A Few Thoughts About Mothers

MotherAndSon

I’ve been thinking A LOT about mothers lately.*

Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day is just around the corner and it’s always been an emotionally challenging day for me. Maybe it’s because I recently happened upon the eye-opening viral video from a few years back soliciting and interviewing applicants for a job whose duties and responsibilities seem incomprehensibly difficult, if not wholly unachievable (mothering) – that I just can’t stop watching (https://tinyurl.com/y4g9w7cy). Maybe it’s because the internet has given me access to the wisdom of extraordinary moms whose children I often envy for reasons that likely are evident to those who know me or are long time readers of my blog (https://tinyurl.com/nxauc7s). Maybe it’s because, while I haven’t acknowledged it nearly often enough, for 33 years I’ve been blessed to have a front row seat to a living, breathing example of what it really takes to be an EXCEPTIONAL mom – to struggle, comfort, sacrifice, love (unconditionally), hurt, rejoice, pray, fear, and hope as only a mother can. Or maybe it was a message exchange I had with a young, single working mom last week, who, in the midst of her own considerable personal struggles and a day-before-trip to an emergency room for her youngest, said simply: “When it rains . . . I’ve been up all night with (my oldest) – fever and throwing up. Finally kept Motrin down at 4:00 a.m.”

Likely, it’s a combination of all the above, but it was the last message (and the messages that followed) that landed hardest on my heart, because they made me realize that mothers seldom, if ever receive the credit they (and their often-weary hearts) truly deserve from the person they most need to hear it from: Themselves! Maybe they (my friend included) just don’t see it. Maybe great moms are “wired” in a way that makes the enormity and difficulty of all that they do for their children, often before or after an exhausting and stressful day at work (usually both), seem like just another task, as reflexive as their next breath – as no big deal. Maybe, unbeknownst to us, God implanted a gene in moms that “diminishes” the magnitude of it all in the mind of the doer because He understood how undoable it would be without it – the giving birth, the diapers, the pumping, the midnight feedings, the countless trips to the doctors, the spitting (let’s call it what it really is – “throwing”) up, the constant cleaning up after (does that always continue into high school?!?), the dressing (of bodies and “boo boos”), the laundry, the shopping, the homework help, the birthday parties, not to mention the drying of countless tears, the compassion, the empathy, the worry, the fears, (and for those of faith) the endless hours spent in prayer – to name just a little of the “all”!

Or maybe it takes the heart of a “little boy” that longed for so many of those things (especially the emotional pieces) to help them see it. Maybe that’s the gift I can give this Mother’s Day (i.e., a Word Mirror), not unlike the one I tried to give to my friend last week: “You’re a good mom,” I responded to her initial note. “Hardest job there is! Get some rest. You earned it.” “I wish I could,” she said. “I have to take him to the doctor and I’m incredibly far behind at work. Plus, my anxiety’s through the roof and I’m exhausted.” That’s when it hit me. “You and your heart might benefit from a slightly different perspective,” I offered. “Try this: ‘You know, my friend is right. I AM a good mom – a GREAT mom! My boys are very lucky. Because of me, because of days and nights like this, they’ll know what sacrificial love looks and feels like and, hopefully, want to pass that gift on to their children. Work will just have to wait, because that gift is invaluable – and I’m the only one who can give it’.” “I wish work cared about all that,” she quickly shot back. “There are just SO many challenges. I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Work is building. There’s just not enough of me . . .”

“Give me a minute to type,” I pleaded (in the midst of feverishly trying to play catch up to a flurry of follow-up messages headed in the wrong self-talk direction) “and then I gotta go.” “I can only imagine how overwhelmed you must feel in this moment,” I began, “and I’m sure it’s not the first time. But, in a quieter one, this morning is worth reflecting on. What you instinctively framed as another opportunity to beat yourself up, to heap more abuse and hurt on a heart that already is supersaturated with anxiety, guilt, shame, and ‘not enoughs’ was anything but. It was (and still is!) an opportunity to affirm yourself, to catch a glimpse of something you’re doing (and for the past decade (!) have been doing) VERY RIGHT, giving your boys a PRICELESS gift – a gift I never got: The comfort, security, self-confidence, and warmth that comes from knowing that they are truly, unabashedly, and unconditionally loved by their mom. While you defaulted to it feeling anything but, where your boys are concerned it’s Christmas morning and you, my friend are one of the best Santa’s ever! Please start seeing the truth about you. It was there to be seen this morning. I saw it – and I suspect two very impressionable hearts did as well!”

