Shame Resilience Part 1

When we began our adoption process for our first adoption, we were encouraged to learn as much about Chinese culture as possible. I knew a fair overview of its history from courses taken in college, and I knew something of the culture because one professor I had in college had lived and taught in China during a sabbatical year. One topic mentioned over and over was the importance of not causing someone to “lose face.” I really don’t know the full depth of what it means to cause someone to lose face but after four adoption trips, I know it is very tightly wound with shame.  A child’s behavior can cause shame to fall on the parents within their community. More than a few conversations with ex-pats (US citizens living in China) revealed that parenting and indeed much of the cultural order was based upon shaming children so they won’t cause shame.  I knew from my interactions with guides that being told the truth about a subject will only happen if it won’t cause anyone to lose face.  Lying is OK as long as the end result is everyone is happy.  The impression I always had is that it was fine to commit a wrong as long as you don’t get caught.  The shame is not in the doing until you are caught, then there is shame.  I know that on more than one occasion I rather smugly thought to myself, “I am so glad we don’t use shame in America to control children’s behavior.”

I was smug about it until last October when I ran into another mother who said her daughter came home from school the day before because her teacher had embarrassed my son in front of the whole class.  My son, a 4th grader, had received a particularly low grade on a test and the teacher had made a rather loud comment telling him he’d failed.  When I asked my son about it, he cried.  He said he was embarrassed.  I sent an email to the teacher telling him that his comment was overheard by other kids and that he’d embarrassed my son in front of his peers. The teacher apologized and said he would talk to my son about it.  I thought that was the end of it.  Except it wasn’t.  A few weeks later, this same son came home and was angry.  He said that his teacher told him he wasn’t a very good Christian because when the class was asked to vote on whether they would give up their PE session so another class could have it because they had missed their allotted time due to an assembly, my son and one other boy were the lone “No” votes.  I sent an email asking the teacher refrain from passing judgement on my son’s faith since he (the teacher) had actually asked for a vote.  If you don’t want the truth, don’t ask right? You would think that this would be the end of it but a pattern of behavior on the part of this teacher continued throughout the year. My son was not the only collateral damage.  His class was regularly told they were lazy, not as smart as the other fourth grade class, and slow learners, the last being said to them in frustration that his class at his other school last year learned this material “just like that” and he snapped his fingers. The whole year, I just told my son that these labels were not who he was, they didn’t define him, and that sometimes we have teachers who we just don’t like and we just have to get through it.  The final straw of my patience came in early March.

One day in that first week of March this same son once again met me in the parking lot of the school with the words, “Mr. _____ say’s I am going to Hell” and then he promptly broke down in tears.  Now, I should let you know right now this son of mine has been struggling with how he feels about God, and he has cause.  The things he has had to endure the last few years make it very understandable.  I knew he was struggling with anger toward God and I just kept encouraging him to keep his heart open.  But in religion class that day at school, he was asked by the teacher what he would say to Jesus if asked to follow him, and my son said, “I don’t know. Maybe?” You want to know the correct response to that answer? It is, “Thank you for your honest answer.  I am sorry you are struggling with your faith.  It’s OK, even adults struggle. I will pray for you.” The response my son received? He was quoted the scripture in the Book of Revelation about Jesus spitting out those who are luke warm and them going to the fires of Hell.  Well, needless to say, I sent another note to that teacher and I told him in no uncertain terms that if he EVER, EVER embarrassed my son in front of the class again or made a judgement about the state of his soul, I would report him, and possibly more.  It hit me so strongly that my son, and a few others in the class were constantly being shamed in hopes that it would change their behavior.  It did not.  Instead it made my son’s grades in his favorite subjects plummet (this teacher was his home room and religion teacher as well as Math, Social Studies,and Science).  Math and science have always been his best subjects.

You might be asking yourself why had I not gone to the principal? Well, it’s because I am “that parent.” You know, the one who is a Mama Bear, the one who has children with learning difficulties who is constantly in contact with the school to make sure that appropriate accommodations are being made for her kids. In the case of this particular child, he has an auditory form of dyslexia so reading, language, and spelling are a huge challenge for him.  I am also an “anti-homework” mom when it comes to elementary age kids.  I flat-out tell my kids elementary teachers we will work on homework for 30 minutes a night and no longer.  I wouldn’t even do that except they go to a private school and I want them to remain in the private school so I don’t push the limits too much. But when you are a parent of kids with learning challenges, who work twice as hard during the day as “normal” students, you kind of want to give your kids a chance to just unwind and be kids.  Actually, I think that is important for even “normal” students but I am just arguing my particular case here.  I had an occasion or two when I posted on my personal Facebook page my thoughts about homework and summer bridge books, and my words got back to the principal and she expressed her “concern” about my attitude and how I was portraying the school in a negative light.  I actually never mentioned the actual school name in my FB post and beyond that, MY FB page is just that, mine.  She was not on my “friend” list so I can only assume that one of my so-called-friends ratted me out to her. So, no, it actually took a few other parents going to the vice principal to complain and mentioning the incidents with my son, before I had a conversation with the administration about it. I merely said, “the parent handbook say to take my concerns directly to the teacher so that is what I did.”

