Poor little mama. She could never catch a break. She was the surprise baby that supplanted the youngest brother and he never forgave her for that. She grew up in an angry household. She escaped to work in a factory in Detroit only to meet a very handsome man, elope and have a brief, but disappointing marriage.
Motherhood didn’t work out for her, either. It just wasn’t her thing and one of the wisest things she ever did was give me to my grandparents to raise. By the time I came around, things had mellowed out a bit so it wasn’t quite as hard as she’d had it.
One thing she did do very, very well. She was a hard worker. She worked for a major retailer, slowly climbing up the ranks in the bookkeeping department. Women didn’t hold managerial positions in her time, but she did make it up to office supervisor. She gave everything she had to that company, and yet when things got tight in the economy, they showed her the door via early retirement. The one thing she loved and was loyal to, didn’t love her back.
She thought I’d be her entertainment during retirement, but she just couldn’t be in relationship with me. When I drew the line and spelled out my boundaries, she chose to disconnect. For a decade. Actually, a bit more than a decade.
Still, when she was in need, I did step back in. I took care of her the last seven years of her life. It was rough on both of us, but she suffered the most. And then, she died. We buried her in the autumn in the same cemetery as her parents and grandmother. She was laid to rest in a new section of the cemetery – far away from her family. The sexton told us we couldn’t lay a headstone until the following year.
Because of other emergencies that life brought to us, I couldn’t get the headstone until this spring. I chose a small, pretty design. Nothing flashy, but it was the same color as her parents’ and I thought she’d like it. There was a family reunion in the area last weekend, so I went to visit.
Two hours, two phone calls (to Mike to call the sexton for me), and copious bug bites later, I finally found her headstone. It was wedged in between two other large family stones and looks like someone took a shoe horn to fit it in. You can see in the close-up photo that the stone on the right is an inch away. The stone on the left is the same. Nowhere else in the cemetery are the grave markers jammed together like that group. I was deeply saddened.
My poor little mama.
A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out an email account that I rarely use. Most of the emails were spam and I was deleting entire pages of junk when one message caught my eye. I can’t really tell you why I didn’t delete it with the rest. It was from someone I didn’t know, had an attachment, and the heading wasn’t something that I knew anything about. There was just a gentle nudge on my heart to check it out.
It was from a man named Robert Swenson representing a group called Freedom 58. He had seen my profile on a website I’d completely forgotten about. I had been invited to this group about ten years ago or so and I posted my contact info but never completed a page. Sort of like my LinkedIn or Google Plus profiles. Imagine my surprise when someone actually contacted me from this site (www.christiansinportraiture.com).
Mr. Swenson introduced himself and the ministry he and his wife are heading and asked if I’d be willing to donate a painting to help end human trafficking. I asked my husband if he’d ever heard of Robert Swenson, and he asked, “The All American football player?” Yes, that would be him. A former professional player for the Broncos was contacting me about portraiture for a ministry to work against human slavery. This was getting interesting.
I started researching the Freedom Fifty Eight Project. Part of Freedom 58 is this call to artists to donate their time to paint a portrait of someone who was formerly enslaved. Essentially, creating dignity portraits. Photos and canvases are supplied to the portraitist. The Freedom Fifty Eight Project is looking for a significant number of artists for this project with the hope to develop exhibits to showcase the problem. The art exhibits are dedicated to raising awareness about modern day slavery and other forms of violent oppression. The secondary purpose of the exhibits is to drive people to the web site www.Feedom58project.com for more information, resources and opportunities for action.
Once I realized this was a legitimate organization and request (as opposed to the “Dear Beloved, help me move money out of this country/ministry” scam), I contacted Mr. Swenson to ask more questions. He was very helpful and soon I found myself volunteering to paint not one, but two portraits.
Here are some things you may not know about modern day slavery…
There are 30 million slaves today
Human Trafficking is a $32 Billion Industry
2 million women and children are trafficked annually
Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world
Children as young as 6 years old are being trafficked
A large box containing photo reference materials, return postage labels, and canvases arrived this past weekend and Tuesday I laid in the first layer on one of the portraits. As I was painting this lovely young woman who radiates dignity, I found I was praying over her. It had been a lovely day.
This is a unique opportunity for artists to give the violently oppressed the first taste of dignity, beauty and hope through their own God given gifts and passion - in the form of a painting. To participate and to get more detailed information on the vision and opportunity please email Bob Swenson at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Freedodm Fifty Eight Project, go to http://www.freedom58project.com/about-us/purpose/
I hope you’ll join me in supporting this cause, and I hope you’ll share this information with others.
On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Ancestory.com made their database available to the public to research World War II veterans. That is how I found out that my father had been dead for over ten years.
If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you'll be aware that my father was absent for most of my life. He and my mother separated when I was three years old and divorced when I was four, in an era when divorce was not common. When I was a young adult, my mother told me he had visited once, when I was around six. She had asked him not to tell me he was my father because she feared (rightly so, it turned out) that he would never visit again.
It must have been a good visit, because at one point I put my arms around his neck and said to her, “I really like this man.” Try as I might, I cannot dredge up that memory, nor do I have any photos of him. He's a complete stranger to me.
Since he had nothing to do with my upbringing (on top of all his other sins, he was a deadbeat as well), you would think that learning about his death would have little impact. You would be wrong.
There's something deep inside us that longs to know who we belong to. Even though I was a middle aged adult, there was a faint hope in my heart that someday – someday – I would get a change to meet him. What I hoped to get out of that meeting, I couldn't tell you.
The pragmatic side of me figured he'd probably hit me up for money I didn't have, or perhaps an organ donation after a lifetime of dissipation. Was this a road I really wanted to go down? But the abandoned child in me was hoping for a daddy. I grew up with an orphaned spirit.
Please understand that I am not comparing myself to children in third world countries who are completely destitute. I am well aware I was blessed to have a grandmother who cared for me. I was fed and clothed. Nor am I saying that I am a victim; I am not playing the fatherless card. But I had been abandoned by the most important figures in my life – my parents. Because of that, the idea of relating to God as a Father has been a challenge throughout my life.
It’s not that God hasn’t been demonstrating or speaking of His love to me. Rather, it’s that I haven’t been able to receive it. Trust was damaged, and once broken it is very difficult to repair. Nonetheless, God is persistent. Over the years, through countless situations, He has revealed Himself to really care about even the smallest areas of my life. Proving that someone, indeed, claimed me for His own. I wasn’t orphaned, I was adopted…by the best Dad in the world.
Healing has been slow. It’s taken decades and I’m not completely whole even now. There have been powerful Divine encounters that completely blew the lid off of everything I thought I knew. There have been quiet moments that affirmed His love. It begs the question – why doesn’t He just do one big healing, set me straight and get it all over with?
I really don’t know.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.