From a rather faithless, fearful dream I awoke, momentarily questioning whether this room was real. I heard a voice quietly beckon me. “Mom, Layla was mean to me…”
I motioned for her to climb in the bed with me. The light behind the grey curtains threw slivers of sunshine onto the far wall, her hair was messy and her tears fell onto red, flustered cheeks. “Come here, baby, what happened?”
… My early morning.
Eventually I thought it time to fully rise. My arms stretched tall above my head, back arched, breathe paused. “Good morning, baby”, came his voice. My handsome husband quietly covered the steps between us and soon sat at the edge of our bed to face me. Coffee on the night stand, “Happy birthday, my love.”
I began this day rousing from quite a disturbing dream and had to shake it off. I am emotionally attached to what comes to me as I slumber; a vivid dreamer since my time began, I often remember them with such clarity and depth that it feels often as if an entirely separate world dwells there. When I sleep, I venture into the depths of my waking reality and here I can cope, and strategize, and push the bounds held fast by consciousness.
Often I have to purposefully release my dreams, otherwise I tend to become enamored with them throughout my waking hours. A curse I’ve harnessed after 33 years of life, though one that still has the power to overtake me today.
My family waited downstairs for their mother. Daddy let the girls make pancakes, dyed them purple, while he scrambled eggs and baked the bacon. “Birthday to you!” Bellowed a tike of a Laney, smiling ear-to-ear at her disheveled, coffee-sipping Mama. I reached my arms down and pulled her to my face, breathed in her sweet smell, and felt myself too smile.
Present. In these moments, I am present. I am grateful. I am appreciative. I thank God with an escaping breathe because I did not deserve this life.
Shortly after breakfast he decided to take three girls to the park, “Yay, a’ride’a bikes!” Squealed Delaney.
“We can ride our bikes, right?” Asked Layla to John.
“Can we see our friends?” chimed in Jemma…
I sat there watching them. A typical day of balancing their interests with our patience and sanity. A beautiful disaster of laundry, redirecting bickering siblings, and marital harmony and communication. A brilliant display of imperfect individuals building memories as we all figure out life together.
They left shortly after and I had some time to just… be.
While checking birthday wishes I scrolled through the newsfeed. An interesting article shared by a trusted source herein began my fall down the rabbit hole.
I had to close my eyes to it, after about 45 minutes of digesting things I would have been better off not knowing…
I sat there alone, in my beautiful home in this beautiful neighborhood on this fraction of the earth, and I thought about how quickly my thoughts can change. How swift is the shift from gratitude for what is abundant all around us to the perceived threat that it all doesn’t really matter anyway because the world is ending and don’t you get it and oh my GOD you have to read this and what does it mean and I am not ready for this and what about my children and I don’t pray enough and what if God says He never knew me and is … this… the… end… I’ve… Heard… About… All… My… Life…
A hundred more doubts flood my brain. A hundred more fears. A thousand more questions. Prevails not the simple, beautiful moment I am in but the looming, severe anxiety hidden just below a veneer of assurance.
I am learning, as I face myself, naked and internally bleeding, that what holds me back from the Lord, from peace even in danger’s snare, from the blessed assurance I should cling to… Is that sin knows exactly what to direct me to, no matter where I am in my life, to the one thing that will strangle me, hold me down, and keep me from God.
For a very, very long time, it was Tim. It was how I felt about leaving Washington. It was how I’ve had these big struggles in my heart – it tethered me to the past, and stole me from the present, for many, many years. I have made a conscious effort the past year to really change my habit – to give it to God instead of dwell on it in my flesh – and each day it gets just a bit more clear that I can let that go, and so He is showing me how. Mindfulness and intention, and bringing everything I feel about Tim, even to this day, and not claiming hold of what is ashes in His hands.
It would seem a heavy weight was lifted, and in truth my heart recognizes a difference, and I am so grateful to God for this…
But the schemes of the enemy are … they intrigue me – because he knows what will grab me from the present, and when one fails, he waits with the next lie in his hands. He shoves it down my throat and I feel it in my chest. My heart races. My breath labors and it hurts to even try to get a cleansing yawn.
