I've cried countless tears about our story, how you're woven into mine and I into yours and the threads cannot be teased out from each other. In China they say that a red cord runs through us, those of us destined for each other's lives, a cord that we all hold part of inside. Mine has frayed edges where I've tried to pull it out. For once I truly believed you were all better off without me.
When your eyes have been trained for hate every time they look in the mirror, you forget that someone had to train you to see yourself this way. I remember when I look at the photos of my childhood. I vaguely remember seeing a lovely self with the same equanimity I saw the rest of the people I loved. I remember being proud of my thick head of hair, how everyone said it looked like my grandma's. I remember the swelling up of love like a drenched sponge in my chest when my grandpa held his ear to my tummy and said he could hear me growing like corn. Then he'd wrap me up in his pipe-smoke and down feathers smell, his enormous arms swallowing me whole just like his love for me, and for those moments I sighed into his arms, gangly and brown and warm and cherished.
That urge to disconnect from my story, to disconnect from my life, to disconnect from my loved ones - really it's fear baring its ugly teeth. I am afraid of being lost, forgotten, dismissed or left behind. I am afraid my story is too messy to fit in this Christian family of good people. I am afraid I am the ugly duckling for a lifetime swimming among swans.
I added one little phrase into my daily thoughts and words this year: "You're doing the best that you can." That one phrase has revolutionized our story: children who aren't being willful but still can't get a task done? They don't get punished, they receive help and grace and understanding for where they are at. They're doing the best they can. House messy at the end of the day and no supper plans yet? I did the best that I can.
This is not a permission slip for halfway effort. It is not a get-out-of-jail free card for consequences. It is a way to forgive the past so you can live in the present. It is a way to recognize the good instead of the bad. Saying, "I'm doing the best that I can" dismisses the failures of the past hour and seeds hope for the next.
Next time you send your child to wash his hands and he makes a mess of the sink and still has dirt on his face? Try saying it instead of "why did you..." with a furrowed brow. Even if it comes out with a sigh, this phrase allows us all to be where we are without the constant comparison with where we think we should be.
And if at the end of our story that is what they say of me? "She did the best she could." What a victory that would be.