Thursday, May 17, 2018

This Mother's Day Crushed Me. And Made Me New.

I've been looking at photos of my Mother's Days past these last few days. I remember each one of them - when I picked out the kids' clothes, and hoping I'd have time to get ready myself so we could catch a photo together. Sometimes I had a newborn in my arms or a squirmy toddler on my lap. I scanned the images as my babies turned into big kids in a flash and I've thankfully, gratefully come to a place where I don't long to go back to those days, but I cherish the memories in each photo. I am a mom. I am unspeakably grateful.

This Mother's Day was different than every one before it. This Mother's Day crushed me.

I don't want to tell this story. But any writer will tell you that when the story is trapped inside of you, sometimes the only way to freedom is to let it loose. I need to let this one out. I am writing not from the end where this story has a ribbon wrapped around it, but from a place where my heart is still raw and the wounds are fresh. Sometimes, most of the time I might argue, this is the best place to write from.

The week before Mother's Day, we went to the beach. This is the ONE week a year we deliberately unplug, set our phones and computers and devices aside, stay off social media which is GLORIOUSLY soul-refreshing, and soak up family time together. We begin planning six months in advance and the anticipation of lazy days by the ocean and late night card games and sun-kissed faces falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves fills my mama heart to the brim.

The week at the beach started rainy and colder, so we put together a two-thousand piece puzzle and ate all day and played mini-golf in sweatshirts and made the best of it. Mid-week, the sun broke through and it stayed - bringing warmth to our faces and sand between our toes and lunch by the pool. We were in and out of the water together, digging sand holes and judging cannonball contests and Whit murdered his paper Flat Stanley who'd come along as part of a school project by burying him in a sand hole and decapitating him upon retrieval. The kids showered off in the outdoor showers before dinner each of those days and we all collapsed into bed late at night - bellies full, swimsuits drying on balcony ledges, hearts full.

I had wrapped my girl's hair in two buns earlier in the week and as she played all day and was exhausted by the time we settled in for the night, I decided I'd wait til we got home to untwist and untangle them and fully wash and comb through her hair.

We returned home on Saturday afternoon and she and I headed upstairs to give her a warm bubble bath, take out her buns, and comb out her hair before church the next morning. I put her in the bath, tried to remove the elastic bands holding her hair in place, and they wouldn't budge. I soon realized that her hair was matted against her head in two rock hard, twisted balls of hair that normally hung past her waist - twisted, tangled - two impossible webs of her beautiful, long hair that had never been cut even ONCE - the hair that still held her baby curls at the bottom.

It was 7pm. I set her up on our bed and began trying to separate her hair. I worked on it for three hours until she could no longer hold her head up from exhaustion. At 10pm, I laid her down in her bed, kissed her rosy cheek, and fell into my bed and sobbed.

Gut-wrenching sobs. What had I done?

The next morning, Mother's Day, I awoke and hoped that a new morning would bring fresh perspective and her hair would come apart and comb out and we'd head to church. I sat my girl on my bed again, with new information from Google on how to untangle and loosen the two twisted, mangled balls of hair before me, and began to work on it again. Tears streamed down my face as I realized after three more hours that I was going to miss church completely. Jason went without me and dropped off our boys, came home with a coffee in hand for me - a small shred of comfort to what was becoming a full on crisis in my heart - and then returned to church without me. He had to tell our dear friends that we couldn't make it to their house for lunch with them that day - which we'd had planned for weeks. I sat on our bed with tears that would not cease and watched him walk out the door - trying to decide how to tell him to handle the inevitable question:

Where's Sarah?

She's sick.
She's not feeling well.
She's tired.


She's working on Holly's hair because she let it go and she's an awful mother.

Ahhhh. There's the truth. Finally. Now everyone will know the truth about me. I'm a farce. A fake.

I began to panic and a rush of terrifying anxiety came over me. I had been working on her hair - trying to separate it into something that could possibly begin to be brushed or combed out - for SIX HOURS. I had coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil and conditioners and sprays that Jason had run around and purchased at my request that morning. After SIX HOURS of my girl sitting in front of me, her holding back tears from all the pulling, tugging and desperate attempts to untangle it and me sobbing non-stop, her hair hardly looked any different than when we started the night before.

I wiped the oil off of my fingers enough to text a friend. Will you come sit with me tonight when you're finished celebrating Mother's Day?

I texted my wizard of a hairdresser, who is more than that to me - a treasured friend: Here is what I've done. Do you know what I might be able to do?

This is when my tribe showed up. They didn't just show up, THEY STORMED IN.

I started getting texts:

How is it going? I saw Jason. What can I do? How can I help you?

I know what you are battling. It's lies. All of it is lies. You are a GOOD mother. 

