Serving from an empty cup: Sunday Sermon

Sometimes I lose myself. It is as if there is a woman who exists post trauma and a girl who exists in the midst of trauma and sometimes I get stuck in the gray space between those two souls. When I am in that gray space I feel choked; as if someone ripped the pencil from my grip (or, more accurately, the keyboard) and wrapped their hands around my neck to prevent me from screaming bloody murder in any attempt to get myself out of there.

I know these two exist in tandem, really. I know the woman that is me holds that little girl’s hand tight every day, whether she wants to or not. But when something happens to throw me head first into that gray space, that woman who seems, at least on the surface, to have her shit together lets go and floats off into space, far out of that young, broken girl’s reach. And I am silenced. I cannot write, I cannot scream. It is far too much effort to reach out to the various life boats in front of me. And so I walk with the devil.

Yes, I said it. I walk with Satan. I let him take my hand where Jesus and my assured self once were. I let self doubt and rejection and all those thoughts I work so hard to pray away creep back in. I let Satan whisper in my ear and take my head and heart into his hands.

You aren’t worthy.

You are too much.

Your story is too heavy.

There is far too much baggage here for anyone to take on.

You’re intruding on other people’s happy lives.

What makes you think you deserve to do that?

What makes you think you’re worthy of their love when they already had full, happy lives without you and your baggage?

You are a burden.

Most recently, I had a huge blow up with my biological mother. No holds barred, let her hear what thirty years (ok 29 but we all know I can’t keep track of my own age) of rejection, abandonment, witness to drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, insert assorted traumas here truly feels like kind of fight. I measured my words carefully so as not to be undeservedly cruel, but I told my mother exactly what was on my heart, and what has been for a very long time.

Let me say this. Going in to conversation with my mother is like reading about the history of the great world wars for me. It no longer feels like a battle I actively have to fight- I already know what is going to happen before the great barrage of insane texts really gets going. I’ll put too much thought in to my response, she’ll claim heartbreak, we’ll end up on opposite sides of the field with our various limbs and organs strewn about. My emotion, as it were, will be tucked away somewhere else- high up in an observation tower. Ah, dissociation at its finest. Yes, that is a dangerous association to make. But a true one.

I do dissociate emotion from my mother at this point in my life. If I didnt, I’d drown in my own tears. The possibility of irreversible devastation is far too high with that one, so I tuck it away for another day, another lifetime.

And so for the first time in my life I told my mother what I really think of all this mess we have made. I was sick of the insane texts messages and ongoing tempter tantrum she’s been throwing for going on over a month now. I was sick of the fact that she believes she can say whatever she wants, that she can hide behind a wall of being an injured bird, too soft for this world.

The memories I have of my mother are all bad, and all disjointed. They do not play in my head as if I am tucked away in a dark room under a warm blanket with a projector in front of me- they play more like I am running through the woods from something that will inevitably eat me alive. Think it sounds harsh? Imagine seeing it play out in your head. I remember dimly lit living rooms and what it felt like to be so tired my bones ached but being too afraid to lie down and close my eyes on the tobacco stained couch because I didn’t know who it belonged to, where I was, or who would be in the room with me when I woke up. I remember being frightened by the sound of violence outside the flimsy walls of a trailer in a park, of being terrified that my mother was outside those walls and I was inside them. I remember marveling at the stars as we drove through the Mohave desert at two in the morning, but feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as a police officer suddenly appeared behind us and my mother told me to stay on the lookout for his lights. Lights always meant there was danger we would be separated and I would spend a grueling few hours at an alien police station while they located my grandparents and booked my mother. That’s a real threat when you’re high on speed, driving your child through the desert at 2 am. I remember the way the ground felt under my body as I slept in the hanger at the Corona airport with my mother and her boyfriend in the middle of winter, the sound of my mother’s voice when she offered to sell me to a passerby at the swap meet in Palmdale, how I still cringe when anyone says the word shit because that was her nickname for the beloved substance that would give her the next high. I remember the night I told my mother and grandmother that my brother had been sexually abusing me and how hard I cried. I remember the night she told me he’d be coming to stay with us again despite what I had told her. I remember the night we were in the car together, driving home from my grandmother’s house, and she told me that if I chose to testify against him I couldn’t live in her home anymore because she couldn’t choose between her children. I remember the day she called me and told me he’d be moving in to my old room because he needed to get ‘back on his feet’. I remember vividly every time she’s made that very calculated choice between her children.

I could go with a million more strobe flashes of trauma, but what’s the point? They are all equally nauseating, and all equally in the past. There are so many reasons for me to hate her, but I don’t. I do not harbor anger towards her. I am at a point where I can discuss what happened- where I can say with ease the things I remember. Yes, they were downright horrific. I am damn lucky that I did not follow her example. I am damn lucky I’m not in intensive therapy or in a psych ward (thanks Gram for that early intervention intensive therapy!) But I would be a liar to say that it does not have any resounding effect on my life. Whether I want them to or not, my mother’s words stay with me. They wind up tucked away in my coat pocket, like a crinkled up tissue or an old receipt. Something I keep meaning to throw out, but I somehow never get around to.

When it comes to my mother, I give from an empty cup. I try to find grace and acceptance where grace and acceptance has never been given. I try to find patience where patience has never been practiced. I want for a love where a love has never existed. My mother and I argued last week because she believes that I have unrealistic expectations for her. This came on the heels of my asking her if she even knew what I did for a living, or where I lived. Spoiler alert: she couldn’t answer either question.

