Inner Voice

Call it intuition, or conscience, or knowing, or being in touch with the Universe. The fact is, many people hear an inner voice. Of those who do, some consider it a gift while others call it a curse. For some people the voice is loud and can’t be turned off. Others struggle to hear it because it is so quiet.

I’ve been aware of my inner voice for as long as I can remember. At times it’s been loud but mostly it’s been quiet and subtle. I have to strain sometimes to hear it and even then I don’t always interpret the message accurately. When I was younger the voice scared me. No one in my life ever talked about having an inner voice and I was afraid to say anything about mine out of fear that it would confirm my worst fear—that I was crazy. Over time I learned to trust my inner voice, understanding it was trying to guide me. I also discovered that I cannot will it to speak. On my darkest days I would call upon it to tell me what to do but the voice would be silent. It only spoke when it wanted to speak. I guess that’s the curse of my inner voice.

At times I’ve found it quite a struggle to interpret my inner voice’s message. Some messages made no sense at all so I would ask for more details only to be met with silence. Some messages were very clear but completely illogical and not anything I would ever consider acting upon. Once in a while I’d hit the jackpot and get a clearly communicated message that gave me the guidance I needed so that I could take action and find myself in a better place. Those moments are affirmation that I need to continue to listen and trust. And there have been enough of them to prove my inner voice is not just a coincidence and not a whimsy message being tugged through my brain like an ad being pulled through the air by a small plane. And so there’s the rub. My inner voice has been proven. It’s not one hundred percent accurate—or perhaps it’s more correct to say my interpretations are not always accurate—but it’s been correct enough times that it cannot be discarded nor ignored. So I’ve learned to hear and interpret the message to the best of my ability and take appropriate action.

For the last several weeks my inner voice has repeatedly told me I need to clean house, as in declutter and get rid of all the extra stuff sitting around. We have a big house and there’s a lot of extra stuff. It embarrasses me tremendously to admit it, but there are about one hundred boxes in our basement that haven’t been touched since the day we moved in ten years ago. Many of them are files from my husband’s career, correspondence and other papers, some of which have value. The only one who can really determine the valuable papers from those that need to go in the trash is my husband, and unfortunately he’s not too thrilled with my Decluttering Project. Other boxes contain a lot of knick-knacks and household goods that were extras and duplicates from having blended two households. These are easy for me to go through, but it still takes time. And I know some of these items are things my daughters will want. So I’m being careful to go through everything with them in mind. It’s a big project and it’s going to take a while. But I’ve started it, and I’ll keep working at it. The message was loud and clear: Just do it!

Needless to say there is a humungous mess in my basement that can’t be hidden from my family and some of them have been asking me questions. One of my daughters understands the concept of an inner voice and I believe she hears one as well. So it was easy to explain to her that I’m doing it because my inner voice told me to. She doesn’t question that. But my other daughters and my husband don’t believe in inner voices and they have become alarmed and want to know the Why. And that’s a problem because I don’t know why, other than I am feeling a very strong “demand” that I do this now and to get it done quickly. I have speculated about the Why and a couple of possible answers scare me (and my husband as well) so I’m going to ignore them. Instead I’ve done my best to placate my family by explaining this is long overdue and I’m tired of tripping over boxes. While that reasoning isn’t necessarily a lie, I know I don’t believe it so why should they. And they don’t. So I’ve taken another approach, and that’s answering a question with an even more important question.

Why does any household need eight extra sets of sheets, three wine decanter sets, five different sets of wine glasses (along with an assortment of matching sets of twos and threes), two punch bowl sets, eighteen flower vases, three dozen mismatched coffee mugs, thirteen kitchen aprons, and two room-sized rugs unrolled for ten years?

It’s the last item that gets them distracted and they forget about the Why. “You’ve been hiding not one but two room-sized rugs? What do they look like? How big are they? Can I have one?”

Kate Needs (and gets) a Miracle

I started writing this blog and had gotten part way through writing exactly why my daughter Kate needed a miracle, when Kate called to tell me she got it! If it was so easy to get, it couldn’t have been a miracle, right? Wrong. It was a miracle because it wasn’t so easy to get.

