Grace Elaine Sommers Whitehead

This past week my mom turned 79. It’s kind of jolting, because I don’t think of her as being someone who is close to entering her octogenarian years. She’s just my mom. However, she’s MY MOM. And being that I’m a mom, this has caused me to reflect on what it must be like to be my mom.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself from when I was a kid, and try to remember what my personality was like. I’m guessing my mom would say I was a happy and talkative child, and I was, for the most part. I liked to play outdoors in the dirt, ride my tricycle, talk to the neighbors, and play in the sandbox. I also liked to pretend I had imaginary friends and even children. One day I told my mom that I had two daughters–one named Ruthie (after my grandma who I was obsessed with) and Crouton (after my favorite salad bar topping-BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE SEASONED BREAD?!). I was creative and liked to color and draw and watch the birds at the bird feeder.

My mom would sit at the foot of my bed every night until I fell asleep. We said bedtime prayers, and she helped me to learn how to pray. She cooked healthy food for us, and we always ate at the table.

(God, I should stop reminiscing because this is actually making me think about all the ways I’ve failed as a parent.)

But before I stop, I must mention one more thing.

I remember lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. Only I wasn’t a child anymore. I was 30 years old. My mom had pulled the curtains up, in hopes that I would feel the sunshine. It was springtime and it was beautiful weather. And yet, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew my parents were concerned, but every time they tried to speak to me, I either cried or shut down. And all I remember thinking was, why can’t I just enjoy the sunshine? There are actual people who are getting up with the sun and going outside and living their lives and going to the grocery store and shit. And getting up to go pee was overwhelming to me. Eating was overwhelming to me. Showering was overwhelming to me.

I felt like I was getting evicted from my own life. This was during my second separation from my husband. Things were crumbling and I did not want to surrender. What I didn’t yet understand was that, as Glennon always says, nobody gets evicted from his or her life unless she is being called to a truer, deeper life. Rock bottom is always an invitation to something else- something even more authentic and beautiful.

My mother came into my bedroom. She sat down on my bed. She told me she had baked some homemade bread and had fresh strawberry jam, made with strawberries from our garden. While my mother is an incredible cook, it was very out of character for her to make homemade bread. I looked at her, perplexed. But then I knew: she’s trying to get me to eat AND baking may be her way of coping with the fact that her child is feeling hopeless and not eating or sleeping.

She convinced me to eat a piece of bread. She brought it upstairs to me and sat on my bed. I put the bread in my mouth and could tell it was nearly a perfect tasting piece of bread, so I began to chew it, even though I wasn’t enjoying the process of eating. Every time I swallowed food, it went into the pit of my stomach and I thought would vomit. But I didn’t vomit. So I continued to slowly and thoroughly chew the bread in my mouth so that I could nourish my body at least.

“I’ve been thinking,” my mother suddenly said, “about you.”

I sat up in bed. She had my attention.

“I have this vision of you in my mind. You are an exquisite, beautiful flower. And yet, you’ve been buried for so long under the dirt. The ground above you is hard and cracked, and the soil is not good. However, you continue to grow and you will soon sprout above this ground that is holding you back–this ground that has held you down for so many years, and you will begin to bloom. And you’re just the most beautiful flower. You’re becoming yourself and you’re stunning. You are going to bloom and break free.”

I looked at her in awe, because she was envisioning things for me that I simply couldn’t see. But what she said–her words–were so intricate and fascinating, that it drew me in.

Everyone has always loved my mother. At times I resented this, because I didn’t like sharing her. I would get jealous and hide for attention or act out (when I was a child, to clarify-not last week 😜). But now I know why people are so drawn to her-it’s because she showed up for them, and never fell apart. It’s because she’s a vault when it comes to trust. My mother has exhibited grace under pressure, time and time again. When others are stressed, she remains serious. When people are crying and crushed, she responds with compassion. That’s why people love her.

So that is my mother. She is a believer in things that dwell in truth and possibility. Happy birthday, Mom.

Maybe Love Isn’t What I Thought

I bow my head in preparation for Namaste, as I hear my yoga teacher say, “As you go about your day, open your hearts to love.” I cringe. Yuck. I can’t. I don’t want to. When you love, you hurt.

************

I am four years old. I am sitting on the countertop of my parents’ kitchen in Kokomo. My mom picked me up and sat me there because she is about to give me a spoonful of cough syrup. I ask my mom, “What is love?” She looks at me strangely, and cocks her head to the side as she ponders a response.

“Love is…caring for someone. Like, me giving you medicine now. That’s love.”

************

I am 25. I sit in the women’s Bible study at the Baptist Church. I look up at the pastor leading the study. I like her because she tells me what to do and I have been searching all my life for someone to just tell me what to do.

“Love is a choice,” she says. “Pray for your husband. Show him love in your actions. You will not always feel like loving him. But you can make the choice to be loving.”

***********

I am 27. I am lying in bed in my apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. It is 1:00 am. My husband is not responding to my texts. I wonder if he is coming home. I feel crushed because I know in my soul that he simply doesn’t give a damn about how his actions affect me. The words from the Bible study echo through me, “Love is a choice. Make the choice to be loving.”

And so I do. Again and again. If this is love, I hate loving.

***********

I am 34. I look into my boyfriend’s eyes. He tells me, “I more than like you. I think I’m falling in love with you.” I repeat this back to him and believe it, because I feel it. I know it is a feeling, though, and feelings can be fleeting.

