Are you focused on your lack today? Maybe you feel too broken to measure up to standards set by your spouse, your parents, your career or even yourself.
Maybe you look around and everyone is chuckling. You wear a fake smile, but inside you are wilting. Your soul begs for comfort. For understanding.
One word dominated my childhood interaction with peers. Inadequacy. I couldn’t measure up to the giggling girls with the perfect hair and the perfect things to say. I felt lack. I didn’t have their social skills.
I also didn’t have as many crayons as they did. I think the biggest box I got had 24 colors in a box with two short rows. They had boxes of rows and rows of colors, 64 crayons total. Adult equivalent: A one-bedroom apartment compared to a mini-mansion with a game room and pool.
Daddy was my first Valentine. Superman was my second.
I cleaned out my parents’ house after their deaths and found a baseball card-type picture of Superman. I’d scrawled inside a cartoon bubble “I love you.”
I spent the next four decades looking for a real, huggable Superman. For a man to sweep me up and rescue me from all harm and woe.
At 25, I thought I’d found him. He was a police officer. I didn’t make the connection then to Superman. I expected a lot. I learned he was too busy rescuing other people to rescue me.
Dad died the summer of 2006. Overwhelmed with duties as caregiver to Mom, I cried to God for a protector. I meant a husband. I was 39 years old and still thought a Superman could rescue me.
Are you in the winter of the soul, a season of darkness and barrenness? Maybe you wonder if there could ever be a spring again.
January is cold, even here in the South. The trees are bare. The ground is hard. The grass is pale. Life is asleep.
Sometimes my inner life looks like the winter landscape. Someone I love is gone, I feel rejected or deserted, and circumstances have sapped my hopes. The cold wind of loss whips at the tender skin of my cheeks, and I seek out shelter. A safe place.
Last week, I looked at my dead lawn and the naked oak tree limbs. And I suddenly realized the irony – we celebrate the New Year inside the season that brings us lifeless terrain. We celebrate new beginnings during winter, a time of death.
I remember times my life felt burned down to the ground. Lifeless. I wondered how I could get through the devastation. I wondered if I’d ever be happy again.
But in the midst of that winter of my soul, I clung to hope. And I clung to God. I’d lived long enough to know that spring isn’t just possible but probable.
How do you begin again in the middle of a personal winter?
Are you an adult orphan?
I’d never heard of the term until I became one – and felt like one.
I read it in a book somewhere. I then realized others had felt the same way as me.
I identified with the term though my mother was still living. Why? Because with my father’s death, I became Mom’s caregiver. Slowly, she became the parent and I became the child.
To be orphaned, I think, means to be alone. And helpless against danger. I felt alone.
In those chaotic, stressful times, I longed to be parented. To feel safe.
My burning request for rescue was voiced in a sudden stroke of desperation. I raised voice to the ceiling and cried to God.
“Send me a protector!”
Are we destined to retain this label of adult orphan? To remain feeling alone, unprotected?
Change. It’s the time of year we embrace it. Change our weight. Change our attitude. Change our career path. We make resolutions, determined to be different in the New Year – to change.
Other changes we fiercely resist. Familiarity is a comfortable companion. While routine rules, different drools. We like status quo. But change, as they say, is inevitable.
Death ushers in the most severe change to our lives. We may face financial changes. Housing changes. Widows may be ejected from couples groups. And be forced change friends.
While we struggle to manage the outward changes, our inward state of living has been upended. We felt secure. Now we feel unsafe. We felt needed, useful. Now we don’t know our purpose.
I’m embracing changes this season. I think my internal desire to change, to do things differently in 2020, is being mirrored in the rooms of my house as I purge belongings and tidy up spaces.
I’ve experienced seasons, however, when I fought change with ferocity. I didn’t want to let go of my parents’ home. I loved sensing them there, among the belongings they left behind.
Change is difficult, and when it is forced upon us, it is unsettling. But I’ve found that the best time to change things that I want or need to change is to coordinate with the change that is being forced upon me. I know it sounds a little crazy. Add more change to change? Yes.
How do we survive the longest night of the soul? To whom or what can we turn? What hope is there to latch onto when our lives feel battered, damaged beyond repair?
I pondered the longest nights of my soul the morning of the literal longest night of the year, December 21st, in the Northern Hemisphere. On this day, the Winter Solstice, darkness envelops the Mid-South for more than 13 hours, while daylight consists of nearly 10 hours.
The following date – that is, the day when the Earth begins to gain daylight rather than lose it – is of significance to me. It is the date I returned home. To mom and dad and their faithful love.
For four years, I’d lived in Jackson, Miss., about 250 miles from where I grew up. I’d fallen in love for the first time and hoped to marry. My widowed boyfriend had other ideas.
As I tried to figure out how to put new life together after my parents’ death, I was tasked with figuring out what to do with their voluminous collection of cookbooks and recipes.
It was Christmastime when I got to them. I’d held onto their home eight years, and I was still sorting not only through their possessions but through my grief.
I sat down and opened cookbook after cookbook, scanning for my father’s penciled notes beside recipes. He’d dated them and had jotted down the family’s reaction. A kind of a Siskel and Ebert thumbs up or down.
My mother, however, drew through ingredients and added others. What a treasure I had. My heart, however, focused not on this blessing but on the pain. We’d never share a meal again.
And then it occurred to me. Trying to find a “new normal” after a loved one’s death – whether during the holidays or any time of year – is a like following a recipe.