Happy Birthday to Me

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On January 30th, I happily celebrated my 43rd birthday. It was a great day. It was exactly what I envisioned and most importantly, I embraced my sobriety. There was no going to bed wasted and waking up feeling like crap. Nope. Not this year. I enjoyed every minute of my birthday and for that, I feel extremely blessed.

Birthdays are a really big deal in my house. In fact, my children make fun of me because I don’t just celebrate my birthday on the day I was born, I celebrate it all month long. At the beginning of every new year; the 29-day countdown to my special day begins. The month long observance of multiple festivities (this year sober ones) culminates with The Birthday Week Countdown whereby one of my best friends, Sheila “Dizzle” Diaz, gives me a precious gift everyday for the five days leading to the big day. She totally gets me and loves me so much that she has “bought in” to my birthday magic.

I love her for that. Another Witt birthday tradition is that my son Chantz slaves over a delicious breakfast of Texas french toast complete with candles and serves me this feast in bed. And sometime during the day, my adoptive parents, the Campbells, send me a beautiful bouquet of birthday flowers that never ceases to amaze myself or my students. And then of course there are my daughters who, no matter how little money they have, make the dollar store merchandise as appealing as that of a high end department store. I’m not kidding, they always go above and beyond the normal and create dimestore chic.

The celebration continues into the evening as the Birthday Queen gets to select the dinner menu and then my fabulous husband, amateur chef Ken, prepares the meal. This year I chose steak, scallops, sautéed mushrooms and a green salad. Every single bite was amazing and paleo-friendly.

After dinner, we go around the table taking turns sharing what we love most about the guest of honor. I absolutely love that part, even when it’s not me they are praising!  I must admit that this year was one of my favorites, as my daughter Shelbee gave a detailed speech about how much she loves me and why. However, the other birthday attendees weren’t as thrilled as I due to the lengthy nature of her tribute. Ummm…too bad, so sad. Ask me if I care. I don’t. (Insert cackle here.)

There is no doubt; I am loved. So, why then, with the love fest that I call my birthday, does it bother me so much when my father doesn’t acknowledge my birth? Not a card, not a phone call, not a text…nada, nothing, zilch. And not just this year, but every single year. I should be used to it. It’s not like it’s any surprise when my special day comes and goes without so much as a peep from my dad. I should be used to it, but I’m not. I wanna be; but I’m not.

Grow up Kristen! My goodness, you are 43 years young and you care about what your absentee father does? Yes, I do. But, I don’t wanna. It’s painful and I don’t like pain.

So, here I am, six days later and I finally had my annual post-birthday meltdown. I cried, I yelled, I screamed, and I questioned God as to why I was “gifted” with such a crappy father. Why me, oh Lord? Why is my father so self-absorbed and selfish that he doesn’t acknowledge my birthday, or me, for that matter? What in the heck did I do to deserve such an unkind and basically nonexistent father?

Yes, I RSVPed to this pity party and spent a good part of my day there. After much questioning and a horridly poor attitude on my part, I finally admitted to my husband what this “mood” was all about. His response? He just hugged me and let me cry, as he’s done a hundred times before where my father is concerned. And I appreciate that. I love him for that. He, too, gets me.

Sometime during the evening, my mom called and left me a message. Know this: I love my mom, but we have had our issues. She has had her addictions and problems and I was forced to shut her out of my life and the lives of my children several times. We don’t speak on a regular basis and she did not call me on my birthday.

Still, in her defense, I have never doubted her love for me. My mom has a good heart; she just got sucked into the addiction nightmare. After all, she absolutely refused to abort me after my father begged her to. That speaks volumes in my book.

I took a deep breath and pressed play on the message. “Hi Kristen. This is your mom. I couldn’t go another day without wishing you a happy birthday…I love you. Goodbye.” Tears. But, happy ones. And she sounded good! I could understand every word she said; no slurring and no going off on a tangent. And suddenly, my entire mood changed. I felt joy, I felt peace, I felt love.