When we break up 9 months later, I channel my inner Whitney Houston and tell him, “I will always love you.”

**********

I am 35. I do not speak to my ex boyfriend anymore and barely remember loving him. He is a memory.

**********

I am 33. I see my daughter running at the pool at the YMCA. She slips, falls hard to the ground and has a concussion. I cradle her in my arms and carry her out of the building. I drive her to the doctor. She vomits and then falls asleep as I am driving. When I arrive at the doctor, I run in and tell the office staff through tears, “She has to be seen! Right now!!”

I know she is going to be fine, but I am afraid. I love this baby. She’s all I have. It doesn’t matter what she does. Love isn’t in the doing when it comes to her. It just is.

***********

I am 39. I tell a man I love him. He is not my boyfriend. It is…complicated. I tell him not to say it back because I am afraid he doesn’t love me back. But then I realize I don’t care. I realize I can love without receiving love in return. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because it causes me to love without expectations. It is bad, because I forget that I am worthy of being loved in the same way.

*********

I sit in hot yoga class. I am 40. My teacher repeats the same mantra at the closing of class. “Open your hearts to love.” I realize that I am not cringing this time though. Maybe that’s progress.

Perhaps love is not simple. Maybe it is layered. Maybe it is light and it is dark; sadness and laughter. Maybe it’s supposed to be scary because it requires courage. I am still terrified to love; but I begin to think that love is a lot like faith. When you have faith, it does not mean things will go as planned; it simply means you show up and are open to what may flow out of you and to receiving what comes back.

*********

Today, a week before my 41st birthday, I lie at home in bed, and take out a book I have been trying to read for some time, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love.  “As we demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are lovable and we learn how to love more deeply…We will always learn what we have chosen to teach.”

These words are words I can now understand, but they are still hard to swallow. I want to love but not stop loving myself. Perhaps that is the whole point: what you put out will come back to you. In some way. In some form. No love is wasted.

How to Get Over Someone

A dear friend asked me, “How long does it take you to ‘get over’ a guy?”

And I had to pause and think about it.

Because every break-up or “getting over a guy” experience has been slightly unique for me, and so my instinct was just to answer, “Oh, it depends.”

But then I had a moment where I realized that was a crappy answer. Because I know the real answer to be this:

“I made the decision to stop thinking about him.”

And that’s actually the truth.  And when I mean stop thinking about him, I REALLY MEAN STOP THINKING ABOUT HIM.

This means no analyzing what he may be doing, maintaining no connection whatsoever, no rehashing or thinking about the good or bad times.  It means that whenever one of the aforementioned thoughts begins to creep into my brain, I look at that thought and I say, “Oh, hi there, thought. I know you’re trying to protect me by tricking me into analyzing this and obsessing over this, because for so long, you were a way of survival.  I used to imagine all kinds of scenarios, thinking that I could somehow pick apart a situation and understand and take away any pain I was feeling.  But now I am developing new trails and a new way of thinking.  Soooo, thanks for stopping by, but masochism and anxiety don’t live here anymore.” And then I close the door and say, “See ya.”  Because I know I’ll see them again.  They are still kind of a part of me.  BUT THEY DON’T LIVE IN MY BRAIN anymore.

When I shoo the negative thoughts away, I feel a little fearful for about 2.5 seconds. And then I remind myself I am more powerful than my thoughts.  I remind myself that I deserve to think softer, more compassionate thoughts.  I start to watch a funny tv show or go do my nails or go to the gym.  Or I may allow some tears to come, but I do not let the thought stay, because negative thoughts no longer deserve my attention. I DESERVE MY ATTENTION.

In the last few months, I have become more cutthroat about my relationships with men than I ever have been. When someone exhibits qualities that I do not desire, I show them the door. (On a scale of cutthroatism I’m still probably only a five or six, but that’s an substantial increase from my previous level that was probably between 0.5-1.0.) I have even become a little, dare I say, baller. Maybe even precocious. And most definitely more decisive.

I now know that jacking around with one’s  heart is not for me. And that is because back when I finally decided to put my heart back together, I began to see the need to protect it.

I figured out that THIS IS WHO I’M SUPPOSED TO BE. I’m supposed to be decisive and strong. I’m supposed to be a woman with standards. In fact, I AM a woman with standards. It has taken me 40 years, but hallelujah I am here, and I’m here with standards.

I have blocked phone numbers, unfriended former love interests on social media, blocked former love interests on social media, and avoided going to places at all costs where I believe I may run into a former flame.

Some men have told me that’s “mean” or “harsh.” But if they think that’s mean, that’s just another indicator that they are not for me.

Because the important thing is this:

When I block someone from my life, I may be deleting him, but it is not about him.  It is about me.  It is not about being mean or vindictive in any way shape or form.  It is about protecting my heart and my spirit and my vulnerability.  It is about protecting my brain and my space.  There are people in this world–precious, kind hearted people- who need my attention.  It is very important that I protect my energy and attention for them. I will turn my attention to those who are ready for my love. 

I know this to be true.  There is a plan for me, and there is a plan for you.  And this plan is not between you and others; it is between you and God anyways.  So as long as we listen to the still small voice, it will not lead us astray, it will light our paths; even with the bridges we have burned along the way.