Day 25: Dear Need

Day 25 in the Dear Gratitude project is submitted by yours truly :).

Dear Need,

I first remember meeting you, Need, when my father fell from his heroic platform in my mind. Grappling with drug addiction, he stood in our living room in Augusta, Kansas, in 1984, and admitted that he had fallen for Caroline. I remember my mom crying, scorching, angry tears spilling over, commanding him to explain himself to his four daughters. He tried to. And then he left.

And I didn’t shed a tear, although I was surrounded by four emotionally distraught females.

My dad, circa 1984, who I've grown to love again

My dad, circa 1984, who I’ve grown to love again

I didn’t know then how much I needed a daddy and how much the lack of having one would alter my path in life. I didn’t know that, as Naomi Shihab Nye claims in her poem The Traveling Onion, “It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten.” I didn’t know these things, but I would learn them later. Because of you, Need, I spent years trying to replace my dad with insufficient substitutes. I can’t say that I’m proud of that, but I know that you, Need, are often something I can’t even detect in myself—but God can. Thanks to you, Need, I eventually found a Father. Thank you, Need, for leading me to create a path of destruction uglier and more harmful than the mess left behind in Wichita after a tornado. Seeing myself realistically finally led me to accept and love my dad again.

Need, you became a part of our daily family life. We needed food, clothing, and shelter, our little family of five, a single mom with four daughters under the age of seven. You, Need, introduced us to welfare. You acquainted us with embarrassment and shame. You moved us into a trailer park. You are the reason I cried for an entire afternoon because I did not have a denim skirt to wear to my friend’s birthday party, and you are the reason my mom could not purchase one, even though she wanted to.

But you, Need, are also the reason that my mom went back to college and pursued a career in dental hygiene, something she is still passionate about. You are part of the reason that I studied so hard to try to obtain a scholarship myself. You are the one to thank for the circumstances that led to my mom becoming best friends with Kay Egan, a woman with a gigantic golden heart. You’re to thank for the chance to grow up with near-cousins and to be loved by near-grandparents, for the chance to climb trees, explore barns, and ride tractors. You, Need, are who taught me that I’m no better than anyone else. That people in poverty aren’t always stuck in the mud as a result of poor choices. Thank you for making it impossible for my mom to take care of us on her own. If she’d been able to, I wouldn’t have received countless gifts of kindness and selflessness, like my Sunday School teacher in first grade who offered to pay for me to learn gymnastics, which is still my favorite sport.

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Need, I could choose to hate you. But I don’t. I’m thankful for your place in my life, even today. I’m thankful for the irritability and negativity that rises up in me when I don’t focus on the Solution. That need prompts me to change. I’m thankful for the times when I have to spend less and save more. This keeps me humble and dependent on the Giver. I’m thankful for the times when I can’t make my daughter feel better and for the times when I can’t figure out how to get her to eat more, nurse less, or go to sleep. It keeps me from attaining parental perfection, and that leads me to accept help and input from my Wise Dad who knows my child better than I do. I’m thankful for my own powerlessness and lack of ability to manage every situation solely.  This keeps my egotistical, self-righteous self from bragging and annoying everyone I meet, and it keeps me coming back for help from the Ultimate Guru.

I need you, Need, to get me to gratitude.

I need Need to get me to God.

 

Who’s who

Knowing who’s who makes a big difference–specifically, knowing Who is God and who is not.

Me sporting a pretty sassy mullet in 3rd grade

Me sporting a pretty sassy mullet in 3rd grade

I memorized Psalm 100, a psalm for giving thanks, in first grade in order to earn a special ribbon-like bookmark in Sunday School class. This bookmark was the first in a collection of hundreds. Each time I look at the bookmark, I fondly recall the Sunday School class at Olivet Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, and my teacher, Mrs. Gutshall, who a few years later generously provided the financial means for me to pursue my love for flipping and twirling via gymnastics. I remember running up the stairs of the church, clickity clacking in my new shiny black patent leather mary janes, excited about what crafts we’d concoct out of empty tuna can lids and construction paper.

I recite Psalm 100 each time I pull out the faded ribbon. It’s amazing how my memory has clung to the psalm’s vibrant words for decades.

Today as I read the psalm yet again, I noticed that before it instructs us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise,” it admonishes us to “know that the Lord is God.” It then goes on to clarify, in case any of us are feeling confused about who’s who, to state that “it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.”

Well duh.

But how many times a day do I attempt to take the reins and control my own destiny, often steering myself off the best course for my life? How often have I clearly been instructed by God to do X and did Y instead?  How many times do I worry and fret over situations out of my control without turning those worries over to God, who is very much in control? How often do these actions result in additional anxiety, missteps, and self-pity?

All the time.

The Psalmist–or God–must have known that stubborn folks like me would read these words and need to be reminded of who’s who.

God’s God. I’m not.

If I understand that, I can let go of my worries, release my fears, stop trying to fix everything, and rest knowing that Someone more capable has things under control.

Then, and only then, can I wholeheartedly and single-mindedly focus on thanking Him for being Who He Is and making me who I am. When I know Who He Is and who I am, I’m more likely to feel gratitude for what I have because I understand that all my blessings are gifts and that my futile efforts and the fruits of my labor could never amount to a fraction of what God provides me with.

Maybe I’ll remove that old orange satin bookmark from my collection box and tack it onto my bulletin board to remind me of who’s who.