Raw Love

Grief had ripped through his soul, leaving his heart jagged and exposed.  He determined in that moment of pain that no one would ever again be allowed close enough to cause him harm.  Over the years, his determination only faltered once.  She was a beauty, one who captured his heart and imagination.  He fell for her, hopelessly and madly.  He left for his job on the railroad, promising to return at week’s end.  He kept his promise and was full of hope as he approached her door. The sickening kick-to-the-gut that betrayal and cheating always bring is what greeted him. Her flippancy is what ripped his heart into tatters, as she purred, “You were gone for a week, what did you expect me to do? Wait?”

He vowed to never let anyone get close to him again.  He took a vow of bachelorhood, buried himself in his work, accrued a savings account; and he determined to simply live a good life.  It all changed after his nephew and niece-in-law had a baby girl.  This little wisp of a youngster smiled at him and melted the icy fortress that he had carefully constructed around his heart.  To his surprise, the icy defenses now served to usher in a tenderness as the ice transformed into rivulets of love.  He was tickled to be her great uncle, and he took to calling her “wisp-girl” under his breath.

When she was just a toddler, the wisp-girl introduced him to the comingling of sweet with the bitter.  His brother-in-law (the child’s grandpa), was a former boxing champ who numbed his pain with the sedative of alcohol.  It caught up to him, and he was now dying of cancer.   The family had gathered together, saddened by the declining health and resolve of their patriarch.  That’s when the wisp-girl began twirling in the center of the living room.  She stopped breathlessly, and grinned winningly at her grandpa.  He laughed mirthfully, and the pattern repeated over and over until the room was filled with the peals of silver laughter.  Silver laughter is only heard when it’s offered from a heart that is heavy with affliction, yet somehow the soul breaks free from the pain and heaviness as it dances triumphantly in a joyful defiance. That day, the family embraced their silver laughter as they watched the antics of the wisp-girl and her dying grandfather.

That was the last weekend of the grandpa’s life, and the bachelor great-uncle resolved that the wisp-girl needed him to step up and into the void.  So, he did.  His sister accompanied him, and they moved in with their grief-stricken widow-sister (the wisp-girl’s granny). Grief is a jealous companion.  If it goes unchecked, it will soon push away everyone who seeks closeness with you.  That’s the unfortunate truth of what happened, and soon the grief-stricken granny widow demanded that her siblings move out.

The little wisp-girl came over to visit the new house of her great aunt and uncle a few times, and she lit up their hearts like a holiday tree.  Eventually, though, family loyalties were exploited, politics were bitterly played, and a division ensued.  The wisp-girl’s father determined to show loyalty to his widowed-mother; and the visits ended.

The wisp-girl sent secret letters to her beloved great-aunt and great-uncle, begging them to correspond.  The great-uncle sought to reply, but his sister was afraid of the repercussions that it would bring on the wisp-girl.  Her intent was to protect the wisp-girl, but instead, years of love and companionship were lost.  At the funeral for the beloved great-aunt, the bachelor great-uncle embraced his wisp-girl in a fierce hug.  They wept openly as he confessed, “I tried my damnedest to get her to respond to your letters, but she was so afraid of causing distance between you and your granny.  I thought of you every night and every day, and memorized every word of your letters.”

The wisp-girl’s father was so moved by the tender pain of his uncle and the deep sorrow of his daughter that he relented and the visits began again.  What an unlikely pair they were.  The wisp-girl shared her beloved great-uncle’s stubborn determination and strength; but she was akin to a bald eagle.  One moment, she could be gracefully soaring with a majestic air about her and the next, her talons would be exposed as she defended the ones that she loved.  They would sit side by side, close enough to let their elbows rub as they talked.  She would prattle on about life, boys, inner city injustice, her love of kids, and her desire to attend college and make a difference in the world.  He would smile at her enthusiasm, and wonder at the seemingly endless stores of energy that she possessed.  He would speak of his memories made on the railroad, of the Detroit Tigers roster, and eventually of his life growing up in rural Michigan.  Her words were often faster than an express train, his were peppered with “damn”s and “dammit”s.