Begins the doubt. Begins the worry. Begins the very glaring truth that I am too easily swayed by fear, and thus must not trust when it matters most. When things are going well, where is my plea to God to save me?
One of the redeeming aspects of realizing this cycle in my life – how easily influenced and overtaken I am by fear (in whatever form it presents itself: regret, fear of the future, mistrust… etc.) – is that I can now come to God, lay it down, and wait in silence for what to do next.
John and I sat down this afternoon after Church livestream. After we were given a message about the Holy Spirit and it taking the lead in our lives, I immediately pulled him aside and showed him a series of videos I had found on YouTube. A strange humming in the sky – heard around the entire globe – what could this be and what’s going to happen and why don’t you get it and I told you so and do you believe it now and oh my GOD what about my kids and how much longer…
Anxiety. Fear. Lack of trust… NOT giving it to God, the Father, FIRST. Second. Third…
Right now, I recognize one of mans worst tendencies within myself, and so I will stop and give it to God. The worry. The mistrust. The fear…
My beautiful family waits to celebrate me today.
33 years ago I was born into this world. Could it be indeed true that He knew me before He knit me in my mother’s womb. . . He knew I would leave her body and by my feet first enter this world a tiny fraction of newborn health. Could it be He knew who I would become. Could it be He knew my struggles, knows my struggles…
Could it be that instead of fear, I trust. And instead of this world wherein my hope lies but yet place it on glory, and honor, and righteousness…
On He that is greater than the world, maker of my heart that seeks to praise Him yet falters still.
I am grateful to be here. To be someone whom recognizes where I can stop, and change, and commit to something much bigger than my fears. The almighty God built me.
The story of my life continues…
Driving to this island, I had a recurring vision: I’d meet a man. No, this isn’t what you’re thinking… I kept seeing myself talking to a tanned, bearded man who played a guitar and sat with me wherever I went. Flashes of me leaning my head on his shoulder, seeing his laugh, and hearing him speak to me returned, over and over again, and at first I thought it strange. But…
The entire time I’ve been here, I keep remembering that vision, and I’ve pondered on it often… The symbolism has become apparent to me each passing day; I am to meet Jesus here. Walk with Him. Talk with Him. God was showing me this before I even stepped foot in the sand. In the literal sense I do not envision Christ descending just to walk beside me, but in my heart, I have felt strongly that He is near, and today especially, I have been trying to open up and draw close.
Today, I had a full throttle panic attack. I was eating lunch at a restaurant, obviously alone. I was reading my book, watching the pelicans dance in the wind, and really trying to enjoy my time of this most special solitude. Then, out of nowhere came the flood of adrenaline that hits me and knocks me down. My chest began to literally burn, a fire radiating from my sternum up into my throat, where it lodged itself like a hot ball of clay, forcing shallow bursts from my lungs, making it feel impossible to get a deep breathe. I flagged the waitress down, got my check paid, and fled. Walking towards my car, I kept thinking about my family and how I am not there for them. I thought about all the work I have yet to do, and began to worry if I’ll use this time here wisely… Then it hit me. None of this is what was wrong. These concerns – these immediate reactionary thoughts – these are not “it”.
Naming it has been immeasurably difficult; often I do not consciously know what causes me to go into a sudden panic attack. I’ve thought perhaps it’s the long-suffering feelings of my past that come to find me each day. I’ve linked it to feelings of nagging self-doubt and criticism. The very nature of anxiety – not panic – but anxiety, has caused me to name it entirely caused by the shallow, ineffective breathes I take from morning until night time that signal a panic attack is right around the corner; the very way I breathe, I know from the moment I wake, can tell me whether that particular day will find me dealing with this, and the fear that I can crash at any moment obviously increases the likelihood of an occurrence.
I finally arrived at my car, unlocked it, and sat down in the driver’s seat. I turned the ignition, buckled my seatbelt, and reversed out of my parking spot. “Get back as fast as you can…” I knew that I had to, I told myself just keep driving – get there. I could feel the intensity rising, I could feel my face flush. I could feel my muscles tensing and the burning in my chest getting worse with each labored breathe.
Once at my hotel room, I immediately fell onto the bed.