The truth is, it took me a while before I really twigged to the fact that this teacher was regularly using shame as his preferred tool to control behavior in the classroom, and motivate for learning.  Only that was not the result.  He has created a classroom environment where the students feel afraid to speak up, they fail tests and have test anxiety, and they hate school.  Frankly, I can’t wait to see the back of that man forever.  If the school ever decides to move him up to a higher grade, we will be leaving.  And yes, he will be back again next year to torment another class of students.

Tomorrow I will write Part 2 and let you know what all this has to do with Shame Resilience and how to instill it in our children.  I recently discovered the wonderful Brené Brown and her talks, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting and Men, Women, and Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough.  This woman, her research, and her talks are changing my life, and how I parent my children. You are going to hear a lot about her in the coming weeks because I wish I lived next door to her and could sit at her feet to learn.  You see, shame is alive and well in America, just as it is in China, and that is sad.

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Taking the Plunge

I am really glad to see some  “The Reluctant Widow” followers moving over here to follow me.  Thank you! This is very exciting for me because it represents a whole new chapter for me in my life. It’s time to “turn pro” to use a phrase from Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro.  Writing has been a hobby for me. It’s been an outlet.  At times, my saving grace.  I only ever dreamed I could make it a career. Oh sure, I dabbled in some freelance writing in the past, specifically writing and editing a newsletter for a travel agency specializing in adoption-related travel.  I also wrote content for the website.  I learned just barely enough of Dreamweaver software not to ruin the website but not enough to really make the site look professional.  While I think the content I wrote was good, the execution of the design was pretty amateurish.  I recently visited their professionally redesigned website and it really looks fantastic.  Look back in their newsletter archives from 2008 and I saw some of my writing. Not every article I wrote was archived which bummed me a bit because there was one piece in particular I was looking to link to regarding homeland tours and finding ways to make them affordable.  I will just have to re-write it I guess and share it with you here.

At the end of last year, just before the New Year, I set a goal for myself.  I saw our local library was holding an adult creative writing contest and I told myself I was going to enter one of my children’s fiction pieces.  It’s a story I began way, way back in 2002, and over the years I come back to it, tweak it, edit, and expand it.  I finally had a finished piece I was happy with and I told myself I needed to enter it.  The last day to enter the contest was January 31, 2015 and though I had the story finished in December, guess when I finally entered it? You guessed it. January 31, 2015. Talk about resistance! Steven Pressfield was writing about me when he wrote about resistance in his book The War of Art.  However, the important take-away here is that I set a goal for my writing and I accomplished it.  I entered the contest.  No matter what the result, I won because I overcame my own fear of rejection.  This Saturday, I have been invited to the reception being held to honor those who won awards in the categories of Short Fiction, Poetry, Essay, and Children’s Fiction.  No, I did not win.  I received an Honorable Mention.  I can’t express to you the joy mixed with sadness that result gave me.  I was ecstatic that someone actually liked my story (someone other than my four children that is).  I sent a text to my sister, “I’m a writer!” She wrote back, “You always have been.  Someone is just acknowledging it.” The weird part is the moment I got off the phone with the contest coordinator, I started crying.  Paul believed in me. He believed in my talent and he always encouraged me to “go pro.”  To finally have done something with a story I wrote and labored over for years, and then my biggest champion was not there to share in my joy.  I think some of the biggest heart ache I caused my husband was not believing in myself like he believed in me and always brushing aside his compliments as “husband bias,” or “you have to say that because you love me.”

Calling myself a “Writer” has been an exercise in maintaining space in my life to pursue my dream. I have been given the not so subtle message I am not a writer because I have never been published.  I was talking with my dad not long ago about my desire to be a writer full-time and he said, “writing your stories, your blog, and what not is a nice hobby, but you are a mother of four children and you need to get a job, writing is not your reality.” His words stung because once again I had a parent crushing a dream through “realism” and “practicality.” They stung also because they implied I could not provide for my children AND pursue my dream.  I can’t recall the last time I actually asked my parents for financial help.  However, once I recovered my equilibrium and won a place in the writing contest, I went online and purchased some business cards.  My title – “Writer/Blogger.” Boom.  Just like that I declared myself and now it’s time to turn pro.

I am making changes to this blog.  I will have a page for some of the content from “The Reluctant Widow,” as well as pages for my writing journey, and for posts on adoption, trauma, and attachment.  Thank you for being here with me.  Come join me in this journey as I share my thoughts along the way.

~ Kim

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New Old Blog

Oh, Hello Again!

Well, I am a fickle blogger aren’t I? Here one day, gone the next, disappear for a year or so, then pop! Here I am again. I wasn’t really gone entirely, I was just blogging elsewhere and I did not want to publicize the fact. When my husband, Paul, died in July 2012, I suddenly found myself drifting aimlessly. A month or so after his death, I created a blog I named “The Reluctant Widow.” I wanted to be honest with my raw feelings of what had happened, what was happening, and so I did not put my name, my husband’s name or other identifying information on the blog. A few people knew about it but not many. My hope was I would possibly help someone else on their journey through widowhood by processing my own journey through grief. I also needed to give voice to my frustration with unsolicited advice from people who have no clue what it is to live my life every day. Yes, at times I was bitter. Although I constantly remind my children “life’s not fair, get used to it,” the phrase “it’s not fair” was a frequent visitor to my thoughts. It isn’t fair that I lost my husband, love, best friend, and father to my children. Each week or month will bring an activity or occasion at which he should be, to see his children doing the things he and they dreamed of together. However that it took me two-plus years to get here, I have accepted it will never be fair, it sucks, but all of the complaining and railing against God and life will not bring Paul back.

