Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The hardest prayer

My mom started having my cousin Jane stay with us some weekends when she was quite young. She is 7 years younger than I, and she was always a nuisance. A redheaded, freckle-faced, stinky, disheveled, wild child. We loathed those weekends, because she purposely pushed our buttons. Jane’s mom is my mother’s youngest sister. Aunt Diane held a job and paid her bills, but she was always a little . . . slow, emotionally. She has married 4 different men, all of whom deserve a padded cell in a psycho ward. Jane was always second to everyone else. My mom’s reasoning for having Jane over was, “This is the only stable place she ever goes. She needs to know that she can have more in life. Maybe we can give her hope.” When it was revealed that Jane had been sexually abused by one of her stepfathers, we were shocked and sickened. Some of her unusual behaviors suddenly made sense.

Jane finally married when she was the ripe old age of 16—with her mother’s blessing. The church they married in was forever dubbed the “Church of the Circus People” in our minds. My family flinched at the little people, the hobblers, the amputees, and the greasy masses. There was an extraordinary number of deformed people in that church. Jane cried with joy the entire wedding. The reception included a delicate blend of tuna fish sandwich quarters and pimiento sandwich quarters. It was a redneck shotgun wedding. We all expected to see a bulging belly protruding from Jane at any moment. Why else would she marry so young? Well, we were wrong. She had not been pregnant, and did not become pregnant in her 12 year marriage. She was simply ready to be important to someone.

Jane is now 30. She is divorced from her abusive, controlling husband. She is the adult in her relationship with her mother. She worked for 9 years at the same place, until recently (laid off). She didn’t flee her marriage to live with her mother and her newest stepdad—she found herself an apartment.

I met her for a drink and to listen to some music one night a few weeks ago. We talked, laughed, and discussed her dreams. She is barely scraping by and looking for work, but she is going to a technical college. She has dated, and already ended a relationship because she knew she deserved better. She is . . . . a beautiful, strong, independent woman.

I dropped her off at her house after a few hours, and as I drove away, I was overcome with emotion. As I maneuvered the winding roads, I thought of the disheveled child that annoyed us, the wedding that shocked us, and the husband that concerned us. You could not see or predict any of those scenarios when looking at her today. Tears filled my eyes as I thanked God for keeping her safe throughout the marriage. For keeping her sane throughout her childhood. And for giving her the resolve she needed to start over.

I actually prayed one of those really hard prayers. A prayer where your heart cries one thing, and your mind tries to stifle it, knowing you may well regret that prayer. But, after a moment of hesitation, I did it anyway:

“God, give her the desires of her heart. She has overcome so much. Show her your love and your blessings. I will give up the desires of my heart, if it means giving Jane hers. She deserves it more than I do.”

I hesitate to even write that. It’s such a deep, personal, difficult thing to think, worse to utter, and nearly impossible to write. When it is written, it is proof. I did it. Maybe God wouldn’t withhold my desires over a goofy prayer. But the reality is, I thought it, I voiced it, I wrote it. It is a plea from my heart to God.

Following that prayer, I texted her: “When u left my car i almost cried. U have overcome so much, and become a vibrant, beautiful, intelligent woman. So many prayers have been sent your way thru the years. I am proud to be your cousin.”

The following day, she responded via text: “Just wanted to tell u that I love u…you made me feel so good after your text ya sent me last night. I now know people see how proud I am of myself too.”


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Letting Go

Years ago, I was in my mid twenties, and a coworker, Karen, was in her late 30’s. We became friends, and one day I asked if she ever served jail time, expecting her to say no. “Well, yes, I have. Remember how I told you I don’t have kids? I lied. I have 2 sons.”

And she began a harrowing tale of marrying into a very wealthy and very controlling family in Kentucky. After years of emotional abuse, and fearing for the future of her sons (and after hearing of sexual abuse that the youngest had endured), she filed for divorce. She had not worked outside of the home, so she had limited financial means to fight for her freedom and her boys. A very nasty legal battle ensued that was devastating. In the end, she had no proof of abuse, was labeled emotionally unfit, and lost custody of her boys. She was awarded limited visitation. Fearing for her boys, she visited them one day and fled with them. She took them to Kansas, where she had them for a few months before being found. She served 90 days in jail, and lost all parental rights.

Her boys contacted her a few times on the sly, but Karen was informed that they were severely punished when caught, and they stopped trying to reach her at all. Out of fear for them, she didn't attempt to contact them.

“When people ask me if I have children, I tell them no. They wouldn’t understand how I can let go of my children. People assume I was an unfit mother or I was doing something illegal. But I let go of them because I didn’t have a choice. I did all I knew to do, short of killing their father.” She had tears running down her face by now.

She hoped eventually they would understand that she fought for them. She started over in Oklahoma and earned a degree from OU. She had to move on, in case they did find her one day. At that time, she had no contact with them for years, and the oldest was nearing adulthood.


I have never had to let go of anything that serious. I have had to let go of a marriage, along with many relationships and careers. I usually stayed in them much longer than I should have. I don’t let go easily of things I care about. But I’ve done it enough I should be a pro at it by now.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about letting go of some things once and for all, and Karen came to mind. I had let go of these things previously--or so I thought. But the desire for a husband and a child, along with other things, have continued to bother me periodically. Apparently, I've continued to secretly hope for them. If my friend can let go of such a huge part of herself, I can let go of these small things in my heart. Her desires were tangible--they were human, and she had once held them in her arms. Mine are mostly intangible, and only ideas and dreams.

I have held onto them for so long that letting go isn’t easy. It’s going to be a long process. But I have to do it, before bitterness becomes a permanent part of who I am. I don't want to be bitter, but I am. I hate to say, "Stop dreaming" or "give up hope". But for my own peace, I believe I need to do just that. I need to live in the now, because tomorrow is too uncertain.


As an end to this story, Karen contacted me again a few years later. Her oldest son had found her through the internet while serving in Afghanistan. He then paved the way for her to obtain custody of her youngest son, since he was a witness to abuses in the home and was now willing to go public with it. The last I spoke with her, she had remarried, and her sons were with her.