destroyed. that generation didn’t have the same revelation or tools to get on the other side of this stuff. they had no grid for soul or emotional healing.
fast forward to today. it was still all so much to process. the great aunt and uncle that had raised momma had been grandparents to her. she loved them. uncle had died over twenty years ago, but auntie was still going strong at 101, tooling around the nursing home in her wheelchair with a hearing aid that was seldom turned on.
her own emotions went all over the map. it was easy to see now why there had been so much friction between her momma and grandpa. there was guilt. it explained why grandpa’s death had been so troubling.
momma, i am so sorry. i tell you this in all truth: daddy god loves you, and jesus has been with you in all of the pain and trauma.
your story is not over yet. it’s going to end well.
she was just a young girl when the other three girls showed up for a month-long visit. they were close to her own age. her mother called them her stepsisters. this was new information. what was a stepsister and why did her mother have three of them? and who was this other ‘momma’ the four of them referred to? was that her other grandmother?
the girls’ arrival opened up the past, like old luggage surfacing at will after having been buried on purpose decades earlier. as the bags were opened and unpacked, the walls of the old brick farmhouse became privy to long held secrets. nothing would ever be the same. tensions flew between elder relatives. conversations were held in hushed angry tones while pointy fingers accused and placed blame. her mother and stepsisters were caught in the crossfire.
years had passed since that fateful visit. she hardly remembered any of it now, save for the trauma of her infant brother rolling off of the bed onto the floor. she’d spent the better of part of the past thirty years (the last five in earnest) trying to piece together the events of her mother’s life. she hoped to better understand why their relationship played out like it had. sometimes it helped to have understanding of the timeline of physical events to see the spiritual cause and effect – and vice versa.
clarity made it easier to forgive, to discard unreasonable expectations. the two went hand in hand, both were necessary for emotional, mental and physical healing to occur.
it was time for another epsom salt bath, seeking more revelation. that was generally how it worked. the combination of the salt and soaking music opened up her vision like nothing else. holy spirit showed her stuff.
this bath led to a new ‘seeing’ of her mother. an old familiar black and white photo came to focus in her mind’s eye. she saw herself as an adorable toddler holding on to the edge of her pretty dress standing by what might have been her grandfather’s fancy car. in a moment, the little girl in the photo took on the face of her mother at that age.
this image of her mother was not easy to see. she was a little girl, vulnerable, born into a family of broken adults. she knew what happened to momma at that tender age. it was as though she’d been thrust into the part herself. she had asked to see what happened and here it was.
there were issues. momma’s own daddy was broken and drank a lot. momma’s momma was young and her momma said she was too young to be tied down with a baby and a husband. this piece puzzled her greatly. what was going on between this mother and daughter and why would a grandmother reject her little granddaughter? how far back did this root of rejection go?
her memory went back to a phone conversation she had with her momma on a lunch break walk. momma recalled their house in portland, sitting in the breakfast nook eating with a view of mount hood out the window. she knew if momma remembered mount hood, she remembered other events, even if she didn’t speak of them.
back in the past, divorce proceedings took place in court. after that, her momma’s daddy took his little girl away from her momma across the country. she would never see her momma again. her heart was broken.
this explained in part why she had been unable to love. she’d been torn from her own mother when she was just a baby. that trauma alone kept her stuck emotionally. she’d had no tools to heal, no one to share her grief with. she got stuck there.
and then there were the letters. that is another story.
options were limited and none of them were good. she could run away, but to where and to whom? and who would believe the stories about what really went on at home? did anyone really see her? she felt like the invisible child, even as the oldest.
she heard a voice say, “no one would believe you anyway.” at the age of fifteen, she wasn’t certain who that voice belonged to, but it might be right.
on the outside, their family looked pretty much the same as the other farm families in the area. she never stayed at friends’ homes long enough to know what was real and what was show. one of the neighbor kids had a mini bike that he used to taunt their dog. clearly, there were problems there.
no one heard what happened inside the four walls of the house, or in the barn, or the fields. maybe other farm families were all messed up, too.
