The Power of Looking Forward
Are you looking forward or looking back?
I have a secret. I use to spend a lot of time in anger. As humans we are really good at looking at, turning over, and examining our pasts. We examine the good and the bad. But since our brains are pre-programmed to look for, and solve problems (you know, for survival and stuff), we most often go mucking in our past for the things that hurt us. When we spend a lot of time in that place of hurt, anger, disappointment, and regret we start running away from them. Things like bad relationships, past abuse, poverty, the fight you got into with your friend 3 years ago…Do you know what the problem with that is?
You are going to have a “doh!” moment as soon as I tell you.
If you’re always looking back, running away from things, you’re not looking ahead of you and you’re going to run into any ol’ thing that crosses your path. BAM! Another collision you probably didn’t need in your life.
I could probably write a master class in running away.
See, I wasn’t even born in the normal way. I came into this world blue with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck and excrement in my lungs in the middle of a fire drill on an airforce base in Nebraska. The doctors thought I had no chance of survival so instead of cleaning me and checking me, they handed me to my grandma and said, “You might as well hold her now because she isn’t going to make it”. From that moment on, my grandma became my mom, and every time my biological mother came into my life, I had to fight to survive.
My biological mother was in the military and her ‘Plan A’ if you can believe it, after having me was to live with me in her car until she got shipped off to Germany. So, my grandparents, being two short years from having their last chick leave the nest, became new parents for the last time in their mid-forties.
Now, if that was the end of it, I’d have had a perfectly normal middle class, middle American childhood and we wouldn’t be here, so hold onto your pants pockets and come along for part of this ride.
My (un)love(d) Story
I was five when it started. After our first son was born, I started marking his life against my own torture when he also turned five. Every year I celebrated how his life differed from mine. But that’s another story…
I was five when my biological mother came back from Germany and demanded to be a mother. This person I didn’t know wanted to steal me from my parents without warning, without a moment’s thought to what was best for me. Perhaps if she was a different person, it would have been fine.
From ages five to fourteen I was told that I was too fat for my own father (who I hadn’t even met yet) to love me, that I was stupid, that I was clumsy.
At five is when it all started. I remember pretending to sleep at my grandparent’s house so when my biological mom, we’ll call her “Y”, came to pick me up- my little mind thought that she’d give up and go away without me. No such luck.
At six I was sleeping on the wood floor of a run-down apartment building in a run-down part of Omaha, Nebraska. Cockroaches crawled over me while I slept.
Later that year, we moved into an apartment with a little yard out back we shared with the apartment next door. Our neighbor was a mother, my babysitter, and a prostitute. Her boyfriend, a drug dealer, his office- the park across the street.
If you’re keeping track, I was in kindergarten. It was in kindergarten my mother forgot me outside a bus stop and a stranger took me home with them. I thank God that that woman had a good heart and let me sit in her window until I saw my mother come to pick me up. She gave me a snack. Thanks, kind lady. I’ll never forget you. That was also the year my mother started sexually assaulting me.
Wow. That sentence was hard to write. I’ve never written it before.
Hard as it was, it doesn’t make it any more or less true. I still have trouble with intimacy today. (call out to my amazing husband for being, well, amazing).
Let’s hit the fast forward button from here or we’ll be here all day, and no one wants that.
Over the course of my childhood I was kidnapped twice, was left alone to fend for myself starting at age 7, was pelted by softballs by Y who, at the time was trying to make me “stop being afraid of the ball! See, It doesn’t hurt!”, and told that I couldn’t join soccer with the other girls because I was too fat and would embarrass her- amongst other indignities.
I was a sick kid. I had asthma and chronic bronchitis which landed me in the hospital a few times a year. It was on at least one of these occasions my grandfather threatened to throw my mother through a wall because of the way she was acting and she was screaming back at my grandparents that it was their fault I was in the hospital. They all got kicked out by the doctors, and I was left alone- again.
I was a dented girl.
Not broken, because I did not break. I was just a bit bruised, dented, and so very, very angry.
