I printed off photos the other day—pictures of the girls on their birthdays in May and June, pictures of us at church camp, snapshots with my family at the lake, and photos of the little road trip the 3 of us took to Indiana Dunes. I put them in my photo album and then put some into envelopes to mail to Gabby and Anna’s mom. I dropped the envelopes into the mailbox the next morning and prayed that the photos would bring her as much joy as they brought me.
Photos do something for our mama-bear hearts, don’t they? They remind us of all the good moments. We treasure them. Looking at the summer photos made me catch my breath and consider that these memories wouldn’t have happened if we had given up on each other.
I shared before that I started seeing a counselor. During my 3rd or 4th counseling session, she asked me, “Do you feel like your emotions go up and down depending on how much the girls show love to you?”
I started nodding before she finished the question. I couldn’t agree with her fast enough. “Yes!”
I knew that wasn’t how I was supposed to be handling my emotions, but I wasn’t going to pretend like it wasn’t happening.
She said, “Mary, you need to also be getting love from somewhere besides them. They are teenagers…”
I stared back at her. I wanted to say, “I know you’re right, but what the heck am I supposed to do??!!!” I’m single, so it’s just me holding this fort down. And because of the trauma my girls have been through, they need a lot of my attention. I want to help them with homework and eat dinner with them at night. I want to be the one who drives them places and goes with them to ballgames and concerts. I want to be home with them when they’re home. I want to be available to have their friends over to our house.
Maybe every mom, and especially every single mom, feels this tension. We want to be there for our kids as much as possible. But then there’s not much room in our schedule for others to love us. So of course, my emotions are going to be affected by what’s happening with my daughters on that particular day.
Everybody wants to talk to me about self-care. And the truth is that I do read a lot (which is how I unwind and also get inspired), and I’ve gotten two pedicures in the past 4 months. So sure, self-care, self-care, self-care. (But I probably need to slow down on the pedicures…)
But it’s super tricky to figure out how to shield myself from the pain. I can’t say that I know how to do this yet. What do you do with hurtful words? How do you wake up everyday fighting the fear of the future? Just as soon as I think I have one thing figured out, something else happens.
Just two months ago, I told my friend that I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t win. I texted her, “Half of the time, they don’t even believe that I love them… This love feels impossible.”
I tried to remind myself that God’s hand is still upon our lives. Just like I don’t know how Satan might try to lead my girls into destruction, I also don’t know all the mighty ways God will lead them into light.
So I prayed.
But verses like Galatians 6:9 seemed distant, like maybe they’re true for others but not for us. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
I don’t know how to explain it yet, but God is answering our prayers. Over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I feel like a completely new person. Praise Jesus.
That’s what I was thinking about when I looked through our summer photos. Looking back, I did a million things wrong. But the one thing I did right is I persevered in love.
I hope these last few posts have given you hope that the Lord will help you rise. My heart is with you. I have fresh faith that God comes through after months and years of praying. Xoxo
P.S. I included a few little music videos that Gabby and I made. This is something that we like to do together. ;)
I heard the doorbell ring. I had just gotten out of the shower and was still in a towel. Gabby got out of bed to answer the door, even though she was not fully clothed either. It was my friend and her coworker coming to clean our house.
This was the first time I had ever paid anyone to come clean my house. And now that these ladies were here, looking things over, already washing the dirty dishes that were still in the sink, the embarrassment and guilt came over me.
I do my best to keep the kitchen and living room clean during the week and to keep up with laundry, and it seems to me like if I get that done each week, maybe I deserve a prize. But it had been a loooooooong time since I had done any dusting or any sort of deep cleaning—and it certainly showed. (Except to kids under the age of 18…they don’t seem to notice any of that at all.)
I had asked to get my house cleaned because I knew that I needed help. I knew that I needed someone to start the process to get the house back in the shape it needs to be in. Even though I was embarrassed, I knew I had to push through the guilt to ask for help.
I came home after work later that day, and the house looked good—shiny even. But all day I had been asking myself, “Why did I let the house get that bad? Why couldn’t I do a better job of cleaning?”
I cooked dinner, and the girls and I ate together at the counter. But before dinner was even over, Anna and I started arguing about something. (Which is a little odd, because more often than not, it was usually Gabby and I who were the ones arguing, and poor Anna was the one waiting for us to stop.) The argument escalated—the topic was a sensitive subject. Before I knew it, I was sitting alone at the counter, staring at the dinner plates. Anna had gotten angry and went to her room. Gabby didn’t want to be a part of the argument, so she had gone to sit on the couch and turned on the TV.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been heavy-burdened before, if stress and worry have weighed on you so much that you can’t move. I bet you have felt that. Some of you have even felt it for long seasons of months and years. On that day, I was in the middle of a long season of that.
People would probably say I should have made Anna come apologize and have the girls do the dishes with me. But I knew Anna well enough to know that she needed space in that moment. And I didn’t think it was fair to ask Gabby to come help when she already had had to endure the tension of that argument.
So I stared at the dinner plates, too numb to cry, but too depressed to start cleaning. Why do these things always happen with us? I tried to give myself a pep talk: “Mary, just get up. One step at a time. Put these dishes in the sink. Then put the leftover food in the fridge. Then wipe off the counter.” I closed my eyes. My energy was drained, and this was just one more dent on my bruised heart. “Mary, you can do it. Just get up.”
But then I heard Gabby call out to me, “Mary, will you come sit with me and watch this movie?”
I looked back at the dishes, but knew which I would choose. “Yeah, I will.”
I grabbed a blanket for us to share and cuddled up next to her on the couch.
I laughed a little as we started the movie. I thought, And this is why I’ve been struggling to keep my house clean.
I felt too much guilt for how I wasn’t keeping the house clean enough. After that day, I started making some changes to help. But I also reflected on what was happening in my life that made this challenging…
When your spirit is tired and crushed, it is so much harder to keep up with the demands of life. I wasn’t kidding when I told a few people that I wasn’t the best version of myself at the time. My heart is healing these days, and I can look back and see a drastic difference in how much more productive I can now be on a day-to-day basis.
I made it to the end of this season—or maybe I’m just getting a break right now, maybe this is just halftime. Either way, I’m happy that I chose to just hang on and love. I have no advice except to remind you that love always perseveres.
Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.