Insomnia

I must be the only person in the whole wide world who is awake.

I remember thinking that as my 7-year-old self imagined a world with clear streets, empty buildings, and no conscious people anywhere….except me. 

I laid face up in my bed and rubbed my red and blue plaid blanket across my knuckles for comfort.

I could hear my sister snoring lightly beneath me in the bottom bunk.

She could always fall asleep at the drop of a hat and never had any trouble dreaming til daylight.

Not me. The gene of unbroken rest didn’t pass to me.

Maybe that’s why night and I have never been the best of friends.

I was reminded of our friction this week.

I’d doze for a couple of hours and then would be awake for the rest of the night.

Or I’d slumber straight through morning but wake up still feeling tired.

Or better yet, I’d climb into bed and lay there for hours and hours until sleep decided to show up.

The experience mirrored my sleep life growing up.

My father would ask,

 “What are you thinking about?

You’re thinking too much.”

Maybe I was then.

Maybe I am now.

Maybe God’s trying to tell me something.

Either way, I pray for sweet relief.

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Simple Power

There were no red flags about Amanda that morning.

She walked into Rebecca’s office with her clothes crisp, her smile bright, and her head high.

But when the door clicked shut, the crumble began.

She leaned against the corner of the wall as sobs poured out of her.

The dam was broken and her sorrow was spilling out.

Rebecca and I were paralyzed for a second, completely blindsided by the display.

But then natural instinct took over.

I wrapped my arms around Amanda, leaned my head against hers, and held her. Each cry made her shiver and I felt my arms tremble along with her body.

I don’t know how long we stayed there in that position. But it was long enough to make her crying die down.

The following day, Amanda admitted,

“That was the first time somebody’s hugged me in a long time.”

Growing up, I had no need to worry about where my next hug was coming from. My parents gave hugs to my sister and I daily. Every time a relative would come by, it was a given that they would bring a good squeeze with them. My baby cousins always showed their love by trying to wrap their chubby arms around my legs.

 But now as a single adult who lives alone, I definitely see how rare they are.

 Maybe it’s due to vulnerability.

As we get older, we develop some cynicism.

Everyone isn’t to be trusted.

Personal space is craved and expected.

Lines are drawn.

Inner circles bubble up.

Brick by brick, walls are constructed to keep out undesirables.

But when something or someone destroys those barriers, leaving us exposed and open, that’s when we find ourselves wanting, having, and needing hugs the most.

The number of hugs I got at 7 is definitely higher than the number I get at 27.

But that doesn’t mean I need them any less.

A hug is such a easy but potent way to show love and ease pain.

It’s simple power that everyone has.

I’m going to use mine more often.

Changing Times

It was my lunch hour some weeks ago. The tiny restaurant was filled with hungry customers so I was relieved and surprised when I spotted an empty table near the entrance. I plopped my purse on the seat next to me and was just about to take a bite of a sizzling hot French fry when I saw my cellphone light up. 



It was my mom. 


“I just want to say that you are such a good daughter. You’re always giving, you always show love, you care about others. You never gave me any trouble. I’m sure you’re a good friend too.”


It was an unexpected boost. I smiled as I soaked up her praise. But then, her voice tinged with concern, she said,

“I just don’t want you to be alone.”



I spent the latter part of the call reassuring her that my solo life will turn into a duet soon. But a part of me saddened when she said that. 


Whether she will admit to it or not, my mother has a very simple equation for a good life:

Happiness=Husband

I think a lot of women in her generation know that type of math by heart. 


My mother was born in the 1950s, an era where the minute there was a Mr. to your Mrs., you were set for life. 


In that time, a single woman in her late-twenties was as rare a sight as a unicorn galloping in Times Square. 


Which is why it’s an enigma to her why a woman like me is still untaken.


Times have changed. 


For the large part, the need for marriage is gone but the want still remains.


So out of those that want it, there’s a section of us who want to do it with God’s help. 


Out of that population, there are some that have a not-so-minor prerequisite.


