My son and daughter-in-law needed a break. I needed time with Elsa since Dan was on the road. Sometimes needs just come together. I had only a few hours to get ready for my favorite three and a half year old. I finished some indoor chores and then put on my gardening gloves and began weeding before they dropped her off.
Out of the blue, while pulling unwanted grass beneath the heather bushes, I thought back to my early childhood Saturday nights when my sister and I would be dropped off at my grandparents’ home on Wyandotte Road in Grandview, Ohio. In the front yard was “The Becky Tree” and in the backyard was “The Judy Tree” for my older sister. We would sometimes sit on the wicker chairs on the front porch and listen to the leaves gently blowing on a hot summer day. If we were good, we got to walk in our seersucker shorts and matching midriff tops to the corner drug store and buy a lime or root beer popsicle.
My grandmother would often make applesauce with the apples from “The Judy” tree. We would get to stand on metal chairs that rocked while my grandfather had his hand nearby in case we lost our balance as we helped pick the apples.
In the winter my sister and I would help my grandmother mash the potatoes. My grandparents’ bedroom was downstairs and there were two bedrooms upstairs. My grandmother would walk us up the dark walnut stairs, and after we said our prayers she would always say, “Nighty night and don’t let the bedbugs bite” before she turned off the light.
I remember the pace of life being so much slower than at our home. My grandparents would sit and talk to us. We were graced with smiles and laughter. They had a swing set in their backyard and would push us for hours, or so it seemed. There was only one bathroom, and I don’t remember anyone rushing to get to it first or waiting outside the bathroom door with impatience.
I have a picture of my last birthday dinner celebration at their home when I turned five. I guess I was allowed to carry my own cake into the dining room with the candles lit, (with my grandparents beside me) while everyone sang happy birthday.
I really loved going to their home. A few months later they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. I wrote to them every month and my grandmother would write me back. She always signed every letter, “Oceans of love, Grandma and Granddaddy”.
In the span of a life, I had very few days with my grandparents. I would visit them on family vacations, but those trips were far and few between.
What is an embrace? Is it just the physical arms that enfold our bodies? Or is it the love that extends beyond numbered weekends of care?
Could there have been one hundred embraces from my grandparents in a lifetime? Is it the number that matters?
What deep pathways of love were grooved in our hearts and minds in our young years? Those memories are a refuge in a world that feels progressively harder and scarier. I use them like a withdrawal from a bank account that never runs out. Those embraces have given me a gift that cost seconds but gives a return on investment unlike any worldly security. They are like a treasure we harvest whether it has been a good year of gardening or not. As the weight and uncertainly of life bears down, I reach back into my heart and wonder how much they worried and suffered during the lifetime they were handed.
The weekend that I watched Elsa turned into a time of deep anguish and self-doubt. The roots of the war came from wrestling with new risks that I was taking in my life. The kingdom of darkness assaulted me and I felt disqualified from doing even things I knew I could do.
I took Elsa to church and when the children were dismissed I went to help in Elsa’s class. I felt inadequate in every way. I could not fly like a butterfly or walk like an elephant when “Miss Deby” sang and played her guitar. I could not help a young two and a half year old sit on my lap to quiet her. I was unable to return to a glorious celebration of our new pastor who was installed that morning. It seemed impossible to go to a church lunch and be with people.
I took Elsa to her home and drove home with such sorrow. The day was beautiful and I was in dark pit. I was burdened, fearful and felt too shy to walk in our yard in case neighbors would see me.
Soon after Dan called in the midst of a travel nightmare. His day had turned from a simple flight home to seventeen hours of misery. He was furious and overwhelmed with exhaustion. As we talked, I knew he didn’t want care, but he was desperate for relief. I couldn’t do a thing to take him out of his pain and it was easier to wish him well and go back to my doubt.
But I didn’t. I don’t know how I had the courage to invite him to comfort, but I asked if I could pray for him. I heard a ten second hesitation and the silence felt deafening. He quietly said: “Yes. I need you to pray.”
