The other day I was sitting with my one of my children when they looked up at me and said, “Mom, you look like Rumplestiltskin. Under your eyes are all scaly and kind of purple.”
THIS is the Rumplestiltskin they thought I looked like.
I said, “That’s not a very nice thing to say.” They grinned. They didn’t mean to be unkind, they just thought it was interesting and funny and fascinating, like they were just making an observation.
We carried on with our day, but a little while later I had a “tea and discipleship” time with each of my kids individually. I had each child come into my bedroom with some hot tea and cookies. I asked them what was on their heart, and then I shared with them what I saw in them and then addressed an issue I saw that I felt like needed to be acknowledged. When it was the child’s turn who told me I looked like Rumple, I began to open the Scriptures when, as though they couldn’t contain themselves, said again, “I just can’t help it mom, you look like Rumplestiltskin under your eyes.”
It was then that I started to cry.
It just happened; the tears flowed out and I covered my eyes and said, “That really hurt my feelings.” As I was wiping away my tears I saw that my child was crying too. So there we were, both crying, and both tender-hearted, and we hugged and my child said, “I’m sorry mom. You’re beautiful. I’m so sorry.”
I looked at my sorrowful child who felt the pain of hurting another person and said, “I know you’re sorry and I know you love me. I don’t mean to cry, but your words hurt my feelings. It’s important that we use words that build people up, not tear people down, do you understand?”
“Yes” came out through the sniffles.
My sweet child was repentant and they felt what I believe to be godly sorrow. They saw that their words hurt someone, and they felt it and they didn’t want to do it again. They didn’t want to use their words to hurt and tear down.
I’m glad I cried in front of my child. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I’m glad it happened and I’m glad they felt sorrow.
After the sorrow came forgiveness and grace. And that’s the part I love the most, the forgiveness. It’s in forgiveness that my child gets to experience being in the light after something dark. It’s there where I can show them the sweet gift of gentleness and grace and kindness. Forgiveness in purity is the best. My hope and prayer is that forgiveness becomes an ingrained part of their psyche, this knowing that they don’t have to be ashamed or locked up, but that they can experience good guilt and then be set free to keep on in grace.
This is the dirt of parenting: vulnerability and humanity laid bare before our children; honesty mixed with love and grace and forgiveness. It’s in this dirt, I think, that our kids learn to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. I think it’s where they learn they are in it with one another, and this “in it-ness” leads them to know they are loved and that they can love. They are loved in the mess of their sin and humanity, as we are loved by God in our sin and humanity, and they can turn around and love others in their sin and humanity. Love and grace and forgiveness sets people free.
This is why God says to love and forgive, over and over and over, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts.
The hope is freedom.
So I’m hoping today that I will lead my children towards freedom and that you will too. I’m hoping that we will be women who are not afraid of our humanity or our tears or our mess laid bare before our children; that we are okay to not have “it” together. I hope we’ll be women who show our children that we are in this dirt with them. Messy and loved and free.
Thank you Jesus.
“God spoke to me, revealed things to me, and answered prayers through this retreat. It was a beautiful time. The setting was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and the fellowship was incredible.”
I’m hosting a writing retreat and intensive again THIS October! I’m calling it, the Breathe, Pray, Write, Retreat.
What a joy to spend time with women in a beautiful space with delicious food and breathing room to do the soul work of writing.
At the retreat, I, along with my writerly friends, will spend intimate, up-close time with those of you who have a dream of writing and want to find space and grace with other writers while learning and being encouraged in the craft and all that comes with it.
There will be teaching on the art and discipline of writing, inspiring your readers, telling stories, how to incorporate the spiritual disciplines into your writing, organizing, publishing, marketing, and more. In addition to the teaching there will also be one-on-one coaching and plenty of Q & A time.
Here are the details:
When: Friday, October 6th (8:30am EST) to Sunday, October 8th (11:30am EST). You may arrive Thursday night after 6:30 pm to settle in before we begin Friday.
Where: In a beautiful 5,000 square foot home on 30 acres in a small little town in PA. (Free shuttle to and from the Harrisburg airport which is about 45 minutes from the location.)
Who: I am hosting this retreat with Denise J. Hughes and Logan Wolfram. Special guests include Kim Todd (Spiritual Disciplines with Writing and Holy Yoga Instructor) and Don Jacobson (of D.C. Jacobson & Associates Literary Agency). Amy Smoker (A Night to Breathe) will also be there, bringing the hospitality!