I gave in. I succumbed to the full extent of the panic attack because the one thing I’ve learned as I suffer this is that fighting it, telling myself, “Damn it, not again” only makes it worse. I’ve learned by now that when it gets this bad, I need to lie down and let it happen.
John talked me through some steps to help me accept my reality and over the phone he coached me through it until it began to subside. My body immediately felt absolutely exhausted and I told him I had to go. Within three minutes I was basically unconscious.
I awoke about an hour later, mid-afternoon, and felt like a walk might do me some good. The panic attack had passed, but I still have yet to take a normal soothing breathe. I think I’ve had maybe one or two today total – one of which was when I prayed this morning so I am grateful for that.
On the walk I did something entirely different. This might sound strange, but hear me out. I shut my eyes. I walked with my eyes closed.
All day today, I have been reading about the kind of life God wants for all of us. Here is where I digress – I will get back to the walk later and this will make sense.
What is most marvelous to me about God is His constant pursuit of my soul. Reading scripture, reading my pastor’s account of Biblical teaching and encouragement to lead a Christ-centered life, even when I praise God through worship and song – it has left me, on this trip, entirely awe-struck.
So, then, I ask – why the anxiety? Why the panic attacks? If God wants good for my life, then why do I carry this burden? To someone who has never experienced this, it might appear trivial to bring this to God as a burden, but I assure you, it is nothing less than a heavy one. It got me thinking, then, that perhaps He is using these panic attacks – He is using my breathlessness and fear of breaking – to get my attention. Part of the pursuit.
I have lived my life apart from God. I know this because my history is wrought with a thousand tales of what it looks like to seek this world and deny His will. I have been divorced and adulterous, a liar and a hypocrite, I have sinned in more ways than I would ever be able to number – and God knows this about me. He knows the shame and guilt I carry, and that I use this as a means to separate myself from Him, because …
Because it is too much work to change. It is too hard to want to live another way. What will I have to sacrifice to be pleasing to God?
The answer to that, is all of it. All of me.
I’ve laughed at Christians before. Those that really take up a cross for God and be His hands and feet. I used to pity it, to be honest, because that life just never looked like much fun. Except I was always envious that they seemed happier than me, somehow. I thought, given who I have been, and what my life has looked like, that I could never be the kind of person to live a life of total surrender.
Again, it goes back to – what would I lose? My reputation? Ha! Hardly, as if I have anything worth redeeming in me? My friends? What kind of friends do I keep that would laugh me off because I change my life to live it for God – is their opinion of me worth what I am losing by denying God? My selfishness, my flawed flesh with its lustful desires and sneaky little defiance masked as confidence. My pride, and having to come before Him and finally admit that I have been so wrong… More than any of this, the most difficult thing for me to give away, to follow Him, is my obedience.
I must, if I am to be a follower of Christ, be obedient to His word. To His laws. To His desires. To His agenda. To Him, I must submit and be changed by the spirit, not by my will.
For me, that has been absolutely the one thing I can’t let go: Control.
But look, Christina, just look! What has this illusion of control gotten me? One look at me, in this very moment, in this hotel room, 300 miles away from my children and my husband – what has it gotten me?
Why is it so hard to lay myself on the altar and let Him sit in the throne? It is HIS anyway!
Back to the beach today.
I walked, with my eyes closed. I would look ahead of me – on the stretch of beach I roamed there were not many patrons – so I’d make sure the coast was clear (ha, get it!) and then take as much of a deep breathe as I could get, and close my eyes.
I found Him. He was there. Beside me.
It sounds quite fanciful and maybe even a little cooky, but I know it for sure.
In those moments, I trusted God to lead me. It was a small act of faith, a tiny proclamation that I believed Him that He is near… but I did it. It was scary, especially when a small swell touched my feet unexpectedly, but I didn’t let go. I kept walking. Blind. But entirely safe.
This has been jumbled, and rambling, I know that – I didn’t organize my thoughts before I sat to write tonight as I normally like to do. But I wanted this to be an honest look into where I am right now. So that, perhaps, I can look back on this one day and see that I made a choice today.