I reached deep and found the embraces from decades ago and then offered them to a man I adore. I spoke words of truth about his heart, the darkness of his moment, and my desire for him surrounded him like holding him in my arms. I could tell his war was not over, but I could tell he was calmer and knew he was loved. The investment offered to us by the arms of love always opens the heart to receive the stranger among us, even when we are estranged.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 38 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs
As I finished reading I simply sat quietly in my chair, aware of my own embraces from the past, the places darkness comes for me now and the choice to receive comfort. Thank you Becky.
Dear Tracy, thank you for replying. I love that you simply sat quietly in your chair and remembered your embraces from the past. I love that.
Becky, how deeply I identify with your words of torment, “…I was burdened, fearful and too shy to walk in our yard in case neighbors would see me.” This, indeed is darkness at work — an invisible darkness that paralyzes the goodness of God that others can see and that you chose to extend to Dan in prayer. Thank you for writing courageous words of hope–of encouragement to keep reaching for God and extending His care to others. The power of darkness is broken with such quiet, brave, risking faith…and that gives me much hope. Love to you, Christine
Thank you Christine for identifying with me in the darkness that was so real on a sunny day. You help me not feel strange. You help me feel like you stayed in the house with me and said, “I have felt like you are feeling too. I will be with you.” Thank you. I like not feeling alone.
Becky, I read this from a place of internal struggle and confusion this morning and somehow your naming your own struggle with darkness connected with mine and it feels like an embrace. Thank you.
Jeanette, I love that far away from you my words of weakness strengthened you. Awesome. Simply amazing how the written word can redeem. Thank you back to you!
Becky, I so identify with those days with my grandmother and the ease that accompanied them. I, too, feel the darkness creep in that paralyses me. Thank you for reminding me of the embrace and goodness that dwell within me. Some days it all feels so distance as I face the worries of today.
Mary Jane, you are a fellow battler of those dark moments. I would have not named that out loud but now that you have it makes me feel less alone. I love that shame does not bind you. Your words call me forward often.
Beautiful words, Becky!
Thank you for sharing your tender and vulnerable truth. It is so tempting to stay tucked away in the dark pit, but the way out is always through connection. Thanks for sharing that reminder and the beautiful imagery of the shalom of your childhood.
Hooray for connection! Hooray for vulnerability. This is a new path I am choosing to walk on without excuse. I love your words: “the shalom of your childhood.” Yes. Well said!
Thank you,Becky,from the depths of your depression your cross, you were able to reach out and comfort another,like our Dear Lord, Jesus did from his cross,you have learned a great lifetime lesson and you returned it back to him with the same love, he showed you!!! Love you,Donna.
Thank you Donna! Wow. I love your words of victory to me.
Love your childhood pics and your mother ,looks the same as I remember her,beautiful!!! ,as she is now with Jesus!!!
Ahhh, thank you for your kind words. I love that you knew my mother and remember her beauty. There are few on this earth I can have around me who do. Thank you for writing that. I miss you.
Good Morning Becky;
Your story of embrace and prayer today reminds me of the power in embracing my grandchildren and great grandchild . Perhaps
It might dispel some of their darkness that they are unaware of . Thank you
For giving deeper meaning
To loving embraces.
Sharon!!! Yes, Yes, YES! It is good to count our embraces and smile with knowing they will not be forgotten. Thank you for your words.
Becky – I read this post a few hours after returning home from a week (such a gift) visiting three of our grandchildren. They are all school age, in fact the oldest is as tall as I am, but what a precious gift to me to have the memories of being with them, being part of their world for an extended period of time. I feel today like their hugs are memories that wrap my heart in joy but your post reminded me that my hugs and love of them is something they will have even after I have gone to heaven. How is it that moments of connection are so powerful even after years and years? Or that offering light in the darkness as you did to Dan can go right across the phone line? It is an amazing God who loves us, who walks with us in dark places where may realize, or not, that the presence of his Light is offered to us in ways that we cannot anticipate.
