Covered in Shame

During a recent call with one of my spiritual big sisters, we talked about generational curses and other negative things that were passed to us even before birth.  She shared with me some things that she felt the Holy Spirit revealed to her about her spiritual lineage and it caused me to think about my own.  There are some obvious patterns that even the average person can see, but what would I find if I dug a little deeper?  I wanted to know what the atmosphere was like while my mother was carrying me.  I wanted to know if she felt bonded with me, or if she was ambivalent.  I wanted to know more about her during that time as much as I wanted to know about myself.

A couple of weeks later I took my aunt, my mother’s older sister, to lunch.  As I was driving her home I asked, “How was my mom when she was pregnant with me? How did she act?  Did she seem happy?” Before giving me any information about my mother, she immediately, without hesitation, said “Mama made her cover up her stomach with a towel when she sat down at the [dinner] table.  She didn’t want anyone to know your mama was pregnant. She tried to hide it.”  The “anyone” my aunt was referring to was my mom’s five other siblings.  Later that same day, speaking to another aunt that is married into the family and mentioning this story to her, she told me that her husband, my uncle has said on occasions of discussing our family “I was the only one at school with a pregnant fifteen year old sister.”

The revelation that I got from these two simple stories was profound.  As an adult who has made my fair share of mistakes and poor choices, I struggle with feelings of guilt and shame, sometimes to the point that they cripple me and hinder my happiness and ability to receive love and joy, even God’s love and joy.  I recently realized how deeply my spirit is steeped in these inaccurate thoughts.  These two brief conversations with two different aunts were truly eye opening.  I came to the realization that I was born into shame.  Being a writer, it was not lost on me that my grandmother covering my mother’s stomach with a towel was a metaphor for her literally covering me in shame.  My conception wasn’t celebrated or welcomed.  It was, I was, my mother was…seen…as an embarrassment.  I left those conversations with a depth of understanding that shame literally followed me out of my mother’s womb.   And this knowledge freed me!

After the initial jolt of sadness wore off from knowing my grandmother was so embarrassed by me, I laughed at the irony of how God made me.  I was one of the most talkative, chatty, precocious children ever!  One of my mom’s friends paid me one time to stop talking.  (This really happened!) I started singing and entertaining my family, pretend mic and stage and all, at about 4 years of age.  I excelled in school, in music, in extracurricular activities.  I was outgoing and bubbly! I was a cheerleader, literally. One of my middle school teachers was a former classmate of my mother’s and I remember him saying to me once that I was nothing like her at that age.  He seemed to look at me in a sort of bewilderment as he spoke.  He told me that she was very shy and quiet and not involved in any activities.  I was, in his words, her total opposite. I thought of all these characteristics, these God-given gifts of my personality that made up my spirit, and I saw how God never intended for me to be hidden.  He did not want me to be ashamed.  I know my grandmother didn’t know what she was doing, but God did.  Everything about me from a very young age said “I’m here!  Look at me! God made me and gave me these gifts!  I’m His child!  You will not hide me or shame me for existing!  I was meant to be here!  I have a purpose, even if that purpose is just to make people smile when they are around me!

Other things started to make sense to me as well;  it’s hard enough to shake emotions like shame and guilt when you realize the magnitude of your own mistakes, and how you’ve hurt or disappointed the people that you love,  but it’s nearly impossible to do when those things were put on you without your permission, by no choice and no fault of your own, by simply being conceived.  I began to understand why it was so difficult for me to forgive myself, or to even accept Christ’s love and forgiveness.  These feelings were in my literal DNA.

God gave me a vision as I was lying in bed one morning dwelling on my past, the part that I wasn’t born with…the part that I created including all of my many mess ups and awful choices.  I saw Jesus carrying His cross.  (I actually recalled the scene from Passion of the Christ.) I remembered in that movie, how heavy the physical weight of this huge wooden cross was and how difficult it was for Jesus to bear its weight on His shoulders.  He was in such agony.  It was then that the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said “The cross, by itself, was so heavy already…how much heavier do you think it was with the weight of all of your sins on it?  All the sins of the world…past, present, and future. Jesus did that for you.  He carried, not just that cross, but all of your sins with Him, on His shoulders, on His back,  so that you wouldn’t have to live in guilt or shame.”  I don’t think I ever understood the purpose of the cross and Christ’s death so clearly before.  In all my years of believing in Christ, in that moment, it dawned on me that I never truly accepted His forgiveness and I was living in a world where I continuously punished myself and negated what He did for me when He willingly laid down His life.  By not accepting His forgiveness, I was likely hurting Him more.

I try to live each day now with this vision at the forefront of my mind.  Any time those shameful feelings try to creep in, or those voices that say “you don’t deserve to be happy, look what you did back in 1996 or 2008 or yesterday.”  I pray them away.  I rebuke and renounce them.  And I live each day to the fullest, trying to be better than the day before, forgiving myself, loving myself and those around me, seeking His wisdom, and relying on His grace and mercy.  I am here.  I will not be ashamed.