Over the course of the last month or so, Kate has been opening up to me about the degree of stress she’s been dealing with for the last several months—no, make that years. I’ve been waiting a long time for her to initiate this discussion, so I’m glad she finally did. But at the same time, the fact that she’s finally talking underscores how desperate she has become to find a solution for each of the many problems she is dealing with.

The most pressing problem she is facing is the physical and mental health of her husband, John. Ever since John was about nine years old, he’s had major problems with his knees. He’s had several surgeries and each has brought him some relief from intense pain but only for a few months. Nearly all of his life he’s suffered extreme pain and has just learned to accept it. Oh, and take several doses of ibuprofen each day, which has now rotted his stomach. Essentially John needs to have his knee joints replaced. But he is only thirty years old and doctors and insurance companies don’t like to replace knee joints in someone so young.

About eighteen months ago, John was in so much pain that he couldn’t even walk. After several appointments with a specialist, John ended up back on the operating table. The doctor couldn’t see anything in an MRI and had no idea what he would find. Turns out, John’s ACL was nonexistent. It was completely gone. No idea where it went. So they stopped the surgery and made plans to build a new ACL from John’s hamstring. So a couple of months later, another surgery and an extremely painful and long recovery. Almost eight months later and he’s still not better. The specialist cannot explain why there continues to be so much pain, and John was handed a bottle of Percocet and told to deal with it. John’s been “dealing” with it far longer than anyone should have to and he’s become hopeless about the situation to the point that Kate and John’s family are concerned about his safety.

A little more than a month ago Kate called me to tell me they had put their house up for sale. It’s a small house, split level, sitting on about five acres about 15 minutes from the nearest small town. It only has two bedrooms but it’s a nice house and, being out in the middle of nowhere, there are no comparable properties. So it makes it difficult to sell. Kate told me that John had reached such a low point with despair that she didn’t feel they had any choice. They must sell the house and get into a smaller house with less upkeep and no stairs. Already at 30 John needs single-level living. I was surprised that there were houses without steps located in the middle of nowhere. They found one and put in an offer but lost out to a higher bidder. They found another and again lost out to a higher bidder. The third time was the charm and their offer was accepted. But their purchase agreement was contingent upon selling their current house. And that was the challenge. The seller was willing to hold their offer for about three weeks. We all started praying for a miracle.

Kate and John were lucky in that they had several showings for their house, but no one put in an offer. It was frustrating since so many houses were being sold just days after listing. Their house sat. And sat. And with each passing day, John grew more depressed and Kate grew more frustrated. About a week ago, John’s siblings and parents did a little intervention because they were scared John was so depressed he would be harmful to himself. It was all too much for Kate. So while John’s family was trying to counsel him, I was trying to support Kate and keep her thinking positively.

Two days ago Kate was in tears. She loves John and cannot stand to see him suffer. She feels the “world” is against her because all she wants to do is save her husband and her family and have a simple life. I want that for her too, but I am not in a financial position to help them. I felt helpless and incompetent as a parent. All I could do was continue to pray. Yesterday morning Kate called to say one of her students had killed himself and their school was in mourning. It was the last straw for Kate and I could hear her emotions shutting down as we talked. She was tucking away her feelings under lock and key, putting herself into survival mode. She too was without hope that they would sell their house, even though there was one more showing scheduled for the inconvenient supper hour. It was a long day at school dealing with the tragedy and the last thing Kate and John felt like doing was taking their kids out to dinner.

I wasn’t with them, so I can’t speak to the mood. I can guess both parents were short on patience. If they talked, it would have been in short, clipped sentences. I can imagine both young kids had lots of energy and didn’t want to sit still and only ate half of their meal. The showing time had ended so they returned home and began their nightly ritual.

It was about that time that I found myself sitting at my computer, trying to deal with my own feelings of helplessness. I needed to write about it, to reassure myself that it isn’t my job to financially support my adult daughter and so I don’t need to take on any guilt or shame because I can’t. I needed to process my thoughts and start thinking about how to support Kate in the next steps, whatever those steps would be.

As I began to draft the story of Kate’s need for a miracle, she called. The couple who had scheduled the showing during the supper hour had put in an offer. It wasn’t the full amount that Kate and John wanted, but it was doable. Kate was ecstatic! As the parent, it was so good to hear emotion in Kate’s voice. I got off the phone and immediately said prayers of thanks.