Thank you for sharing your heart in your words. I am thankful for your reminders this day.
Thank you Ruth Ann. How good to hear from you! I love these words, especially, “I feel today like their hugs are memories that wrap my heart in joy but your post reminded me that my hugs and love of them is something they will have even after I have gone to heaven.” Thank you. How good we see the goodness that goes beyond our years. Hugs and love to you. B
“The kingdom of darkness assaulted me and I felt disqualified from doing even things I knew I could do.” Thank you for sharing these words, Becky. I know this feeling well and often struggle with contempt for feeling it, rather than being able to name what it is ~ an assault ~ and not what does or does not define me. I so appreciate your honest vulnerability and courageous writing.
Thank you, Julie, for seeing the contempt and the assault that took me out on Sunday. I am sorry you are familiar with this darkness. It is no fun and I have trouble with people who don’t struggle with being with feeling disqualified … at least sometimes.
Thank you for showing me the courage of being vulnerable, for not making it look easy. I love how God uses you in such bold and delicate ways. It’s as if God swells and enlarges your heart and for a moment there is new emptiness and His loves crashes in and fills you anew.
Laura, thank you so much! I feel seen and heard by you. I loved what you wrote: “I love how God uses you in such bold and delicate ways. It’s as if God swells and enlarges your heart and for a moment there is new emptiness and His loves crashes in and fills you anew.” Jesus is good and without the sorrow that goes deep, I would not know him like I do.
Dear marvelous writer Becky. I mused on these words all day. So often what you write shuts me up! There has been so much void in my life, so many sad stories. I never knew my grandparents, nor cousins, aunts, uncles, or even my parents well, and I have not been known by them; this has done much harm. And I believe your idea of us being estranged from ourselves sums up much of the struggle I have faced over the years, for it is so often through the love of others that we come to know ourselves. The strong embrace of the everlasting arms began a work in me of finding myself which has been enriched as others have embraced me, the me who is worth being known. And you have been a part of that, too. The beauty with which you minister to Dan in this piece of writing brought tears to my eyes. How blessed are you two to have found a home in each other, and how kind of our God to have led you so. Your writing makes the gospel come alive; suffering, death, resurrection and redemption come alive through your writing. Thank you for taking to time and thought to share them with us here.
Oh, Kelli, you always astound me. I did not know that you did not know your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And being estranged from ourselves hurts and I am sorry that has happened more frequently for you in the past few years. Your ability to locate your feelings makes you wonderfully powerful in the healing of others. You see and care really well, Kelli. I am amazed with God bringing Dan and myself together. I am beyond grateful. The biggest compliment I can ever, ever receive is what you wrote: “Your writing makes the gospel come alive; suffering, death, resurrection and redemption come alive through your writing.” Thank you. Hugs to you and I will see you soon in Seattle and I continue to pray for you during this transition time.
You are slowly but eloquently whacking away at something I really want to believe – that if we struggle well enough and deeply enough it gets easier. As naive as it is, I so want this to be true. Perhaps what you are modeling is that courage is loving in the midst of the assault. Defiance is your embrace reaching out of your pit. It’s not easier but it is fiercer. I guess I’m going to give up this lie that easier is around the corner if I work hard enough. You show glimpses of the way and I am so grateful.
Oh my goodness! I hope it really wasn’t me that caused you to see that it doesn’t get easier. Yikes. It doesn’t but I think we have more reserves to bring ourselves out of the pit. I think the more we fee joy and sorrow we somehow get fiercer (your word…I like it too) in grace. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I am grateful that you see glimpses from an older woman who is getting older but feeling younger at heart. Hugs to you whoever and wherever you are. Is this Timmie?
Yep, it’s timi. 🙂 Don’t be alarmed at your part in my acceptance of harder, not easier. It’s actually a gift you are giving – the lack of ‘easier’ isn’t my failure, it’s actually a deepening; a sorrow that only the fierceness of grace can sculpt into joy. This is were we are equipped to love well, right? That’s why you were able to embrace in the midst of assault? I love the mentoring that happens here – the rawness as vision casting – that older in body can include joyful younger at heart. There is great hope in this. Blessings to you for sharing of yourself.