One of the gifts I received in widowhood is the chance to start again. Beginning again is hard, but not many people get the opportunity to look at their life and say, “what can I do now?” I took a writing e-course, joined a community of women writers, and began to learn my voice. Writing has been a balm. You would not believe how many posts I wrote that never made it onto TRW. Oh dear, some of them were truly awful, some were brilliant but too personal even for a semi-anonymous blog, and for some, their time has not yet come. I began writing a collection of short stories. Thankfully, I have listened to several author interviews in NPR in the previous months where the authors shared it took 10 years to get their novel “done” and published. Whew! because it’s been slow going. Those kids of mine do insist on needing me. ;-) Little by little, it is taking shape. In the meantime, I entered a children’s story I wrote a few years ago into the local library Adult Creative Writing Contest. Just got my invite to the awards ceremony, and though I really don’t think I placed, I will be looking forward to seeing my story in the book containing all the entries, which will be on display in the main library for the next year. Lastly, I recently joined a local writing club. Guess what? They are going to publish an anthology of members’ works, so if I provide a piece, I get to say “I am a published author.” And really, that is what all of this writing is about, getting published some day. When Paul died, I resurrected a dream I had since I was 16 years old. I had let the dream die out of fear and lack of confidence in my ability. I never went for it. Never really tried. Now, I am working on the dream, and if in the end, I never get a single manuscript accepted for publication, I will know that I truly tried my best.

Single parenting is hard. One thing I knew from my teens on was that I never wanted to be a single parent. You know that saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans?” Well, I don’t really blame God for Paul’s death but there is a very small part of my superstitious Irish heart that thinks I am a single mother only because I never wanted to be one. Crazy, I know. Still, even as a self-centered, selfish teen, I could see that parenting alone was a tough and thankless job filled with a lot of heartache and potentially little reward. I embraced chastity not out of some higher moral ideal about it being “right” or “part of being a faithful Christian.” Nope, I embraced it because I knew it was the only sure-fire way to make sure I never got pregnant out-of-wedlock. I had a cousin who was married young and was on the birth control pill all four times she got pregnant with her four daughters. So there, I knew the pill wouldn’t guarantee me from becoming a single mom (hey, this was before I became Catholic and embraced Natural Family Planning). At first, I grumbled about parenting my four kids alone because they all have “issues.” All four adopted, all four experienced grief, trauma, and loss related to their adoptions and then Paul’s death, and all four born with special needs. So at first, I could have little sympathy with other mothers complaining about the difficulty of raising kids when said mothers have “normal” children and a spouse. Some of them even have a mother or mother-in-law who actually enjoy being grandmothers and really help out a lot. Phfftt. No sympathy from me. Grumble, grumble, complain. Now, as I have spent what would probably amount to the equivalent of six months straight seven days a week all day long sitting in therapists’ waiting rooms, I understand that parenting is hard period. Really hard. OK, you’ve regained my sympathy, all kids have “issues,” just different issues. We live in a fallen and broken world so that no one is immune to the damage done to our hearts, minds, and emotions on a daily basis. Just don’t complain to me about your husband, because I have not evolved in my maturity enough not to snap back, “well, at least you have a husband, even if he isn’t as perfect as you want him to be, he’s at least here.” Perfection in spouses is a myth anyway. Accept him for who he is because he accepts you for who you are.

This is the new old blog. I came back here because the topics I want to write about are varied and many. They include faith (mine is Catholic, what’s yours?), writing, widowhood, single parenting, adoption-related issues (Reactive Attachment Disorder? I have two kiddos in this category. Joy.), and anything else I want to expound upon as I journey through life’s struggles (deep valleys) and triumphs (mountain peaks). They really are my thoughts along the way.

~ Kim

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Throwback Thursday with a Twist

This week in my writing class we have been talking about writing a memoir – whether we want to write one, think we have one to write, or how do we feel about writing one.  During our weekly conference call we did an exercise to pick a scene from our “life inventory” and write it out as though it were part of our memoir.  Ironically, I have just begun reading Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird where she shares that in her writing classes she has her students begin by writing out their memories from childhood.  She would tell them (and I am paraphrasing and embellishing here) that it didn’t matter whether your childhood was good, bad, or ugly, whether it was more MommyDearest than Mayberry, just write it down.  I really have to admit that when it comes to my own childhood, my early memories are rather skimpy, and they are mostly not all that great.  Even as I got into the older elementary years, I really have to concentrate to push the unpleasant memories aside to embrace the good memories.