She called him with the news of her acceptance into the private college of her choice, her squeals eliciting his words of, “I am damned proud of you, girl!” She called to sing him “Happy birthday” from her dorm room, and they would talk about life, boys, and The Tigers.  On summer breaks, she would weave her arm through his as they sat basking in the sunlight on his front stoop while her brother mowed his lawn.  One day, she told him of her desire to work with people who were poverty-stricken and he said, “You be careful.  It’s not work that I would have picked out for you, but I’ll be damned if I let anyone stop you from it.”

He checked himself into a nursing home the week before spring break of her Senior Year in college.  She found him in his room, basking in the sunlight, with his face uplifted towards the window.  Peace and joy radiated from him.  She kissed his cheek, and they said their goodbyes; both knowing that his 90+ years on earth were ending soon.

Days later, she stood tearfully at his funeral.

A while later, she burst into tears of gratefulness and love as realization sunk in.  He had paid her school bills out of his estate.  All those stolen years when they could not see each other, he was saving and making money and investing money.  He didn’t just do it for her, but there were kids from his neighborhood who had also managed to wiggle their way into his heart.  Despite the pain of losses that he had endured, despite his jagged heart, he learned the art of raw love.  No walls, no refinements, simply love for the ones that were placed in his life when his heart was raw.

The wisp-girl strives to embrace the lessons of her beloved great-uncle as she continually resists the fear-filled temptations to pull back into a fortress of pain from her past; instead opening up her jagged heart for those who have been placed into her life.

May we all be graced with raw love.

Waterplay (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

Waterplay (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

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Drew Barrymore’s Role in my Life

source: instyle.com

source: instyle.com

E.T. was the first movie (and abashedly not the last) to emit a bloodcurdling scream from me in the theatre.  Despite the fact that the Haz-Mat suit-wearing character scared the crud out of me; I was left with a lasting impression of Drew Barrymore’s acting ability. I admired the fact that someone close to my age could play an adorably funny role in such a memorable way.  As I grew up, I would scour magazines for any articles relating to her, not in a creepy stalker way, but simply because she seemed like a genuinely kind person, and not just a public figure obsessed with herself like some other figures in the past have been.

Ever After was released the same month that my first daughter would have been born (I had miscarried 5 months earlier), and it resonated with my deep desire to see beauty in a time that felt hollow, empty and filled with horrific grief and questions.  I cannot count how many times I have viewed that movie, applied the lessons in forgiveness, and also sought to model the grace that is only found in releasing the bitterness towards those who have wronged me.  It was a catalyst to open my eyes to the deeply intrinsic truth that I am a “beloved daughter” to God, and that abuse by others does not change who I was born as…a child of God.

Riding in Cars with Boys was released in 2001, but I did not get a chance to watch it until that fateful late summer night in 2005.  My then-husband was passed out in the bedroom, after sleeping 18 hours already that day and missing important events that my three children and I had attended without him.  I was tired of being ignored, I was tired of trying to stay committed to a man whose mistress was his drug of choice…and any other person who appealed to him in any given moment.  I was tired of the humiliation and embarrassment, but I had a three year old, a barely two year old, and a 3 month old.  The kids were sleeping, he was snoring off his latest binge, and I settled in to watch the movie.  There is a scene where Beverly D ‘Onofrio (Drew’s character) has enough of her husband’s addictions, so she pulls herself together and leaves him.  In an era when single mothers had limited options, she set her chin in determination and set out to make a better life for herself and her son.

I sat in astonishment.  “I could leave him,” I thought.  “I already have a Bachelor’s degree, I could find a job, and find someone to watch the kids while I work.  I don’t have to stay here.  I can leave!”  Tears of relief and realization flooded my cheeks, as I sat in amazement.  Over the next few weeks, my plan of escape was formulated.  Due to the increasingly violent nature of my husband’s actions and threats, every step of mine had to be carefully and intentionally made in order to avoid death or other harm to the kids, myself &/or our loved ones.

Miraculously, we were finally able to flee, and we settled into a different county.  Despite his family’s intimidation and misuse of their many connections, the children and I moved into an apartment and started settling into our new life.  My mom gifted me with a copy of the movie, Never Been Kissed, and I began to slowly recreate my self-image.  I would laughingly say in the mirror, “I’m not Josie Grossie anymore!”  (Seriously, I did…)  After being so beaten and battered emotionally, verbally, and even physically, I had to learn that I had permission to have confidence…that being a confident, self-assured woman was not going to automatically warrant an angry outburst.  It took me years, almost a decade, to walk with my head held high again.

