Daddy Issues

Wow, Monya. You really just stepped back in after a four month absence with a topic like daddy issues? No personal update or anything, just jumping in, huh?

The short answer is, yes. I thought about a personal update. I even had a draft of one – like 1500 words long! But then I looked back at the history of my posts and realized that 90% of them are exactly that. A personal update post after a long hiatus. It’s obviously not working for me. So I regrouped and decided that whatever this site’s purpose originally was, this blog is for me, and I don’t need a personal update. It’s purpose is nothing more than a place for me to process whatever I am processing at the moment. And at this moment (or collection of moments over the last week or so), I am processing the concept of daddy issues – but probably not quite the daddy issues you may initially think of when you hear the phrase.

I’ve mentioned a time or two before that I have a complicated relationship with faith. There are just so many things that I either don’t understand, or that just don’t quite sit right with me about what I was taught or what I experienced; and don’t even get me started about the harm I’ve observed from afar done in the name of God or Christianity or the Church (hello Conversion Therapy).

Admittedly, I don’t have a very firm foundation of theological knowledge. As a teacher, I would say there are “a lot of gaps in my education,” and while a lot of the books I read and people I follow are in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing their existing faith, I am kind of just getting started and learning as I go. Constructing, if you will. My immediate need is to lean in to the questions I have relating to my own beliefs, and at this particular juncture, my issue is with the way God was always presented to me as a “Father.”

A quick Google search will give you varying answers about how many times God is referenced as a father in the Bible. I suppose it probably depends on what version you’re reading. The one thing all the answers did agree on was that the number is pretty high. One source claims God is referred to as “father” over 100 times in the gospel of John alone. Growing up with my very Catholic grandmother, our prayers always ended with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And of course, every denomination shares the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with “Our Father.” I never felt much of a connection to any of it, and until recently, when I started really digging into my faith, I never really thought about why. Now I have a hypothesis.

I was raised with two examples of a father. The first was my biological father, who was, for the sake of simplicity, absent. I have exactly three memories of visiting him between the time he and my mother split up when I was 3 and the time he passed away 10 years ago. Once was at my grandparents’ house in Texas when I was maybe 5 or 6, once at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma when I was 14, and the last time was at his house in Seattle when I was 16. From what I remember, he was always very nice to me, and he was wicked witty. At the end of every visit, I would go home with renewed hope of how our relationship was going to be from that point forward. It would start strong: I would write him letters, he would write me back, there would be a Christmas gift and maybe a birthday card, and eventually the communication would drop off again. He was not at my graduation, did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and never met any of my children.

One of the few photos of me and my father

The second version of father that I was raised with was my step-father. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be unpredictable. One minute he was the nicest person you’ve ever met, and the next he was raging about hairspray or makeup (both unacceptable in his house). He would quote pieces of Bible verses at me, making sure I knew my place in the hierarchy of our home and the world outside of it. He was a strong believer of “spare the rod and spoil the child…” It was one of his favorite phrases.

My step-father actually taught me a lot about God. In fact, God was one of his favorite topics of conversation. He made sure I knew that I would never be good enough for God, but I didn’t take it personally – it sounded to me like almost nobody would. He painted a picture of a deity that was harsh and angry, and would strike down anyone that crossed him. I had better love God and worship him out of fear and respect, or else. It was ironically pretty similar to his own parenting approach.

So here I am, faced with the concept of God as the “Father,” when personal experience has presented me with a father as someone who loves you in convenience, or someone who demands respect through fear and intimidation. Why would I actively seek a relationship with either of these? Neither version reconciles with the unconditional love and adoration I was later told that God also offers.

It hit me out of nowhere recently that this might be a reason (though likely not the only one) I’ve always felt a little disconnected from God. I can’t fathom a father who loves and cherishes and wants a relationship with me at all times. One who accepts me and sees me as worthy just as I am. In my experience, that sounds more like a grandmother to me than a father. And so my epiphany went a little deeper to incredulously ask (of no one in particular), who decided God is a man anyway? Who decided God has a gender at all? How on earth can you hold the divine within a human-made construct? What else? Does God have a race, too?

And so I’ve decided that if, in fact, I have to personify God in order to be in relationship with her, I’m going to have to change the image my mind conjures. God is a tiny but mighty little old lady. We drink coffee and eat cinnamon toast while we watch The Price is Right and talk about life. She listens with care and answers with wisdom. She is strong, but she is fair. She loves me simply because I am hers; I have nothing to earn or prove. Maybe someday I’ll be secure enough in my relationship with God to think of her as a “father,” but for now, for me, God is a grandma.