Each week I see friends on Facebook posting pictures from “back in the day” for “Throwback Thursday.” I decided I would do my own take on this and commit to writing every Thursday a scene from my memory.  Sometimes in the past, I have been pretty shy about talking about my childhood because it truly wasn’t fabulous and who wants to get all morose about life. I also have worried that those directly involved in those memories might see what I write and be upset that I a) shared a “secret” or b) portrayed them in a negative light even if it is the truth.  But today someone shared with me an amazing insight about not writing things because you worry what others will think of you for doing so. She said a friend told her, “it’s none of my business what other people think about me?” Well, there you have it.  Permission granted to not care what people think about me.  Here’s my throwback for today:


In some respects, I lived an idyllic childhood.  While my home life was miserable, the life I lived outside my house was pretty amazing.  When I was five years old, my parents purchased my mother’s childhood home from my maternal grandfather.  The house was located in a lake community about 45 minutes south of New York City.  I am really not sure how big the lake actually was because when you are young, everything seems huge, but it was probably about a mile to a mile-and-a-half in circumference.  At the entrance to the lake community, there was a club house and a beach that served as a central hub for meeting and hanging out with friends and family.  In the summer, we had a swim team and diving team.  We’d hang out on the beach all day long, the mothers sitting and visiting with each other, while kids romped in the water, or played in the sand.  When I was about eight years old, I joined the swim team and had practice each morning.  We lived in this community until just before the end of fifth grade (so until I was about nine-and-a-half), when we moved to a better school district about 30 minutes away.

When I was thinking about my throwback memory, it wasn’t the summer months of swimming, roaming the neighborhood with friends, and games until dark that I thought of first though those are great memories.  It is a winter memory that sprung to mind first.    Every winter, the lake would freeze over.  It gets cold enough in New Jersey for that to happen with predictability though the ice might not last very long.  We might get about one month where the ice was thick enough for skating.  Inevitably, the much-anticipated day would arrive when some dad or grandpa would venture out on the ice to test the thickness and deem it ready for action.  Either the men or older teen boys would get out there with shovels and clear paths and “rinks” for skating, hockey, and hanging out.  I had two “besties” at the time, Tracy Collins and Kevin Collins.  They weren’t related to each other but lived across the street from each other, and we were all the same age.  (As an aside, Tracy and Kevin actually ended up marrying each other when they were in their early 20’s.  How cool is that? I have lost track of them though so I don’t know if they are still together.  I hope so.)  We did most everything together, and so on the first Saturday of the skating season, we would cut through the neighbor’s yard across the street from my house, and sit on their bench by the lake to lace up our skates.  Neighbors not only didn’t mind, but expected people to share in their lake access.  As soon as the skates were on, we’d race out to the nearest rink if the older boys weren’t playing hockey and we’d practice our figure skating moves – very basic let me assure you, no jumps for me – or play tag with other children that were there.

My very favorite memory though was how we’d skate for a while around the middle of the lake, then as we became cold, we’d skate over to the club house at the end of the lake.  There, some parents will have cranked up a fire in the clubhouse, and put on the hot chocolate.  Sometimes we’d go inside but most of the time we’d sit out on the dock and drink cocoa and plan our path around the lake.  At least once each time we skated, we would skate around the entire circumference of the lake holding hands. Sometimes, others would hook on to us as we’d gather them up along the way.  Parents would join us sometimes and sometimes they’d just hang out in the clubhouse socializing with their doctored up cocoa.

That was my first real exposure to community and I think the desire for being part of a tight-knit community has never left me even though I have yet to experience it again.  The next town we moved to was more rural, people had more property, and lived further from each other.  We definitely had neighborhood interactions, and the Fourth of July activities were a huge deal for the whole town, but that feeling of having our lives really closely intertwined by the lake and the clubhouse, was never to be a part of my life again.

I haven’t figured out how to create a link-up, but feel free to post a link in the comments to your own “Throwback Thursday” memory.  I would love to read them!

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Interior Freedom – My Thoughts

 Reposting as part of my Story 101 class. This was originally written in April 2012.  Feeling brave enough to take off the password protection.  

As I mentioned in my summary of Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe, this book had a profound impact on my life.  I mentioned to another Catholic blogger,   that I hadn’t been blogging much lately because I promised myself that I would be completely authentic on this blog and yet the things I was dealing with in the past year were difficult and I felt uncomfortable being completely authentic.  I am going to come out from hiding and I will be sharing some things that are deeply personal. Thank you for your gentle understanding.

I believe the biggest hurdle I have/had in experiencing real interior freedom as well as true and complete healing, is being able to accept God as a loving father. On page 36 where Fr. Philippe speaks of experiencing God’s tender love, to feel his loving gaze, and his joy in my being (my paraphrase), well, I just couldn’t see God that way. My own earthly father was not a great dad. He was most of the time uninvolved, he certainly didn’t encourage me much, he didn’t express love or even say the things that all girls need their daddies to say to them – that I am cherished, wanted, beautiful, smart, talented and worthy of love in his eyes. I developed an eating disorder in my early teens because of my mother’s constant criticisms. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I had absolutely no self-worth, which made me make a pretty poor choice in a dating relationship.  When I was 26 yrs old, a man that I had dated a couple of times a few months earlier, but was not in a relationship with at that time, knocked on my apartment door in the middle of the night and raped me.  The aftermath of that event changed the course of my life.  I left NJ six months later, a broken and wounded woman, who landed in Oklahoma determined to erase the past from my memory.  And I did.  I left “Kim from Jersey” behind and became “Kimberlie from Oklahoma,” the good Christian girl with no past.