she only knew she wanted out. there was no safe place, no haven, no peace. maybe she could go to new york, become a model. anything was better than here. she moved out of the house the summer after graduation. it was too painful and chaotic to stay at home.
a couple years went by, along with a couple of moves and job changes. those were manageable even in her own instability. but then the call came. her mother was hysterical, not making much sense. then her dad got on the phone. something about him having an affair, them getting a divorce. it all blurred together, all the years of fighting, the strife, the fear, the abuse. all of it came spilling out. and it was too much.
now she simply wanted to disassociate and distance herself from all that identified her to the family. it was so broken, such a mess. it felt shameful. their family name was dishonored.
for months, she thought of different name combinations that would work, thinking she would legally change her name. she never did. but she no longer identified with that family name. it was just too painful.
the pain got worse before it got better. years went by. people died. perspectives changed. and the big move happened. it was the hardest and it was the best. healing came, layer by layer. the more she cooperated with father god, the faster it went.
distance helped. she could be who she was now. no one was looking over her shoulder, and she no longer needed permission to fly out of the cage and be free.
her mother’s health waned, so there was the occasional trip home. the mommy wounds were deep. forgiveness didn’t come so easily; it was a choice of her will, and nothing else. she certainly didn’t feel it. so she just kept choosing it.
the daddy wounds were different. abandonment, neglect, abuse and blah, blah, blah. the list could go on and on if she let it. family members were getting old. people were dying.
and there was the truth that couldn’t be denied: father god had placed her with her parents. he knew what she could and would overcome. and he said he would cause it all to work for her good.
she and the big daddy talked about the earthly dad quite a lot. “i get that he’s never going be the father i would like him to be in this life. you get to do that for me. i’m good with it now. but, i would just really like it if he would take an interest in who i am and what I’m about. for a minute.” daddy god didn’t say anything. she knew he heard, so she went on with what she was doing.
then, on a friday night, she missed a call from her dad while she was swimming. concern rose quickly. the only time he ever called was on her birthday. did someone die? was the family okay?
she called him back only to get a message saying his voicemail wasn’t set up. well, of course it wasn’t. she shook her head and tried one brother. he didn’t answer. she left a message.
mom didn’t answer. her voicemail wasn’t set up either. what was the matter with these people and their technology? she called her sister, got her voicemail, left her a message.
next she tried her son. he answered, but hadn’t heard anything. “hey mom, i’m always the last to know. they don’t even invite me to christmas until the same day.” they laughed. she promised to let him know if she heard anything.
she called the other brother. he answered. “i haven’t heard anything, so everyone must be fine.” sigh of relief. if he didn’t know, yes, everyone was okay. and the sister texted back. she hadn’t heard anything contrary, either.
this was puzzling. dad calls on a day not her birthday, doesn’t leave a message and no one is dead. something was at work. she could feel it.
the next morning, her father called her back, “hey, ******, i saw you called last night.”
“yes, i called because i saw you called me. you only ever call on my birthday, so i thought someone died. i was frantically calling my siblings, mother and son to be sure everyone was good!” he laughed, she laughed.
then he asked her the question she wanted to hear. “so, what are you up to, what are you doing? bam. there they were, the open-ended questions that gave her permission to share pieces of her life with the man she knew as her earthly father.
she answered him with confidence and gusto, pleasure and delight. as she shared the details of her life, she heard how full it was, how rich she was in experience, deep friendships, location and above all, fulfillment in her relationship with father god. he was the one who made it all work.
her dad’s initial call? it was a pocket dial. but not really. it was really a set up to answer her prayer and she knew it.
when they were ready to end the call, for the first time ever, she blessed him with words he had never heard before, “i bless you and i love you, dad.” “i love you, too,” came his response. she encouraged him. “stay in touch. you can call on more than one day of the year.” she knew she’d have to be the one to call, and that was okay.
she had released him from expectations he could never meet. father god would be what she needed when others simply could not. and it was all right.
in her heart, the family name became honorable once again. she took back her maiden name, and it was good.