Out of that portion, there are some that have an additional requirement.


Such ratios don’t make dating and finding a mate impossible.


But they do make it difficult. 


Not good news for eager and concerned mothers.


During another similar conversation, my mother mused, 

“I’ll sure be glad when you bring home a beau.” 


I laughed silently at her use of the dated term and thought, 


I’ll be glad too, Mom. 

Shift

The text made my shoulders droop. Queasiness snaked through my stomach. Her distress fell on me like a bowling ball and I sharply exhaled from the sudden weight of it all. I staggered into the office stairwell, my vision blurred as tears filmed my eyes.  My heavy sigh sounded hollow in the empty stairwell as I tried to deal with the heaviness sitting on me.

“Lord, what’s going on with my family?”



My 16-year-old cousin Lianna has always been such a quiet soul. She’s never really shared much about herself to our family, only allowing another 16-year-old cousin, Tia, into her world. She is a proud Mommy’s girl, never seeming to leave her mother’s side and tagging along happily on tedious and often unnecessary shopping trips and errands. 

We know that she is reserved. We know that she loves music. We know that she loves her family.

But we wondered. 

About her sagging jeans. 

About her triple X size hoodies and T-shirts. 

About her utter horror at having to wear make-up.

About how she had to be forced to wear dresses. 

About her distaste for wearing her shoulder length hair in curls and waves and desire to wear it in cornrows. 


We wondered.


 And we found out when she told her mother that she was interested in women. 


Her mother weeped from the lowest part of herself, her heart broken. Once I heard what happened, I immediately began praying for my aunt and her reaction/thoughts about this ordeal. I  asked God to watch over my cousin, to free her from that spirit and to restore her heart, mind, and soul.


But while pondering and praying about them, I had to insert a spiritual addendum for Tia.  


Tia is a natural beauty and charmer. Her honey colored eyes and smooth chipmunk cheeks have given her many a high school admirer, a fact that she unapologetically enjoys. She was born to delight, easily eliciting smiles and laughs from anyone she encounters. 


Life hasn’t been so delightful for her lately.

Tia’s relationship with her mother has been typical, both rocky and smooth. But their 18 year age difference has put them on a level that fosters deep affection but washes away important boundaries.


 Recently, her mother did something out of the ordinary:


She viciously cursed at her and her 8-year-old sister. 


While physically disciplining the younger girl, her mother turned on Tia, who had intervened. Her mother spat at Tia to 

“mind her f****** business. Who the f*** is she?”

She then announced that she doesn’t give a f*** what the two girls eat for dinner because she wasn’t cooking s***.


The anger and the language and the viciousness with which it was used shocked the two daughters. They spent that night crying from hurt and fear. Tia had decided that she had enough and wanted to leave home to live with a relative. 


Tia’s text about the events collided with Lianna’s already spinning tornado and absolutely knocked the wind out of me. I tried to soothe and mend as I could, asking God for guidance, for direction and for words to say. 


Soon, I ran out of words. 


And strength. 


It’s funny; sometimes you don’t think anyone else sees the strain you feel. 


I asked my life coach to add them to her prayer list, which she did. But she also was concerned about me and told me something I forgot (which I often do):

“You need to shift all this off you and onto God. Cast it on the One who is really equipped to carry it.

Though we are to bear one another’s burdens, we certainly aren’t built to bear them forever or for long.


Shifting it off to Someone with stronger shoulders…




For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.
-Psalm 103:14

Private

Growing up, I would watch the adults in my family collect around a crowded dining room table, a bright cozy  kitchen, or sizzling barbecue grill to talk.


 Talk about everything


Children. 


Jobs. 


Spouses. 


Money. 


Coworkers. 


Church folk. 


Relatives.


World events. 


Sex. 


Fears. 


Dreams. 


No topic was ever missed or skipped over. Whenever it became aware that I was in earshot, I was quickly shooed out the room. But the rich laughter and vociferous declarations were too full to be contained and always flowed into the other rooms. 

