Listen From Your Heart

If you read my recent blog post, Greatness, you know that the last couple years have been a difficult time and I have spent a lot of time in prayer and reflection. One thing that has stuck out in my mind over and over are the conversations that I attempted to have during this time and how I was never heard. Decisions and agendas had already been made. There was even a specific instance when I was trying to correct a completely fabricated story and my mom put her hand up and shook her head no and continued speaking. Then later she accused me of not communicating and creating the problems. I was in such a state of confusion for so long and I knew God was my only answer to get through it.

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” -Psalm 116:1-2

My prayers gave me strength and my reflection made me want to understand. To try to comprehend the behavior that I had been the recipient of. I quickly found my keywords pointing to narcissism every time. So, I began to read a lot about it and to listen to a lot of podcasts. And every single article I read or podcast I listened to made me feel like the author was speaking directly to me and what I had experienced. Not just during this time but throughout my entire life. When my world turned upside down in the summer of 2017, I was forced to make the decision of joining the lies and false appearances or standing up for the right thing. This stand I took was the first time I had ever truly taken a stand and put up a boundary that I was making the decision I wanted, not what someone else wanted.

That boundary that I created by standing firm on the right thing to do created a wall. The refusal to listen and the demands put upon me made it clear that the agenda was the priority. I had always done what was expected of me and whenever I slightly strayed, there would be an order for a “Command Performance” and that would put me back on track fulfilling expectations and “not embarrassing the family.” Then at 40 years old I received an angry message demanding I show up at a specific time and place for a Command Performance. It was time for me to take my life back. The puppet show was over.

I reflected on when did the relationship lose its dialogue? The truth was, it wasn’t a relationship rooted in difficult conversations. They were always avoided. And one specific instance stood out in my mind of when I lost the confidence to have the deep conversations that enable a relationship to overcome difficult situations. When I was about 13 years old (close to 30 years ago) I went to an allergist at Duke because I had some food allergies. I spent the day there having tests done. At the end of the day, I got in the car with my mom to head home. “Why do you look like you’ve seen a ghost?” She asked me. I continued to just look straight ahead and replied “because the doctor made me strip down and he began touching me in places that I didn’t want him to and he told me he needed to do a full exam.” Before I could finish that sentence my mom began laughing. Through her laughter she said “he is just an old man getting his jollies, get used to it.” I remember I got sick to my stomach and almost threw up. Was this really happening? Here I was traumatized by what happened in that room (no nurse present) and my mom was laughing about it. Laughing about my hurt. I said no more and didn’t finish telling her what happened. I was already humiliated, I didn’t want to be belittled as well. So, we drove the few hours home in relative silence. I have never forgotten the incident and how it shaped my relationship with her going forward. A child must have confidence and trust in someone to confide in them and once that is lost so is the deep communication piece of the relationship.

So many years without dialogue had clearly burdened the relationship. The surface of the relationship was fine but the substance was clearly lacking. The loss of this relationship made me reflect deeper on a lifetime of questions and “what-ifs”. Truths or lies? Manipulation and deception or genuine and honest? Deciphering what was what was nearly impossible. I now had a new what-if because dwelling on the past and living in it will only bring you down. What if the relationship had been better all along? What if there had been comforting, supportive, honest dialogue? How much stronger would the relationship have been? How much more could be overcome? Would the right thing have been chosen longer ago and the false appearances set aside in the name of a loving, family relationship? Even with all that I had learned, I truly couldn’t answer any of those questions. I also couldn’t live in the past and beat myself up over the what-ifs. No matter how badly you want to, you can’t change the other side of a relationship. And much like an alcoholic needs to remove alcohol from their life, once a relationship becomes toxic, you need to separate yourself from it.

As hard as that choice of separation was, my focus was now on my own family. I had learned from my past, the good and the bad, and my new quest was to be the best wife and mother I could be. I had chosen to stop and listen to God a few years ago and he gave me more peace, joy, and wisdom than I ever thought possible. My son is 13 and I want to instill in him a strong trust and confidence that I will always be his supporter and advocate. My son is naturally very different from me and I need to lift him up to be his best self. Sometimes parents try to mold their children into the person they want them to be instead of encouraging them to be the person God intends for them to be. I have seen my son’s true heart since day one. The kindest heart. And I have learned so much about kindness and grace and mercy and forgiveness from him. But what if I had tried to make him be someone he isn’t? We both would be losing out. Take the time to truly listen to your children. Just watching them doing things they are passionate about, how they carry themselves around friends, their attitude towards life in general can teach us so much about them and how to best support and encourage them. Listening doesn’t always involve words, but it always involves an open heart.