Father’s Day: Past, Present, and Eternity

My husband Paul and our firstborn Gawain in 1986.

Paul and our firstborn son, Gawain, in 1986.

Father’s Day, a celebration I didn’t know about till I immigrated to the United States at the age of 13.  My first experience with Father’s Day was a very sad one, as I looked around at my friends who had fathers to celebrate with, and realized how that could never be for me.  I wrote about my father in another blog, so I’ll just summarize here that I did not have the privilege of growing up with a loving father.  In fact, I knew my father had no affection for me.  So each time Father’s Day rolled around, I dreaded the day.  Sure, as a young Christian girl, I knew in my head the concept of God the Father, but what was that really like?  Having known a father who could fly into a rage and beat me into pulp, an all powerful Father God was even more to be feared than my own earthly father!  In my childhood, there had been men who tried to be “father figures” to me, but I honestly couldn’t connect with them, always being tentative and fearful.  I was one messed up girl indeed.

It took a personal encounter with God, who, with the help of a dear friend, came to rescue me when I attempted suicide at the age of 21, for me to begin to know God’s fatherly love.  (I wrote more about that in another blog too.)  As a young woman, I looked for love in all the wrong places, and did so many things I was ashamed of, to the point that death seemed a good escape.  Coming back from that low point in my life, I really started to understand unconditional love.  I’m very thankful that God brought into my life this dear friend, who later became my husband.  Through my wonderful husband I have seen an example of selfless, unconditional love.  Watching my husband interact with our children over the years have healed the wounds in my heart, as I realized more and more, how very much God has always been there for me, but I couldn’t see it at the time.  And so, Father’s Day became a happy time as I celebrate God’s fatherly love, being thankful for the men who have shown me fatherly affection, and my husband’s love for our children.  I’m so thankful that our children have been spared the pain I had suffered.

As I look across the whole spectrum of time, stretching out to the eternity yet to come, I am now at peace.  The pain from childhood is gone, replaced with wholeness and serenity.  Knowing God as I do now, I have no doubt that in the end, all will be well.  I’ve long since forgiven my father for the abuse he inflicted upon me, for as I matured and healed, I could see that he too was an abused child, and truly “knew not what he’d done” to me.  I know first hand the things humans are capable of doing out of anger and pain.  As I have been forgiven and shown compassion by God, so I forgive and show compassion to others.  I look forward to seeing my father again someday, in the presence of our loving Father.  That would be the best Father’s Day ever!


My Daughter Is Married

B and J Wedding 01042014-0124My daughter got married yesterday to a wonderful young man whom I have come to love as a son. While I felt all the joy and tenderness of watching my daughter and my now-son-in-law exchanging vows and starting a new chapter in their lives as husband and wife, the reality of what has transpired yesterday, that she’s now married and no longer a part of my household, didn’t really hit me till this morning.

You see, yesterday, I simply did the same things I’ve always done before in her life. I was there to share her joy. I helped her and supported her whenever she needed me and called for me. I held her close and kissed her. I told her she was beautiful. These are all things I’ve always done for her as her mother.

But this morning, I did something I’ve never done before as her mother. . . I changed her last name on my cell phone directory. That’s when it hit me that she’s no longer Rebekah Constance Doell. She’s now Rebekah Constance Barker. There’s just something so final about that, and it caught me off guard.

I kept telling myself that she’s still the same person, that she’s still my daughter, that only her last name has changed. But somehow it hit me hard. The last name Doell is yet one more thing we used to share that is now gone in the process of watching her grow up and letting her go.

It will take me a while to get used to her new last name.


I Hurt Because I Choose To Love

Ever since I left her home for college, I haven’t spent anymore than a couple of weeks at a time with my mother (often just a few days).  In my early to mid 20’s, I had gone through the whole healing process, from being angry and not wanting anything to do with her (because after all she doesn’t accept me as I am), to forgiving, accepting, and loving her as she is (after finding God’s unconditional love for me to be all I need, I was freed from the need to have her approval).  But still, whenever we come together for more than a few days, there would always be a moment of high drama where she would be mad at me because I’d somehow failed to do something she’d hoped I’d do (but never told me).  We’d part with many things left unsaid.  This has been the pattern for the past 30 years.

But My mother is really getting old now, and I’m not so young myself anymore.  In recent years, with many older friends passing on to the land yonder, I’d been wanting to really talk things over with my mother, in hope that we can somehow live the rest of our time together in true peace and mutual acceptance.  So in March, when my mother called to say she would like to come for an extended visit, I talked it over with Paul, and we both thought it would be a good chance not only for me to finally have time to talk things through with my mother, but also for us to test the waters about the possibility of her coming to live with us in the future when she’s too old to live alone.