I don’t know if I ever really saw God as a loving father.  I also wondered how God could love me. I looked in the mirror and what I saw were labels: ugly, stupid, fat, incompetent, raped, damaged, broken, unwanted, unworthy, and unloveable. These are the labels I have lived with throughout my life picking up new ones along the way. So, I got angry with God. What father let’s his daughter be raped? Where was God then? How can God, as Fr. Philippe asserts, make something beautiful out of that? How does beauty come out of that?!?  I was worried that if I continued to read the book that I would hate and not be able to believe.

This last year really took a toll on my marriage, not through any fault on Paul’s part. I just couldn’t share with him most I was going through. I cried a lot. In part, that’s why I had to just go numb. I thought Paul couldn’t possibly love me and that he just stayed with me out of pity or an unwillingness to break his marriage vows.  It’s embarrassing to remember those thoughts now because nothing is further from the truth than that. He does love me. I see it in his eyes, in his words and in his actions everyday, but at that point I couldn’t receive that love because I was afraid of doing something to lose it. It’s the same with God. I kept thinking He couldn’t possibly love me for all of the reasons I listed above.

Then I read part two, The Present Moment. The turning point came for me on p. 86.

When the thought of how little progress we have made threatens to overwhelm us, we must make an act of faith such as: ‘Thank you, my God, for all my past. I firmly believe that you can draw good out of all I have lived through. I want to have no regrets and I resolve today to begin from zero, with exactly the same trust as if all my past history were made up of nothing but faithfulness and holiness.’ Nothing could please God more than that!”

I had to ponder that for a few days. Could I do that? Could I thank God for my past, the good, the bad, and the truly ugly? Can God draw good out of it? Can I TRUST God? It took me about a week but the answer came back to me “Yes.” Yes, I will trust God. Yes, I believe he can draw good out of it. Yes, I will thank God for my past. I can’t be angry anymore. I am not. The Holy Spirit has allowed me to see that I am not broken, damaged, or wounded anymore. There are scars, yes, scars that sometimes ache and cause pain, but the wounds are healed. I recalled how at my Confirmation I felt an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and I see now that because of that initial bit of healing, I was able to be open to being loved by Paul, however imperfect I have been at that over the last 11 years of our marriage. God has created beauty from ashes (through my marriage to Paul and through my children) and will continue to do so. So often in our culture, and I was part of that crowd, we think that we have to be defined by our past and we have to hash it out and dwell on it in order to be healed. But how often does that really bring healing, true healing? It didn’t bring me healing to sit down with a therapist and try to talk about it. It just brought me bitterness, regret, and hopelessness. I was avoiding Jesus’ eyes (p. 100) and was trapped in my own despair.  I realize now that my biggest obstacle was my own fear, discouragement, and worry of what I might find if I looked into that face (p. 104).

On p. 36 is a quote about how God looks upon each one of us. Initially it caused me to throw my book because I couldn’t ever imagine those eyes seeing me:

The look in his [God’s] eyes is the purest, truest, tenderest, most loving, and most hope-filled in this world.”

I do mourn that I did not have an earthly father who treated me well or looked at me with delight or tenderness. But I see the way the Paul looks at our children. My children have a better life. My children know the comfort of unconditional love and acceptance. My daughter knows she is loved, adored, wanted and cherished for the unique and beautiful girl that God made her. My husband loves me – his every action, word and look show it. And I have a good spiritual father in a priest, one the Holy Spirit has used to challenge me to want more goodness, holiness, and to choose healing and life rather than stagnation and death. I am not the same woman I was two months ago. I am not the same wife or mother. I hope Paul sees that. Where I truly thought my marriage was over late last summer, I see my marriage has been revitalized and it’s better. It’s better because now because I feel the freedom to truly, madly, deeply love him and I feel the freedom to accept his love and not fear losing it.  I am gaining freedom from my past, it no longer defines me.

A little over a year ago, I tripped in the church parking lot and fell. I still have a scar on my knee from that fall, and it occasionally hurts if I kneel on it the wrong way. So too with the wounds of the past, they might twinge a bit especially if I don’t keep myself close to the Father. I feel free from the anger I felt toward God.  I don’t have to have proof that God loves me, I just have to accept that He does. Even so, the proof surrounds me daily. I am not saying that this has been without it’s struggles. I’ve spent too many years in these patterns of thinking. However, I am learning to stop and turn things over to God. Then if it’s something that threatens to overwhelm me or becomes an occasion to sin, I just pray the “Jesus prayer” to focus me back on what’s important. It’s transforming my relationship with God, with Paul, and with my children.


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My Time – A Short Story

Well, the draft of a short story anyway… for my writing prompt.


A Reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” Focus on the words, just breathe “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;” Who will build me up now? I will. I am strong like her. “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; You taught me to laugh, and to dance even if I only dance in my heart. But now I weep and mourn, you who have been more of a mother to me than my own mom, you who have been my confidant and friend. “a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose;a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sow;a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;” You weren’t a woman of many words, at least not frivolous words, when you spoke, your words were meant to be listened to, to be heard.  “a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” I love you G.G. 

“The Word of the Lord.”

