Italian Villas and Morning Confessions

I sat in her office, staring at a golden-framed poster of an Italian villa.

 How did I wind up here?

In honor of this new skin on the old blog, I’m throwing an open house. For the month of July and into the first days of August I am going to introduce you to some others in my life who have their real stories of how He has used the seemingly “bitter”  to create new space for Him (and sandwiched in between I’ll have some of my own writing). Though I could write a whole post about each one of them, I’ll let their stories speak for themselves. 
I met Karen Yates when her husband became my literary agent and after about five minutes of knowing her I decided she was definitely my favorite type of person: deep and aware of her heart in God, yet one who doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s sassy. I feel like I won a team when I signed with Yates & Yates because of Karen’s involvement in the unfolding of Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet. So what else would I do, other than share her with you? The post today spoke right to that spot in me that’s real enough you can’t dismiss it.  
You might just want to print this one and read over your lunch break — it’s worth a pause.

My child, my beautiful child that I did not grow in my womb but grew in my heart, that I agonized over for over a year until my husband was ready, and then worried over for almost a year while I waited to find out if he was born, if he was fed, if he was healthy, that I carried in an navy-blue Ergo for months and months after he finally joined our family, that I sang to in the quiet of 3 am night feedings, and watched take his first steps, whose first word was “hhhhhi,” was now almost five-years-old and hurting.

How do you know when you are in over your head?   

Barbed Fence MJ

What I wanted from the MFT sitting across from me, what I desperately craved from God sitting beside me, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, was a solution.  I wanted balm for my son’s wounds.  I wanted healing for our family.  I wanted the scars of threatening words and flailing tantrums and the shame and guilt of insecurity to go away.  Just tell me what I need to do to make it better.

But it wasn’t going away.  It was getting worse.

I sought advice.  I adjusted our parenting styles.  We increased our attentiveness.  We buckled down on discipline.  I read article after article and book after book.  I prayed – oh God, did I pray – night after night, hour after hour, for strength and courage and wisdom and answers and grace for all the deficiencies we lacked.

How do I not let fear overwhelm me?  How do I cope with the myriad of emotions, the sorrow and helplessness and confusion and guessing that we parents do, and the way our heart breaks for our children’s stubbed toes, let alone their cracked, oozing souls?    

More than anything in the recesses of my heart, I felt alone.  Intellectually and theologically I trusted God was with me.  But this problem I couldn’t solve had stirred up those dark childhood wounds, the ones so repressed I didn’t know they even existed, when this eight-year-old girl tried to stay out of the way, attempted to not be a bother to two hurting parents, avoided depending on anyone other than herself, and tucked sacred secrets into the hard-to-reach corners of her tiny, 60 lb frame.  Deep down, since the second-grade, I had come to a conclusion: I was capable.  I was competent.  I was on my own.

Until I felt incapable.  And incompetent.

What drives a parent to her knees more than her own children? 

Scraps MJ

The hollowness of bitter, desperate, broken places are what eventually lead us into tear-stained confessions.  I sat on a taupe couch, with a burgundy pillow, staring at at that Italian villa.  On the outside, I looked cool, calm, and unfettered, but on the inside my heart was racing.  I was in flight mode.  I was imagining escape routes, trips I could take, stories I could dream up, novels I could re-read to avoid the cloud of unknowing.  And yet somehow, in what could only be a miracle, I stayed psychologically present long enough to articulate out loud, I need you, God.  Not I need you to solve this, or I need you to guide me, or I need you to rescue us, or I need you to give me wisdom.  Just, I need you.  And the tears began to fall.

It’s a beautiful thing to admit you have needs. 

Every parent longs to meet the deep, anxious, and desperate needs of his child. What I began to realize was that while I wanted to meet my son’s needs, God stood by eagerly trying to meet mine.  

It was many days, many months of saying over and over, I need you. 


I began to recite this morning confession: I am a finite being.  I have limitations.  I am human and make mistakes.  I get tired, I get sick, I lose my temper, I don’t have all the answers.  I am not God.  I need God. 

And slowly I started to taste the sweetness of being needy.  I savored the in-between, when nothing made sense and solutions lay dormant and I felt afraid, but I also felt enormous peace.  I am not on my own, and I don’t need to feign courage I don’t have, or sit in guilt-ridden responsibility for the mistakes I have made and will probably make in the days to come.

I began to feel free. 

Months later, I met a friend at Starbucks and as we sipped on our lattes she recounted breast cancer treatments and telling her children she needed a mastectomy.  There was a lengthy, ghastly pause in the conversation.  The girl who once tried to fix everything now sat in a sympathetic hush.  I had no solutions or answers.  I am not God.  And I know what it feels like to be utterly dependent on Someone else, and the scary vulnerability that comes from not knowing.

Today, because you might be wondering, it’s over a year later, and my little man is much improved.  And so am I. This is the sweet love of the Father, lavished on me in my living room.

KarenKaren E Yates is a writer, seminary student, dabbler in book marketing with @YatesandYates, and sushi addict.
A mother of three short humans, two by birth and one via adoption, she writes on spiritual formation, adoption, publishing, and church culture.
She blogs at and tweets: @KarenYates11