The past couple of months have been both the happiest and saddest time I’ve had with my mother.  I enjoyed reminiscing with her as we looked through the things from my childhood that she’d kept but now wanted me to keep.  I loved seeing her smiling face as she enjoyed the flowers at the various conservatories we visited together.  I was glad to finally be able to hug her and show her some affection that was impossible to do over the phone.  On my 50th birthday, I was glad she was here to celebrate with me, and we laughed till we cried at my son Tristan’s gag gift to me (a package of Post-It notes).  I still chuckle whenever I think of how, after being the subject of my photography and taking directions from me for a few weeks, she began to pose herself and directed me to take pictures of her, and I will always cherish the photographs that I’ve taken of our time together.

I was sad though, when she scolded me as if I was still a child for laughing too loud, for wearing my hair loose instead of tied up, for not wearing the jade earrings she gave me (they didn’t go with what I was wearing then and I was saving them to wear later), for not sitting next to her at dinner one time at a restaurant, and a multitude of things I didn’t even know were offensive to her.  I was sad when she misinterpreted what I did (or did not do), and no matter how I tried to explain, she still believed that her version was what happened.  I was sad when she became jealous whenever she perceived that I was paying more attention to anyone else, especially Auntie Sarah, a family friend, whom my mother had invited to come along.  Auntie Sarah and I have been close ever since I was about 13.  She’s the one whom I talked to when things got rough at home.  But I guess my mother had no idea how close Auntie Sarah and I were until these past couple of months when we were living together.

The saddest thing of all was seeing in the pattern of my mother’s behavior for the past couple of months that she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  I am not a professional psychologist, of course, so this isn’t an official diagnosis (and she will never willingly go to a psychologist to be evaluated), but I have studied psychology enough to know what the characteristics of NPD are.  Moreover, I know how impossible it is for someone with NPD to change, to grow, to have healthy relationship, to truly love, simply because one of the characteristics of NPD is that the person cannot see or accept their own fault.  It’s a fact that one cannot grow or change if one is unable or unwilling to see one’s fault or mistake.  What this means is that I will never be able to truly talk heart-to-heart with my mother, for she cannot see anyone else’s perspective but her own.  This is the reason why all attempts in the past years and these couple of months had failed.

As I said good-bye to her at the airport, I looked into her eyes and saw her longing to be close to me, and her sadness that, once again, things did not turn out as she had hoped.   There were so many things I wanted to say, things that I had been saying for years, and especially the past two months, to her, but she couldn’t hear me.  I saw the pain in her eyes as she suffered inside the prison of her personality disorder, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to free her from it.  All I could do then was to hold her close so I could take my eyes off of hers and cried silently to myself.

I’m hurting, but not because she doesn’t accept me or love me as I am, or that our relationship isn’t good.  I had dealt with that loss long ago when I realized that I could never be the daughter she wanted me to be.  I’m hurting because I love her and I can empathize with her pain, the prison that she’s in.  The only way I can stop hurting is to stop loving and caring about her.  I can’t stop loving her because she’s my mother, not some unrelated person on earth that I can just cut out of my life.  And so, I hurt, because I choose to love.

Jesus, you came to set the captives free. Please, set my mother free. Amen.


Honoring My Mom on Mother’s Day

This is an old photograph of my mother, me, and my two younger brothers.  Given that I was so young then, my memory is foggy as to the exact time the photograph was taken, but I would guess it was 1968, when I was about 6 years old.  I found out as a teenager that this picture was taken because my mother thought she was dying from a severe case of stomach ulcer, and she wanted my brothers and I to have a picture to remember what she looked like.   Miraculously, she got better, and I am so glad that I was spared the loss of my mother at such a young age.

Life hasn’t been easy for us since my father left when I was 6 years old.  I’m not sure if it was before or after this photo was taken.  It wasn’t till I became a mother myself that I truly comprehended how heart-wrenching it must have been for my mother to be told that she could not bring her children back home to my grandparents’ house when her marriage with my father failed, and to have my brothers and I taken away from her by my father (whom she knew was an abusive man).

To compound her pain, my father then placed us in boarding school, and the only time she could see us was to visit us at school, and occasionally take us home for a weekend.  When school was at recess and we went to our father’s house, my mother was forbidden to visit us there.  There were no laws governing divorce or separation in Bangkok, Thailand, at least not then.  Long story short, years went by where my brothers and I grew up without daily contact with our mother.  It wasn’t until I was 13, when my mother took me with her to the U.S. in October of 1975, that I got to live with my mother again, and my brothers joined us about a year later.  By the time all of us were together again, I was already 14.