And I called her back. And we talked for twenty minutes and we haven’t done that in years. My mom loves me and I love her. And that feels so good because that is the way God created us.  As humans, we are born to love and be loved. And I know that I am so loved, by so many. It’s like God has put people in my life to love me because he knows that my father isn’t capable of that in his humanness. But, sometimes I forget that and today my mom’s phone call reminded me of that. And I am thankful.

Rachel Barrentine sings a song called Sacred Symphony. It’s about how God loves us so much that he sings over us with a sacred symphony. The tune continues with us asking him to open our ears to hear this beautiful song that he’s written just for us. It’s a virtual love song written by God, especially for us.

The first time I heard this song, I absolutely sobbed. I was at a women’s retreat and the flood gates just opened up far and wide and I didn’t care who heard me. For the first time, I just the Father come in and love on me and more importantly, I felt deserving of this honor and not because of anything I had done, but because what Christ did for me.

One particular verse changed my life, “You formed my heart before time began. You smiled at me, the day I was born. So fearfully and wonderfully made, by your hand oh God.” That was all it took, the chains were broken. You see, not many people smiled on the day I was born; teen catholic pregnancy, a father who didn’t want me and was angry that he had to give up a college scholarship to become a a responsible human being and care for his child. In any case, the smiles were few and far between. Except from my Heavenly Father who smiled and smiled and smiled and wrote a song just for me.

I don’t know why, but it took my mom calling this evening to remind me of how much I am truly loved. He handpicked both of my parents and he knew exactly what he was doing. He just doesn’t make mistakes and that’s good enough for me. So if my dad continues to live a life devoid of myself and my children, it’s okay. God has my back and His plan for me is better than I could ever formulate on my own. I truly believe that.

In the meantime, I will continue to do birthdays with my family like we are “rockstars” because after all, God sings a sacred symphony over us every single day of our lives.

Can you hear yours? I hope so. You are loved.

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Day 34: The Heart of the Matter is Forgiveness

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Today is Saturday and I’ve been up since 4:30 AM. Why? I don’t know for sure, but I have a few theories.

Theory #1: My 42-year-old, soon to be 43 year-old bladder is not what it once was. When I have to tinkle, I gotta get in there and do it like pronto, no messin’ around or else there will be a mess. This might be too much info, but I’ve been known to pee myself on the front porch because I waited a little too long to use the facilities. So this morning when my bladder alarm sounded, I was up and at em’.

Theory #2: I have a lot to do today and God needed to have a talk with me before I embarked upon this busy Saturday. Some of my priorities have gotten out of order, and well…I needed a bit of loving correction. And, I am happy to report that I took it like a champ. I received what was being said and now I am moving on in hopes of becoming that better person.

Theory #3: And the winner, winner chicken dinner; I’m gonna go with a combination of the two. So, here I am, an hour later blogging for the first time in almost two weeks. I am woman, hear me roar. I feel like the Energizer Bunny on coffee…gallons coffee. But I am fairly confident that today’s blog will touch many, even uplift and inspire some, so here goes.

Today I want to talk to you about forgiveness. Yes, again. Don’t roll your eyes, just hear me out. I must admit that when my devotional this morning was on forgiveness, I was a little irritated. I mean, I’ve been working really hard on forgiving others, myself and asking people for forgiveness. I seriously thought that I was working overtime in this area and was evolving into a master of amnesty. Then, two names popped into my head and there it was.

I have been harboring resentment and unforgiveness for two of my best friends, more like sisters, for over five months. When we house any form of unforgiveness or resentment, things aren’t right. Our lives are out of sync and we block our blessings. For me, it’s like an uncomfortable itch that absolutely will not go away until it is dealt with. This itch has become excruciatingly painful, so today is the day of reckoning and I do believe part of the reason for my 4:30 AM wake-up call.