I walked back to me seat in the second pew on the right.  Just where my grandmother and I always sat for Mass.  It was “our spot” and people tacitly knew not to sit there.  Now I sit there alone, staring at her casket, wondering whether I will sit here on Sunday or if I will even come to Mass.  G.G., that’s what I called her.  My name is Grace O’Malley.  I am not like the feared Irish female pirate of the same name. My grandmother, whom I am named after was more like her.  “Grandma Grace” or G.G. as I and my cousins called her.  She was one strong woman.  You wouldn’t think it from her diminutive stature.  But when she “got her Irish up,” all 5’1″ of her, you paid attention.  I guess in some ways she had to develop that strength as the mother of seven boys. Seven! I can’t even imagine.  My father was her youngest son.  I don’t remember my father very well, just vague memories of riding on his shoulders, of breakfasts with him at G.G.’s house, and a song he would sing to me at bedtime about a dappled grey mare though I can not remember the words entirely.  It was some song from some 60’s folk singer.  He was killed in a car accident when I was 6 yrs old.  A drunk driver hit him while he was out running early one morning.  He and my mother grew up in the same town, lived in the same neighborhood, and attended the same schools.  It’s odd but I can’t remember anything about my parents as a couple, I just have the vague impression that my dad loved my mother more than she loved him.  Maybe that’s just my anger with my mother for a lifetime of neglect.  Within a year after my father’s death, my mother was remarried and pregnant.  From the moment my brother took his first breath, everything was all about him.  I began to spend more and more time at G.G.’s house as I grew toward my teen years, and by the time I entered 8th grade, I was pretty much living there full-time.  Nothing was ever formalized but I just went over there one day with a few things, and gradually moved more and more things over there.  I think my mother was relieved because then she could pretend that this new family she’d created was her only family.  The last time I had any contact with her was five years ago on my 18th birthday.  She called to say “Happy Birthday” and to say that she’d meant to bring by my gift earlier but Mikey (my baby brother) had a game, and… I knew there was no gift but I had long since given up on gifts from my biological mother.  G.G. was my grandmother, my mother, my father, my friend, my all for as long as I could remember.

G.G. used to tell me that we were just alike the two of us.  Two strong, courageous over comers.  We were survivors.  I always suspected that it was true of her though I am not entirely sure what she had to survive because G.G. was of the generation that you didn’t talk about uncomfortable subjects from the past.  “Gracie-girl,” she say to me, “I don’t understand all these people who have to sit with therapists moaning all the time about their troubles.  We O’Malley women, we are made of strong stuff. When life throws you a curve ball, you just accept it and move on.” I’m not sure what curves G.G. had thrown at her before marrying Da but I do know she lost her mother as a young teen.  Her father had to work a lot and she was responsible for taking care of her younger sister, Meg.  Meg died young.  Family whispers I have heard seem to indicate that Great-Aunt Meg wasn’t entirely right in the head.  She was reckless they say and G.G. was always having to get her out of a jam.  G.G. married Da and Meg came to live with them but soon she moved out to live with a man who was an alcoholic and abusive.  In the end, he shot her, then shot himself.  Maybe Great-Aunt Meg is the reason that G.G. was always warning me to be careful with men, to make sure that I find a nice Catholic boy who goes to Mass with his mother and doesn’t drink.

Not that G.G. followed that advice.  “Gracie-girl, my mam always wanted me to marry a nice Jewish lawyer because she said they’d have lot’s of money and in the Jewish religion the husband has to let the kids be raised in the wife’s religion. So it would be OK.  Our children would be raised as good Catholics.” “But, G.G.” I said, “you married Da and he was an Irish-Catholic policeman.” “I know,” she said. “I married for lust.” I have to admit, looking at pictures of my Da in his youth, he was a really good-looking man in that 1930’s Cary Grant kind of way. She said she always wanted to marry a Bohemian artist and be poor but madly in love.  She married my Da, who “was very good-looking and all the girls wanted him,” because she decided good looks and the stability of being a policeman’s wife were more important to her than being madly in love.  Not that they didn’t love each other, they did. Some might have seven children out of obligation to the Church, but G.G. said it was lust, they just couldn’t keep their hands off one another.

G.G. was strong.  She outlived her husband and four of her sons.  Two were stillborn.  We visited the cemetery next to the parish monthly to place flowers on the graves of my father and his brother, my Uncle Danny, we also place flowers on the markers for the two boys who never took a breath in this life. G.G. named them Patrick, after her favorite saint, and Michael, after the famous Irish revolutionary Michael Collins.  My father was Kevin.  Uncle Danny died of cancer. You know about my dad.  Every time we visited their graves, G.G. would say the same thing, “Gracie-girl, losing your Da to old age, that I could handle. But a mother burying her sons, that just isn’t right. It should have been them standing here at my grave.”

Now, I am the one standing next to her grave.  I place a rose on her casket and whisper, “good-bye G.G., I am really going to miss you. See you soon.” As I walked away, with my arm linked through my Uncle Eamon’s arm, I knew the answer to my earlier question “would I be back here next Sunday?” I knew the answer was yes.  I will be sitting there in the second pew on the right.  I know I will. It’s what we do.  G.G. will be here with me. No longer “Gracie-girl” but Grace. Grace O’Malley.

Copyright 2013 khmeyercreative

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A Life Lived

One of our assignments this week for Story 101 was to create a life inventory.  Elora encouraged us with a passage from another author, but I’m darned if I can’t find it tonight.  It was really about how this author never shared much of himself until he created a “life inventory” and shared it out to the world.  His list was pretty simple at first if I recall correctly.  No matter, simplicity and brevity have never been linked to my name. Here’s the start of my list.

