Authors: Alexandra Kuykendall
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Religious
© 2013 by Alexandra Kuykendall
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from
by Eugene H. Peterson, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations labeled NLT are from the
, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920, www.alivecommunications.com.
To protect the privacy of those who have shared their stories with the author, some details and names have been changed.
The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.
“The true power of a mom is vast and immeasurable, springing from the story of who she is, past and present. To fully understand this story is a profound discovery and the exact opportunity offered to the reader in
The Artist’s Daughter
. Through poignant portrayal of her own life journey, Alexandra Kuykendall inspires reflection and extends an invitation to every woman to join her on an introspective journey into how God has uniquely crafted
. Why have you experienced the things in life that you have, and how have they shaped you? This is the path of discovery you will travel as you engage in
The Artist’s Daughter
. A rare must-read treat!”
, CEO and president, MOPS International
“Alexandra Kuykendall has lived and written a beautiful, heartbreaking, grace-soaked story. This is a book for every person who has wondered what love, family, and grace really mean, and for those of us who have longed to know that no matter our story, grace is the ending. A lovely, honest, important book.”
, author of
Bread & Wine
“There is such power in a story. And I am convinced there is a story that lies within all of us.
The Artist’s Daughter
brings to life the power of a story and at the same time challenges us all to dig in and discover the one we were created to tell.”
, award-winning musician
“As any mother knows, one of the scariest parts of motherhood is figuring out all over again who we are. Where the old me ends and the new-mom me begins. In this book Alex takes us by the hand and gently, artfully walks us through her wrenching transition. A journey made up of her colliding cultures and her absent father as much as of her labors and deliveries. Any mother who has felt lost in her new identity will find a friend in this book. It is the real deal—the hard, beautiful, and holy view of motherhood from one mom to another trying to make sense of the preschool years.”
, social media manager for DaySpring and blogger
The Artist’s Daughter
, Alexandra Kuykendall layers the lessons of her childhood with those of her adult life to discover just what—and who—has really formed her identity as a woman, mom, and leader. With colorful and honest brushstrokes, she welcomes us all into the studio of her life, where we gain an understanding of the master artist’s work in our own identity formation.”
, author, speaker, publisher, FullFill.org; president emerita, MOPS International
“A refreshing perspective on motherhood, forgiveness, faith, and belonging—easy to read and beautifully written. Alexandra Kuykendall is a gentle, trustworthy storyteller. I adore this book.”
Emily P. Freeman
, author of
Grace for the Good Girl
“I was moved, truly moved, so powerfully by this book. A raw, powerful, and honest read! Alexandra reaches into the beauty and ache of a daughter’s soul and takes the reader on the journey toward a deeper, more connected life with God. Her story is a cacophony of vibrant love and loss and all that we experience during the moments in between. A truly relatable story that has changed my heart. I recommend it so very highly!”
, pastor for women and author of
“God’s love is messy business, and Alexandra shows herself in the midst of the mess. While her story is about as different from my own as one could be, she and I grew up searching for the same things: unconditional love, security, and acceptance. You will be inspired to ask yourself the same messy questions about love, God, and your relationship to him that Alexandra did, and you will be closer to him for the experience.”
, speaker and author of
The Me Project
Praying God’s Word for Your Husband
For all of my family circles.
You shape my heart each day.
Especially for my mother.
You showed me the world
and gave me your everything.
I am forever grateful.
Section 1 Insecurity
Section 2 Love Is a Choice
iv. Choose Me
Section 3 Trust
Section 4 Legacy
Section 5 Motherhood
Section 6 Friendship
Section 7 Coming into My Own
i. My Baby—Myself
ii. O Christmas Tree
iii. Daddy’s Girls
Section 8 The Main Thing
iii. The Right Way
Section 9 The Accident
iii. The Wall
Section 10 Fear
ii. Facing It
Section 11 Ten Days
i. Fast and Furious
ii. At My End
iii. Phone Call
iv. I’m Okay
Epilogue: My Inheritance
Questions for Reflection
About the Author
uly afternoons in Barcelona are hot and still. It was a week before my ninth birthday, and the heat made me, an American girl, want to hide and find relief. To find reprieve from the stifling air, from the questions of who I was and where I came from. There was no escaping any of it as I sat next to my mother in the backseat of the cab while we drove to a designated café. My legs stuck together from the sweat, and I wanted to scratch and squirm. Despite my age, I was good at holding things in, so I willed myself to sit still and pushed my nerves and excitement down, piling them onto the mountain of questions and unease I’d been holding in my entire life. Maybe today would be a new beginning, and the holes from my past would start to fill. I forced my breath out slowly and looked out the window at the tree-lined streets speeding by.