I made a choice to trust God. To give Him my anxiety, and panic attacks. To give Him my insecurities, and failures, and sins. To give Him my obedience, and put my faith in Him, and to know that He is in control. He is walking beside me, and even when my eyes are open and I can see the next right step, I will maybe let go anyway, and trust that He will put my feet exactly where He needs them to go.
I’ve just… I’ve lived too long fighting Him when I KNOW He is pursuing me. I know it, as true as I know the sky is blue and the waves crash against the sand. I know that God has always pursued me, but it was I who ran, it was I who hid myself away, because I didn’t want to give up what I perceived was better for me.
The thing is, now I want to be like them. The kind of Christ-followers who look silly to mainstream people. I want to read the Bible instead of Buzzfeed. I want to worship the one who gave His life for me, and not be a slave to my own selfish desires. I want to know that with each labored breathe I take, right now, in this very moment, that I am not dying. I am not going crazy… I am just here, right now, trusting that Jesus is near me. With His guitar, and He already knows what I am going through. He won’t leave me through this. He hasn’t left me. He was just waiting around for me to realize He’s been here all along.
I prayed to you this morning, Father. I pray it seems these days constantly, but my mind is also distracted by some of the shadows of my past, and I find myself frustrated with this – entirely exhausted and quite breathless – because I yearn for peace and rest. I yearn for it, like I hope with each breathe not to feel the weight of anxiety against my chest, pulling the air from my lungs as I try with everything I have to keep it in. I have come to you with these concerns now, God, and I have hope that You will get me through this day.
Most of the time in my life I try and have the control. I keep it like a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, unwilling to relinquish this currency for Your will, but I hold it to use for myself – I know this is not sound, and not prudent, but I struggle. I don’t want to struggle like this anymore, but my nature goes against what I know to be better for me – You are better for me, and yet I hold on to the illusion that I can do this apart from You.
Why must this be so hard? To know You – to trust that You have a will for me that is better than my own – I suffer under the weight of the lie that I am strong enough, but then when night falls, and I lay in this bed alone, I know that it is holding me back every single moment I don’t lay all my concerns before You.
I’ve been reading Your Word, and in this time of solitude, I have felt You come beside me and ask me to trust. I give it all it seems I have, but then feel so ashamed because I know I am fooling myself. I have never given it all of me, because I have never trusted all of You. That is my greatest regret, and one I hope, with every new day, to rectify, but then again I fail, and again I am ashamed.
I do not know what to do with my shame, but I am being obedient now, I am writing this – to You – and it is here that I lay it down. In these words, my fingers against these keys, I am here, now, Lord… Help me be who I am destined to be.
The greatest struggle I have faced since being here, in this time alone, is one pain I have held for many years, God. The pain of losing a love I held so dear, and losing my mother, all in one short span of time. It is here where I question Your will, and perhaps it is here that explains why I have such a hard time trusting that. Because I do not understand it, God. I do not understand why You allowed this to happen. Why You allowed her to hand down her generational sin upon my heart, and his, and then instead of heal us, You took her away.
I was left with nothing, and I didn’t know how to turn to You, wholeheartedly, because I was so broken. That break – that pain – has stayed with me, Father, and it is the single biggest pain I have ever known, and I am still angry that You thought I could handle this. What did you expect from me? How did You see this playing out? Did You know that it would be all these years – did You see that it would break me and yet You gave it to me anyway? Was I not a faithful child, Lord, when I was young? Did I not call out to You, and want to know You, and share that knowing with the world?
I strayed as a youth, You know this, but did my wayward heart deserve, then, such a burden? To the world, it is simple – I should let it go, and I should have done that a long, long time ago. I have nobody to help me with this, nobody to understand it. And when I have come to You to lay it down, I have never felt like it was taken from me. I have never felt like You wanted me to give this up – because it remains. If I have asked You, and cried out in the night in this pain, then why have You not listened?
When she was dying, were You there? When she breathed her last breathe, did You hold her? She strayed, God, she strayed so far that she gave her pain over to me, and You allowed this. Was she too far gone for You to have intervened, for You to have spared me, her, and him from that – did I deserve this somehow? Did she? Did he? She never got the chance to make it right, and instead of allow me to have that reconciliation, You took her. Or was it not You, but sin, that befell my mother? If it was that, please don’t tell me, because I think if I knew it wasn’t You, I don’t know how I would handle that against You supposing to be a loving God. How is that for truth?