I am on my way. My plans changed today. I'm coming with coffee and we'll fix it.

Thirty minutes later, a friend arrived and she sat next to me and coated her hands in oil and began working on my girl's hair alongside of me. My hairdresser (AB), a mama herself, left her lunch, and busted through my front door that afternoon with understanding tears and a bag of tools to help fix the mess I'd made.

Every Mother's Day before, I had sent out texts to my friends and my sisters and responded to theirs. I posted a photo of my babies and how proud and grateful I am to be their mama. This Mother's Day, the messages kept dinging on my phone and my hands were coated in oil and I was sobbing uncontrollably and couldn't respond to any of them. No photo. No celebration.

I wept all day. My girl would turn around and see me crying - three of us yanking on her hair, pulling, tugging, trying to untwist the absolute untwistable and she never once complained. She would turn around and see me crying and put her tiny hands on my cheeks and kiss me and press her cheek against mine and turn back around for more of the same torture she'd been enduring for hours on hours.

At 7pm that night, we called it quits. FIFTEEN hours of working on her hair, and it looked only slightly different than it had the night before. None of it had come loose. I hadn't seen my sons all day because they spent the afternoon at the pool with their Dad at my request - because I couldn't handle them seeing me in the condition I was in. They came home at 7pm, saw me, and our house fell silent. They all stared at me - blankly. I looked and felt like death. A helpless, relentless feeling of shame and guilt had fallen hard on me and darkness was closing in.

But, it's just hair, Sarah.

Here is the interesting thing about those of us that have experienced childhood trauma. It can rear its ugly head at any point at such seemingly small things and before you know what's happening, a scab has been ripped off to reveal a gaping wound underneath. This is where I was. I was bleeding. The guilt and shame were crushing me.

Here was my beloved girl - wearing on her head the same neglect I'd felt as a child.

This is what the Enemy does. He never comes at us announcing his arrival, wielding a visible weapon to destroy us. He comes in with past hurt, cutting into deep wounds and releasing his fury where and when we least expect it. His intent we cannot immediately dissect because he doesn't directly accuse us - he asks questions. Just like he did to God's very first children in the garden:

Did God really say...?

And to me on Mother's Day...

How could you let this happen?
Look at her, do you see her wearing your neglect?
Do you think she'll ever forget?
What will your friends think?

I collapsed into bed after putting my girl in hers and I sobbed. Gut-wrenching pain. My boys would creak the door to my room open, lay a handmade card or note on my dresser and I'd see but their shadows and then they'd close the door again. What it must've been like for them to see me like that.

Accusations flew around the room as if attached to the spinning ceiling fan:

Will they ever forget what you've done to their sister?

I sobbed all night long. I would sleep for an hour and wake to this horrible feeling and then remember. And I'd start sobbing again.

I woke at 6am the next morning, and a dear, precious friend arrived at 7:30am without even asking me, with kindness behind her eyes, my favorite coffee, and to take the boys to school. She only said three words to me that morning: God sees you.

She took off work to be there for me all day - whatever I needed. AB opened her salon that day - the day it's closed and her day off, and told me to bring my girl in at 9am.

We drove to the salon and all day long, AB blasted Bethany Dillon's soul-stirring music overhead and she began to work on my girl's hair. I knew at that point that we would lose most of her beautiful hair and both me and AB cried together at the loss and grief I was feeling, but we hoped to keep enough that we wouldn't have to basically buzz her head.

I texted my husband: "What if she gets bullied in Kindergarten because she has a boy haircut?"

He immediately responded: "I'm not answering that question because I know that's not you talking."

Satan's lies are rich in death and sorrow, devoid of life, and they are POWERFUL.

At 6pm, AB finished. My girl had endured with supernatural, Holy Spirit-powered strength and patience EIGHT more hours that day in a chair as AB calmly, patiently, and methodically made cuts into the webs of hair attached to her head and worked out tangles and more cuts and more tangles and because of AB's persistence and sheer will, she saved an amazing amount of my girl's hair.

My girl lost 24 inches of hair that had been growing since she was in my womb. I lost her baby curls. Remnants of her baby-ness strewn in rope-like, tangled strands on the floor. It felt like a death. A loss that was cutting me deep and a goodbye I wasn't ready for. We never want to surrender our idols and lay them at the feet of the cross.

It was never about hair. The gut-wrenching sobs came because every Mom has this easy-access door to guilt. We have HEAPS of expectations we carry around - real, from actual words we've heard spoken to us; or imagined, fashioned from years of innuendo and assumptions. They come from our own mothers and the way they did things and we want their approval - even if we don't see them or have relationships with them as adults. MOUNDS of internal expectations come from watching other moms and knowing we'll never measure up because we all play the comparison game and we don't wanna be the failure mom who doesn't have her crap together. They come from fake ideas of perfection on Instagram accounts and what we perceive to be the "right" way to do things. They come from trauma. They come from walking this world in bodies that were not meant to carry the weight of sin.