An offer is just that, so the days ahead will be critical. I will continue to pray that all the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner and that everything goes smoothly. Kate sees this as the only way to save her husband’s life. I see the miracle of restoring hope and preserving a family.

When the Pastor Dies

About a week ago the calls and Facebook messages went out: Pastor Andy had died. It was a shock to everyone and yet, it should not have been a surprise. Andy was only 64 but he didn’t watch what he ate, didn’t exercise, and had been dealing with a few health issues for several years. His face often turned beet red during his sermons or when he enthusiastically sang a hymn. He made light of his weight often and admitted frequently that his doctor (and his wife) wanted him to slow down. Yet, he was driven in a way few of us completely understood. I wonder now if he knew he had to make the most of every minute because there weren’t enough minutes left.

I first met Pastor Andy in the mid-1990s. Our church membership had grown and the load was too much for our pastor, so Andy was brought in to help out mostly with the youth. I like my religion on the traditional side and Pastor Andy was anything but ordinary. Life was not black and white to him. It was every color of the rainbow, and he loved it all. He was exuberant no matter the task, always on the go like an Energizer bunny, and always singing, laughing, or telling a joke. Andy was always trying to make a buck, always trying to sell something, always full of more ideas than any of us could keep up with. He thought outside the box many times a day, so it’s not incorrect to say he “flew by the seat of his pants.” And it was all too unconventional for me.

My oldest daughter was around 10 or so when Pastor Andy joined our church. He was too much for her, even though I tried hard not to let my bias show. My second daughter understood Pastor Andy’s humor and she admired his can-do and nonconformist attitude. My other two daughters never really “took” to Andy, but they didn’t dislike him either. Rather, they were indifferent about him. And yet, when I broke the news to my daughters that Pastor Andy had died, each one’s response was the same. “How sad.”

All those years ago, Pastor Andy hadn’t been at the church very long when he did something that stirred my anger. In fact, it was the only time I’ve ever formally complained to the church. It was Easter Sunday and Pastor Andy was giving the sermon. My four young children were listening as Pastor Andy read a children’s book about Easter and when he got to the end of the story he loudly and firmly declared there was no Easter Bunny! I was stunned. I didn’t feel it was his place to break that particular news to my children. I looked around the church to see if other parents were upset, but it didn’t look like it. To this day, I have no idea if I was the only one who complained but I suspect I probably was. It was a moment I never forgot, and it created a wall between Pastor Andy and I. Over the years we grew to respect each other, but there was never a lot of love between us.

As time went on, bits and pieces of Andy’s childhood made their way into his sermons and I came to understand more about the boy who grew to be a man who became a pastor. His childhood wasn’t easy. And he carried an enormous amount of emotional baggage every single day of his life. He spent his lifetime trying to do good, to make everyone around him happy. He always had a smile on the outside, but I suspect many times he was crying on the inside.

On that fateful day last week, Andy was struck down by a massive heart attack. He never regained consciousness, but he lived a couple more days, just long enough for his family to all gather at his side and for the congregation to deal with the shock of his loss.

It is absolutely striking to read the tributes posted to honor him on Facebook. This man, despite his emotional scars and unorthodox ways, touched hundreds, if not thousands, of people. He didn’t just walk in their lives as their pastor, he was involved in their daily struggles, often knocking on the front door unannounced at the moment when these people needed him the most. He brought groceries to young families in need. He gave rides to senior citizens who couldn’t find a way to see the doctor. He helped parents mend relationships with teenagers. He counseled couples struggling with their marriage. He was anywhere and everywhere all at the same time. And all those things he was selling to make a buck, were merely a means to money to give to others or help others in myriad ways.

Despite all the demands on his time, he still made time for his wife and four children and several grandchildren. His devotion to his wife could be the gold standard for all men to follow. His two sons were so influenced by him that they too became ministers. The greatest gift his family gave was in sharing Pastor Andy with the world.

Indeed, Pastor Andy lived life to the fullest. And over the last few days as I’ve read the stories others have shared, I’ve discovered I really didn’t know this man at all. While I preferred traditional religion and planning events ahead of time, Pastor Andy, flying by the seat of his pants, had untold determination and something much more powerful. Faith. He never doubted that God would be there for him, providing whatever was needed in any given moment for any of the countless members of his flock. And he also had not one tiny iota of doubt about whether he would be welcomed in heaven. Andy knew God would be waiting with open arms. And remarkably all members of the congregation, despite the enormous void that has just opened in their lives, are celebrating this man’s passing into eternal life. The only point for discussion they have is what song Pastor Andy was singing as he passed through the pearly gates.

