I think grandma jinxed me at 16.
I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean to.
But thanks Grandma.
When I was 16, my grandma, who I have to say is one of my all time favorite people to have ever lived on this earth, sent me a letter and in it she says “You have already seen more than many people do in life and you are strong for it.”
If she had a crystal ball, if she knew that one day I would survive my parents divorce, lose my relationship with my father to mental illness and then to physical illness, would marry very young and struggle through 12 years before parting ways, go through my own personal crises and support others through theirs, raise kids of my own and those that came to me in a round about way and then lose her in the process…I wonder if she would have dared say I had seen enough to give me strength by the ripe old age of 16. It was almost as if she dared the universe to bring it on!
As the oldest of 6 girls raised by the oldest daughter of 8 kids I was born with the knack of taking care of others and being the strong stalwart one. When anyone had a problem I knew I could handle it. I assumed the role. When my parents split up I stepped in to help with the younger kids. I was the one who didn’t cry. I was the one that pretended to be strong. There was a good portion of my adult years where I thought I was being strong for others by telling them what they should be doing and using shame in attempt to help them straighten out.
Really not so strong.
Fortunately-for the people in my life-I found some sanity, some peace and perspective and have spent the rest of my adult years-so far-attempting to offer strength and help when it was appropriate and helpful. I’m not going to lie…it’s progress not perfection but it’s surely an improvement! At least that’s what my sisters tell me!
And yet I still had not found my true strength.
They say you don’t know how strong you are until you are faced with the impossible. They say we don’t know our own strength. I believe in crisis we do things we didn’t consciously think we could do. I believe hindsight is 20/20 and when we look back we feel strong.
But I also believe that my strongest moment came when I could not go any further alone.
That moment came years ago after I had spent 12 months pretending with everyone important that my life was great and perfect. I lied. I lied to save face and I lied because I was in denial. I had made the choice to move away from home with my kids-to do something different-much to some peoples disappointment-and I fell on my face . I was now officially in over my head, facing Christmas with just the kids, financially shaky and in the midst of an emotional crisis.
And I had no idea what to do next.
I found myself in bed late one night.
In the fetal position.
I cried and I cried…”I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this”
And then I felt calm.
And a quiet strong voice reminded me I wasn’t alone.
And then I did the unthinkable.
I asked for help.
I had to ask my sisters, my little sisters, the ones who I had always tried to be stronger than, for help. And you know what? They helped like nobody’s business. They came. They picked me up. They dusted me off. They did the things I could not do. They didn’t tell me I was a mess, they didn’t judge me or turn me away.
I think perhaps they were relieved that I was finally real.
That I was finally willing to admit my life was messy.
That they could offer me something I needed and was afraid to ask for…
And some laughter.
And a shoulder to cry on.
And a tremendous amount of grace.
And at that moment I realized what strength was. Strength was not being strong enough to do it all by myself. Strength was knowing I could not and finding the humility to ask for help. Strength came in allowing those who loved me, who I had supported in the past, give back and help me do what I could not do for myself. When I hit my knees, God reminded me that he placed some very special people in my life and in my family and that all I needed to do was ask. And they would be there. And they really were.