A car accident left me with a debilitating concussion and subsequent amnesia (this was about 5 years ago), and my short term memory would reset if something changed.  For instance, a friend took me to the grocery store, and told me to get a tomato.  A woman rushed in front of me with her cart and I had no idea where I was or what I was doing there.  I kept having a nagging phrase in my head so I finally posted on my Facebook status; “What is ’50 First Dates’? Is it a book?”  The resounding answer was, “It’s your life right now!”

When James and I started dating, there were many things that I forgot.  One of the nice things was that if I slept three times, I would forget any misunderstandings or disagreements that we had.  It was nice for him to have a reference when explaining me to other people…and the movie was the quickest explanation.  I wish I could honestly say that I beat the crap out of a criminal with  a baseball bat like “Lucy” did (just kidding 🙂 ), but again, Drew’s movie stirred up hope in me that someday, a kind man might decide that I was worth the effort it would take to make me his bride.  Eventually, my hope was realized when James did indeed make me his bride.

I was overjoyed when James took me on a date to see Blended this year.  We laughed through the whole thing, saying, “It’s so true!  Dating after your divorce is really that awkward!”  Looking back on our marriage with the lens of this romantic comedy was funny yet reassuring.  The script reiterated the humorous awkward moments that are strung along in our journey of blending a family.

I marvel at how God can take the artistic talent of an elegant actress like Drew Barrymore, and somehow intricately weave a beautiful story of redemption and hope into my life. Thank you seems too small a token of my gratitude, but I hope that this heartfelt expression reflects my genuine appreciation.

Harold’s Story

Harold's Story (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

Harold’s Story (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

Grandpapa turned 18 while on base for Boot Camp during WWII. He caught scarlet fever there and almost died. After convincing his superior officers that he was recovered, he shipped out.  He had scored so highly on his placement test that the Brass called him in and told him he could have his pick of any position in the military.  He knowingly chose to be a radio operator.  I say “knowingly” because grandpapa was a wise man.  He knew that the top three most dangerous positions were captain, medic, and radio operator.

He saw so many horrors during his tour of duty that he only began to talk of his experiences when I was in middle school and I interviewed him for a class project.  His assignments took him to France, Italy, and Africa.  He would get choked up while recalling some of the atrocities that he witnessed.

He confided in us that one song was his “bolster”.

The lyrics are written below.  As you read them, picture a humble farmer-turned-soldier bravely bringing ammunition and supplies to the front lines, calling out radio communications, watching his friends die in battle for the freedom of people that they had never met.

  1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
    Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
    Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
    Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

    • Refrain:
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long;
      This is my story, this is my song,
      Praising my Savior all the day long.
  2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
    Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
    Angels, descending, bring from above
    Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
  3. Perfect submission, all is at rest,
    I in my Savior am happy and blest,
    Watching and waiting, looking above,
    Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

“Blessed Assurance” by Frances J. Crosby 1873 copyright: PUBLIC DOMAIN permission given.

“true story” – I authorize this photo for PUBLIC DOMAIN – Gracie K. Harold 2014

If Grandpapa can proclaim this truth in the midst of carnage and the atrocities of war, then I can raise my voice to join those who have gone on before me, proclaiming that “this is my story… I am filled with His goodness, I am lost in His love.”  Even as death swirls around me and leaves my heart jagged.

This is my story.

Is it yours?

Hear a cover of the hymn here.

Lilacs & Shackles, sneak peek

2014-05-19 11.26.04

Lilacs & Shackles (c)GracieKHarold2014

“Lilacs & Shackles”, excerpted from “Across the Street From Normal” by Gracie K. Harold, (c) 2014, used by permission.

TRIGGER WORD WARNING: drug recovery, addiction, abuse, miscarriage, grief, acceptance, motherhood

It started with the lilacs.  It was barely spring when my Daddy and my three children gave me a lilac bouquet in honor of Mother’s Day.  Instinctively, I rummaged for a vase in my cupboard, filled it with water and placed the flowers on my table.

That night, after my kids were in bed, I realized that my mom had given me the vase as a wedding present.  The last time that lilacs were in that vase was on my wedding day many years earlier.  My bouquet had been lilacs and a single white rose (in honor of the daughter I had miscarried).