I long for the kind of rest that is not hindered by this pain. But in the years since that time, I have not once known what that feels like. I have not once awoke to a new day and felt the absence of this pain. There has been immense joy, and happiness, and You have blessed me in other ways, yet this darkness in my soul remains, and as much as I’ve asked You to release me from it, even in the midst of all the joy that I have known, here yet it remains. Why, God?
Is it that I have not done a good enough job? Do my thoughts, and deeds, and actions, and heart fail so greatly that I must still bear the weight of such pain in everything I try to do? Is this Your will for me? To learn to cope with it, and find joy, even when I hurt? If so, please, I am not sure I am strong enough to handle that for the rest of my life. My children don’t deserve less of me because I have less to give. My husband doesn’t deserve less of me because I have no more fight left in me, since all my strength goes to just making it through…
I bear this pain without anyone’s understanding, and in the face of that, I risk every single time I speak of this to appear whiny, and needlessly so – how can they have empathy for me when they do not understand? Worse, when they don’t approve that I should even deal with this anymore? A grand part of my shame comes from how I’ve experienced, time and time again, well-meaning others remarking at how strange it seems that I still deal with this pain. To them, I am a fool. To them, it looks so simple.
But You, the knower of my heart and keeper of my soul, You know what I carry, and yet even You have allowed this. I am disappointed and saddened by this, and I feel I need to tell You that.
I am going to spend this day being obedient to You. That is why I sat to write this. That is why I prayed this morning for You to take the anxiety from my chest, and to help me breathe easier. I just inhaled and it fully filled my lungs and escaped my lips with no hint of that pressure and fear that has come most breathes this week. Perhaps in this very act of writing, for some reason, You’re actually listening and maybe this day won’t be another anxious, fearful episode in a long line of the same.
I want different, God. I want something more than this. More than carrying something that I have tried to lay before You but have found no rest from. I want to go an entire day praising You, God, not questioning You. You want me this way, don’t You? If that’s what You want, then help me! I have obviously shown that I cannot do this apart from You. I don’t have that control. I don’t possess the strength, and You know this. So, please, God. Take this from me. If even for just this day.
I’m going to time travel and remember…..
I was a true-blue Vancouver stoner from a broken family, whose generational sin helped alter all our lives. I put no substance into relationships but instead chained myself to pot, both to escape the reality as it was and to embrace the culture around me. I was indulging in teenage sex but had no self-worth in me to secure anything deeper than painfully meaningless embraces. 19 years old with no high school diploma in a lousy job with nothing on the horizon but monotonous emptiness. I was lost, but I only vaguely felt that back then; ha! Looking back at Christina, a young adult with so little insight into where her life would go – no real motivation to steer it – I am dumbfounded that I didn’t notice how unfortunate things had become…
Right now, sitting at these keys overlooking a little fishing bay, on an island stretching the southern-most tip of Texas, I am 32 years old, and I thank GOD I can remember where adulthood began and see very little materially-similar evidence that I am still like her at all. Today, it is my wish to talk through one of the most significant and impactful periods of my life that had everything to do with me leaving Vancouver and led me to where I am today. A time which shaped me and has since become one of the more difficult challenges I face: Letting myself be loved and loving someone else. I guess to start I’ll go back to where everything changed for me. From a wandering lost young woman to…
“Welcome back!” she smiled, ushering in an elderly couple with two laminated menus pointing the way to their usual table. As they took their seats, she took a khaki windbreaker to hang from his hand, “Frank, let me get your coffee. Ruth, do you want ice tea or coffee tonight?” Katherine walked three steps to the counter behind their table, set down his jacket, and fetched a hot carafe of decaf, turning back around to pour it in Frank’s mug just as Ruth decided she wanted tea. “All right, I’ll be right back.”
The restaurant was slow for a Saturday night though the constant rain had made the entire week lag during every 6-hour shift. She busied herself organizing glassware, refilling syrup containers, and chatting up the other idle waitresses. She took orders, made side salads, and stacked receipts to collect payment from sporadic satisfied patrons.
