Sunrise at my grandparents' house in Scott Valley, California

Sunrise at my grandparents’ house in Scott Valley, California

I mentioned in a blip of my last month’s post that I had several isolated days at my grandparents home this summer. The forces (including my mother, my in-laws,  the heavens above, and the calendering masters of my university) conspired together to give me the opportunity, motivation, and some time alone to write my deceased grandmother’s history this summer. I’m still too much in the sacred space of creation and the hard slog of work to share, or say “look what I’ve done!” No,  that would still be presumptive at this point- there are still chapters to write, ideas to shape and logistics to figure. I mention it as context, and justification for why I’ve been rifling her papers and journals.

Buried in the bottom of a wee handmade cedar jewelry box I discovered my grandmother’s patriarchal blessing. The patina of the paper indicated it’s frequent handling. It was the original transcription, made by her own mother in 1950. Where I found the box in the closet I knew it hadn’t been touched for some time. My grandmother had passed away two years ago, and been sick for several months prior. Solemnly pulling the box from its safe storage I sat down on her bed where I had not sat since she was there in the bed, resting beside me as I rubbed her hands and feet, tears slipping down my face, knowing I had to leave, and she would too.

I wondered if I was violating something personal and a still space, sitting there again and opening the papers. A calm pacified me, and an excitement to know my grandma better won out; I began reading. One line struck me: “Think well of yourself.” I would have never thought of my grandmother as someone to need that admonition. She wasn’t over confident or self-disrespecting. She was a woman who knew her gifts, and played them to the best of her ability to the betterment of herself and others. The line continues, cautioning that others would never view her better than she rated herself. I don’t know how my grandmother may have needed that advice, but I am certain she wore it into her soul as she read the blessing regularly. Perhaps I should wear it well into mine too. I think I need it.

*     *    *

During a recent return trip to our old stomping grounds in Baltimore my husband and I had the pleasure of dining with friends we love and admire. The evening was a cluster more good conversations that I could engage in in the time I had. At my bidding everyone went around the room catching us up on the their lives and activities. They asked the same about my life and oohed and clapped at all the right places. Yet, marveling at their successes, radiance, and the loveliness of the evening I wondered at my luckiness that these neat people let me call them friends. Driving away that night, I conceded to my husband that I felt like a bit of a charlatan; and as though I am only playing at what I do comparative to our brilliant friends.

*    *     *

    My first semester back in school, taking the obligatory literary theory class for my English master’s program: I am barely keeping my head above water trying to my brain make sense of the dense academic readings. In class I put on a charade; I am certain my slow wit will be discovered at any moment. It doesn’t help that the class has almost no checkpoints and grades prior to the final paper. Fearing doom, I turn in the paper the last possible minute. When my grade it posted weeks later, I’m tempted to magnet the evidence to the fridge to remind myself its real,  I’m so baffled I have an A.

*     *     *

I feel like I’m always doubting my worthiness. That I’m giving what I can, and I’m certain that inadequate sum is inadequate. I read my own patriarchal blessing and wonder how those words and offerings could really play out. How do I think well of myself? And not constantly insult my own efforts? How do I weigh that balance between humility and personal esteem?

Two weeks ago, I hauled myself, my kids and my computer up to my parents house for a few days so I could take some time to write my grandmother’s story while my mother kept the kids fed and from harming each other. Sitting down at dinner my mother, who occasionally shows symptoms of my own disease, personal dissatisfaction, announced that her creations weren’t quite what she had hoped: to herself,  to everyone around the table and my sister who texted in during the meal.  It tasted good, filled me up, and she made it for me so I could work- I was more than satisfied. After similar validation from my father, with only two bites to go, my mother relented, and released herself: she didn’t mind the flaws, and liked the dish after all. I laughed enjoying the humor of the meal, and watching my mother play out what appears to be a family trait.

Yeah, I’m familiar with that dissatisfaction with my works; but often I see how that resistance to satiety pushes me to try harder and work for more; it doesn’t always function as a negative. When my mother first asked me to take on this project and write text to my grandmother’s life I was baffled how to do it, and doubted my ability to capture her struggles, goodness and love in my own words. I took those questions to my prayers and the thoughts I roll around in my head at night as I contemplated the logistics of the project. I knew I couldn’t do enough to adequately convey all she did and was, but I needed to do it anyway. Elbows deep in the project, I still think that.

