I am in awe of the bravery of this week’s guest blogger. Janna Northrup’s piece on overcoming spiritual shame in her family is harrowing and lovely. I know you’ll be as moved as I was when I first read it. I am so honored to share it with you.
Janna Northrup is a stay at home mom to four children, and writes whenever she can. (She usually has more ideas than she knows what to do with.) She contributes to a fitness/well-being blog regularly, but also has blogs about travel and books. She is honored to be a member of Redbud Writers Guild. You can find her on Twitter: @jjnorthr.
Iâ€™ve tried to write this true. Iâ€™ve tried to write my justification, what has been going on in my head and heart so long I canâ€™t remember when it wasnâ€™t. Iâ€™ve tried to make it come out so everyone could understand that I am really a good girl, that God still loves me even if everyone I grew up with promised me He wouldnâ€™t because I couldnâ€™t love them the way they wanted me to.
Teenage girls are allowed to hate their mother. There, I said it.
Sixteen-year-old girls, like I was once, are allowed to question the one who gave us birth, even if it breaks her heart. I didnâ€™t know this, though, because it wasnâ€™t how the economy of love ran within our walls; walls my family built to manage and maintain my motherâ€™s happiness.
This is the story of two kitchens.
The first kitchen in my brotherâ€™s home: â€œSit there,â€ my sister-in-law, Mary said, and pointed to the linoleum floor. The kitchen was tiny, just a square. The vinyl tiles butted up against the tan carpet where the dining room table sat.
On the sticky floor, I sat cross-legged in my pajamas. I teetered side to side to wipe off the crumbs from my legs and leaned back against the door to the cupboard under the sink. I wondered, â€œWhat now?â€ The dead weight inside dropped down further into my soul and felt like it would choke me.
Mary pointed again said, â€œLook what youâ€™ve done to your mother.â€ She moved aside and she pushed up the glasses that slid down her nose.
Across from me, on the carpet next to the table, was my mother curled over on herself crying while she picked at pieces of the carpet with her fingers.
Everywhere but there in that small kitchen, it was, â€œYou are such a nice girl.â€
But then and there with Mom and Mary it was, â€œLook what youâ€™ve done.â€
I withered, sticking to the linoleum and feeling its grit.
I was cornered and saw myself right then in the broken mom, the quiet sobs, as Mary saw meâ€”bad, bad and mean. I looked at my mother, the product of me.
Mary, her hair pulled back neatly in a teacherish bun, spoke quietly and firmly, â€œEphesians 6:2 says, â€˜Honor your father and motherâ€¦that it may go well with you.’ â€
Honor meant love. I dreamed of loving my mom. In my dream, I put my arms around her, walked with her, sat with her and talked, she nodded and listened, she smiled her eyes at me with pride.
But, in real life, Mom cried in her bed, on the couch, at the dinner table and in the car. It was so much I had to hole up my heart from her and I knew I was keeping it away.
I felt the shame of not being able to love her enough and it dried me up, sucked out emotion and replaced it with distance.
And, Mary said, â€œCanâ€™t you see, your mom only wants you to love her?â€
This was the economy of love between us. Me love her. I didnâ€™t know that a sixteen-year-old didnâ€™t have the experience or the wisdom to help her mom navigate her problems. I didnâ€™t know that love was supposed to flow from mother to daughter, instead of the other way around. So, I felt the failure they said I was.
But, I too, was a girl, crying inside for the love of a mother. This woman who sat before me, tears coming straight from her broken heart, couldnâ€™t give me love, she said, until I gave her mine.
With my back against the cupboard door, I felt my guilt up against me, defining me. I was trying to be me, to find me, know me. I watched her from the floor in the kitchen that night and breathed another, â€œHelp me honor herâ€ prayer.
If I try to explain that I got the good grades, did the right things, was the kind of girl some other mother might love, it feels hollow and petty and whiny and mean.
It took me most of my life to be free. It took another time in another kitchen to speak not the words she wanted to hear, but the real and true ones she needed to hear.
This time, it was my kitchen, my home. I met my mother there, let in from the cold outside and girded up the words in me that should have been said long ago. I breathed in and breathed out. I promised myself that when she cried I would tell her the truth.
Standing by the counterâ€”up this timeâ€”not down on the floor with the dirt, I looked her in the eye and in spite of the fear and panic of being proclaimed dishonorable, not worthy of Godâ€™s favor, I said the words I had been formulating for forty years. I told her the truth.
â€œMom, I canâ€™t fix you.â€ I explained the boundaries of my love, that in order to preserve my heart I needed to stop trying to appease hers.
I saw in the ashen color of her face, her wilted cheeks, her doleful eyes how much it hurt to hear.
This is the story of two kitchens. One in which I felt bound again to a twisted turn of love, the other where I tenuously unlocked my heart from a need I was never meant to fill.
I write in the same kitchen just now, at the counter where I admitted my lack, and I slowly find the strength and the words to heal the years of longing for love that was both demanded and needed.