My Challenging South Seattle Mama

Mother's Day, 2016

Mother’s Day, 2016

When I first began working with Becca at Rainier Health & Fitness, I found her rather annoying, even bully-like. We had several disputes and I felt insulted when she would greet me at my stand-up desk by kicking my butt.

“How rude and disrespectful,” I thought.

In fact, after a few months of working at the gym, I told my best friend, “If our manager, Becca, ever becomes my supervisor, I’m gonna quit.”

Well, the following week I learned that roles were shifting, Becca was getting promoted as director, and, simultaneously, would become my direct supervisor!

Our most heated conflict occurred when I oversaw the creation of a new branded hoodie, and Becca didn’t like the design. She wanted to simply slap our logo onto the hoodies. We decided to ask gym members which image they preferred, and whichever design got the most votes, we would print. Seeing that most members were voting for the new image, Becca campaigned at our office, swinging the vote in her favor by our coworkers…most of whom never ordered a hoodie. She got her way, but we lost money on the project. And I was furious.

gym

Celebrating the 10th-year birthday of Rainier Health & Fitness

Soon after, however, I learned about the Enneagram personality types. Specifically, the number 8, also known as “The Challenger”, seemed to me to describe Becca. The 8 needs to be in control; some sources even describe the 8 as someone with a “need for conflict.” However, they are also extremely loyal to their groups, their tribe, their family—and anyone whom they perceive as their family. All of a sudden, I understood Becca. A strong woman, she was someone whom I wanted to fight with, not against. I also realized, for instance, that her playful kick to my butt was how she showed love and affection! So when she booted my rear end, I kicked back. When she hurled an insult, I retorted. She began to respect me more which caused us to bond. Instead of conflict between us, we became fighters together, dedicated to making our business, ministry, and one another’s lives a success.

The season of working alongside Becca’s corresponded with my diving deep into the Enneagram for self-reflection, growth, and healing. I learned that I exhibit the personality traits of an Enneagram 7 with a 6 wing, but that when someone develops both their wings, they become much more balanced. Working with Becca helped develop my 8 wing in the form of greater confidence, boldness, and strength. Even more enlightening was identifying my own mother as a 9 on the Enneagram, the Peacemaker. I came to realize that I had an aching gap in my soul from a lack of connection with my mother, partly due to her personality and partly to her pregnancy with and care for my younger brother during my second year of life which confined her to  bed rest and subsequently demanded her caregiver attention when he was born a preemie.

Of the nine personality types described on the Enneagram, the Challenger and the Peacemaker stand in sharpest contrast. Where the Peacemaker avoids conflict at all costs, the Challenger creates it! Where the Peacemaker is indecisive and unsure, the Challenger usually has a strong opinion. Where a Peacemaker often allows people around them a lot of freedom but consequently struggles to form deep bonds, a Challenger has extremely tight bonds with the few people in their group whom they feel also have their back.

Slowly and somewhat miraculously, a tight bond formed between me and Becca. I recognized she was filling a role and space in my life that had been painfully empty, and as our relationship deepened, it enabled me to find inner healing. One year on Mother’s Day, I drove to the church where her niece/daughter* was preaching to commemorate the day together. A couple weeks later, I visited my own mother in Arkansas where I experienced God’s healing power in our relationship, a connection that I had never previously experienced.

No one wants to hear the news that someone they love has cancer…let alone two people they love! Perhaps it was fitting, though, that I learned of Becca’s diagnosis within minutes of hearing about my own mother’s. However, in contrast to my mom’s breast cancer which was dealt with rapidly through a mastectomy, Becca was experiencing stage 4 liver cancer. Yet whenever I inquired about her condition, she always asked about my mom’s health.

Becca reading Scripture at our wedding

Becca reading Scripture at our wedding

In addition to both her and my mom facing cancer, Becca and I also bonded over her struggle with her daughter Christina’s mental illness, an experience that coincided with one of my family members. Sadly, the illness ultimately caused Tina to end her young life. At her daughter’s funeral, the church was packed with guests spilling into the foyer and down the stairs. I watched in amazement as this strong woman stood at the front of the sanctuary facing her child’s open casket and praised God from the depth of her being. I learned that Tina would have turned 25 later that year—a season of life when most parents are anticipating their grown child’s wedding, instead Becca planned her child’s funeral. It hit me that she would never experience her only daughter’s wedding, so I asked my fiancé if we could honor her at our wedding in a couple months. He instantly agreed! On our wedding day, Becca stood alongside my family on the front row and was our guest reader of Scripture from Proverbs 31.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Becca started asking about babies soon after my marriage. My husband reminded me that part of the reason she frequently inquired stemmed from her desire to see our child while she was alive. Then, I had a dream that I was on a phone call with Becca, informing her she would be the first person I told, after my husband, should we find out we were expecting. In my dream she said, “After you tell your mom though, right?” and I replied, “No, I will tell you first!” Well, when I found out I was expecting, guess who I called first to share our news that a little one was on the way?! And just like in my dream Becca asked, “You’ve told your mom, right? You need to call her right now!”

But a couple months later, shortly before Christmas, Becca’s family and closest friends gathered for a celebration. Glancing across the room, I didn’t recognize her at first, so thin and frail, so unlike the feisty, weight-lifting middle-aged woman I’d worked alongside only a year before. I approached her and pointed to my stomach that was just beginning to show the life forming inside. I was excited for her to one day meet the child she had much-anticipated. But she was slipping away. She asked if I was having contractions and I told her no, it was much too early for those. Family and friends began singing and sharing memories of her, then she cut us short. She was tired. Her body was tired. But her soul, her spirit, was as strong as I’d ever known. She seemed to have this deep sense of peace that’s so rare to witness in a human, let alone an Enneagram 8.

Mom holding my son at Christmastime

Mom holding my son at Christmastime, December 2019

Becca never got to meet our son. On Christmas Day of 2018, she passed from this life. I was grateful to have gotten to join the final celebration of family and close friends, to see her one last time. I knew then I would likely miss her funeral because on Christmas Day, my husband and I were on a flight headed to the other side of the globe. I learned of her death a week after it occurred, and we were still abroad when the funeral commenced.

Yet the impact Becca had continues to shape who I am today. A photo of us together sits on my bed stand. Every day when I glance towards it, I’m reminded of how her influence has made me stronger as a mother, daughter, wife, and friend. It’s with all my love and thoughts I dedicate this Mother’s Day tribute to you, my beloved South Seattle Mama.

*what they described as a typical Samoan-fluid family relationship