In August we moved from the town that my husband and I and our four children grew up in. I was in the midst of my alcoholism and I had successfully isolated myself from many people. I didn’t want them to know that I was drinking everyday and if I didn’t see or talk to them, my secret would remain safe. Besides, we were busy with the move and that would be good enough reason to avoid them.

On August 4th, I had my tonsils removed and I promised myself that I would stop drinking. And I did… for about six days. But in those six days, I allowed the devil to come in and take hold of my thoughts and plant some pretty vile seeds. In my mind, I became the victim of a “friendship violation.” How dare my friends not come and visit me while I was recuperating from my surgery. How horrible they were for not making me broth and bringing me flowers and sending me to my new life on a float with a parade in my honor. Duh…I was ready to receive them in my life again. I was free of alcohol; didn’t they know this?

And I swear to you, some form of this pity party continued until just this morning. The difference is; today I did not RSVP. Nope, I sent off two text messages at 6:33 and 6:35 AM and asked my two friends/sisters to forgive me for harboring this resentment towards them. And guess what happened? Those chains were broken and I have been set free. My heart is lighter and my “itch” is gone. I’m not kidding. Gone! And I refuse to take it back.

Newsflash: We should let go off all fear after we ask for forgiveness. Remember how Joseph’s brothers feared retaliation from him after their father’s death? He had already forgiven them, but they had not fully received his forgiveness. They threw themselves at his feet and begged for absolution again. Joseph was moved to tears by their pleas and then reassured his siblings that his grace and mercy remained in tact and nothing would change that.

By the world’s standards, Joseph had every right to make his brothers pay heartily for selling him into slavery. But Joseph didn’t live by the world’s standards and neither should we. He knew that God had a plan for him even in the darkest of times. And he knew that the actions of his brothers were meant to harm him, but that God intended it for good. That is faith, my friends.

I am hopeful that my sisters will allow God to take the ashes of our friendships and turn them into beauty.  I think that is the hope of most people when asking for forgiveness. Still, we cannot allow their decision about whether or not to grant us clemency to influence our decision to ask for it. If they decide not to forgive us, that’s okay. It’s not the outcome that we desire, but it is and will continue to be okay. God loves us that much and if a void is left, He will fill it if we allow him to.

Today, do yourself a favor. Take a forgiveness inventory. If there are people that you need to forgive, or people that you need to apologize to, talk to God about it. He will help you find the peace that only authentic forgiveness can bring. Open your heart to Him and allow Him to gift you with the necessities for your own forgiveness journey.

One thing is for sure; forgiveness is a gift and so is sobriety. My journey is allowing me to clean out my closets and dust off the cobwebs in my life. And with that comes clarity of heart, soul, spirit and mind. And for this, I am truly blessed and so are you.

My cup runneth over. I hope yours does, too.

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Happy Birthday, Dad

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Today is my dad’s birthday. He turned twenty years old exactly one month before I was born. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually celebrated my dad’s birthday with him. And, I need even fewer fingers to acknowledge the number of times my father has wished me a happy birthday.

Let me be clear; I am not bitter. At times, I mourn the loss of the father that I never had, but since my dad isn’t dead, mourning is probably the wrong term. I mean, after all, how can you mourn something that you never had to begin with and it sounds even more silly to pine over a relationship with someone who wants nothing to do with you or your children.

For most of my life, my father has been MIA and when he has made brief appearances, it has never ended well. Our relationship is certainly not a conventional one and the roles have always been reversed. What I mean is that I have always taken on the parental role, while he has been comfortable in the role of a child or adolescent.

I can speculate that the reason he gravitates to the adolescent role is because he was never shown how to be a father. His dad was a “Disneyland” dad and wasn’t very involved in his upbringing. I think my dad was starved for the affection of his father and was disappointed that he never received it. To make up for his absentee father, my grandmother spoiled my dad and became very possessive of him. She remained that way until her death two years ago. He was her puppet until the very end and with her death, came his freedom.