My dad and step-mom planted their bushes after I was married.  The previous spring brought a few blooms, but this spring had the bushes “heavy-laden” with flowers.

So, there I sat.  I had an immense, fragrant “wedding bouquet” in my “wedding vase”.

I had grieved in the three and a half years since we left; but now I grieved the fact that it had never been a “living” marriage.  The bottom line was that it was DOA and I spent five years desperately trying to revive it.  Before our wedding, I knew that my ex-husband had been through drug recovery, but his family members and friends assured me that it was all in his past.  He had recently graduated from a Bible College with an Associate’s Degree in Theology, and it seemed like he and I would have a great partnership working with inner-city kids and their families.  I was naïve and deceived.

I found out on my honeymoon (2,000 miles away from home) that I had indeed married an addict.  When I confronted him about the substances, he told me that he hated me and never should have married me.

I was humiliated, devastated, and ashamed.  I felt like such a fool.  I had given up the jobs that I loved for him.  I had given up some of my friends, and I had given up my neighborhood, too.  I slipped into denial.  I desperately thought that if I could just love him better, I wouldn’t be a failure at marriage.

Being the skilled charmer/deceiver that he is, he proceeded to “spoil” me and lavish gifts on me for the rest of the honeymoon; all the while promising that he would change and things would get better once we were home.

Two weeks after our honeymoon, I woke up at 3:00 in the morning.  The back door was swinging in the breeze, and he was gone.  No note, no explanation, nothing.  I called his cell phone, and he yelled at me.  He was at a party with his friends.

Later that month, I was vacuuming the house and rearranging the furniture when I discovered a plate and a straw under our couch.  He had gone through $3,000 of drugs in a month.  (I eventually found out that his mother had been meeting him to give him money behind my back).

I tried to talk to one of the pastors who had officiated at our wedding.  The pastor and his wife blamed me and told my ex-husband that he never should have married me!  They told me that I needed to “submit” more under his “Headship as the leader of the Household”, and then he wouldn’t be so stressed out.  They accused me of “causing his addiction by not being completely submitted” as a wife.

I spun into deeper denial and guilt, doing everything I could think of to please him.  It was never enough.

Around the Christmas holiday season, he decided to sell drugs.  I went ballistic.  I told him that there was no way that I would have that in my house.

I called another pastor from our wedding, and that pastor warned my ex-husband that I would get him arrested if he didn’t keep me under control.  Then, I called a Pastor friend of mine for advice.  He said, “Gracie, is he beating you or throwing you around?”  I answered, “No.”  The pastor literally said, “Then stop being so bitchy and just love your husband”.

So I did, after being absolutely positive that drugs would not be sold.

Right around the same time, we discovered mold in our rental house.  To me, it was the perfect illustration.  From the outside, the house was an adorable little bungalow.  Inside, it was filled with toxins.  The entire time that my ex-husband was using drugs, we went to church.  He played guitar and helped lead worship.  I kept thinking that his addiction was spreading out of control the same way that the mold was rapidly taking over parts of the house.

We ended up moving out of the rental due to health reasons.  While in our temporary housing one night, my ex went out to “talk with a friend”.  I had a horrible feeling about it before he left, and begged him not to go.  He insisted on leaving, and ended up having an altercation with the man; who jammed a gun into his chest.  Miraculously, my ex was able to run out of the house and call the police.  We found out afterwards that the man had pulled the trigger on his gun as my ex ran away; but it wouldn’t fire.  The situation resulted in a stand-off with police, until the man surrendered.

About a week later, we discovered that I was pregnant with our first child.

I thought that if we left our state and were connected with new friends and a new church, then my ex-husband would be able to break free of his addictions.  I was wrong.  I misjudged and underestimated the determination of an addict.  I later learned that he could walk through an unfamiliar crowded street and pick up his drug of choice within 20 minutes.

My Dr. told me that I had a high-risk pregnancy, and I knew I needed my family.  Mercifully, my ex finally relented and we returned home months later.  My hope returned one night when he dumped out all of his substances and said that he was ready to change.  However, throughout the pregnancy, life was an emotional roller coaster.

One minute he would be talking sweetly to my rapidly-growing belly; and the next he would be accusing me of carrying someone else’s baby.  I never knew how long the “good” would last.