Cost: There are only 16 tickets available, and the cost is around $989 (depending on bed choice). Your cost includes your stay in the beautiful Lakeside Manor, all food for the weekend (including endless cups of coffee and tea), up-close and personal time with myself, Denise, and the other special guests, one-on-one coaching, teaching sessions, space to write, and some special gifts. Full payment will be due when you purchase the ticket.
We will stay up late into the night talking about writing and publishing and all the things that go with it. We will eat chocolate and wear P.J.’s and enjoy the best food all while being surrounded by beautiful scenery.
As one of only 16 women, you will have access to Sarah, Denise, Logan, Kim, and Don, and enjoy one-on-one coaching from Sarah and Denise. We will eat together, laugh together, and breathe as we work the words out of our soul.
If this sounds like something you’re ready for, click the button below to secure your spot!
Get Your Ticket!
“I’m so glad that I went to this writer’s retreat! I enjoyed learning from other writers and their experiences and had the time and space to focus on the direction of my writing. Sarah Mae and her team did a fantastic job with all of the details to make this a refreshing and encouraging weekend.”
Yea, so I’ve been losing it the last few days. I know, you know, WE ALL KNOW. Some of it is hormones, some of it is just trying to figure out how to work (write) and raise you all well and keep a decently cleaned home (heh), homeschool you, and make dinner instead of ordering pizza, again.
But I’m just in this weird place of trying to figure it all out. I’m trying to figure out how to discipline you all so you listen and honor me and my words and for gosh sakes STAY IN BED. I’m trying. And sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy because there’s three of you and one of me and your daddy is working so hard and I just…am going to screw it all up sometimes.
Right now, I’m locked in the bedroom and one of you is singing in a high pitched voice and I want to scream, “PLEASE JUST BE QUIET.” But you’re also giggling and enjoying each other even though I was harsh with you. You’re playing together and I love that.
Sometimes I just want to hide away, go under, under, under the covers until there’s quiet. I feel guilty for this, because somewhere in me there’s this twisted notion that I should have it all together by now, especially as an adult, a mom, a Christian. But here’s the thing kids, I do not have it together. Obviously. And it’s why I need Jesus and it’s why you do too, because I will let you down. I will fail you sometimes. I will yell and I will regret it, and I will say I’m sorry a thousand times and mean it every time. And I will get better because God’s working in me, but I won’t ever be completed this side of heaven.
I am dust. And dust is messy.
You are dust too.
Here’s the good news: we are dust together, imperfect, prone to screw up, humans through and through, but we have the breath of God in us and the Holy Spirit divinely entwined with us.
I am weak and strong, holy and sinful. We have this in common, you all and me.
So what I really want to say is this: I love you so much it hurts, and I am grateful every day that you are my kids, my people, my team. I love who you are and I see God in you and I love watching you unfold into who you’re becoming. I love you and my love never changes, even when my moods do. Even when I lose it or when I hide away, it’s never you, it’s me. I am learning every day, by faith, how to keep going and mother you well and be okay with this frail me.
And don’t you think for a second that I’ll give up. I won’t. I will keep going because that’s what love does. Love never fails.
Jesus never fails. He will never let you down, and when you think He has, you wrestle it out with Him and cry and go through all the guttural feelings as you pray, “Teach me to see you, God.”
When you have wrestled it out and settled it in your soul that He is good, you will see Him. And you will know down into the deepest places of your being that He will never leave you or fail you or unlove you.
Hang on for dear life to Him.
I will too.
Because we’re in this together.
Now, as a wise older woman once said to me, “Go splash some water on your face and get back to it.”
Here I go.
Your mama, SM
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“Don’t throw the ball back.”
Those were the words that released me. Those were the words I will never forget because they gave me something I could grasp and use to get away from verbal abuse and manipulation.
It was my junior year of college and we had a guest lecturer for the day. The speaker was a bald man with a black mustache and a black leather jacket, and he was there because he was some kind of alcohol counselor. I sat up a little straighter in my chair that day, wanting to hear anything and everything he had to say because my mom was an alcoholic and I wanted to know how to deal with it. I don’t remember what he talked about during the class, but I do remember going up to him after and asking him if I could talk with him. We stood in the hallway and I told him my story.