I don’t have to be fully satisfied with my achievements or even my meager attempts to put words to my grandmother’s life, it’s okay to ask more of myself. But I do need to be kind to myself, and not let those constructive criticisms of my accomplishments be destructive assessments of myself. My grandmother wore the paper that divine caution was printed on well with frequent handling. Sitting there on her bed, holding that same paper in my own hands, I sense her there in the empty space beside me: nodding and smiling– Yes, please, think well of yourself, but keep working.


  1. Eliana

    August 13, 2013

    I appreciate this. I perhaps needed it as well.

  2. Aunt Julie

    August 13, 2013

    Hey Sweetie – I have these pages from Grandma’s journal that I’m wondering if you would like a copy of? It’s one of those little books where they feed you the questions and you answer…there are not many pages, but it gives a couple of sweet stories of when Grandma was a little girl. Let me know if this is something you could use ;).

  3. Michelle

    August 13, 2013

    You are doing a fabulous job. Never doubt your abilities.

  4. Ana of the Nine+ Kids

    August 13, 2013

    A dear friend of mine made a wreath one time and was dissatisfied with it. Because the wreath had not turned out how she wanted, she sighed and said that she was “just no good.” Because of an apple wreath. “You shouldn’t base your self-worth on an apple wreath,” I admonished her. I would never have remembered saying that except that she told me later that it had helped her a lot. I’ve thought often of it since, how many [silly] things do I base MY self-worth on? We forget it a lot, but our worth is inherent and not subject to change. Like that (totally cliche) metaphor of dingy coins. They may not look like much but they are still worth something, and still redeemable at the store. Us too.

  5. Heather B from SC

    August 13, 2013

    I spent years waiting until I could do something correctly to begin to attempt it at all. It’s a horrible curse, hyper-competence. I was inherently rather good at many things, talent was expected of me in whatever I tried (not from my parents, from myself) so in order to try anything new, I would make darn well sure that I could do it well _before_ I tried… and thus left out many new experiences in the process.

    When our lives became inflamed with chronic illness, and worse, when not only my body but my mind began to fail as the neurological symptoms crept in, I realized my fatal flaw- all these joys I was refusing, because I wasn’t positive that I could perfect them? Foolishness. And all because I was NOT thinking well of myself, but was attempting instead to protect what other people thought of me? What absolute nonsense.

    Now I have a massive amount of fun, instead, failing miserably and happily while I attempt new things, blundering, often idiotically, and leave bits half done and projects laying about. I’m learning many things I refused before because I was so sure I wasn’t good a them. I make friends with women who amaze me (ahem… Segullah…) and contribute where I can, don’t berate myself for when I don’t have the time or energy for contribution, and merrily soak up love and information where it lies. Meanwhile… I’m finding I’m actually less competent than I used to be, but far more satisfied and capable of learning than before. I may not ever be again as able to blind anyone with my brilliance or beauty, or other visible talents…but I don’t need to, either. I’m happy instead to be continually learning, and to have my brain back to a point where I can be gathering talents and information, using what I can, and rejecting none because of my vanity.

    I identify so much with this post! I’m sick of apologizing for not being good enough, for being insufficient to much of the world. I love being older, rounder, less outwardly intelligent, and yet also somehow far smarter than I was before illness hit our family. It took many crises before I was willing to NOT base my value on how well I do, or don’t do, any particular skill, and I still struggle often with that problem. It may always be with me. But when I can look from my own eyes, and not at myself from other’s perspective, I feel accomplished. Now, ask me again in a week, after our family reunion, and I might feel differently…

  6. Maj-Lén Anderson

    August 14, 2013

    How much I needed that today, or should I say all of it. Thank you!
    Why is it that we so often don’t fully appreciate health and freedom of movement and particularly our loved ones until we either loose them or come close to doing so?
    Loosing ones health shouldn’t be what sets us free from our own critisizm, but it is so true with me too. That is when the fact that the Lord loves me unconditionally finally has started to sink in.
    Thank you for the shareing. It makes the struggles seem less somehow.

  7. Sandra

    August 14, 2013

    Ana- I do love that analogy.

    Heather- why don’t we know each other better?

    Maj-Len- I’m so glad.

  8. Giggles

    August 19, 2013

    Wonderfully put. That is definitely advice we could all wear into our souls. If I don’t think I’m any good, why should anybody else?

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