As I grew older, my sister and I were invited to share in this familial tradition. My sister shined at it. She, of the phone calls to her boyfriends so deafening the whole house would tremble and rippling opinionated spirit, gladly shared her all. I would listen as she would go on about her feelings towards her friends and other matters while my mother would absorb it and then reflect her own thoughts. 

The exchange was common and, in the minds of all in the household,  the way it should be done. 

But…

Where my relatives open doors, I shut them. I chalk lines. I draw curtains. Boundary is my middle name and I spell it P-R-I-V-A-T-E. 

 In this regard, I was viewed as irregular. In my family, everything is to be shared,  and refusal to do so is greeted with confusion, dismay, and disbelief.

 Family members, in particular, my mother, were bothered by my unwillingness to bare my soul. I remember one incident in particular where my mother was visually disturbed that I opted out of a girls’ sharing session. 

She learned to live with it but I think she thought that it was a phase from which I would outgrow.
During a recent conversation, she turned the knob on a door that is locked to her for the time being: my love life. When I didn’t divulge after minutes of pounding, she said in an exasperated voice,

“But you’re 25!

I was and am far from a recluse. I do share and bare and reveal. But it is within limits and there are few around me who have seen my heart in its entirety. The heaviest and most precious portions always go to those who know how to handle them.
I love and cling to my family and admire their openness. But I’ve seen these offered portions pricked and chopped to pieces.

Such a dilemma. Is it wrong to hide parts of your heart from your family?

Feelings

I think adults underestimate how much children can perceive. 


When I was little, I adored my aunts and uncles, both biological and those who married in.They were like spinoffs of Mommy and Daddy, kinda the same as my parents but more fun. 


There were a few, however, that I always felt uneasy around. It was something intangible that I could never name. The uneasiness and discomfort zoomed in whenever I was around them and it zoomed away whenever they left. In my little mind, I would scold myself for feeling that way. I never voiced any of this to my parents because I felt they wouldn’t believe me. I was just a little girl  and it was just a feeling. 


But it wasn’t. 


 I was 7 when my aunt Hadassah married my uncle Mac. My aunt is saucy and statuesque with deep brown skin. She has the ability to draw people to her without much effort. He’s a burly bearded sand colored man, a former chain smoker. I remember being scared for him every time he laughed because he would always cough violently afterwards. Their common ground must have been their skill at spinning life into joy. Both were consummate jokesters, provoking laughs from any and everyone. 


But after they married,the disquiet in me began. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my new uncle. But the air around him seemed…less than peaceful, less than healthy. 


Then skeletons tumbled out of the closet. Abuse. Infidelity. Possible mental instability. When I was 10, I wrote in my diary that he hit her. When I was older, I found out that that was the least of it. In one instance, he placed a pillow over her head to try to suffocate her. When I was 19, they separated due to another woman. He’s now married to his former mistress. 


I was 8 when my aunt Spiral married my uncle Nick. I saw then that he was colorless. He walks and speaks with a disturbingly passive gait. Attempts to inject humor or life into his conversation were never successfully executed. They didn’t fit him. My aunt was especially beautiful with clear caramel skin and a black waterfall of hair that cascaded from her scalp. 


She was gorgeous and exacting.


No one was allowed to wear shoes in the house. When my sister and I would visit them, we were not allowed to drink anything until we finished our dinner. Then we could have a beverage. We  even were not to wear underwear when we slept. I remember doing that reluctantly and looking towards the bedroom door where my uncle had retreated. 


When they married, their wedding was joyless. The smiles, the interactions were tightly performed with no real ease, genuineness, or delight. She gave birth to their only daughter 2 years later. I was 10 and I remember thinking how would she behave as a mother.  


Fast forward to present day where their family is one thrown punch, one lit match, one needle shot away from breaking news. My uncle and aunt have both emotionally left the marriage. They instead race to see who can/will die first. Their daughter, my cousin, seeks solace in deviant behavior that will eventually consume and possibly kill her too. 


All I was was a child with a feeling. I wonder if the adults in my life had those feelings, too.