We became involved with a good church.  We had a great network of other young married couples; and I honestly believed that maybe we could finally be “normal”.  It was only an illusion.  We joined a small group.  I maintained the façade for a while, but it was only a matter of time before reality reared its ugly head.  He had a way of humiliating people with subtle comments and snide remarks.  Little by little, the truth about his temper and obsession with control began to show.

I was about 27 weeks along in my pregnancy when I was admitted to the hospital for pre-term labor.  My contractions were so strong that the NICU specialist came into my room to explain everything that would be done to save my baby.  Because I had previously lost my daughter through a miscarriage, I was terrified of losing this baby, too.  I’ll never forget the isolated feeling that night after my ex fell asleep.  I felt so alone, abandoned and desolate.

I began to cry and beg God to heal my baby and my body.  And then, I prayed and dedicated my baby to God.  I surrendered.  I knew that my child was a part of God’s plan long before conception.  I yielded my child…for as long as God decided to bless me with my baby.  Suddenly, peace washed over me.  I knew that no matter what, God would hold me; and I was not alone.  I was in the hospital for days, and then amazingly, I was released.

I ended up on bed rest for 10 weeks. People from church were very kind to us.  They brought us meals, did our laundry, and prayed for us.  We entered into a relatively calm phase.

However, after I was cleared from bed rest, I started having contractions one evening.  They were six minutes apart.   My ex-husband screamed at me that it was not time to have the baby.  He was not ready for this.  He shrieked that I needed to knock it off, and he refused to let me go to the hospital.  My contractions stopped after a while.  This happened at least two more times over the next few weeks.

I was scheduled to be induced on an upcoming holiday.  The Sunday before, I thought my water broke.  After the initial exam, the Resident told me that they had an extra bed open; and I could be induced the next morning.   My ex-husband looked at her and said, “No thank you.  She’s scheduled to be induced on the holiday.  This baby is being born the day after.”

Thankfully, the wise woman said, “I’ll leave you two alone for a moment.  Grace, remember that you’re two weeks past your due date.  You’re already here, and you’re welcome to stay.”

I knew I was “safe” at the hospital, I knew that he wouldn’t dream of yelling at me or trying to force me to leave.  I put my foot down.  I told him we were staying.  He was very angry, but for once, powerless.

My son was born and his name was deliberately chosen to remind me that “Yahweh is the God who provides!”   What a gift his life has been to me!  He has indeed been a constant reminder that Yahweh does provide for all of our needs!

Eventually, we switched to a church that was in our new neighborhood.  I knew a lot of people there through the school that I had attended, and I finally felt like my ex-husband was finding his niche as well.  He had given up substances in order to be a good father.  He had friends who were men of faith.

The following June, we dedicated our son, renewed our vows, and my ex-husband baptized me.  We helped out with the kids program that summer.  We took a mission trip to New York in August.  That’s where things started to unravel.

He had spent a year in New York at a drug recovery center.  When we went back to visit, he slipped back into the same old habits.  He flirted with other women right in front of me.  He demanded that he be allowed to play guitar for worship.  He insisted that he only do certain volunteer jobs at the ministry place.  He swore at me, yelled at me, and then turned around to hold the door open for me if other people were nearby.

One afternoon, we were helping out with a project on a covered basketball court.  I had our son, David, in his stroller.  The wind picked up, and it started raining so hard that the only dry place was at center court.  Suddenly, we saw treetops getting snapped off about a half mile away.  I grabbed my son out of the stroller, and another worker yelled, “Quick!  Run to the retaining wall and hunker down!”  I did.  My ex-husband crouched down a few feet away from me.  The other man grabbed him and yelled, “Cover your wife!  I’ll cover you!”  As the wind roared above us like a train, and trees were snapped in two; I began to cry at the realization that my ex was only concerned about himself.  If the other man had not been with us, I would have been the only one trying to protect our son.  No one was injured, thank God; and we spent a long afternoon and evening helping with the clean-up effort.

When it was time to leave New York, I was told that our trip money had been spent, so we could no longer afford a hotel like I had originally planned.  We had to drive straight through the night from New York to Michigan.  When we pulled into our driveway, we discovered that my ex had left the back door unlocked for the entire ten days that we were gone.  Miraculously, nothing had been touched.  I remembered how devastated I was at his lack of desire to keep us and our home safe from harm.

