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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Leon

In the Middle of the Mess

Updated: May 11, 2018

There is so much real life going on over here -- if I wait for everything to be "cleaned up" before I keep living, I am afraid time will just pass me by.

Today was a day of tears. I felt the weight of sorrow from the moment I opened my eyes. I arrived at mass late and sat in the back, which was a good thing because I couldn’t stop crying. My grief was raw and tender, the agony of enduring this broken valley of tears without John Paul Raphael and with all the brokenness of our 9 other children was very loud. Sweet baby was born 18 weeks ago today. Time is marching too quickly away from those perfect days of his life. It was too fast, too unreachable now. I long for him – to hold him and touch him and feel him and hear him and smell him and kiss him and feed him and love him. The grief is oppressive; the loss heavy and pressing hard upon me.

I spent the day at the mall trying to find clothes to wear now that I am too small for maternity clothes but too big for anything else in my closet. I am calling these new purchases “transition clothes” and pray that I am giving them away by the end of the summer. There were too many dressing rooms. Too many mirrors. My body feels and looks like an alien without the consolation of my baby in my arms to make a celebration of the rolls of fat and dimpled thighs. This body mocks me, and it is a constant struggle to try and believe the message and mission of John Paul Raphael: let yourself be loved. I MUST learn to let myself be loved in this size and shape.

I am in the middle of the mess this week. The mess of my heart and mind fighting with my body is exhausting. (I have SO much to say about that another time). The mess of our blended family with complicated dynamics and the emotions of our 9 living children and their individual needs, issues, grief, and struggles is constant. Their varied desire for meaningful relationship with me and Ralph – either as Mother and Step-father or Father and Step-mother. It takes a daily act of faith and bravery for Ralph and I to keep loving and serving them and trying to build this family that God brought together. We face various levels of rejection and indifference at every step. We plod along, grateful for occasional bursts of encouragement from one child or another. This sustains us, along with our deep love for them and our commitment to follow God’s will with hope and faith. But, boy, it isn’t easy and it is always messy -- fertile ground for misunderstandings, disappointment, and hurt feelings.

We are in the middle of the mess of Mother’s Day – a “holiday” that under the best of circumstances I can do without. I have felt the pressure and expectation of Mother’s Day in the past, feeling like despite whatever efforts I may have made, I will inevitably let someone down – either my own mother or my step-mother or my mother-in-laws. I remember the years after my father first remarried and the rebellion I would feel when he would call to remind me not to forget my stepmother on Mother’s Day. I have made my husband PROMISE he will never remind any of our children of a perceived obligation to be generous or thoughtful with me on the second Sunday of May. These memories linger and make me wary of putting pressure on my own children to “DO” Mother’s Day. When they were younger, this naturally fell to their dad – a paternal teaching moment to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for the mother of his fledglings. While I do remember the sweetness of my first Mother’s Days with babies and toddlers, in the years since my divorce, my ex-husband abdicated his role in encouraging our kids to think highly of me. Plus, they are old enough now to decide for themselves what kind of relationship they want us to have. On my part, I want it to be without pressure, expectation, or guilt. Add to all this messiness 4 beautiful step-children who, I believe, will always grieve their own mother more profoundly on Mother’s Day. The best thing I can do for them this Sunday is to take up as little space as possible.

And now the worst part of all: How can I be expected to endure the words “Happy Mother’s Day” when I will forever be a mother without her baby and therefore never completely happy again? I told Ralph that at least for this year, we are skipping Mother’s Day. That may be our new tradition.

A friend shared recently on a Facebook Live video her own struggle to be vulnerable in her ministry, but the importance, she felt, of more women being honest in the MIDST of their brokenness. Well, I thought, this I can do: I cried every day this week. Having 8 of our children over for dinner on Wednesday should have been joy, but was joy and sorrow. I have a daily battle with my post-pregnancy body and the number on the scale. Parenting teenagers and adult children is so much harder than having little ones. I couldn’t hear or feel the Lord for days this week. I often feel without purpose having not had a career for the last 20 years and without the promise of a new baby to raise. I had 3 days of peace and joy that felt unfamiliar and made me feel guilty and then 3 more where I felt I couldn’t get out of bed. I numb by playing FAR too much sudoku on my phone.

One of my favorite writers in the past years has been Brene Brown. During this long journey of healing, I have soaked in her words and research on vulnerability and shame and self-compassion. One of her mantras is that vulnerability is not weakness, it is COURAGE. Through my studies with Brene, I learned that courage is one of my core values. I need to find a way to make it through all this deep pain and personal and family struggle with courage. I need not wait until I am all shined and buffed and through the messiness of my life to share my heart and life with others or with the world. Goodness, it would never happen!! I need to be brave and find a way to do it now, in the middle of the mess.

Have any of you ever felt that your house had to be perfectly clean in order to invite anyone over? And it never is and so you never do??? Having so many children cured me of that years ago, but the same philosophy goes for our truest selves: do we think we have to be healed and “together” (whatever that means) or have things figured out or not be needy or have problems in order to invite people into our hearts in a deep and authentic way? This is a lie!

The world needs us to be our true selves NOW. Our families and community need us to live authentically and honestly and bravely NOW. We need to step forward every day with who and how we are; to present ourselves to our loved ones and our community with the gifts of our imperfections and struggles and losses. If we show up authentic and real and messy, we give others the permission to do the same as well. The Lord longs for us -- He doesn’t want us to think we have to change or fix or perfect ourselves before we approach him. He loves us most when we are most at the end of ourselves. When I realize I do NOT have it going on and I have a desperate need to be rescued from pain or loss or my very self, He is there. Broken, messy hearts and lives are His specialty.

This kind of radical self-acceptance is part of my journey to let myself be loved. You and I, WE are a gift to the world just as we are right now. Our thoughts, our dreams, our talents, our prayers. Our wounds and whatever great mess there is in our lives or our hearts or our families. Whether we feel like things are falling apart or coming together -- God has a purpose and plan for this season we are in. Maybe it is wisdom or maybe it is just the reality of time-marching on, but I don’t want to WAIT any more to be “ok” or “enough”. I am tired of feeling like I am battling the invisible enemy or some artificial standard for how I should look or how things should go with my family or for what will happen with each of my children or what I should do with my time. With God’s grace, we can rest in who and how we are for today and have HOPE. Maybe this mess will change and heal. Maybe this mess is the new normal. Either way, when we are resting in the truth of how LOVED we are by the God of the universe, we can have the courage to be our true self in the world. At the end of it all, I am His and THAT is enough.

As these thoughts and feelings pour through me and over me, I feel the presence of joy and peace in the mess, through the mess, sanctifying the mess. I am so thankful for His grace and the gift of my baby to lead me to keep learning to love myself.

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