I am blessed for having known Pastor Andy. It is my loss that I didn’t understand him and instead placed a wall between us. Even in death, he is still teaching.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

My Billboard from God

About six months ago, I was given a gift from God—a new job. It had taken more than a year to land it but when I did, I knew without a doubt it was God’s will. Prior to getting the job offer, I had had many hundreds of conversations with God, asking him to help get me out of the miserable job I was in. I told God regularly that I was “blind and cannot see” and that I would need signs the size of a billboard to know which job was the one he intended for me. The sign he sent then was in the form of a cardinal. Even so, I saw it and understood this was the job I was supposed to take. Only one other time in my life have I felt God’s will so completely.

Now that I am at the end of this particular day, I can look back to this morning and understand that the first test of whether I have accepted God’s will about this new job came when Krissy—who’s been in her job about a month—came over to my desk to complain about how the rest of the team decided to work at home today and why can’t she work at home that often and how come there isn’t any work and why does she feel like our team is about to implode? I’ve had those same thoughts occasionally over the last six months but I’ve never voiced them at work. To Krissy I suggested that we have to earn the privilege of working from home and (even though I too feel our small team is about to go down the drain) I tried to offer reassurance that everything will be okay. With each passing day I believe that less and less, but I felt Krissy needed solace not angst. A few minutes later Krissy was satisfied from venting and she went back to her desk.

An hour later we had a conference call meeting with about half our team, each calling in from their off-site locations. In that call, Ethan, our boss, asked me to take on some work and to divide it with Krissy. I’m a wordsmith and Krissy knows numbers. It was clear to me how to divide the work, but I wasn’t sure if Krissy would know all of the tasks she would have to do since she’s so new on the job.  So while we were all still on the call I asked Krissy if she understood what Ethan was asking us to do. She mumbled something about not being able to hear, so Ethan briefly highlighted the process steps that Krissy would have to follow to complete the numbers work. He asked if she had any questions and she said, “No, I got it.” But just as soon as the call was done, Krissy was back at my desk. “I don’t know what Ethan is asking me to do.” I bit my tongue and then tried my best to explain what Krissy would need to do. She went back to her desk and I started playing with words to complete my part of the assigned work.

Right after lunch our team once again gathered on a conference call for our weekly team meeting. Ethan discussed several things and then with great pomp announced that Krissy and Kayla were being awarded for outstanding work on a project they completed a couple of weeks ago. I was stunned. Krissy has been on the job one month and she’s had one project and she’s getting an award for it? And Kayla despises Ethan, regularly berates him in meetings, and tells anyone who will listen that he is a horrible manager. In fact, she’s had five interviews in the last ten days for other jobs. At that moment, a pity pot opened up and I fell in. A few moments later that conference call ended and I just sat at my desk and stared at nothing. A multitude of thoughts raced through my head and not a single one could be labeled pretty. And while I sat stewing, Krissy once again appeared at my desk. This was the second test of my acceptance of God’s will.

I congratulated Krissy on her award and she smiled from ear to ear. “I’m just one lucky girl, I guess!” Must be luck because it sure isn’t skills, I thought. I asked Krissy if she had completed her tasks for the project that had been assigned to us earlier in the day. She confidently told me she had completed her quality check and there were no errors. What she didn’t know is that I had finished my part of the work before lunch and having no other work, decided to take a stab at Krissy’s half of the work myself. And in the process, I found several errors in the data. Just to be sure, I explained to Krissy that in the course of doing my work I noticed a couple of errors in the numbers. She was caught off guard, then agreed that indeed there were some errors. She said she’d take another look at the material, but that right then she had another conference call she had to join.

As she walked away, I remembered the pity pot I had fallen into and instantly I was full of anger. Actually, I was somewhat surprised that I could be so angry so fast about something so silly. And that’s when I understood the events of the day had hit a core hurt of mine—not being acknowledged or appreciated. As I type this now I feel so silly. But the truth is this is an enormous core hurt that I’ve fought my entire life. Blame it on the fact that I’m the youngest child of eight kids or that I was sexually abused at the age of twelve and an orphan by the time I was sixteen. I could list fifty other reasons to justify this core hurt. It’s real. I know it. And I deal with it. And in that moment, as I sat stewing at my desk, I knew the day wasn’t going to get any better. Quitting time for me was still a half hour away. The rest of the team was on a conference call and would be for another ninety minutes. I bolted.