The dampness on my cheeks startled me back to reality as I began to cry over the recollections of my past marriage. The smell of lilacs wafted over to me again, and I realized that all of these horrific memories were condensed to the first 18 months of my marriage!  I endured that much hell in only 18 months?!  I grieved the death of my expectations.  I grieved and mourned and wailed for the death of my dreams.   I became indignant and angry over the good that I had not been given.

I have wrestled throughout my life with allowing my sadness to be expressed.  I constantly struggle with feeling inferior if I start to cry.  Over the years, I would literally assign time to cry…at night when my children were asleep; or while in the shower, or while running (in the rain).  This time, I completely surrendered to my sorrow.  I simply let it run its course.

I was surprised by how cleansed I felt afterward.  I pulled myself up from the crumpled heap that I had become; and unflinchingly buried my face in the lilac bouquet, breathing in the heady deliciousness.  I remembered something that my counselor friend had said about flashbacks.  He had told me once that   “the worst thing a flashback can do is scare you”.  The truth of his statement resonated with me in this moment as I took a quivering deep breath.

I exhaled slowly and evenly, visualizing all of my pain from the rejection of my first marriage.  I spoke aloud in a surprisingly firm voice, and said, “The worst thing that my former marriage can do is sadden me.  It has no power over me anymore.  I am loved by God, I am carried by Him and I can do this”.  I recalled a quote from L.M. Montgomery in her book, “A Tangled Web”.  The story outlines one of the heroines being jilted by her fiancée’ until he eventually finds himself jilted; at which point he comes back to beg her forgiveness in order to avoid being alone.  The heroine’s thoughts after she sends him away are as follows:

“To come back so soon – so shamelessly.  Hadn’t he any depth? Couldn’t he care really for anybody? But he had come—and his coming had set her free from phantom fetters.”

I repeated the phrase “phantom fetters” out loud.  The very shackles that I was so afraid of, the ones that I feared would limit me and hold me back; were merely “phantom fetters”.  They weren’t shackles at all.  I was only bound by my resistance to live my new life freely.  I held the power to walk forth unafraid.  What I thought were my shackles were as a hologram, a shadow of reality.

In that moment, I resolved to embrace life; not to run from it in fear.

I remembered sleeping in my childhood room on summer nights; with the intoxicating smell of lilacs wafting through the screened windows until my bedroom was saturated with the fragrance.

Why should he be allowed to steal the fragrance of my favorite flowers?  He had already stolen so much.  I was no longer shackled to him.

I picked up the vase, and brought it down to my bedside table.  As the aroma of freshly picked lilacs drifted around me, I peacefully gave myself over to a dream-filled sleep.

You can purchase “Across the Street From Normal” for this and other chapters of our life!

“Aunt Ann”

pond bridge

Pond (c)Gracie K Harold 2014

 How do you even begin to describe the family member who was the epitome of tough love?  Aunt Ann was tougher than nails; and her heart was tenderly compassionate.  Her cupboard was always stocked with candy for her grandchildren, great-nieces and nephews.  After she learned that some of her offspring could not eat chocolate, but could eat Smarties®; her cupboard was always stocked with that candy.

Aunt Ann lived barely a block from me while I grew up, and her daughter was the one who I considered to be my best friend.  My uncle, aunt and cousins shared half a duplex with my grandpapa and grandma.  I probably spent more afternoons at the duplex than anywhere else.

I remember one afternoon when my cousin opened up a freshly purchased half gallon of orange sherbet while we watched some afternoon television. We were so distracted by the show that when Aunt Ann came back from running errands; we had an empty container.  I still remember the slightly sarcastic-yet-filled-with-laughter voice she used as she called us by BOTH our first and middle names…and reminded us to “PLEASE LADIES COULD YOU SCOOP OUT 1 BOWL a PIECE NEXT TIME?”

Aunt Ann taught me that no matter what happens, or how painful life gets, forgiveness is a necessary part of life; and family never stops being family…no matter what.  I went through a very dark season of life after the miscarriage of my oldest daughter.  My grief consumed me, and I became so engulfed by the pain of my loss that I pushed away everyone in my family; not intentionally, but I did.