I knew that when we finally arrived and I stepped out of the cab, I needed to present my best self. I’d waited years for this moment and I wanted to be ready. Looking down at my stiff, royal blue and white cotton dress, I smoothed out the wrinkles with sticky palms. I decided again the dress was a good choice for the occasion.
I wanted to be more than beautiful. I wanted to be captivating to the man I was about to meet for the first time: my father.
The cab ride was a splurge; my mother wanted to be on time, and we both wanted to look our best. The splurge allowed us to wear pretty, impractical shoes that wouldn’t have worked walking blocks from a subway station. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. What made my mom look him up in the phone book the day before? Had she been planning on seeing him all along? And why hadn’t I known he lived here before we arrived in this city for our vacation?
My mother sat in her sundress next to me, her tanned shoulders hinting at our recent weeks of walking through Italian tourists’ sights and sitting on Spanish beaches. She looked straight ahead, and I got the feeling she was remembering another time. I wondered if the landmarks whizzing by looked familiar to her, but I was afraid to ask because I sensed the memories weren’t simple—and weren’t meant for me. She was my model for holding it together under pressure, and her cues told me now was one of those times. I leaned toward the open window and felt the warm breeze on my face as it blew my hair back. I examined each stone apartment building we passed and wondered if that was where my father lived.
As the taxi pulled up to the curb, my mother looked down at me. She rarely talked about her feelings, but we spent almost every minute together, and I read apprehension in her eyes, then determination to push through the discomfort for my sake. Her eyes asked me,
Are you ready for this?
Why had she arranged this meeting? Maybe because she thought I had a right to meet my father—or he had a right to meet me. I knew she was proud of me, so maybe she wanted to show me off. Or maybe it was simply because I had been asking more questions the last few years and we were in Barcelona.
She broke our gaze, and I noticed her jaw was tense as she opened her coin purse and deliberately counted out the pesetas
for the cab fare. Reaching her arm over the front seat to the driver with an elegance she brought to every gesture, she handed him the coins with an expert “
.” Just past her fortieth birthday, she was, without a doubt, a beautiful woman, and even at eight I knew men recognized that.
I peered over her sun-browned shoulder as she paid, expecting to see someone I recognized. A man I was sure would be handsome, probably rugged and tan, definitely tall. I thought he would be standing at the corner waiting for us, but all I saw was an empty sidewalk with the heat rising off it and, in the distance, a café patio covered by a striped fabric awning, creating some shade for the few people scattered at the tables. He probably hadn’t arrived yet. Otherwise he’d surely be standing at the corner waiting for us, for me.
My mother slid her long legs out of the car, and I scooted along the vinyl backseat bench of the cab, my dress sticking to the back of my legs as I followed her out the curbside door. I had daydreamed about this moment with increasing frequency the last few years, sure it would be a reunion of Hallmark quality with lots of hugs, laughing, and recognition.
Stepping out of the car, I looked down again at my dress and repeated the smoothing motion with my hands. The colors reminded me of the Dutch tableware that belonged to my babysitter back home in Seattle. And the style reminded me of the Dutch girls painted on the plates and cups. The dress had puffy sleeves, a full skirt, and crisscrossing threads in the front, like a corset, that were pulled tight and tied in a bow. The blue matched the color of my eyes, the eyes that often drew compliments from strangers. The dress was the result of a shopping spree with my mom a few days earlier, and I wore it with expectation.
My mother and I paused at the corner, looking at the café’s patio a few doors down, sweat beads forming on our foreheads. It was siesta time, and Barcelona natives were home avoiding the
midday heat. The traffic noise was quieted to the occasional buzz of a scooter. Most of the thirty wrought-iron tables in front of us were empty. My mother’s hand slid into mine. I followed her silent lead as she walked toward the covered patio. Her arms and gait matched the stiffness I’d noticed in her jaw. I did my own imitation of a royal walk, keeping my chin up and my back straight like a princess entering the ballroom to finally meet her prince.
We were on the tail end of a yearlong adventure. We’d left the United States the summer before to move to Italy, where my mother found a job in a small factory town, teaching English to middle managers of local industries. For a year we lived the expatriate lifestyle, something she was used to from her years of living overseas as an English teacher—but I wasn’t. I missed french fries and Saturday morning cartoons and was tired of being the outsiders in a small town that didn’t see many of them. So together we decided to move back to Seattle and call our adventure quits. On our way home, we stopped in Barcelona for a month to visit the friends my mom had made in the four years she’d lived there: two years before my birth and two after.