In the time it took me to ride the express elevator down from the fifteenth floor, I had an entire day-long argument transpire in my head. I was so angry at myself for being jealous that Krissy and Kayla had been rewarded for their efforts. I was mortified that I had the gall to question God’s will whether this really was the right job for me. And I despised myself for falling into the pity pot. When I reached the lobby, I was an emotional mess. All I could think about was going home and soaking in a hot bath. I walked to the bus stop and leaned against the building and waited, still berating myself. I looked down the street, hoping the next bus would be in my sights. It wasn’t. Instead, I saw God’s billboard.

In the horrible job that I left six months ago, I worked with Liz, who is the sister of the company’s owner. Liz understood the struggles I had with my then-boss, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Her brother owned the company and he was going to make all the decisions. A few months before I left the company, Liz suddenly quit. She went on vacation and never came back. She even sent her daughter in to collect her personal items. For a time we all thought perhaps Liz had taken ill, but over time we learned she had just had enough. Clearly I could relate. I was just as desperate to get out of that awful situation.

So the third test of my acceptance of God’s will came as I stood leaning up against the building at the bus stop and watched as Liz came walking down the sidewalk. At first she didn’t see me but as she came closer, the emotional war I had been battling was instantly gone for I knew Liz represented God’s Billboard. Clearly she was the visual reminder that I needed in that moment to remind me of all the bad stuff I had left behind in my previous job and all the good things that had entered my life since taking my new job. By the time Liz threw her arms around me in a hug, the scowl on my face had turned into a smile. Truly, God works in mysterious ways.

The Mercy Year

Libraries sometimes have a special offer when you can return overdue books, no matter how long they’ve been out, free of charge. It’s a forgiveness that I’ve never been able to take part in because I always return my library books. Maybe they’ve been late once in a while, but I always pay the fine. Life is good.

Lately I’ve been contemplating whether the Catholic Church, in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed, would be willing to make a similar deal. No matter how long it’s been since my last confession and no matter how many sins I’ve committed, would a priest be willing to sit down and hear my story and help me find a clean slate?

I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’m guessing my last confession took place more than forty-five years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I was a naïve eleven year old, somewhat spoiled, mostly sheltered from all the bad things in life. The worst sin I committed was likely calling my brother a name or not getting home on time for supper.

Then along came an overheard conversation about how my mom had cancer and I had to look up the word in a dictionary to find out what was going on. Even in her last days when she was in a coma my family could not be honest with me and tell me she was going to die. They wouldn’t let me see her to say good-bye. Two years later cancer took my father too. By that time I was an angry adolescent strung out on love deprivation.

How I managed to maneuver high school and college (miracles on their own) by not ending up in jail or rehab or pregnant is beyond my comprehension. Truly, I credit divine intervention. I didn’t have one guardian angel; I had a whole team. God knows, I tried my best to mess up my life and my future. But somehow I always seemed to end up okay. Maybe a few battle scars but generally unscathed.

Still, sins were committed. And I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not proud of those things and I feel the need to tell my story. I don’t want to sit in a confessional booth and go through the list, one at a time. I want a face-to-face conversation, a telling of my story, a purging of all the bad intermingled with the good things I’ve done. I want to tell my story, good and bad, and in the end find a reasonable penance.

Some might argue I’ve paid penance already in my life and yes, I agree I have. Some anyway. People might say that because I am consciously choosing to admit my sins and through confession I seek forgiveness, it shall be granted. I agree with that as well. But to me it’s not the act of confessing, it’s the complete story that I need to unleash. Why it has become so heavy to carry at this point in my life is not an answer I have. I only know it is so. I’d rather do the lion’s share of my penance while I still have time on Earth.

I know if I look hard enough I’ll likely find a priest willing to sit with me, one-on-one, and hear my story. I would hope that he would listen to everything and help me come up with a meaningful plan of action that doesn’t feel trite or insignificant, like Fr. Schultz’s “Say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys and help your mother with the dishes the rest of the week.”