Though I was a teenager by the time she had us with her again, in my mother’s psyche, my brothers and I were still the little children that were taken from her.  She never did get over the pain and sorrow, even to this day, and emotionally, she’s constantly yearning for that happy scene with her children in her arms.    Because she’s unable to let go of the past to find that inner peace that’s so vital for healing and maturity, my mother did not have that to pass on to me, and I grew up very insecure, and always feeling responsible for my mother’s emotional well being.   I resented this as a teenager, and my relationship with my mother was rocky as I fought for my independence.  I could not understand my mother until after I got married and experienced the love of a mother from the vantage point of a mom, when I had my first child at the age of 24.   As I held my own child, imagining what it would be like to be separated from him, I wept in my mother’s place.

Now, as a middle-aged adult who has raised three out of six of my own children to adulthood, I completely understand how my mother could have difficulty letting us go while she continued to treat my brothers and I like little children as we grew into adulthood.   As I progressed in my own healing, living each day in the unconditional love of God for me,  I’ve grown in my acceptance of my mother as she is, with all her human frailties and shortcomings.  She never really had a chance to be a mom, because her children were taken from her, and later on, because she was still stuck in the past, she did some things in my teen and young adult years that were harmful to my emotional development.  But, there is one thing I can never doubt about my mother,  and that is her fierce love for me and my brothers.  Even when she made the mistakes, she did so because she truly believed that was best for us.   And I will forever be thankful that when my father tried so hard to hide us from her and cut her out of our lives, she never gave up searching for us.  She worked hard to support us as a single mother, and taught us many lessons about good work ethics, kindness, and generosity.  I don’t know how she did it, but we always had enough to meet our needs and to share with others.

If I have the power, I would turn back time and start us all over again as a family, changing the circumstances to give my mother that happy time with her young children in her arms, fulfilling her heart’s deep longing, so she can have peace.  But alas, I cannot do that.  I can only live in the present, and love her through her pain as I grieve the mother-daughter relationship that we could have had, if only things were different.

But things are different for me and my own children.  And in my mother’s honor, I am loving my children as fiercely as I know she has loved me.  In her honor, I am loving  my children as I believe my mother would have done had circumstances been different for her and me.  And in her honor, I want the whole world to know how very much I love my mother.


Taking A Stand Against Child Abuse

The song I’ve picked for today, “Alyssa Lies” by Jason Michael Carroll (2006),  is based on the true story of a child who lied about her bruises.   This post is in response to the recent “campaign” on Facebook against child abuse.

This past week, Facebook users had been asked to change their profile pictures to their favorite cartoon characters from childhood to make a statement against child abuse and raise awareness of the problem.   As an adult survivor of child abuse who’s making sure that the abuse doesn’t get passed on to the next generation, I have been encouraged to see so many people taking a stand against child abuse.   However, if changing the profile picture is all that everyone does, the situation will remain the same, and the children are not being helped at all by this “campaign.”    Please, consider doing something more practical to help solve this problem.

My friend Angie Wensley has made a list of practical things that people can do to make a difference.  I have included the list below the song lyrics.   None of us can do everything on this list, but all of us can do something!  So please, take the time to look through the list and pick at least one thing to do to make a difference.  Thank you!

Alyssa Lies  by Jason Michael Carroll

My little girl met a new friend
Just the other day
On the playground at school
Between the tires and the swings
But she came home with tear-filled eyes
And she said to me “Daddy, Alyssa Lies”

Well I just brushed it off at first
‘Cause I didn’t know how much my little girl had been hurt
Or the things she had seen
I wasn’t ready when I said you can tell me
And she said

Chorus
Alyssa Lies
To the classroom
Alyssa lies
Everyday at school
Alyssa lies
To the teachers
As she tries to cover every bruise

My little girl laid her head down
That night to go to sleep
As I stepped out the room I heard her say
A prayer so soft and sweet
God bless my mom and my dad
And my new friend Alyssa
Oh I know she needs you bad because. . .