By the time I hit middle school…, well, I hesitate to say I hated myself because I didn’t, but looking back, I’m sure it looked that way from the outside. It is true enough to say I wanted to be almost anyone else but me. I think I mostly lived in self-disgust.
At my various homes, I was either too stupid or thought myself too smart- better than everyone else ( I never have thought that). At school, other kids made fun of me for my other-ness. By then I went to an all-white school except for two other kids of color in small-town Nebraska.
I was too dark, too hairy, too smart, used too-large words, read too much, dressed too weird, and talked too much. Other kids weren’t allowed to play with the spick.
To say I was angry would be an understatement.
It is not fair that I had the childhood I did. I was pissed as hell at God, at life, my mother, at most people really that my life was so crap. I self-harmed, had suicidal ideations, stole a car, and was, to put it as politely as possible, dangerously promiscuous. Of course, that last behavior was probably caused by being groomed, then raped by an older man/ kid? I was 14, he was 18, you get the drift.
If I couldn’t punish the people who hurt me, then I was going to punish myself for being so fucking unlovable. I punched brick walls.
I left my mother’s home at 14
At 14, my grandma gave me an ultimatum. Stay with Y, and stay on my destructive path and she would wash her hands of me, or move in with her and follow her rules. My boyfriend helped move me in his pickup truck while Y was at work. I didn’t even leave a note.
What I did do, was start cleaning my life up. Not right away. Not perfectly. But I started.
I started by working on my anger. In tiney, tiny baby steps, I worked on it by first just acknowledging to myself just how angry I was…
then by acknowledging that I had a right to be angry…
then by asking myself what being angry was doing for me (spoiler alert! NOTHING!).
During this years-long process, I came to understand my own triggers for anger, developed strategies for letting go, and found ways to move on.
The first step came in forgiving myself. Giving yourself grace is the biggest gift you can ever bestow upon yourself. No one is perfect but God, and we are all worthy of grace, love, and respect. Not just from others, but, and especially from ourselves. If Jesus could forgive his own torturers, I could forgive my own- including myself.
Grace is hard. It is a practice. It takes waking up every day ready to fight for yourself. Getting to inner peace isn’t a peaceful process. It’s constantly examining yourselves and others for best-practices, evaluating your mistakes to see how you can do better the next time, and committing yourself to continuous improvement. It takes, perhaps hardest of all, acknowledgment of the truth of your past without getting bogged down by it so you can navigate to your own bright future.
In other words, extending grace to yourself and others isn’t always graceful. It takes Grit.
And that brings us back to the beginning. To looking ahead.
My story isn’t all sunshine and plush unicorns, but that doesn’t mean I don’t live in content-ville 90% of the time these days.
I spent a lot of time running away from bad relationships, bad feelings, bad experiences, and a lot of time falling down, brushing myself off, just to run off a metaphorical cliff all over again. It took failing out of college my sophomore year to really (forgive me for this pun) turn myself around.
It was in that huge, embarrassing, life-altering fail that I was re-born.
Getting kicked out of school was humbling- sure, but more than that, it gave me an opportunity to really think about for the first time in my life what exactly I wanted, and to plot how to get there.
For the first time in my life, I began to run towards a future instead of away from my past.
I began to see what I should be saying yes to in my life and started being unafraid to say no to things that just didn’t serve me or my goals. Over time, I even became a much better person to those around me and myself as well.
Today I work for myself, have a fairy-tale relationship with my husband, three fabulous (if, spirited) kids, and a house we’ve built into a haven.
Enough about me, let’s talk about you.
Where are you in your journey of grace? Are you holding grudges against yourself and others? Are you letting your past steer your future, or are you letting your dreams fuel your actions?
When you let your dreams fuel you, you don’t have time or energy for hate. To end, I have two challenges for you this week:
- I challenge you to speak the dream you have in your heart out loud to someone this week.
- I challenge you to write an apology letter to yourself and allow yourself forgiveness
Live in grace my friends,
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