I was a server at a local restaurant, and my grandpapa insisted that he and grandma come into my restaurant every single week.  If they were travelling out of town, they would call to let me know that they would be gone for a while.  They would simply sit in the restaurant as I worked, and grandpapa told me later that he was praying for me the entire time that they sat there.  Not long after they started that, Aunt Ann and my Uncle began coming in while I was working as well.  They intentionally pursued me with their consistency and love in a time when I felt so alone and unsure about anything in life anymore.

Years later, when my first marriage began to crumble at my feet; Aunt Ann was the one who sat with me on my dad’s couch and held my two week old baby.  She told me the gut-wrenching truth that I didn’t want to hear but needed to hear.  She cried with me as she told me that she knew it would be “Hell”, but she trusted that I was strong enough and deserving enough to move on with my three little kids; and pursue a better life for us.

Aunt Ann was strong and confident in the way that she would tell us what needed to be said; even when it was the last thing we wanted to face.  She never once belittled me or made me feel like I had no worth.  Not once.  We had PLENTY of times when I was so angry at her and where she was angry at me; but no matter what…she taught me that family is forever.

My grandpapa had this unassuming way of simply sitting next to me, oftentimes in silence; to just be with me and love me.  In the last 5+ years since leaving my first marriage; Aunt Ann has done the same thing.  My sweetest memories involve being beside her through the moments of life.  That horribly painful night when grandpapa died, Aunt Ann came up beside me in the hallway of the hospital and we stood shoulder to shoulder; silently crying as we stared out the window.  Finally, we leaned on each other as we sobbed.

We laughed and joked the entire way through my cousin’s wife’s baby shower; and when they birthed a son and named him in honor of grandpapa; I felt all the richer because I had BEEN by Aunt Ann in preparation of this new little life.

When I became engaged to my beloved husband; Aunt Ann was the one who volunteered to alter my gown.  It is the most breath-taking dress I have ever worn in my life.  When I joked to her, “WHY must I have curves like this?” She reassured, “Grace, James LOVES your curves! He’s a smart man! He realizes that your curves show off who you are…a mother!”

She welcomed all three of my “bonus” children with open arms, putting them immediately at ease, and instantly claiming them as her newest great nephews and great niece.  It took them mere moments to begin loving her.

The day of my final fitting, as she stood me before her mirror and zipped me up; she kissed me on the check as we both became misty-eyed.  She told me how extremely happy for me they were; how well I had done raising the kids on my own for all those years, and how exceedingly proud of me they were that I had opened myself up to James, his family, and his love.  “Grace, I’m proud of you! I love you! I know that Grandpapa would be proud of you, too!”

The week after we received news of her Cancer diagnosis; my uncle’s retirement party was scheduled.  A blizzard hit, and James and I drove into town anyways.  We arrived; Aunt Ann hugged James, and then I embraced her.  I whispered in her ear, “I love you, I am praying…and I am so sorry!  I am here for whatever you need!”  She held me in a fierce embrace, thanked me, and told me that it meant so much to her that we were there.

We sat down, shoulder to shoulder, enjoying the celebration of my Uncle’s retirement.  When we got up to leave, we hugged again, and she thanked me another time for being there.  I looked her in the eyes and said, “We’re family.  Family is forever, right?” and she smiled as she nodded. “That’s right, Grace. It’s forever!”

She died too soon.  The time between her diagnosis and her death seems like a hellish nightmare.  I know that her pain is gone; and for that I am thankful, but I miss her.  I miss her goofiness, her wisdom, her innate ability to whip up the most decadent desserts, and above all; I miss sitting beside her.  I miss her fierce kisses on my cheek and her messages whispered through clenched teeth as if they were top-secret encouragement for my ears only.

A few weeks ago, I had a vivid dream.

Pond Bench

“Sitting” (c)Gracie k Harold 2014

 

Aunt Ann and I were sitting side by side on the bench by the pond; laughing and talking.  She looked at me and said, “Grace, it’s almost time for me to leave.  I need you to keep your eyes focused on Christ no  matter what; and I need you to help point everyone else to see Him in this.”  In my dream, I turned to argue with her, to beg her to stay; but she was already walking away and her back was turned.  “Aunt Ann!” I yelled, “Not yet! Please!”  She turned to look at me over her shoulder, and said, “I love you Grace! Remember what I said!”…and she was gone.  I sat there on the bench, feeling alone.  Then I remembered her words; that He is here, sitting beside me, holding me in His arms, and carrying me through my grief.


