Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hide n'Seek and Found

Recently I was asked to speak at my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) year-end Tea & Testimony.  MOPS is an International Christian-based organization dedicated to encouraging and developing mothers to realize their potential.
Talk about nervous. 
For weeks, I consumed boxes of Girl Scout cookies and gallons of caffeinated beverages while staring at a blank computer screen.  

Night after night I not only counted sheep, I organized them by size and color…
Immobilized by fear…with the underlying thought being, the jig is up…
now everyone is going to know…
  • after nearly 10 years of membership I still don’t know my way around a Bible
  • I still think of God as someone sitting behind a heavy piece of glass with the words “Break Only in Case of Emergency”
  • I’ve called God some pretty awful things in my time
  • I regularly question His plan for me

For almost a decade I’ve been on a quest to understand God and my mission here on Earth.  I was baffled as to why Marilyn, our Mentor Mom had asked me to speak to the group in the first place.  What could I possibly share that would be helpful, uplifting, insightful about my pursuit for understanding God.  Over the years I’ve emailed her with dozens of questions and concerns about everything from faith and God to my purpose in mothering.

I grew up in a Catholic family and attended Catholic school in which going to Mass several times a week was part of the curriculum.  All of my friends were Catholic.  I was baptized at two months and gave my first confession at eight years old.   


Lord, I agonized over that first confession. I was a basically a good kid and recall telling the priest my sins included arguing with my brother and sister and talking back to my parents (the latter sin was actually a lie I told because I couldn’t think of another sin and was afraid I’d get into trouble if I didn't at least two sins) and then I’d receive my penance of a few Hail Mary’s and maybe an Our Father.  I was just trying to follow the rules…like not eating meat on Fridays during Lent and listening to whatever the nuns and priests told me.  
I remember when our parish priest came to speak to my 2nd grade class about vocations. 

My first thought was “Yay! Maybe we’ll get to talk about Disney!" 

When I figured out what he was really talking about - I feared God would call me to become a nun…as my aspirations at the time were set on either working in a pet store or doing hair.  

But it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized during all those years of genuflecting, reciting the prayers of the Rosary and participating in the ‘stations of the cross’ that I never felt comfortable in church or in expressing my beliefs in God outwardly to anyone…not even family and friends.  

It seemed God and my feelings about him were so private I even kept them from myself.  
Growing up, we didn’t have conversations about God in the home, nor did we pray before meals, and we certainly never owned a Bible. As a kid I just tried to be a good follower of the rules set by my parents, school and the church.  I believed good followed good.  Don’t follow the rules and look out.  God was watching and keeping track. By the time I was a teenager I was convinced that when I died I would spend several years in purgatory before entering Heaven.  When I left for college, my family’s connection with the church was reduced to attending mass on Christmas and Easter. I was at an age when I questioned everything I was ever taught and even more so when it came out that a priest who served at my elementary school was being brought up on charges for child molestation.
I was distrustful of organized religion.

Then in December 2000, I went on a blind date….set up by my mother and a friend of hers.  This wasn’t my first -- I was 28 years old and had been on plenty and did not have high hopes for anything to come of it.  I was so certain it would be a disappointment that I didn’t wear makeup. I tied my hair up in a tight bun and wore a shapeless wool sweater and a pair of baggy, corduroy, carpenter pants.  I was determined; it seemed, to not be asked out a second time. I also insisted on driving myself to the movie theater and figured I’d be back home and in my jammies before 9 o’clock.  


But, things didn’t work out that way.  It turned out the jarhead, country boy man from a town so small, you’d be hard-pressed to locate it on a map…was funny and interesting and interested in me...despite my best dressed-down efforts.  He was the first man I had ever gone out with in which the subject of religion, faith and God became a topic of conversation.  In all my years of dating, I’d never broached the subject and frankly didn’t care to… with anyone.  Now here was this guy talking about God…on our first date…and the idea of finding the nearest exit had not even crossed my mind .