 

Grace For My Mother

grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; a virtue coming from God, mercy, pardon, disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency, reprieve

There’s a story behind everything…But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story…Because her’s is where your’s begins.” – Mitch Albom

When I was 15, I was a sophomore in high school, whose primary concerns were getting a marching band routine down pat, completing my English reading assignments, and deciding which boy I wanted to like that week.  When my mother was 15, she was also a sophomore in high school, but instead of football games, writing papers, and talking on the phone to boys, she was having me.  I’ve been told that I was conceived behind a skating rink…nice.  And I know that my father is at least 3 – 4 years older than her.  All of this leaves me feeling some kind of way…sad for her, a little angry at him…questions fill my head, did she feel obligated, afraid to say no, did she do it to feel loved?  What was he thinking, well, it’s easy to blame him and assume we know what he was thinking…he’s the older guy, right?  But nevertheless, whatever the circumstances, I am glad to be here and I am supposed to be here.

From this sketchy beginning, I was born on April 6, 1973, to a teenaged, unwed mother.  I was told that my aunt took me from her the minute she came home from the hospital, and that after that, my grandmother pretty much raised me, with my mother living in the house, but pretty much made all of the decisions and wouldn’t let my mother do too much with me or for me.  I am not sure to what extent my mother was ever “allowed” to actually “mother” me, but I do know that, growing up, I didn’t feel that she was very maternal.  Many times, I didn’t feel loved by her at all.  I remember times where I would beg for her to make me breakfast, literally cry and scream, while she laid in the bed, oblivious to my needs.  I remember her taking me to school, but when I tried to kiss her goodbye, she would turn her lips toward me, but not her face, as if she didn’t want to make much of an effort to show me any affection.  I remember, a lot of times, her absence.  She just wasn’t there.

My mother would randomly stay gone for weeks at a time, sometimes with different girlfriends, and more often, with different boyfriends.  She would call sometimes, crying, and apologize to me.  She’d sob and tell me how sorry she was for not being a better mother.  I’d forgive her, but she would just do it again and again.  I came to resent her and started to think of her as a liar who cared more about men than she did about me.  I grew up thinking that I never wanted to be like her.

Later in life, my mother became addicted to drugs and alcohol.  What little relationship we had got worse.  Again, I felt she had something else that she loved more than me.  I was always left wondering why I just wasn’t enough for her, why my love wasn’t enough to sustain her and fill whatever void she was feeling.  She told more lies, she became erratic, she cursed me and called me out of my name.  The woman who was supposed to love me the most, I felt hated me.  I felt like she was jealous that I was smart, and that I was “okay,” well-adjusted (for the most part) when it came to school and activities and having a normal teenaged life.  Instead of feeling that she loved me, I felt that she loathed me.

For nearly two years, I didn’t speak to my mother because she called me a bitch.  I was done. I had had enough.  I was now a mother myself and I set out to prove that I could do it better than she did.  I felt like my mother had no excuse for the way she treated me.  I didn’t care that she was just 15.  It didn’t matter to me.  She was supposed to be a mother to me, and in my mind, she failed.  And I hated her for it.

I have carried that anger, that hatred, but most of all, that feeling of being unloved and rejected by her for most of my life.  It has affected most of my adult relationships in one way or another.  I have spent a great deal of my adult life feeling unworthy of love.  When you feel that your own mother doesn’t love you, you feel like you’ve done something wrong, like you aren’t good enough.  I am only beginning to realize that I am good enough, I was good enough, and that she was just a child herself.

I’ve sat the past few days and tried to think of typical 15 year old behavior.  What did my 15 year old mind think about and act like?  I had pop stars on my walls, teddy bears on my shelves, and was just starting to wear make-up and like boys.  I was not thinking about babies and growing up and responsibilities.  I had big dreams of becoming a singer and travelling the world.  I knew I wanted children, but I imagined a husband to help me and to love me.

I opened this blog with several definitions of the word “grace.” God gives us grace to forgive us when we’ve done wrong. He gives us room to make mistakes.  The Bible admonishes us to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (1 Peter 4:8) Where was my grace for my mother?  Why have I demanded so much perfection from one who was so frail and innocent and immature when I came into this world?

It was not until my mother’s death a few years ago, a death from a drug overdose, that I started to feel empathy for her.  As she lay in a coma, I felt protective of her.  I felt angry at anyone and anything that had ever hurt her.  I felt responsible for her for the first time in my life.  I wanted to protect her, but instead, I had to let her go.  It was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do.  I had to say goodbye, but we hadn’t fixed anything. We had spoken, briefly, about a week before when she had almost had another overdose. I remember arriving at the hospital and the nurse telling me that my mother was afraid to see me because she thought I hated her. I told her that day that I loved her. I hope she believed me.

Today is mother’s day.  I text my aunt to tell her Happy Mother’s Day, and she wrote back with this: “She loved you, ya know? I’m just sorry that she didn’t love herself.” And it hit me again: this was never about me.  My mother loved me, the best she could.  She never learned to love herself.  At a time in life, when a girl is just figuring out her way, and what’s important to her, and who she wants to be, she was thrust into parenthood, and then possibly, not even really allowed to parent.  I can’t imagine how she felt, and my heart breaks for her all over again, and I know, that now, I have grace for my mother…I give my mother grace to cover the times I felt wronged, or unloved, or just plain rejected.  I forgive my 15 year old mother.  I forgive my confused, scared, lonely, unsure of herself, mother.  I forgive my drug addicted mother.  I forgive my mother that loved me the best she knew howImage.  I know she loved me.  We did have good moments, and those are the times, that I’ll hold in my heart forever, and I’ll let grace and love cover the rest.  On this day, and every day, I love and miss you, mommy.