I am not afraid of penance. I am not afraid of priests. But I have been away from the church for far too long, and I have not and still do not agree with some of the decisions made by church leaders. I am saddened by the bad things that have happened. I am frustrated with the greed and annoyed by the attitudes of some church leaders. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, but the church has sinned as well. I want a conversation that encompasses all of that, and more.

Pope Francis smiles and hugs and reaches out. He communicates without words. He makes the Church look so accessible. I seek a cleansing, a purging, some pain, healing, forgiveness and mercy. Is the Church capable?

This Year’s Christmas Miracle

I’m tired because the phone rang at one o’clock this morning. I was deep in sleep and for a moment had to think about what day it was, what time it was, where I knew my kids were supposed to be. In the dark, I reached for the phone and discovered it was my daughter Emily. When I had gone to bed, Emily had just gotten on a plane for the third leg of a long journey home from Grenada where she is a veterinarian student. She is halfway through her grad school program and today is her twenty-fourth birthday. She was so thrilled and relieved to be coming home. I knew her plane was supposed to land around midnight, so I was concerned when I heard her voice on the phone. She apologized for waking me up, then wanted to let me know she was home safe. She sounded happy, not something I was expecting from someone calling me in the wee hours of the morning. And then she said, “I wanted you to be the first to know.” Her long-time boyfriend had just proposed to her and they are engaged.

“Congratulations! I’m so happy for the two of you!” I said, with sincerity. He is a wonderful young man and I think the two of them will make a good life together. I promised to keep her secret until this afternoon, when she was able to share her news with all of her sisters and her dad when they gathered to celebrate her birthday.

It took me a while to fall back asleep, which is why I’m tired today. But this morning I woke up with the realization that after all the struggles Emily and I have gone through—the months of not talking to each other, the horrible things she said to me all through high school and college, threatening to sue me on more than one occasion—when the moment mattered to her, she wanted her mom to be the first one to know. It brought tears to my eyes.

As a mom, I’ve always tried to do the best job I could with whatever circumstances I was in at the moment. Some days were easy and joyful, other days—and there were many—were fraught with drama and worry. Sometimes I had to make decisions that I knew would not be warmly received by my four daughters. Sometimes I knew that saying the right thing would inevitably cause one of them to say horrible and mean things and shut the door on our relationship. But my guiding light was always how I would feel at the end of my day when I sat down in prayer and held myself accountable for my actions and thoughts. I followed that “spirit” as my “mother guide.” It was the one true thing I could place faith in. Getting Emily’s call last night, knowing she wanted me to be the first to know, was a reward I never imagined I would receive. I’m holding the moment in my heart as this year’s Christmas miracle. It’s a reminder to every parent: no matter the struggle, no matter how long the silence, don’t ever give up hope. If you worked hard and laid a good foundation, your child will return to your life on the other side of adolescence. You must believe. Always.

The Blessing Award

At this time of year, I’m often reminded of a game of questions my husband and I often played when we were dating. “What’s your favorite song? Movie? Book?” One question he asked that I hadn’t yet been asked: “So far in your life, what has been your favorite year?” That took a lot of thought on my part—only because I’d had so few great years. I had to walk through memory minefields to think about it before I could answer. Don’t get me wrong—I had quite a few good years. But what was the one that could stand out as the greatest?

I’m reminded of my husband asking me that question every November when people take time to offer daily thanks and count the blessings they’ve received in that year. And so it is that counting my own blessings has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks. Last night, something caused me to stop and ponder the question, What is the greatest blessing I’ve received so far in my life?

My four daughters. My husband. The “dream job” I had before the Great Recession. All of these are great blessings and the first things to come to mind. But if I had to pick one thing, what would it be? Living long enough to have met my grandchildren (those born so far) and watch them grow has been an unbelievable blessing and joy. Watching each of my children grow into a beautiful woman has given me great pride and joy. But what blessing is the greatest, so far?

It’s probably an unfair question because it’s somewhat like choosing a favorite, something most parents avoid at all cost. But last night I found myself in a college auditorium with a few hundred other people when the answer came to mind. So far in my life, at this very moment, I’m willing to go on record and say the greatest blessing so far is the transformation of my youngest daughter.