And, I “see” you, Cyndy – and all the moms out there. Now, all that’s left is for you to see “you” too! Happy Mother’s Day!

*Credit for this poignant and captivating image goes to Sarah West, who graciously gave permission for its use. Sarah’s other work can be found at https://www.captivatingbysarahwest.com

https://tinyurl.com/mbruafn

A Letter to a Weary Heart

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Many of the eating disorder and addiction sufferers I’ve been privileged to interact with are adults who’ve been battling these illnesses for years.  Some are married.  Some are not. Some have boyfriends or partners. Others do not.  Some are in school, miles away from home.  Some have been forced by their illness to move back home.  Some have families and full-time jobs. Others work several jobs to try and make ends meet. Some have always been and remain close to their parents, while others come from broken or abusive homes and are, understandably, disconnected and distant ant from theirs.  Many have been in and out of treatment programs multiple times, have “blue chip” treatment teams and still find themselves in a constant tug-a-war between relapse and recovery. Others don’t have or have long since exhausted the resources needed to secure the treatment they long for/desperately need and, as a result, are forced to make due. Some, thankfully, are more firmly rooted in recovery.  But, at one time or another, all of them, sufferers, those in recovery, and loved ones alike, have shared the darkness and questioned whether their story would have a happy ending.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when one of those friends, a young woman I deeply admire and respect, wrote to share her sense of exhaustion and openly wondered if her most recent stumble will be the proverbial straw that breaks the will and the patience of those who, in her words, “up to this point have so heroically and patiently supported and encouraged” her. As I read her e-mail, I couldn’t help but wonder how often those same hurtful and fear-engendering thoughts entered our own daughter’s mind and found their way to a shame-filled, guilt-ridden heart already questioning its worthiness.  You see, try as we might – and believe me we tried mightily – my wife and I were far from perfect in responding to the daily and often all-consuming challenges that an eating disorder presents to both the sufferer and those who love them.  In fact, the tears littering the keyboard as I type these words have their birthplace in too many remembered moments when my response to various incendiary situations spawned by our daughter’s eating disorder only added fuel to an already raging emotional bonfire.  All of which brings me to this note:

Dear Loved One,

I know you’re weary.

I know you’re frustrated.

I know you’re angry.

I know you’re wondering what you did to “deserve” this.

I know you don’t think you can do this for even one more minute, let alone another day, week, month, or year.

I know you’re losing patience.

I know you want your life back.

I know you want your loved one back.

I know you’re asking yourself if/when this nightmare will end.

I know you feel like you’re running out of options.

I know you’re scared.

I know there are times when you feel helpless.

I know you are starting to lose hope.

But, here’s the thing: Despite how they may act or what they may say in the grip of these insidious diseases at any given moment, your loved one feels those things too (weariness, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, etc.) and would give anything to have their life back – and you yours.  The last thing they need is to feel more of it – to be given a reason to believe that the lies their eating disordered (or addicted) mind has been telling (screaming at) them all this time are true (e.g., that they are a “burden”, that they are “worthless”, that they are “unlovable”, that the world (even your world) would be a better place without them in, etc.).

You are the only truth that stands between your loved one and those lies.

The good news is: YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK, more COURAGEOUS and RESILIENT than you realize, and have a greater capacity for PATIENCE and EMPATHY than you ever imagined.  More importantly, while in this moment it may not seem or feel like it, your ability to provide your loved one with LOVE and EMOTIONAL SUPPORT are actually LIMITLESS and their transformative power UNPARALLELED.  Rest in that TRUTH, draw strength from it – and if, as I suspect, you’ve already gone the “Extra Mile” pause for a minute (or two) to catch your breath – you’ve earned it – then keep going, keep loving, keep believing, keep the flame of hope alive. Because the magic may well be in the next one.