A mom's heart is a ripe playground for the Enemy's rompings. He doesn't need to be a physical presence to crush us. He can smugly and delightfully look on as we do it to ourselves with his favorite poison - a bloody cocktail of guilt and shame.

This is why and when the people of God need each other. My tribe - they came in fighting with the only cure for guilt and shame - the truth of God's word. They brought words of life and they SHOWED UP carrying their own shields of faith because I could not pick up my own. The Enemy's arrows were flying, and THEY FOUGHT THEM OFF with the Word of God and they were fighting to "extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" that were headed straight at my heart.

A friend stopped by with a bag full of new girly hair clips and bows before we ever got home from the salon. Another drove over that night with a bottle of sparkling wine and a Yeti full of orange juice, looked into my tear-stained face and served me up a mimosa - the one I'd missed the day before on Mother's Day when my bed held me and my girl and the ashes of my heart that had been scorched by the burning fire of lies and crushing guilt

They started asking questions filled with truth and light - the antidote for the lie-filled questions I'd been hearing.

Did God really say you're His beloved daughter? YES, He did.
Did God really say that there is NOTHING that can separate you from His love? YES, He did.
Did God really say He will fight for you and that he put His spirit within you? YES, He did.

We didn't get her hair free.

Instead, my girl's hair is helping me break free from lies that are buried deep inside of me: That somehow her long hair defined her. That the lack of it somehow defines me. That little girls should have long hair and ONLY long hair, that women wear their femininity, or lack of it on their heads not in their hearts - Satan's lies I didn't realize were buried deep down in me from hearing them 35 years ago.

These lies buried deep in us that come bleeding out when heart crises hit is why we need our tribes that are willing do the hard things with us and speak truth to us. They come over with coffee and hair tools and shoulders offered up as a means of grace and carry us through when we cannot see the way out. They come on Mother's Day, when we've miscarried or are in the throes of postpartum depression or are childless or single and deeply sad or have lost a baby and they weep with us over the death of our dreams. We claim TOGETHER that the lies we believe about ourselves are NOT true with to-go coffee with plastic lids and mimosas from Yeti cups and fingers dipped into bowls of olive oil while tears fall fresh into our laps. We defy the lies with texts full of Scripture and phone calls filled with hope and WE SHOW UP and we declare that Jesus DIED for ALL of it. We help each other break free from Satan's grasp and we run together HARD after Jesus, knowing that in his arms we will find the only identity we ever need and the only love that won't let us go.

I sat on the bed this past weekend and all I could see was my girl sitting in front of me wearing my neglect, shame and guilt on her head. I am seeing past that now. God NEVER leaves us in the valley of the shadow of death. He didn't stay on the cross. He blew the door off the tomb and gave us in his resurrected body the key to our own resurrected life. If he can wrestle actual DEATH from the hands of Satan and claim victory over it, then He has already defeated him in the battleground of my heart as he makes me new and calls me to live deeper and more fully in the light of His love and mercy.

This is what redemption looks like on Mother's Day.

This is what a fiercely loving and loyal community looks like.

This is chains of childhood trauma broken and laid fallen on the ground. This is shields of faith gathered and raised around a mama and her baby girl sitting on a stool for HOURS on end in a family room in suburban Raleigh declaring to the Enemy, "Not this girl. And NOT her mama." This is a picture of the glory of God the Father who calls us to the deep waters of suffering then lovingly pulls us out, freshly made new and into His image and experiencing the joy of living in light of the Resurrection.

This is my new girl. The one who wears the crown of being a beloved daughter of the King, a cherished and adored child of God, never defined by her outward appearance, but fashioned by Him and bearing the unbridled beauty of the Imago Dei.

The same crown her mama wears.

This is my Holly.


  1. Oh my goodness, I can't stop crying! Thank you for always sharing so honestly and from the heart - and for using your gift of words to take every situation and turn it into a testimony of God's goodness and grace. It's so true how the enemy uses little questions instead of direct accusations...and that the only way to combat him is with the Truth. Thank you for this post!!! (and Holly looks super adorable!)

  2. Wow, so powerful. I am sorry for your heartache, but thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story. I love how God always gives us a lesson in those hard times. I have 3 boys and my girl is the youngest. Your daughter reminds me of mine. I learn from her every day. And, I LOVE that cut, it is so pretty. God bless.

  3. This is so beautiful. Oh yes, I understand how it feels to hear those lies. I especially love the way your husband answered your texted question --gotta love when our warrior husbands see thru his schemes and give us hope! I hope you keep writing, I love reading your words.

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