I told him about the fact that I had a mom who was an alcoholic and who knew she was an alcoholic and had no interest in changing. I told him how it drove me crazy, how being around her or talking with her made me feel like I was crazy. We were so tangled up with each other. I told him how I always felt guilty around my mom, like somehow I always did everything wrong; I could never do things right or please her. I told him how she would call me names how she would always make me feel like I wasn’t doing enough; I felt like a total screw up. I asked him for advice. That’s when he said, “Don’t throw the ball back.”
“If I have a ball in my hand and I throw it to you, are you going to catch it?”
He said, “Okay, well, you made that choice; you caught the ball. Now you have another choice to make: you can hold the ball, drop the ball, or throw the ball back.” He told me this ball throwing situation is what was going on with my mom. He said we were engaged in a game of toss. She would throw out a ball of verbal abuse or begin to manipulate me, and I always responded by throwing the ball back; I engaged with her. “Mom, I tried, I really did. I don’t know what you want me to do!” Ball toss. “Sarah, if you would have just…” Ball toss. “Mom, you’re really hurting my feelings…why do you have to be like this?” Ball toss. “Get a grip Sarah, you are way too sensitive.” Ball toss. On and on, back and forth, a seemingly never-ending game.
“If you don’t want to play the game anymore, stop throwing the ball back.”
I could choose to “stop throwing the ball” in different ways. If she called and started being verbally abusive to me or manipulating me I could hang up the phone. I didn’t have to go see her if it wasn’t going to be a healthy situation. I could walk away. It was okay to get away in order to get healthy and clear my mind and figure out what was true and what wasn’t. I had always felt like I had this responsibility to make things right, but I was completely ineffective because I was still trapped in unhealthy behaviors and tangled thinking.
I was an emotionally unhealthy person trying help an emotionally unhealthy person.
And it wasn’t working. Of course.
That today I decided to stop throwing the ball.
My eyes were opened to the fact that I wasn’t crazy, that manipulation was a real thing happening, and that I needed to get healthy before I could love her well.
So I walked away for a time. I stopped playing the game. If she started in on me over the phone, I would just say, “If you keep talking to me like this, I’m going to hang up.” If she continued, “Sorry mom, I have to go.” And hang up. No goodbye. Just, ended it. This really ticked off my mom. And of course I felt guilty about it, but eventually, I didn’t feel guilty anymore.
Because I started to see things more clearly. I was beginning to understand what manipulation was and how it was affecting how I viewed myself. I saw how our tangled mess of manipulation was destroying us. It was destroying me.
I took about six months away from her, no phone calls, no visiting, just space to think and pray and seek counsel and begin the path of unwinding all the years of manipulation.
First the revealing, then the healing.
I had to see what was going on in me, just under the surface of things, in order to get free.
Here’s what happened when I stopped throwing the ball back:
I was able to get untangled, which helped me to get on a path to clarity and emotional health. I learned more about manipulation and how to spot it and not feed it.
I learned about the lies I was believing about myself (“I’m stupid, I’m ugly, “I’m not good enough”), and how in my own efforts to protect and comfort my tender heart, I acted in sinful ways.
God uncovered deeply wounded places in my heart, and He invited me to let Him care for those places and gently bind them up. And in the wounds there was loss, and I had to mourn and lament. But I learned this throughout all of it: If you want the healing to start, you have to face the deepest wounds of your heart. And so I did, but I didn’t have to face them alone.
After the facing and the pain and the revealing and the healing my heart began to get whole.
At first, as I went through this process of healing, things got worse with my mom, but then, they got better.
They got better because I learned how to set boundaries and love her without being entangled with her.
I was able to forgive her.
I was able to really love her.
And I learned how to love myself, even when it hurt. Even when the lies popped up. Even when her words stung.
I loved her. I loved myself (in a healthy way). And God worked miracles.
I’m working on my next book, The Complicated Heart, and it’s on unhealed wounds and painful relationships and dealing with the junk that is blinding us to emotional and spiritual health. Would you share with me in the comments what you would like to see addressed in the book? I so value your thoughts and stories and hold them all so tenderly. Thank you.
Also, if you’d like to follow along with the process of this book and the unfolding and untangling of it all, follow @TheComplicatedHeart on Instagram. I’d love to see you there.
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