Magazine

December 2013: Simple gifts

How a family trip to buy holiday presents opened her heart to forgiveness

My family has always been notorious for celebrating Christmas late. This year, my aunt and uncle were going to host the family gathering in a small town in Texas on New Year’s Day. On the radio the week before, I kept hearing about a new gift shop at a local science museum that was opening on Dec. 25.
So I asked my husband if we could
go shopping there for the kids on Christmas day.

This museum in Houston is home to a famous butterfly center, so the gift shop was filled with so many butterfly items that we decided that the gift for every girl would have a butterfly theme. For each boy, we’d get a miniature potato gun. Nothing extravagant or expensive, just little things. We stayed there for quite a while, lost in the moment. We picked up several science-related gadgets and experiments for a grab bag and off we went, gifts in hand.

The drive home was quiet, and my mind was unusually still. I looked over at my husband and asked him if he knew why it was so important to me that we go shopping on that day. Perhaps I was hoping that he would know, but he indicated that he didn’t. I didn’t really understand it myself. It just was, and I went with it, not knowing why. But after pausing for a moment, these words came out of my mouth: “I am becoming my mother.”

Just where that thought came from, I do not know. The tone of my voice, the look on my face, along with my quiet tears, was a picture of a peaceful, serene and free woman.

Looking back now, I can, with all that I am today, tell you that was the moment of total and complete forgiveness of self. There was no earth-shattering or mind-blowing revelation. Just simply, “I am becoming my mother.”

My mother was an alcoholic. So was her mother. Both died too young without ever finding recovery. Our stories are so similar.

With my need to rationalize being an alcoholic in my family, it was always so easy for me to point blame toward anything or anyone but myself. You have more than likely been present at those AA meetings when the person sharing says, “When did I become just like my alcoholic mother?” or “How did I turn out just like my alcoholic father?” Have you seen it? The scowl in their voice? The frown lines that form around the mouth? The arms that cross and are held tightly as if to protect themselves? This was me. Accusing, defiant, aggressive and pleading within myself to believe what was coming out of my own mouth. And I bet that you believed me too. Everybody needs an excuse, and I nurtured and protected mine for years.

But when I gave voice to those words so simply stated to my husband that Christmas day on the way home from the gift shop, all the ugliness that I defined my mother as, simply melted. She was a good and moral Christian woman who happened to be an alcoholic. Please do not get me wrong here. The forgiveness of self did not come as a result of forgiving her, but as the result of finally knowing the truth that was her.

I went on to tell my husband about the most beautiful and precious memories that she has left as a legacy to her daughters and family. My mother never had much in the way of earthly possessions. Her gifts were never extravagant or expensive. I hate to think that she ever felt guilty about that. What she would do for her children, grandchildren and any other precious child was so simple and honest. She would pick out little, inexpensive things and bring them out for all to play with and enjoy. Can you picture every child in the room holding on to something so simple as a punching balloon? The laughter, the joy and the simplicity of a moment like that is what life was about to her. My mother’s smile and joy was etched on my very soul in moments like that.

God’s grace allowed me to clearly see this. And it was no coincidence that it happened for me on Christmas day.

—Colleen P., Kerrville, Texas