Some moments spent over coffee have been filled with joy, celebration, and school-girl giggles while others have been burdensome and even life-changing, and every emotion and situation in between. Coffee (and sometimes wine and sometimes tequila, but mostly coffee) is the perfect pairing to share life and stories between friends.
It is forever imbedded in my mind the afternoon I sat across from my oldest daughter at our local coffee shop, mesmerized by my own reflection in her dark chocolate brown eyes. I had seen glimpses of myself in her throughout her entire childhood, but as she grew, the reflection grew stronger and with each misstep she took I feared her future would fall into pace with my past. I knew this well-trodden path, full of pitfalls, detours, and hairpin turns. I knew it better than she did; I had the scars to prove it, though barely noticeable after all these years and rarely, if ever, talked about, but never, never forgotten. I braced myself, trying to steady the beating of my nervous heart as I was about to dive into a conversation I wasn’t sure I was ever going to have with her; a conversation where shame and regret still loiter.
Like many parents, I’ve wondered how much of my past to share with my girls and have had many conversations (over coffee) with my fellow mommas about this very issue. I cannot even begin to tell you how heartbroken I have been to hear time and time again how every one of those mommas said they would never share their past with their children. I’ve remained quiet, feeling isolated in my opposing thoughts; thoughts of the potentially missed opportunities to connect on the deepest, heart-to-heart, level with our children. I had read an article when my oldest was just a wee girl, which said something to the effect of “What happened in the past determines what we take out of our daily lives” and I had added to this idea that our past also affects what we put into others. I have patterned portions of my parenting style with this in mind.
Sitting across from Abigail, with coffee in hand, I flashed back to the first moments when her precious 8 pound, 4-ounce body was place in my arms for the first time. Running my fingertips along her plump cheeks and kissing her head over and over again, I remember whispering countless promises to her; promises to love her the best I could, promises to show her her value, promises to guide her in Truth and wisdom, promises to be vulnerable and honest with her even when it was uncomfortable, even when it might paint me in a bad light, even if it meant she might use it against me or worse yet, follow in my footsteps. I wanted her to know I was not perfect and I didn’t have all the answers, but would give her all that I am and all that I have. A tall order for this then 22-year-old who, in hindsight, perhaps bit off more than she could chew.
When I say I might have bit off more than I could chew, I do not mean to imply that I ever wavered in keeping a single one of those promises! On the contrary! However, some of those promises came with a searing pain and bottomless tears that I could not have imagined all those years ago in our hospital room. I entered into parenting knowing that my past, my stories; my personal collection of lessons learned held immeasurable value for my girls. Our parenting is filtered through these lessons whether we share our stories with our children or not.
I was born a story teller. It’s part of my DNA and my Daddy nurtured and encouraged this part of who I am throughout my entire life until our last conversation this side of heaven (this is why I write today); but my stories are nostalgic at their least, transformative at their best. I, personally, stand in a long line of God’s redemptive acts through His people. We are a redeemed, forgiven, and loved people and recipients of God’s abundant grace. We are a privileged body, and a “royal priesthood”. I pause here for a moment…. and find myself so entirely overwhelmed with this beautiful, life-giving truth and shudder to think if my family’s legacy was not shared through stories, the joyful and the painful, I very well might have taken for granted these precious gifts and very well might have missed the fact that my identity is completely tied to the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Our past not only tells us who we are, it tells us who we are not.
So, I clear my throat and wipe the tears, which are already stinging the corner of my eyes and begin to paint the detailed strokes of who I once was, the mistakes I made at 19, her same age, and the forever consequences I now carry with me for the rest of my life. I share the pain, the shame, the regret, and I share how I coped, Who I learned to trust and rely on, and how it was in that single experience that my life was forever altered and because of those scares and the One Who born them for me, I live in freedom. I know my story pierced her heart and caused her to see me through a different lens.
Later, when I asked her if I had lost credibility with her, she let out a soft laugh and through a wistful smile said, “No, it actually gave you credibility. I respected you more. I knew I could talk to you about anything and you’d get it; I mean really get it”. Those seemingly taboo channels had been cleared, opening to an endless dialogue about hard things. I know she isn’t just hearing the words and advice I give her, I know she’s really listening, really taking it in. Her choices will still be her choices, of course. I cannot protect her from everything; but really, I don’t want to. I want her to have her own stories to learn and grow from. And when she does, she’ll know I’m right here with open arms and a heart that genuinely understands.
Our kids will remember our stories long after our advice is forgotten, and I hope they’ll learn from those stories. In time, they will have their own stories to add to our heritage and to pass along to another generation. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll share them over a cup of coffee!