Hope (an Advent post – kind of)

*I am not a historically religious person, nor am I in any way a Biblical scholar, so please forgive my elementary interpretation of all things theological in nature as I attempt to educate myself.*

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, the 4 Sundays before Christmas that focus on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ; the theme of the first week being hope. Although my knowledge of the history and meaning of Advent is incredibly limited, it has always been one of my favorite seasons, and marking the beginning of the Christian calendar, I thought it a good starting point to try and deepen my understanding of the Christian faith as I attempt to reconstruct my own.

One of the most familiar images of Advent is the wreath of candles representing the themes of the season – three purple (representing hope, love, and peace and lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent), one pink (representing joy and lit on the third Sunday), and one white (the Christ candle lit on Christmas Eve).

Now that I have shared my elementary Sunday School knowledge of Advent, let’s dive in to the main idea for this post: Hope.

This is a pretty timely topic for me as it has been the subject of more than a few recent conversations I’ve had with my counselor as I continue to explore what I feel called to do since leaving the classroom this year. Changing paths is a hard thing to do when you only have a vague idea of what the new path is. All I have been able to come up with so far is “I want to empower people – especially those in seemingly impossible circumstances. I want to give them hope.”

From that stemmed a conversation about hope in general. What does hope look like? What actually is hope? Where does hope come from? Who has provided me hope? All questions pointing to a bigger issue: I cannot aspire to be a source of hope if I don’t acknowledge where my own hope has come from. Thus began a long period of reflection.

First, I had to figure out what I meant by hope, because I feel like hope can mean different things in different situations. Some days I hope the chicken I set out won’t thaw in time to start dinner, and oh darn, we’ll just have to order take-out. This is obviously not the hope I am talking about here. When I say I want to give people hope, I am referring to the hope that encourages them to get out of bed each day with the belief that they are greater than their current circumstances and that some day their circumstances will change to reflect that.

But how? To be honest, the how has been slow to take shape. So slow, in fact, that it is still in some abstract form out of reach from me. More important than the how though, is the why. This was a big part of the reflection I’ve been doing over the past several weeks. And as difficult as the work was, the why suddenly appeared very simply: because someone once gave me hope. And that is where things started to make sense.

I got pregnant when I was 16; just before my junior year. Being an accelerated honor student, I had extra credit hours and was able to enroll as a senior, putting me on track to graduate a year early. Now, if you’ve ever been a 16/17 year old, you know it’s a rough season under the best circumstances, and hope can often be elusive; but even more so when those circumstances involve challenges like the obvious pregnancy and an entirely new cohort. It was an incredibly lonely time, and many days doing my best was comprised of just getting out of bed and making it to school. Hope didn’t exactly spring eternal during that time, but it wasn’t altogether absent either, and it came in the form of a teacher. My senior English teacher was one of the primary sources of hope that year. Without going into vast detail (she gets an entire chapter in the memoir), I will just say that she made an impact on my life beyond any teacher I had ever had – and I had some pretty incredible teachers.

Back to present: I had identified my why: I want to provide hope where it is scarce because someone had once given me that hope. But now I needed to acknowledge that hope in a way that went beyond my own private gratitude, because what good is gratitude if it’s not expressed to the person to whom it’s owed? So at the direction of my very bossy counselor (who I am positive does not follow my site, but I have to get a shot in just in case), I got out a pen and paper and wrote a letter to my former teacher. And then I marked it up and scratched things out, and threw it away and wrote another letter. And after a lot of indecision, I stepped out of my Enneagram 9 zone and reached out to her and asked how I could best share it with her. She shared her address with me, and before I could talk myself out of it, I mailed it. To my surprise (and a little bit to my introverted horror), she replied a few days later with her phone number and asked if we could chat by phone. We set aside a time, and as nervous as I was when I dialed her number, my nerves were almost immediately calmed as we talked and I was reminded of why I saw her as such a huge source of hope in my life all those years ago. We talked for an hour about how important it is to give people hope and take care of each other. We shared stories about life, about challenges and successes and failures and heartbreak. And above all, hope.

And so here we are in this first week of Advent, with its theme of Hope. And I feel incredibly fortunate to have been the recipient of hope so many years ago, and to have the opportunity to pass it on.