On a warm summer afternoon a couple years ago I was walking along an art festival with my husband and children. Tents were set up along the pedestrian mall with artists of every medium showcasing their beautiful work. We passed a tent of oil paintings and out of the corner of my eye I saw a piece that stopped me in my tracks. On the right side of the abstract painting a stormy sea held a fragile and tiny black ship in turbulent, angry water. It looked like the ship was about to disappear into the frothing darkness, but just a breath away was the most vividly happy sky and a sea so calm it looked like a swimming pool. Dripping pinks, the loveliest shades of yellow, the most peaceful hues of blue. If the ship could just stay afloat a mere moment longer, it would be safe from the storm. The title of the painting read, “Lonely Days are Over”. It always amazes me how life presents to us what we’re ready for in the moments we least expect: My whole life summed up in a stranger’s painting as I’m standing on a crowded street downtown.

The first memory of my life was the day my dad left. He sat me, my brother, and my sister down on a beanbag in the basement and he said goodbye. I was two years old and my mom was upstairs in the kitchen wearing an apron crying. His decision to abandon us set in motion the first of a series of heartaches that to this day still render me breathless. My mom was loving and good, and she made the best decision she thought possible. She wanted us to have a father figure, and she fell in love and married a minister who was manipulative and turned out to be pretty bad. His two sons came into our home and our happy, safe childhood vanished overnight. For the next dozen years my sister, brother and I were abused. Home was a scary place. It was cold. There was no safety. There was no warmth. There was just the sad reality that every day after school I had to walk home, and go back into that house. Those were the loneliest days of my life.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. I took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” Becoming a mother was when I began to unwrap the gifts of my painful past. I look at my beautiful son and daughter and I want to give them what I didn’t have. So I show them sunsets and starlight. I deeply listen and I read them stories. I dance with them and tuck them in with a lullaby. I hold them and tell them how much they are loved. I give so that we have a home that is cozy, happy and safe. And in all that giving I am healed. I see in my children’s eyes the fact that they have never been truly scared. And I am healed. I am married to a man who is my soul mate in every way. And I am healed. When my children have a hard day, I sit on the floor with them in my lap and listen. And I am healed. When my kids go screeching down the hallway to greet their dad at the end of his workday, he picks them up and twirls them above the ground. And I am healed. Motherhood is messy and full of mistakes and days you wish you could have back and do all over again. But it is bursting with the noisiest, fullest, purest, most beautiful love. The gift of motherhood is that we all get to let this love wash over us and heal our painful hearts. 

I sleep with the painting from the art festival over my bed. It reminds me with gratitude that we can choose our own reality. That wecan patch together a life that is more than our inner child could ever have fathomed. That with deep pain comes the capacity for such colorful joy. It reminds me how motherhood has pushed the limits of what I ever thought my heart could hold and that I can mother myself where I needed it when I was a child. My home is happy. My children are safe. My lonely days are over.

D’Ann is a natural light photographer living with her husband and children on a little farm in Boulder.  She loves being outdoors with her children and photographs their world every single day.  Visit her online at www.smittenandswoon.com and www.instagram.com/smittenandswoon.

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Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.