It’s a dull brown, caked with rust, and the points are sharp enough to wound. That’s a good description of the barbed wire I’ve created within to frame some of the stories in my memory.
In the past the barbed wire has been an acceptable frame. But I’m seeking change. I’m committed to reframing some of the stories of my childhood. And God has offered me some places to gently pull away the sharp, rusty pieces.
My birthdays weren’t all that memorable and often replicated each year. My birthday fell a week after Christmas, on New Year’s Eve. Often my Christmas gifts were conjoined to serve as my birthday gifts as well. The 31st of December came and went with most of the attention focused on the party my parents would attend that evening. I felt missed and not significant enough to be celebrated.
One gift was different, that of my grandmother. Her gift was a hand written note inviting me to a spring shopping trip to select just the right bathing suit for the summer. I loved my grandmother’s gift, but it was hard for a young girl to hold the anticipation through the snowy cold months that would come before that promised trip.
Looking back, I am so grateful for a woman who saw the needs of a young girl. Gran could see what I felt, but I couldn’t put into words. Her patience endured while we went from shop to shop, trying on too many bathing suits to number. I was seriously thin for a young teen, devoid of curves or shape. I didn’t look like my friends in a bathing suit. I searched and searched for the right suit that would give me some sense of comfort as I risked putting my undernourished body on public display.
Gran knew. She understood the struggle I faced. We didn’t exchange words but her annual gift was so much more than I understood then. As I look back, I am delicately taking away the barbed wire memory of being missed on my birthday and replacing it with a gilded edged frame. I was seen and understood.
A friend’s recent words sparked another place in me where I’m beginning to pull away pieces of the barbed wire.
My father was a quiet and often sullen man. He spoke with an extreme stutter which I sense developed while he was away at war. His father died when he was barely 16. Just two weeks after putting his beloved father in the ground, he quit school, lied about his age and left to fight in World War II. He was just a boy – barely a man.
His time in his service to our country was cut short. There is a story. He committed to take it to his grave and he was successful. No one knows the story.
The changes in his life on his return were quite noticeable. The wrong response to his words could cause him to fly into a rage. He held strong expectations of himself and others and few measured up to his standards. I was certain I couldn’t measure up. I didn’t know what to do with his rapid switch from pleasant to fierce anger and contempt. As a young girl and grown woman I didn’t know what to do with who my father was. I longed for so much more. I sensed that wasn’t going to happen for us. And it didn’t. My father is gone, the story is buried with him and the memories framed with barbed wire.
My father didn’t have grief counseling for his father’s death or whatever hell he lived in World War II. He didn’t speak of either — ever. There wasn’t recognition of post traumatic stress syndrome.
My father came back and within a few short months assumed the place of parenting a baby girl born on December 31st. It was a perfect storm for struggle.
My friend’s words reached deeply into a tender and well-protected place in my heart, guarded by barbed wire. I don’t want the barbed-wire to remain a permanent fixture in my soul.
I’m committed to begin taking away some of the brown, rusty sharp places and begin piecing together an appropriate frame. Maybe it won’t be gilded-edged, but I long for it to be more gentle and kind to my father and to me.
Valerie Avery treasures the journey of embracing all God has gifted her with including creating art and beauty using fibers, beads and nature. The bond of 46 years of marriage has created a legacy as mother to 5 and “Grammie” to 20. She is venturing into the world of writing and is grateful for a place to share stories of growth and hope. You can read more here.
I love the tenderness of your heart as you write about your father. I love how you are reframing your own story. I can just picture your young self trying to find the perfect swim suit to fit your girlish body. I feel the angst. You continue to struggle well, my friend. I love that about you!
Your story of your father’s passing and your keeping him comforted has invited me to look for the places of comfort that can be between my father and me. I so wanted to dismiss your story. It reached a place in me full of unmet longing. Now I embrace your story differently, with a hope that kindness to my joined story with my father can be reframed. Thank you for joining me in the angst of what was. What was still is, but it can be different. I want that for you and for me.
When we can look into that past and all the hurt and say, “Father, forgive them they did not know what they were doing,” we have a wonderful way of not only extending compassion but also reframing. That has helped me as I’ve have looked trough my own barbed wire past. Thank you for writing it so well. Blessings.
Linda, I hope you are finding places in your story to begin a reframing. Thank you for your blessing.
I hear the pain, I feel the barbs, my minds eye sees a girl-woman longing for celebration and shalom. And there is much goodness in your words and kindness in the struggle – So lovely!
Yes, Robyn, the process of “reframing” offers me an opportunity for places of celebration and shalom. I love those words you have insightfully chosen. I’ll carry those forward with me today. Thank you friend.
This morning your words bring up some deep feelings for me. My growing up years offer no memories of being celebrated on my birthday. “Reframing” your story has offered a quiet peace, beauty and understanding to set the tone for your life. Our Journeys continue to bring life and hope.
Your words “quiet peace, beauty and understanding” set gently and well in my soul. I want the same for you too, friend. Let’s reframe together. I’m seeing a frame of weathered boards from a shipwreck, washed up on your Michigan shore, creating a masterpiece of beauty.
Oh how important people like your grandmother are! I love how she saw you, and took the time to try and bring some beauty and celebration into the space where your parents missed so much.
Thanks Janet, It is a sweet journey to look back and find the places my grandmother saw me. It was a precarious balance her to care for me without upsetting my parents which got her and me in trouble more deeply. Yet, she risked and I’m so enjoying looking at those places through grateful eyes.
Dear Valerie, thank you for giving us greater insight into the difficult family you were born into. Your grandmother beautifully side-stepped the parents who did not honor you. I hope she lived near you. Oh, and the secrets your father had and how that trickled down to his not being able to care for you better. You have overcome much and your heart draws so many to you and your love of your beautiful family today is a big “no” that evil did not win. Hugs to you across the many miles. You are a gifted writer and caregiver to others.
Dear Becky, you might have noticed that one of your earlier writings invited me to look at my father a bit differently. As I began to look more deeply at his childhood, there were longings for me to begin to find some places of kindness for him and for me. I had prayed for that but my heart felt very bound up. Your words went deep into my bound-up heart and offered me a starting point for what could be for me. Thank you for your words of encouragement and your willingness to put your own story out there for us. It’s in our sharing of our stories that we offer a new possible journey to others.