Though Steve grew up Methodist, he had studied many different faiths including Catholicism and as it turned out -- knew more about it than me…someone who had been born into it.  And, he read the Bible.  He actually read it…cover to cover.  I remember on that first date, glossing over my beliefs by giving my standard “I’m not into organized religion…but I think I’m spiritual”.  But, in that moment, what I was…was completely gob-smacked I could be head over heels for this sweet, funny, honest man who wore well-worn snake-skinned cowboy boots and Dr. Huxtable-looking sweaters...who wasn’t afraid to say he believed in God.  In fact, in the first few weeks of dating, Steve told me he was sure God had brought me to him; I was the woman he had been praying to come into his life.

Huh? Say what?


Steve was patient and while we dated and even after we married – only broached the subject of going to church from time to time.  It wasn’t until after we had Noah that I felt I was ready to enter a church again. It seemed, although I was afraid, I was more fearful my child would grow up not knowing God.  We began attending contemporary services at a Methodist Church and for months I found it difficult to get through a sermon without tears streaking my face. 


Why? I don’t really know.  Maybe sometimes out of guilt for getting so angry at God and other times over my complete misunderstanding of what God really wants and expects of me. For so long I thought of God as something so important and powerful  I didn’t talk to him because I didn’t want to bother him with my petty concerns and problems.  And, honestly, I didn’t know how to pray.  I didn’t feel confident I would have the right words to say to him.  I was conditioned to recite prayers and felt like my words would sound stupid.
When I joined MOPS, I was a very sleep-deprived mom, working part time from home while caring for our persnickety 15 month old, Noah.  During this time Steve attended college two nights a week while holding down a full-time job during the day and serving as a clerk at a sporting goods store on weekends.  We had only one car because two weeks prior to me returning from maternity leave, my work told me if I wanted to keep my job, I would need to move to Sarasota, FL.  Subsequently, the following week, Steve’s car died.

So we made do, which meant I negotiated with my company to work 20 hours a week from home for several months until they could find a replacement for me.  But, with the reduced income and uncertainty with my future employment, we decided to get by with only one car. For the next 18 months, I only traveled as far as my stroller could take me.  During this time I wore the wheels off of three strollers and significantly whittled my body down in size…and was extremely lonely.  Although working from home provided us with extra income and kept my mind occupied, it left no time for me to meet other moms.  I walked a tight rope of sorts. I didn’t have the freedom to hang out and commiserate with stay-at-home moms nor did I have the ability to keep up with the full-time working moms in my field.  On top of the money stressors and loneliness, at 18 months, Noah had a history of chronic ear infections…then a seizure…then another…then another.  He was put through a battery of tests including genetic testing, an MRI and multiple sleep deprived EEG’s that gave us no answers…only more concerns and questions…like could the 103 fever I spiked during labor have caused his current health issues?

