On Friday my therapist asked me who I wanted to be: what positive self-image I wanted to move towards. If we’re going to make a therapy plan, after all, it helps to have a long-term goal.
I couldn’t think of anything.
I have a very clear mental image of who I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be the one with the chronically messy/dirty house because she’s too lazy and undisciplined to get things cleaned and organized. I don’t want to be the mom who lets her kids watch TV so she can get some quiet time or a nap in the middle of the day, because she cares more about herself than about her kids’ developing brains. I don’t want to be the mom who over-schedules her kids’ lives so they have no time to free play and explore; I don’t want to be the mom who lets her kids wander around in self-directed ways so much that they bother the neighbors and never learn manners and miss out on awesome events and opportunities. I don’t want to be seen as discourteous or ignorant. I don’t want to admit that I can’t handle the beautiful and blessed life I’m living because other people handle lives that are so much harder with so much more ease and grace. I don’t want to be who I am, because my self-image is all wrapped up in shame.
So I’d been thinking about her question since the appointment, and as my daughter smiled at me that evening I remembered the women who have always been my inspiration, the women who made me want a daughter of my own so I could pass on their memories someday:
The great-grandmother who passed away when I was six, who shines so brightly in my mother’s memory that I wish I could have known her myself, who knew a poem for every circumstance (and wrote her own as well), who always had an open door and good food, who saw the world through rose-colored lenses that enabled her to believe the best of everyone she loved – whose faith in God, in humanity, in her family, was deep and strong.
The grandmother whose life has been full of challenges, who endured miscarriage, mental illness, and a string of alcoholic husbands after her first marriage fell apart, but who never lost her heart for helping others or her buoyant optimism and goofy joy, who managed a warehouse of donated goods for those in need as a volunteer when she herself was quite poor, who got down on the floor and played with my boys with energy and zest for life, who as a young white woman in the 50s and 60s wanted to adopt children of all different ethnicities, who has such a love for children that she fostered more in addition to raising her own – whose hope through suffering and trials never died.
The mother who always seeks to honor her family and friends with her words and doesn’t let a disagreement or a quarrel turn into bitterness or lasting anger, who taught me the joy of baking and cooking and watching people enjoy the fruit of your labor, who gives of herself unceasingly to the people she loves and the responsibilities she takes on, who is never sentimental but always supportive, who defied the odds of her upbringing to earn not only a bachelor’s but a master’s degree in engineering, who has a song for every situation, who thoroughly gets into the competitive clash of board games and card games and teases us mercilessly – whose love for her family is self-sacrificial, unwavering, unconditional.
I am not any one of those women, nor could I be some amalgam of their best qualities alone; I’m as human as they were, and I have my faults and weaknesses as well. But I see in them the full ripeness of seeds that lie buried in my own soul also, which I would be honored and privileged to have blossom in my life. Can I have the generosity of spirit which made them spring up like a fountain of blessing for their families and communities, or the exuberance with which they approached life, or their ability to find joy and see beauty in the little things, and thus hold on to hope and faith and love when the big things are hard and broken?
I am sure those things will take on a different form in my life than in my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and my great-grandmothers, because I live in a different time and place and am a different person. The hard work now will be in discerning exactly how they might look for me, here and now, because I know now that their image, their fallen human image reflecting God through brokenness and redemption, is the positive image I want to work towards.