My dad has never been there for me. And that hurts. He missed every single one of my milestones in childhood and adulthood. He wasn’t in the audience of my high school graduation, nor did he visit me in the hospital during the births of my children. He doesn’t acknowledge my birthday and he doesn’t know the dates of my childrens’ births. These are facts. I accept them. I don’t like them. But, I deal with this reality.

When my little sister died of complications due to alcoholism at the age of thirty, I hadn’t spoken to my father in over three years. I was forced to cut ties with both him and my sister due to their addictions. I could not allow them to be around my children because their behavior was nothing any child should be subjected to. It was a behavior that I had seen all through my own childhood; needles, baggies, slurred words and sporadic behavior. But it was one that I was determined to shelter my children from.

The morning of Jaimie’s death, the phone rang at 7:59 AM and I knew something was terribly wrong. The phone never rings that early on a Saturday morning unless something is wrong. My husband handed me the phone, and my father screamed, “Your sister is dead. Jaimie is dead.” I remember thinking, this has to be a joke. She’s just a baby. But, my heart began to sink because I knew that the reality of her lifestyle often times leads to death.  Still, why her? Both of my parents had spent much of their lives as addicts and they were still alive. But my sister, their daughter, wasn’t. How was that fair? It wasn’t. But choices lead to consequences and sometimes those consequences can be devastating to those left behind to pick up the pieces.

Jaimie was my dad’s favorite child. We were his only children and he had always wanted a boy and Jaimie was the closest thing to a male. She was an amazing athlete, as was my dad, so they had a lot in common. She was fit and competitive and was beautiful to watch on the soccer field. Even in the dysfunction of their enabling relationship, she remained his favorite. So when she died in his house, it devastated him. And there I was, “Mother Hen” to pick up the pieces.

Since he was incapable of doing so, I planned and organized my sister’s funeral. He was barely functioning, so my husband and I took over. The funeral was pathetically sad, but I survived. And for a while, my dad came back into our lives. I made every effort to make him feel welcomed, but it didn’t last. Another relapse and and he was again out of my life.

There was a brief reconciliation after his mother passed away, but he was now free to pursue his life without answering to her and so that was what he decided to do.  I still text him on Christmas and his birthday and on Jaimie’s birthday and death day and he still does not text back.

Sometimes, that really makes me want to scream. I have never asked him for anything and everything I have ever accomplished has been without his help. So, why then is a return text message too much to ask? I mean, I love my children unconditionally, so as a parent, I just don’t get it.

Then it happened. I sent my dad the annual text on my sister’s birthday and worded it like this, “Happy birthday to your baby girl. I bet she’s eating a ton of birthday cake.” And much to my surprise, he texted me back. “Tell her I said happy birthday.” Ummmm…what? After a few more texts, I figured out that he didn’t remember his daughter’s birthday and he thought I was talking about one of my daughters. (His granddaughters)

I feel guilty even admitting this, but I was relieved. I mean, maybe he didn’t actually hate me. And if he couldn’t remember his favorite daughter’s birthday, then I shouldn’t feel so bad that he could never remember mine, either.

I would be lying if I said that at times I don’t get mad or sad about my absentee father. I do. It would be nice to have him around to be a dad to me and a grandfather to my children. But I was reminded at Bible study last night just how much my Heavenly Father loves me and boy, is He an awesome granddad to my children.

I am hopeful that someday my biological dad will become part of our family. I think every child desires to have their parents in their life and I just don’t think that desire goes away.

But, until then, I will continue to pray for my dad everyday and send him those text messages in hopes that he will someday reply. And today, on day fifteen of my sobriety, I choose to open my heart to others and experience all that life has to offer.

“One of the most important lessons in life is learning to turn what seems like senseless pain and suffering into something meaningful for yourself and others.” Through all of this pain and confusion, I choose to love my dad. I choose to forgive my dad. Because after all, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. No, thank you. I choose forgiveness. I choose life. You should do the same.

And who knows, maybe my dad will text me back a simple, “thank you,” for wishing him a happy birthday. And if not, that’s okay. I will survive.

Be blessed, friends.

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