As we approached the café patio, my eyes quickly moved across the group of tables, assessing the few patrons seated outside. I was only interested in the men and quickly sized up each one. Some were sitting with women, their conversations hushed. Only a handful of the male customers were seated alone, and none of them jumped out as the man in waiting.
“There he is,” my mom said in almost a whisper, barely moving her lips. I thought she must be wrong, because I’d already searched the tables and didn’t see anyone who could be my father.
An old man stood up. He was looking at us, smiling, but I was sure he couldn’t be my father. He had whitish-gray hair, long in the back, and his long-sleeved dress shirt and pants were wrinkled, like he had slept in them the night before. He looked like an aged, disheveled hippy, and I felt disappointment take over. In my mind,
dads were in their midthirties with business suits and clean-cut hair, like models in the JCPenney catalog.
The old man waved at my mom, and despite my desire for a younger, more chiseled version, she gave a small wave back. This couldn’t be right. This couldn’t be the man I had wondered about the last few years, who I’d drawn pictures for with his first name written across the top. Who I’d hoped would love me so much when he saw me that he would not let any more years go by without me.
Before I could convince my mother otherwise, we floated toward his table and sat down across from him. He and my mother gave the customary European quick kiss on each cheek. He sat down, stared at me, and smiled. The butterflies in my stomach had changed to running mountain goats. I looked away, not sure what the next step in the process should be. My daydreams about this moment hadn’t included awkwardness. I looked down at his hands resting on the table. There were age spots on them.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asked me in English that carried a heavy accent. I looked at my mother for permission, and she gave a slight nod, indicating to go ahead and order whatever I wanted. I was thirsty from the heat but knew a Coke would come in a bottle half the size of the United States version, and without ice. Even though a Coke sounded refreshing, I didn’t want to be disappointed by the two-sip-sized soda.
“A Yoo-hoo, please,” I answered. I knew the chocolate milk in a bottle would be more and I could make it last longer.
When the young waitress returned to put our drinks on the table, the old man spoke with her in a language I didn’t understand. She laughed at his words with a familiarity. Was it because he knew her, or was he just flirtatious? Was this his regular spot? If so, was she wondering who I was?
I took small sips of my chocolate drink, trying to make it last as long as possible as my mom made small talk with this foreigner.
She explained our year in Italy. I knew the story well—she wanted me to learn a second language and figured soon I would be too old to learn one quickly. And now we were headed back to Seattle.
“We’re only in Barcelona two more weeks,” she said, making it clear this was a short-term visit.
My Yoo-hoo tasted cool and thick and sweet, but already I knew it wasn’t enough. Just like the man sitting across the table from me. I already felt he wasn’t enough. Not what I had in mind when I ordered a father. I’d waited so long, it seemed doubly unfair that now I would have to get the secondhand model.
He leaned toward me from across the table and picked up one of my hands and turned it over in his. His fingers were long, with dirt under the fingernails. As he touched my hand, his skin felt soft and wrinkled. A shiver went through me and I started feeling more anxious. I wanted to leave.
“Your fingers, they are long,” he said with pride. I didn’t answer, not sure what the proper response was. “Thank you” didn’t seem right. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother’s excellent posture.
His gaze moved from the top of my head down and across my face from ear to ear. He was searching me. Did he need, as I did, to find something familiar in the person in front of him?
“Your eyes. They’re so blue,” he said. No surprise. A remark I often got at first meetings. Then he said something I will never forget. “They look just like my mother’s.” He paused as though recognizing the weight of his comment. It was heavy with innuendo about genetics and generations and what should be and what wasn’t. His mother, my grandmother. Her eyes, mine. A relationship that should be sacred was nonexistent.
“Her birthday is next week,” my mother reminded him. “She’ll be nine.” Another indicator that things weren’t as they should be. How would a father not know his own child’s birthday? It’s as if he needed to be reminded of my very existence.
He reached out and touched me with tender, stroking motions—my arm, my hair, my face. I looked up at the canvas awning, down at the table, over his shoulder into the restaurant. I didn’t want to be impolite, but he seemed to be asking me for something I couldn’t give.
When it was time to go, we all stood up, and he put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed from the side. The hug felt uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and forced, not what I thought my father would feel like. I thought there would be a familiarity with this man. I was disappointed there wasn’t. But I couldn’t help being hopeful—a long-held habit. Maybe when the awkwardness passed, when he knew me, I would know what it was to have a father’s love. That gaping hole would be filled.