 

About The Table…

The following post was started years ago, even though the ending came about rather recently:

I have been mentored by a couple, “Mr. & Mrs. B”, from the time that I was sixteen.  I’ve literally known them for half of my life.  I stayed with them when I traveled to teach in the summertime.  Many of my happiest memories have taken place with them.

20140511-202623.jpgThey have this amazing retro white Burke pedestal table with swivel chairs.  Within the first day of staying with them, I told them that I wanted it if they ever decided to get rid of it.  I originally wanted it because I love retro furniture.  But over the years, we have grieved gut-wrenching losses and wept at their table.  We have laughed until our stomachs hurt.  We have prayed together there.  They have passionately interceded for me at that table when I could not be with them.  I have soaked up their wisdom, eaten with them, been chided by them, and I’ve also heard some very difficult things.  It’s never easy when your faults are called out and yet, through it all, I have belonged to them as a part of their family.  The table has become a symbol to me of their love, acceptance, and discipleship.

Some years ago, they made plans to sell their house.  They are in their eighties and decided to move into an independent living facility.  Immediately they told me not to worry, that the table would be mine as soon as the house sold. Well, this past Sunday, Mr. B., told me that the house was sold, and my table was coming soon.  Monday morning, though, he called to say that the buyers wanted to keep the table.  I was shocked and devastated.  I agreed to meet him and travel to their house because they had a different table set to offer me.

I had a long Monday night.  I cried like a stubborn child because I wanted the table.  I realized that I was grieving more than just a table.  I’m so much wealthier emotionally and spiritually due to their influence.  I saw the table as a symbol of their legacy.  I wanted to mentor a 16 year old girl at that table the way that they had mentored me.  Mrs. B. is slowly fading due to dementia.  I wanted a way to still feel like she was with me even as we lose her a piece at a time.

So, I got over myself Tuesday and went with Mr. B, praying the whole way for wisdom.  When the buyers showed me their tables, I began to silently cry.  I apologized, and explained that half of my life has been spent at their table.  I explained why it means so much to me.  The woman said, “I am so sorry to have you come here.  We had no idea.  You are so lucky to have Mr. & Mrs. B.  I wish we could find someone like that for my 16 -year old daughter.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

She explained that her daughter had unexpected health problems, and was really struggling right now.

I blurted out, “Okay.  I will mentor your daughter, please, let me.  You can keep the table.”

She started to cry and said, “No.  You keep the table, and we’d love for you to mentor our daughter.”

Only God could possibly work it out so that I was mentored at a retro table in an old farmhouse for 16 years.  Now, I get to mentor a 16 year old girl who’s moving into the farmhouse.  I get to have her over to my house, to sit at the same retro white table.  I get to show her the love and acceptance that was lavished on me.

Isn’t that what’s it all about?

Because love ALWAYS wins.

***So, I didn’t receive the table at the time. Instead, the renters were manipulative and greedy.  They wouldn’t let me get the table, and at one point, they even told me that it was theirs. I was devastated.  Eventually, I decided to simply be content that I had beautiful memories which had been made with my mentors.  It was a tough journey.  At first, I hated that the new residents of the house had lied to me.  But then, I realized that if I was bitter, I would be giving them too much power and control over my life.

I forgot about it, until James found the B’s old house listed for sale.  We were looking into the possibility of buying a house; and he stumbled upon their listing.  I called their daughter, and we talked at length.  James and I weren’t able to go through with the purchase of the house like we wished; but I did meet with a very dear family member so we could go through the house one more time.

There sat the table and chairs!  I started to get teary eyed and explained the story to this family member.  Phone calls were made unbeknownst to me; and as a wedding gift; my mentors’ family surprised James and I with the table set!

Now, we have it in our kitchen, and I marvel at how things have come around.  We have our six children, plus the steady stream of college students and teenagers who visit our home.  Mr. & Mrs. B. invested in me, and now we get to invest together in the lives of others.

God’s Love does win. Everytime.

My good friend, Marc, used to say, “God’s always on time. He’s never late; but He is rarely early.”   It’s true. I have the table set to prove it.***