So this is my truth: my mother is a woman who does not know the most basic facts of my life. She cannot tell you where I live. I’m not talking about reciting my address from memory. If I went missing tomorrow, my mother couldn’t tell you which city to look in. She can, thanks to linked in, tell you where I work- but not what I do for a living. Any more detailed facts about my life would be equal to rocket science. And that’s ok. Because I have people who do know. I have people who know because they want to know. They ask me what I’m doing on Friday night and how work is going and expect me at their opening nights and want me to recite my bad date stories at their family dinners. It’s not traditional, it’s usually not explainable, but it’s ok. I’ve found a way to fill my cup.

So where does my mom come back in to all of this? I was having a conversation with one of my girlfriends this morning before church about… you guessed it, giving from an empty cup. When God wants to teach me a lesson, he likes to smack me in the face three or four times with it. I told her, in regards to a few people who were especially draining to her, that she needed to remember how empty *their* cups were and that she couldn’t be responsible for filling them. Little did I know those words would come back to bite me so hard in the ass at church later. Can I say that in regards to a church lesson? Oh well, I did. We’re only half holy around here.

So the lesson at church was all about filling our life tanks, and how we do that with Jesus. Remember me falling in to step with Satan?

Ouch my ass #1. Remember to pray when you feel depleted. Got it. The truth is, when I feel all that trauma, abandonment, and rejection seeping back in, the answer is not to turn away from the people who have chosen to love me because I feel like I am too much. The answer is to turn towards GOD and to remember that I TRUST him and the people he has working in my life. We all have a purpose, we all have something to give. I have got to stop standing in the way of that. I have to. Or I will never stop veering off the path and handing the reigns right back to Satan. I will never stop feeling broken and unworthy.

Ouch my ass #2. Know my role vs. God’s role. In other words, stop playing God and do what you were put on this Earth to do. This hit me HARD at church today. It hit me hard because I realized, in what felt like a horribly zoomed in slo-mo-Bachelor-Esque style vignette of my life that my mother is one of God’s children, too. Guess what? She wasn’t put here as a lesson for me. She’s a child of God, born in her own right, with her own free will, to make her own choices and her own mistakes. Now I can love her until my heart bleeds out of my chest, and believe me, I have tried, but that is not going to affect her path with God and it is NOT going to fill her cup. I felt convicted and absolved all at once. I have always looked at my mother as something done to me. I’ve seen her as a hurt, I’ve seen her as a lesson, I’ve at times seen her as nothing at all. I have never had my eyes open enough to see her as another child of God. Perhaps that is an inherent selfishness born in to all children. We want our parents to be our super heroes and our saviors. We want them to be our protectors and our best friends, even in the worst of our years when we want to hate them the most. Even in the midst of all the hurt and trauma and the thousands of miles of distance between us, I still took for granted that she was my Mom. Our roles have always been inherently confused and I find myself parenting her more often than not. But how often do I try to play God for her? How often do I try to fill her cup and fix her hurts when I know that I can’t, because only one thing can and that’s God. It was as if the tether between us finally snapped this morning as I was sitting there, being told by this new pastor to remember my place between what I’m here to do and what God does. To stay in my lane, as it were. This woman I’ve been holding on to so desperately for almost thirty years now- we are so totally separate. She has her own walk with God and I have mine, and letting our paths cease to cross does not mean I am giving up on any duty or responsibility as a child, because there was never a relationship there to begin with. Im chasing a ghost and throwing myself into a brick wall again and again, wondering why I keep landing on the ground with a set of broken ribs and arms and legs. My responsibility is to God. God did not somehow put this woman in my life as a cross for me to bear or a lesson for me to learn, an ill for me to cure or a heart for me to mend. Maybe that she and I are mother and daughter truly is happenstance. Maybe it isn’t, and that’ll be revealed later on down the line when our hearts have been a little more mended by the only one who CAN mend them. But we have to walk separately hand in hand with Him before that can happen. That is up to personal choice and responsibility. I am responsible for not only trusting God with my heart, but remembering that my mother is another child of God who has the same free will, the same choice, the same heartbreak, and the same Father with the same capacity for unconditional love for her that he has for me. Well. Let me just choke on that for a little while there. Our capacity as children to be so blind towards our parent’s humanity is a little mind boggling, no? Even when they tear us in two, we still don’t want them to be the same as us. We still want them to be something more. So if I can take this newfound awakening and pray on it, and know my role a little better, I can find some more compassion for her. Hating her is not an option, but more compassion and peace between us always will be.

I don’t think my mother and I will ever have a relationship where I call her on a Tuesday afternoon on my way home from work just to see what she’s up to. No. It’s not a think. I know that in my bones. I will call Laurie. I will call Geri. Whatever becomes of my family, should I marry and have kids, will know the women who have chosen to be my mentors and my “moms in every city”. My kids will have so many grandmas they won’t be able to keep them straight, but none of them will be my mom. And that’s ok. What I have to let go of is the guilt that this is the way my life is. What I have to let go of is the fear that I am, in fact, too much. Or that love is an act of charity and all the other things Satan whispers in my ear when I lose myself, want to play God, and slip back in to that gray space.

Last week was harder than I’m still really willing to recognize. And enough was said that, maybe, my mother and I won’t speak again. Maybe for a year, maybe for five, maybe ever. But that’s ok, too. Because we don’t fill each other’s cups. And it takes a lot more than a birth to be a mother and a daughter. I can’t fix her, but God can. So I won’t speak to her, but I will have compassion for her as another child of God who is heartbroken right now. And I’ll pray. For both of us.

And hey, I found my voice again this week. And a sunny Sunday afternoon, a long conversation with Laurie, a good walk, and laughter on a front porch with good people. That’s family. That’s happiness. That’s God’s work. Heaven is in the smallest details sometimes if you’re willing to pay attention to it.

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