Courage is loving in the midst of the assault…….yes. This is the Jesus way; not easy. Beautiful thoughts here.
Thank you Kelli!!!
Thanks for your words, Becky. Some of the places you mentioned are so familiar: “It seemed impossible to go to a church lunch and be with people…I was burdened, fearful and felt too shy to walk in our yard in case neighbors would see me…even when we are estranged.” Knowing we are embraced, even in those places, and reaching out to give embrace, even in those moments – -feels like little whispers of mercy and grace that echo the truth of the gospel, perhaps at the times when we and those around us may most need to hear it.
Thank you for replying. Those are words that evil meant to “bring me down.” In writing the words, it actually allowed me not to feel shame. I got replies from many people understanding that sometimes life bears down on us and we feel inadequate. Thank you for noticing. It is so important to receive those echoes of mercy and grace. You did that for me with your reply.
Memories of safety and care in the home of your grandparents brought tears to my eyes and reminders to my heart. I also know the care and safety of my grandmother’s home. It was the place I could risk being the little “me” emerging – a place away from where I struggled to live and bloom bound by a home that couldn’t love me well. My heart followed your journey and then found sadness and solace in your words about your own self-doubt. It’s so easy to look on the outside of others’ lives and imagine they know only goodness and joy. Of course I’m sad for those dark days for you and also feel a connecting there. I’m not alone. Becky, I hear often that you are a prayer warrior. I love that gifting in you. Your strength to tuck your own hurt and sadness away so you could pray for Dan is such a gift to him. You are a gift to him. I’m awed at your ability to care for others in the deepness of your own need for care. I hope you received care back in time. Bless you for your openness. love, Valerie
Valerie, thank you. I love know that “little Valerie” was seen and cherished in your grandparents’ home. I am grateful you took time to follow my journey because it was a slow moving entry which mirrored the slow moving days at my grandparents’ home. Oh my goodness, I wish I could get rid of self doubt. It does keep me tethered closely to Jesus. I am so grateful for Dan. He is a gift to me too! My care came the next day…Sometimes feelings change slowly.
Ahh Becky, I love the way God works on my behalf without me asking or even knowing what I need. Your beautiful and vulnerable words just fell into my hands and then soaked through my heart. I thought I was completely alone in my awkward discomfort and shying away from neighbours. I feel seen by God now and am amazed at all he knits together for me. I am 12000 miles away and yet I’m all loved up today. Thank you for your honesty and gentleness and for your soothing grandma words. I’m gonna put my granny apron on and care for young me a little better today. Love from Ali
Ali! Your are 12,000 miles away? Yay for granny aprons and caring for our young “me” whenever we need it. I am thrilled that you feel seen by God. I am overwhelmed with joy that my sharing which was filled with shame has been used to “soak into your heart.” I am soaked full into my heart by your kindness. Thank you back at you Ali!
I, too, remember grandparents who loved me for who I was and allowed me to just “be”. I have often felt they were my first experience of unconditional love. It was sweet to feel that again as I read your post. I feel sad my own sons didn’t have that kind of grandparents…at least I don’t think they did…and I pray I can be an unconditional embrace for the hoped-for grandchildren in my future. Thank you for this reflection, however painful it may have been for you.
Dear Cathy, I pray too that you will be able to unconditionally embrace your grandchildren. Being a grandparent, for me, it a title that offers great freedom to love and lead those dear little ones in good ways. I am sorry that your sons did not have with their grandparents. Writing for this entry allowed the eyes of my heart to see and feel more and more and more that I have been given. Thank you for your kindness…it was REALLY hard to share of my nosedive down quickly and I was “taken out” for a number of precious hours!
I connected to this again for so many reasons…thank you for putting to words so much of my feelings and thoughts…