  • traveled in or through all 48 contiguous states in the US.
  • Have been through Canada twice.
  • Visited the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery in the summer before my freshman year.
  • Struggled with an eating disorder beginning at age 13. I thought I was fat.
  • Was born to teen parents
  • Moved 11 times by the time I was 20; 5 times before age 5.
  • remember where I was when the Oklahoma City bombing happened.
  • Sat in horror in my living room, clinging to my husband, as we watched on tv the jet hit the second tower on 9/11
  • Had friends and relatives that should have been in the towers that morning. They were not. Grateful.
  • I ran cross-country and ran track in high school.  I could run a 5K in 19 minutes flat.  That was actually pretty fast back then.
  • Spent most of the summer before college hanging out at the Jersey shore with friends.
  • I swam on the summer lake league swim team beginning at about age 7 or 8.  I began swimming for a Y in high school.  I worked out twice a day.  I was not very fast.
  • Canoed on Lake George alone for the first time at 16 yrs. It was 6am and serene.
  • Went snow shoeing in Crested Butte, Co.
  • Learned to cross-country ski at age 38.
  • Celebrated my 40th birthday with a 15 mile bike ride, the longest I had ever ridden.
  • Became a mom for the first time at age 41. We adopted a 4-yr old boy from China.
  • Adopted three more children from China, all toddlers or older. Two boys and one girl.
  • I met the love of my life at 35 yrs old and married him at 36 yrs old
  • I buried the love of my life at 47.5 yrs old.
  • I am a single mother to four children.
  • Impulsively tried out for my first play my senior year in high school. Landed one of the lead roles.
  • Wrote my first story at age 14. Never stopped writing really but never published anything.
  • Converted to Catholicism when I was 34 yrs old. Took the Confirmation name Margaret after St. Margaret of Cortona. She was a big sinner too.
  • My favorite book series ever is Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery.
  • My first car was a 1978 Ford Granada that I shared with my dad. We purchased it from my Great-Aunt Helene. It had a blue body and a white top. She called it “The Virgin Mary.”
  • My best friend in elementary school was Tracy Collins.
  • My best friend in high school gave me the nickname “Hughie” because my last name was “Hughes.” Later when a Scottish football (soccer) team came to our school on exchange they had a goalie named “Hugh” and they called him “Shug” (rhymes with hug). She started calling me Shuggie. She still calls me Shug or Shuggie 30+ years later.
  • I was 15 when I first kissed a boy. I did not like it.
  • I was 16 when a boy from Scotland kissed me. I liked it very much.
  • I have survived rape. 
  • Stopped having an eating disorder after being raped.  Gained a lot of weight. It was protection.
  • I moved across country.
  • I like to write.

This is not exhaustive, it is not complete, some things must stay hidden, and that’s OK. I liked doing this exercise and I will plan to update this as memories surface or courage rises.

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Sorority of Sorrow

Earlier this week, I contacted a friend that has returned from six months living and working in Papua New Guinea. He was teaching at a seminary there, but family circumstances were such that he really needed to come back stateside to help out an elderly relative. We kept exchanging messages that we wanted to get together to catch up, but never set anything in stone. Then I just called him and left a voicemail. He called back saying he was sorry he hadn’t contacted me but that a friend from university days was in the hospital with complications from a cancer surgery. His friend and his wife didn’t have family or friends in our town, so he was keeping her company bedside. When I spoke with him yesterday, it seemed his friend was holding his own though very sick. We made plans for lunch today. Then I got a text that his friend wasn’t doing well, probably was not going to live, we needed to reschedule. I asked a couple of questions and I set to praying and crying.

I don’t know this couple personally, but I know this place that they are in. My heart ached all day for the woman who would likely be a widow in less than 24 hours. My heart ached all day for their 11 yr old son who would be fatherless. It still aches.  It is just so unfair. This sorority that I belong too, this sisterhood? It’s one I wish no one else would join. The requirements for joining are just too high. It means losing your husband, lover, best friend, father to your children, and possibly your financial provider. It means life will never be the same again. Life isn’t over for you, but nothing will be the same again. You lose half your heart and healing it takes a long time.

Please say a prayer tonight for this woman and her child.  They are about to travel a very challenging road.  God will lift them up, I know it.  God will see them through and provide blessings beyond what they could ever expect, because one thing I have learned the last 14 months is that God loves the widow and the fatherless.

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Finding My Voice

What is my voice? This is a question I have asked myself over and over since I began blogging, “What is my voice?” It is a question that all serious bloggers should ask themselves.  Part of my problem is that I have compartmentalized my life and with it, my blogs. I have a family blog where I keep my relatives and friends up-to-date on the happenings of my children and where I sometimes talk about adoption. But, apparently some of my relatives couldn’t handle my openness about the struggles of motherhood, adopting older children with special needs, what I believe about my Catholic faith and how I feel about my Protestant roots. They told me I shouldn’t speak of these things. I was hurt, felt invalidated, and after a conversation with my husband, I began this blog so I could say what I wanted to say without criticism from relatives. I put it on another blog platform so it wouldn’t show up in anyone’s reader who was reading my family blog. I chose the domain “Carpe Veritatem” which means “Seize the Truth.” I made my blog title “My Thoughts Along the Way,” because “The Way” was the early name given to Christianity, and more than anything, I write about what I am working through as I struggle to live out my faith in Christ fully. On this blog, I felt I could be more myself. It was about my thoughts, my struggle, my joys, my hopes and dreams. It represented more closely who I was at the time. That was three years ago. However, I still held back because there was always the possibility that those who read my family blog, would find this blog. After all, it would only take a google search of my name and there it would be, so although I felt more freedom, I still held something of my voice back. It still wasn’t fully my voice.