Talk about mom guilt.
By the time Noah was two, I knew something was wrong, but according to the state of Missouri not wrong enough.  When he was denied admittance into the First Steps program I went back to the neurologist who only weeks before had told me, “I don’t see autism” to share my Ah ha! moment – mainly that although Noah had more than 100 words in his vocabulary  -- much more than the 20 words needed to “pass” the development test, none of his words fell in the category of expressive language --words like no, eat, drink, out.  All of Noah’s words were labels. He could point to anything and name it. Thankfully, my concerns to him did not fall on deaf ears and with a Pervasive Developmental Delay (PDD) diagnosis Noah was allowed into First Steps. 
Over the next few years my life as mother and wife took a back seat to my life as a therapist for our son.  I did everything the therapists recommended which included; swinging therapy, listening therapy (which he initially hated and sometimes made him throw up), brushing and joint compression therapy and systematic desensitization therapy every day. 
And, I suffered; my family suffered…but my marriage really suffered.  And, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel close to becoming a statistic at various points throughout my marriage. 
·    when I found myself paying for gas with a handful of loose change
·    when Noah locked me in the basement and threw his shoes in the toilet in protest of potty training
·    and I definitely considered a Thelma and Louise exit during Natalie’s first six months of life…during that time of sleep deprivation due to her chronic ear infections, eczema and reflux and Noah’s seizures and other health concerns – I racked up 30 doctor visits between the two kids. 
Over the course of motherhood, I’ve built up quite a rolodex of ISTs…neurologists, otolaryngologists, dermatologists, allergists, urologists, orthopedists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, behavioral therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists.
Today I see those times I thought I was alone – God truly was working behind the scenes.  About six months after Steve and I joined a church I met Barb - an occupational therapist…not only did she understand the basics of what I was going through with Noah, but she just got me. And, she not only cared about me, she cared about my entire family.  She was the first outsider, I ever saw my husband let his guard down with – he suffered from social anxiety terribly, but with her, he acted like the man I knew – full of dry humor and a sharp wit.  And, through the many years of bare cupboards and creative cooking that goes along with having limited means, she always made sure I had chocolate.  I imagine the two of us consumed caseloads of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups over morning play dates that ran into dinnertime. She listened with a generous heart and made me believe that I was a good mom and could get through another day.
Although while at MOPS I often felt like I was carrying a secret…because I wasn’t so sure about God as everyone else seemed to be and I felt like an outsider because my kid didn’t act like typical kids…I forced myself to go…year after year.  And, sometimes I even relaxed enough to have a little fun.  I was determined as I had been with Noah’s therapy to find and understand God.  And, I made some pretty amazing friends, like Eraka. Through the years she and I have bonded over our kids who test the boundaries of what experts believe is normal and what we have learned to view as “normal plus” or our sons and husbands would see as “misunderstood super-powers”. MOPS also brought Marilyn, our group's mentor mom, into my life.  I can’t even remember how she was able to work her way into my heart because I kept stuff locked up tight…but she did and she didn’t mind – actually she welcomed any and all questions I had about God and the bible.  I began to look forward to receiving her friendly greeting and generous hugs at meetings.  Gently and respectfully, she inquired about my family and offered ways to support us because she intuitively knew it wasn’t in my nature to ask for help.  She was creative in her quest for helping me and my family.  Sometimes it came in the form of a Christian book and a few sachets of herbal tea.  Other times, a much needed grocery gift card or her calling in a favor to an occupational therapist friend who wanted to help, too.
For me, MOPS, and the friendships I’ve forged have been the cornerstone for how I’ve been able to keep on keeping on….and to continue my pursuit in having a relationship with God.  And, up until two weeks ago, I thought that would be all I’d have to share with everyone, except one evening after Steve had put Noah to bed, I heard him calling for me.  When I went into his room, Noah said, “Mom, you’ve got pray for me.”
Huh?
I was momentarily stunned.

This was a first.  For one thing, although our family regularly attends church and the kids go to Sunday school and we say grace before meals, not once had I ever prayed with my kids…mainly because I don’t even do that for myself . I often marvel at how easy it seems for others to pray so openly and freely…without worry. Now, here was my nine year old asking me to do that which I was most afraid to do and suddenly it all became clear…

All these years…
I’ve had it wrong. 
I haven’t been pursuing God. 
He has been pursuing me…relentlessly. 
He has been longing to hear from me, but it was I who would not allow it. So, this time, God decided to get creative.  I think he figured although I’d deny myself, I’d never do that to one of my children. For the past two weeks, God has been calling me to talk to him…
not in a beautiful church filled with stained glass windows...

but in a room surrounded by Darth Vader and an army of Lego guys. 
And, his voice doesn’t boom…
it’s prepubescent and always starts out the same, “Mom, you’ve got to pray for me.”

4 comments:

  1. Oh Andrea... I soaked in every single word of this beautiful testimony! Tears in my eyes, my heart melting... I want to run to your house and hug you! As I read through each detail of your life, I kept thinking to myself (NO! She's got God all wrong!) And I knew that in time, He would soften your heart in His Perfect Way. Oh how I love how God finds the exact way to find his children and open their hearts! He HAS been relentlessly pursuing you!!! And bless your sweet soul... You thought you were doing all the right things. God is personal. So many people don't truly understand how intimate He truly is. I am filled with such incredible joy knowing you now know Him as you should. Loved reading your words!!! Keep sharing!!!!!! I bet your MOPS talk was a HIT!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for all of your encouraging words.

      Delete
  2. Andrea...Thank you! You are such an inspiration! You have such an awesome way of writing and sharing your most personal thoughts, feelings & insights. You are beautiful inside and out. I miss you terribly. You are an amazing Mom and Wife! Love ya! ~Shauna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for all your loving words of encouragment. Without you, I never would have even made the call to join. ;-) I miss you, too - Sdub.

      Delete