Wishing you peace and strength,

Don

https://tinyurl.com/y7x92nhp

Exchanging The “What” For The “Why”

Bill

At one time or another we’ve all asked ourselves the question: “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to good people?”  Some ask it more than others.  I would be one of those people. Sometimes the question crops up in the wake of the sudden and premature death of celebrities or sports figures, who seemingly are at the height of their career and full of life. Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, Brian Piccolo, Jim Valvano, Princess Diana and Steve Jobs are just a few of the more prominent ones in my lifetime who immediately come to mind. Other times, the question is raised in the aftermath of the death of prominent politicians, activists, public figures and innocents whose lives have been cut short by senseless acts of violence and hatred. John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., the students, teachers and administrators at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Fe, and Margory Stoneman Douglas, and the victims of 9/11 and countless recent church and synagogue bombings and shootings, certainly would fall into that category.  But the question is by no means limited to deaths, nor is it restricted to those who happen to enjoy celebrity or other public figure status.  No, it’s one that either has or will touch all of our lives in very personal, mostly non-public ways.

Maybe the question will arise amidst the ruins of a failed marriage or other committed relationship.  Maybe it has or will have its roots in the suffering that we or a loved one, especially a parent, spouse or child have endured or are enduring in battling a chronic or life-threatening illness. Maybe its source is having stood at the precipice of the realization of a lifelong dream only to have it suddenly cut short or interrupted, by an unexpected change in life circumstance.  Maybe our wondering stems from the loss of a job or a business that we dedicated our entire working life to when we least expect and can least afford the financial consequences that inevitably come with it.  Maybe for us it is a death, albeit of a very personal “celebrity” in our lives – a spouse, a parent, a child, a dear friend or a mentor.  Maybe it is posed through our tears as we stand amid the rubble that once was our home, our life, wiped out in an instant by some form of natural disaster.  But, while the precipitating event is (or will be) different and unique to each of us, the question asked is always the same: “Why?”  “Why me?”  “Why my loved one?” Why do “bad” things happen to good people?

The obvious, though highly unsatisfactory answer, of course, is that “bad” things happen to everyone – good and bad.  Like it or not, death and the myriad other circumstances outlined above don’t discriminate based on the fundamental “goodness” of their “recipients” or their significance in our public or private lives. However, it occurs to me that, while we may not ever be able to fully understand the “why” of it (that is uniquely God’s providence) more often than not even the darkest of events ultimately give birth to a knowing heart (one that has been informed by the hardship or the suffering endured), which, in turn and in time, becomes a source of light and hope for the world if we will allow it.  Maybe that’s at least part of the “why” – the answer I’ve been searching for all these years.  Interestingly, it’s a concept that, without realizing it, I was close to stumbling upon in formulating the text for the back cover of my book when I wrote: “If we are willing to take a step back and reflect on the matters of the heart that invariably surround events [that challenge us to our core], they can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, of those we love [and, if we pay close enough attention, to what it means to be fully human].”  But now I see it much more clearly thanks to wisdom imparted by lots of courageous and insightful friends and a healthy dose of Divine intervention.

Yesterday, I lost a dear friend and the world lost a beautiful and authentic man. Bill Linburg was a God-fearing guy who understood that the measure of a real man is not his ability to selfishly meet his own needs, but his attentiveness to and selfless commitment to meeting the needs of others; who loved, honored, and respected his wife, Angela the “old-fashioned” way; who sacrificially loved his three boys (Austin, Cole and Barrett) and fawned over his precious granddaughter, Natalie (the way every “Pop” should!); who preferred vulnerability to bravado and the quiet intimacy of a night at home with family and friends to the glare of the public spotlight (as if it ever fully shines on those who truly matter); who would unhesitatingly drop whatever he was doing on a moment’s notice (and often did) to attend to a friend (or stranger) in need; who would rather praise than be praised; who valued the simple things in life; who was strong and courageous – in quiet ways; who was real and introspective; who was kind (always); who loved and understood the healing power of music (and, truth be told, was a bit of a card shark); who was a catalyst for smiles like those seen in this photograph; and who sought peace over conflict at all times (imagine that).

There was a time not so long ago when I would have been crushed by the weight of the “why’s” of a too-soon death like Bill’s, but not now – not anymore. Now, my time will be spent reflecting on the “what”: “What was I meant to learn from his life, his friendship, his example?” – and, as importantly, on the “how”: “How will I honor him and the wisdom gained from his life going forward?” You were loved, my friend – and you already are missed.