It was after my husband died that I wanted a place that I could really, truly, speak the truth of my heart without reserve, and I knew to do so, I would have to make my blog anonymous. My name could not be associated with it. There could be no links back to this blog, no links to my family blog. Although I do not use my children’s real names on the family blog, I use their pseudonym’s on this blog and anyone knowing our family would know them. On the new blog I morphed into “The Reluctant Widow,” my husband became “My Love,” which is what we called each other for most of the time we knew each other, and my children were just identified as “son” or “daughter” and which place they held in the birth order (only with my sons because there are three, I have only one daughter). No names, no link backs, no identifying my home location or state. That blog most clearly represents my honest and open feelings. But is it really “my voice?” I think my voice lies somewhere between these two blogs. When I started “The Reluctant Widow,” I “hid” this blog you are reading, de-activated it, so that I did nothing with it for 14 months. Signing up for Story 101, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to have a writing space, it had to be here. I wanted to keep my anonymity on “The Reluctant Widow.” I am just two days into the class, and I realize that in order to do this most honestly, in order to really represent myself and my voice, I am going to have to combine these two blogs. I am not sure how I am going to do it, but I will be working on it over the next 10 weeks.

I never really felt I had a voice when I was younger, never felt I had anything worth saying or that I was even allowed to say anything, until I met my husband. He helped me find my voice, he thought my voice was fascinating, he thought it was intelligent, and when I went from just verbal conversations with him, to writing on a blog, he was an avid reader and follower. The fact that I have any courage at all to step out and do this, is really because of the gift of his love. I hope that as I continue to write in this space, I can honor that gift by staying true to my voice.

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Ready, Set… Go?

Um, I guess this is the start. This morning I awoke and in the hustle and bustle of getting the kids out the door, I decided to check my email and what did I see? An email from Elora with our first email to launch our 10-week Story 101 class.  She said we should write in our journal that “you started.” Well, this is my journal.  I am not very good with pen and paper journals.  I have never been able to keep a handwritten journal for more than three or four days.  The irony with that is that when I am writing fictional stories, I can not type them directly into the computer but must first draft them out on paper.  How crazy is that?

So I begin and as a good teacher does, Elora has forewarned me (us) that it’s totally normal to, say three weeks from now, have a total “Why am I doing this? Why am I killing myself, wracking my brains to come up with something to write when I know that in reality I just absolutely have no talent and who am I kidding?” freak-out moment (or day). She didn’t use those exact words, but those are words I have used so many times in the past that I know they will rear their ugly head again.  “Forewarned is forearmed” right? Who said that? I couldn’t figure it out.  Probably someone practical like Ben Franklin.  It’s an old, old saying.

OK, so I am not always this giddy, or sarcastic, nor do I attempt humor often, because I am not very good at it.  I am feeling just a little nervous about this whole endeavor because the truth is that I am parenting four, FOUR, children on my own and the oldest is only 12, so not incredibly independent yet though getting there.  We are a bit busy.  I theoretically have 6 hours in each day where they are at school, but as I learned the hard way last year, any time I would get excited about having an entirely kid-free day, someone would get sick, or have a last-minute appointment, or  you know, the million and one things that can come up last-minute when you have children.  Kids stuff is going to happen, so how am I going to manage these little crises so they don’t interfere with my accomplishing my writing tasks?

I think the biggest way for me to overcome my children becoming a stumbling block is to a) realize that I waste a lot of time on senseless internet browsing, trawling blogs, Facebook, or websites as a means for avoiding doing what I need to do.  I am going to set a timer for myself and I can’t check out my favorite sites until I have spent the time I set aside for writing; and b) I am going to stop using my kids as an excuse for not going after my dreams.  That’s the big elephant in the room.  I always have a reason why I can’t do something because I am too afraid to risk failure or the loss of a dream.  As long as I don’t do something, it can still be a dream. But what if I find out that I really do not have what it takes to be a writer.  Seriously.  Not everyone can write.  What if I am delusional? Or what if, I begin to live the life of a writer and I realize, “Hey, I hate writing.  I don’t want to do this anymore.” Then what? Then the question becomes what now and who am I now? Scary proposition.  It is scary but not as scary as the thought of 10 years from now when my last child heads off to college and I still haven’t moved forward one inch toward finding out whether the dream fits or not.  The truth about my dreams is that I have many dreams.  Writing is one of them but not the only one.  I have others I can explore if this one should not work out or if the dream fades away.  It’s not going to be the end of the world if someone (with all sincerity, sweetness, and gentleness) says, “Kimberlie, do the world a favor and back away from the keyboard.”

Let the dream begin…

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