(Chorus)

I had the worst night of sleep in years
As I tried to think of a way to calm her fears
I knew exactly what I had to do
But when we got to school on Monday I heard the news

My little girl asked me why everybody looked so sad
The lump in my throat grew bigger
With every question that she asked
Until I felt the tears run down my face
And I told her that Alyssa wouldn’t be at school today

‘Cause She doesn’t lie
In the classroom
She doesn’t lie
Anymore at school
Alyssa lies
With Jesus
Because there’s nothing anyone would do
Tears filled my eyes
When my little girl asked me why
Alyssa lies
Oh Daddy,oh daddy, tell me why
Alyssa lies

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Practical Ways That You Can Help Stop or Prevent Child Abuse
by Angie Wensley

  1. Educate yourself about the issue.
  2. Foster.
  3. Adopt through the foster system.
  4. Become a Safe Family (http://www.safe-families.org/).
  5. Encourage the people around you who are fostering and or adopting. It is hard work—good work, but hard work.
  6. Pray! For the kids, for the biological family, for the foster family, etc.
  7. Babysit for a foster family who may need a break. This may require a criminal background check but is a super easy thing to do. Reduce the stress on a foster family.
  8. Prepare “first night” bags for kids coming in to the foster system—kiddos often come with nothing. Include things like soap, shampoo, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, comb, etc.
  9. Prepare a meal for a foster family when they receive a new placement, have a court date or go through another stressful event.
  10. Donate suitcases or duffle bags to foster families or your local Department of Child Services, so that when they need to move, they don’t have to pack their belongings in trash bags. What message does that send to the kids?
  11. Donate your children’s outgrown clothes, shoes, coats, etc. to a foster family.
  12. Donate baby cribs, toddler beds,  dressers, twin sized beds, high chairs, car seats etc. that you no longer need to a foster family.
  13. Make tie blankets to comfort kids coming into the foster system.
  14. Donate new stuffed animals to your local Child Protective Services agency. Police Officers, Social Workers, and medical professionals often use stuffed animals to comfort children who are going through a traumatic situation.
  15. Buy a membership to the Zoo, Conner Prairie, etc. for a foster family.
  16. Write a letter to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis thanking them for providing free membership to foster families.
  17. Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and be a voice for foster children.
  18. Lobby for the changes you wish to see in child welfare legislation.
  19. Tutor at-risk kids.
  20. Invest in a child. Believe in them. Give them hope.
  21. Share the love of Jesus.
  22. Mentor at-risk parents.
  23. Provide transportation to medical appointments for an at-risk family.
  24. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
  25. Volunteer at a Domestic Violence shelter—these kiddos are at-risk.
  26. Be available to your children’s friends. Listen to them. Be a safe place for them. If they feel that they can trust you they will be more likely to come to you if they are in danger.
  27. When you see a stressed out parent who isn’t coping well, offer to let their child hang out at your house for a while—sometimes parents need a time out too. Give the parents a safe place to talk through their frustrations—suggest resources for them if needed.
  28. When you are in public and you see someone bullying their partner or their child, intervene—say something, report it to the store manager, call 911. People too often feel like it is “none of my business” and allow the abuse to continue.  http://www.childabusenetwork.org/html/ghelp_public.htm
  29. Donate books on gentle parenting to your church library, Dr’s office waiting room, etc.
  30. Teach a parenting class focusing on gentle parenting at your church or community center—sometimes parents need to know that there are other ways to parent than how they were parented. We can’t do better until we know better.
  31. Form a “Justice team”  at your church to educate the community about the issues children face (White River Christian Church has a Justice Team  http://www.wrcc.org/serve/community/justicesessions.php).
  32. Read Protecting the Gift and the Gift of Fear by Gavin Debecker
  33. Become familiar with the “Test of Twelve”  http://life.familyeducation.com/safety/home-alone/36362.html
  34. Teach your child that it is ok to say no, be assertive, defy an adult *with your full support* if they ever feel threatened or uncomfortable.
  35. Teach your child the difference between tatteling and telling–help them to know that they need to tell if they have a freind who is in danger.

Reflection on Gareth and God’s Love

This morning I’m in awe of God’s profound wisdom and how He prepares me for the things to come in my life that I have no awareness of until it happens.   When Gareth was born in August 1994,  I wrote a song to welcome him into the world.   The song was also a prayer of my heart as a parent.  I would hum or sing this song as I nursed him or rocked him to sleep.   Little did I know the important role that this song would play in the years to come to inspire me as a parent to all my children, and particularly to prepare me for Gareth’s uniqueness.

Gareth had a few seizures in infancy and toddlerhood that became a full seizure disorder in early childhood, and he then developed other symptoms that led to a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, a very mild form of Autism, when he was about 10 years old.   It has been a challenge to deal with Asperger’s Syndrome, and more so because we homeschool.  There’ve been many moments when, if not for my love for him, I would have given up.   The longer time goes, the more it seems to me how prophetic this prayer that I uttered in his infancy was.  The things I hoped for in that song were the very things I needed to love Gareth as he is, to patiently try to understand and teach him (over and over again), to graciously forgive the many things he did that he “should have known better.”   I had no idea what the years would bring when I first wrote that song, but God did, and I believe He put that prayer in my heart to inspire me to become what Gareth needs.   And God did all this because He loves both of us.  I haven’t been perfect, of course, and there are things I did and said out of frustration that I wish I could take back, but I certainly would not have been able to love him and hang in there as well as I have without this inspiration.