Brianna is the reason I started this blog back in February 2012—a mere three and a half years ago. It seems a lifetime ago. Our struggles began long before, in late 2008. The economy had tanked, we lost most of our savings in the market crash, we lost thirty percent of the value in our house (our other investment), and I lost my job. My husband was unemployed too. Our comfortable (and expensive) lifestyle derailed, right at the moment when Brianna “came of age” into adolescence. In the month of her fifteenth birthday when her thoughts were full of learning to drive, going to high school, having her first serious “crush”, our world turned upside down. And my nightmare began.

At that time, three of my daughters still lived at home. And the struggles with the older two were more challenging than the silly adolescent trials that Brianna faced. Or so it seemed. Hindsight is so cruel. Yes, of course, if I could do things over, I would spend more time with Brianna and do a better job of shepherding her through those years. Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

I started this blog out of desperation. So much in my life was so horribly wrong. And Brianna had completely derailed her life and was dangling off a cliff. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, then you know that the police were frequently at our house, that thousands of dollars were stolen, and alcohol and other drugs (including prescription meds) were the only things Brianna consumed. By the time she was eighteen, she weighed 85 pounds, had dropped out of school (after being tossed from high school to an “alternative” school to online-only classes), and was “gifting” her body (and soul) to feel good about herself. (Oh, how it pains my heart to put all this in writing.)

So many nights I couldn’t sleep. So many days I functioned on auto-pilot. I was desperately trying to find a job, beat off depression, and show love to my “new” husband. Finding energy to deal with misbehaving teens only caused me more angst. No matter what I tried, nothing had an impact. At one point I forced Brianna to tell me the songs she wanted played at her funeral. Her death was inevitable, in my mind, and ever the consummate planner, I needed to know how to handle it.

These are the memories that swirled in my head last night as I sat in that auditorium and watched Brianna as she received recognition for her 4.0 GPA (with three semesters behind her) and was awarded with a generous scholarship that will cover a full semester of tuition and expenses.

Brianna never applied for any scholarships. (Read that again.)

The college itself pulled her record because of her GPA. She has a part-time job and another work/study job tutoring other students, so the school is well aware of her financial situation. And even though she had not applied (“So many other kids are better than me, Mom!”), the school honored her.

So much more than the money and recognition of a great GPA, this moment is a mega dose of self-esteem for Brianna, a renewal of her commitment to stay on the “right” path and do the right thing, a validation of believing in and advocating for herself so that she can live a better life. Because she knows what the “other” life looks like.

In the overall scheme of things, the scholarship award ceremony was a quiet event. We didn’t throw a party. We didn’t go out for a special dinner after the ceremony. But every single one of us who Brianna asked to attend the event pulled out all stops to be there. Every one of us had some other commitment or were scheduled to work or didn’t feel very well. No matter. Without any prodding from me, each of us cleared our calendar and made certain we would be there to celebrate this achievement with Brianna.

All those long ago nights when I couldn’t sleep—worried about where she was or whether the medicinal/alcohol/recreational drug cocktail she had taken would kill her or whether she would get pregnant or, even worse, a devastating disease—passed through my thoughts. So did the infinity of parent/teacher/counselor meetings and phone calls I attended, to no avail. The horrible things we’ve said to each other. The hurt and anger that nearly drove us mad.

In September 2008, my mind was incapable of imagining Brianna being recognized for anything worthwhile. But like many parents, that didn’t stop me from believing in her, or rather, believing in the potential I knew was inside her. Last night was a greater moment for me than when she was born or when she boarded the school bus for her first day of kindergarten; greater than the days when she learned to read and write and do math. Last night was the culmination of every step she has taken—good and bad—and all the steps she didn’t take but instead was carried by me or others or saints and angels or yes, even God. For some days He was the only one capable of the burden.

Even though I thought I was doing a horrible job as a parent during Brianna’s worst years, I did the best that I could in that moment. And more importantly, I believed in Brianna and always kept a flame of hope burning. Oh, and I prayed. It was Brianna who one day woke up and decided to change her life. It was Brianna who figured out what it took to earn a GED and she scheduled and paid for the exams all on her own. Without any help from me, she sought out a college counselor and registered for classes. And she filled out her own FAFSA. Brianna may have had my help along the way, but in the end she completely owned her transformation. I will be celebrating that joy for the rest of my life, because that transformation gave Brianna life.