I don’t know what lies ahead, and life can be so unpredictable with its valleys of grief and peaks of joy, but it gives me much peace to know that whatever is to come, my Father already knows way ahead of time and will prepare me for it.  I think I’m starting to know what that “peace beyond understanding”  is.

In case you want to know, the words of the song went like this:

Welcome, Dear Little One
(c) 1994 Sophie Doell

Welcome, Dear Little One,
What a blessed joy to be holding you close to me.
Little hands and little feet, curious eyes looking at me;
I wonder what you can see?

Do you see love, patience, and kindness?
Do you see hope for all that you can be?
Do you see grace that can forgive all wrong?
Do you see Jesus Christ living in me?

And soon, Dear Little One, you’ll be walking next to me.
Your teacher I will be.
And in that moment when you’re looking straight at me,
I wonder what you will see?

Will you see love, patience, and kindness?
Will you see hope for all that you can be?
Will you see grace that can forgive all wrong?
Will you see Jesus Christ living in me?

And someday when it’s time to let you go, my heart will long to know. . .

Will you have love, patience, and kindness?
Will you have hope that will pull you through?
Will you show grace that can forgive all wrong?
Will you have Jesus Christ living in you?

Welcome, Dear Little One.  It’s my prayer that I will be
Christ Jesus for you to see.

Welcome, Dear Little One!


Easter in Winter

This last Easter of 2008, we had been so busy that Easter just sneaked up on us, and Paul and I were not prepared with our filled plastic eggs for the annual Doell Family Easter Egg Hunt.  The older 3 kids who had moved on from hunting to hiding the eggs (a rite of passage in our family) understood it well enough, but the 3 younger ones were sorely disappointed.  To them, looking for the eggs was an important event they look forward to each year.   Given how Paul and I had been telling them over the years that the plastic eggs with the surprises inside symbolize the surprises in life that God bestows upon His children because He loves them, and how literal young children are, you can imagine how it would seem to our children to suddenly not have the eggs one Easter.

So, Paul and I, for the first time, took advantage of the after-Easter sale at Costco and bought pre-filled Easter eggs (5 bags at $1.97 each–total of 240 eggs).   We figured getting pre-filled eggs would save us the effort of filling them, and at that price, it was cheaper than buying the candies and eggs separately then filling the eggs ourselves.   But because of our busy lives, those plastic eggs sat in our closet for months until last Wednesday evening, when all the proper elements came together (meaning that we had nothing scheduled on our calendar, nobody was sick, and Paul and I weren’t so tired that all we wanted to do was vegetate).   So the 3 older kids hid all the eggs with great enthusiasm all around the house (it’s too cold to do anything outside), and the 3 younger kids went on their hunt with gusto.   Never mind that it’s in the middle of Winter and months after Easter was gone, to the kids, it’s Easter!   They had fun finding the eggs (and as always, they missed one and it wasn’t found till a few days later–this is why we stopped using real hard-boiled eggs).  After counting who had the most eggs to determine the winner, they pooled all the eggs together, emptied them of their contents, and divided up the loot into 6 equal parts (we’ve taught our kids that sharing the candies equally symbolizes how we are to share with one another in God’s family).  Paul and I get the remainder.

Some people might wonder why we would go through such trouble to give the kids an egg hunt in the Winter when Spring, and another Easter, is just around the corner.  Why not just save those eggs and wait till the next Easter?  Why don’t we let the kids learn the harsh reality of life that their parents are just too busy (or forgetful) and that they will just have to wait till next Easter?   If you were here to see the smiles on our children’s faces, to witness the love that the older kids were showing the younger kids, and to experience what a great time we were having together as a family, then you will understand why we feel the effort was all worth it.

Another important reason we did the egg hunt was to keep a promise to our children.  When last Easter came without an egg hunt, we promised them that we would do an egg hunt sometime later.   To our children, that means sometime soon after Easter, and not till next Easter.   Since we believe that we are our children’s first glimpse of God’s character, it was important for us to keep our promises to them.  We want them to know that God always keeps His word.  Of course, we also had to tell them that, unlike their increasingly forgetful parents, God, being perfect, never gets so busy that He would forget to do something to delight them.  It may not happen when they expect it, but God always comes through with His blessings and surprises.

This next Easter we have a new problem.   The one thing we didn’t think about when we bought those pre-filled eggs was that they will become 240 extra plastic eggs to fill the next Easter.   Better get going on that project and be done before Easter arrives this year.