The entryway door jingled startling Katherine from mindlessly wiping the soda machine, she looked up.
This is one of life’s movie moments – as I call them (really, I just now made this up). Like when you hold your child for the first time, or walk down the aisle to your future – so in love, or when your daughter rides her bike without training wheels after you tried to teach her for days, or when you watch the baby take her first steps. Moments. Sometimes we do not know we are in them until they are too far gone to grasp, and only after looking back, if one’s heart is open, may you really appreciate the beautiful gift it was.
In that moment, a plan was realized in two perfectly imperfect strangers. In that moment, seeing him for the first time, a grand part of my personal story began to take shape.
I began writing this yesterday (Wednesday) and stopped there because I wanted to go deep about what I remember, and make certain I am honest here. For a lot of people who know me personally, there is increasing uncomfortable feelings looming in them whenever I write about this part of my life (I have been told, from a few different sources, that I should not delve into this anymore – I should be “over it” by now… so imagine the strength it takes to directly oppose that by going still deeper into it!)
The truth is, I do not believe this corridor of my history deserves anything less than this. It does not deserve to be forgotten, swept under the rug – there are countless reasons why I feel my work here is not yet done, and perhaps why it may never be done – I write things like this to explain why…
When I met him, my life had little direction. As I mentioned in the forward to the story I had been living at less-than my potential for quite some time. Though I was yet a young woman, and it seemed the world could have been broadened and my experiences more positive, I lacked the one very necessary ingredient that I could have used to change my circumstances alone: Self-belief. I did not believe I was going to do much, because I didn’t feel like much. Things had not gone right for me for many years, and the crushing blow of recent life events (or lack thereof) only furthered my self-doubt.
I sought love, but in the circle of friends I surrounded myself with – the parties, the alcohol, the pot, and the frivolous handing out of my most sacred self in the absence of love – it left me drained with little substance to hold. Love, though I sought it from others, was not found in my heart, not for me, and certainly not for anyone else.
Knowing this, back then? You could have asked my 19-year-old self and my answers then to these same notions would have been vastly different. The stirring of loneliness, the continual self-criticism, the escapism by way of drugs or drinking – – I could not have guessed that things were about to be so different, and I was about to find myself on a path towards all I had silently hoped for but could not have believed I would find.
That is who I was, and what I believed about myself. That these young men I spent so much time chasing, with their empty promises and, “I can’t date you because of your brothers…” After they used me for all it seemed I had to give, it left me thinking I must not be good for much else. If only one of them would get to know who I was before my world was broken. Before I stopped believing in myself. If only someone would dig deep, and see who I really was, I thought, then maybe, just maybe, things could be different… I had more to give, I just stopped believing that it even mattered.
That’s when I met him.
Katherine wiped the table just two rows over from theirs, glanced up towards the handsome man facing her from his booth, and saw him smile. He held his coffee cup to his mouth and drank it quickly, still smiling at her when he was done. She blushed intensely, marveled at the butterflies swirling in her chest, and tried to pretend like she didn’t care.
The truth was, she did care. Something about him was familiar from the moment their mutual friend introduced them. Justin made small talk with his dinner mate, Katherine waited tables, and Dylan planned his move – scribbling his name and telephone number on the outside of a used sugar packet. Out of character for a shy machinist, he never did things like that, but he had to know her.
The following two weeks found us together most of the time. I remember it so well, so much so that I often laugh at my memory when it comes to this. I remember wanting to do it differently and wait for things to go from friendly to intimate – something I didn’t normally even consider let alone put into practice. I wanted to get to know him, in a way I had not wanted to know anyone else.
I’ve often questioned the next two years of time spent with him, and believe now, some 13 years later since I met Tim, that I may never know what the purpose was. Because it was the first-time I was truly loved, and the first time I truly loved anyone else, but more than that – though not to minimize it – it was in that span of time I learned to trust another person, and myself, and I felt how good it was to be able to plan our future. I knew my future. I knew our life together, and what that would look like. I knew our children’s names and how he’d be the sort of old man who would wear overalls with a bandana sticking out of his back pocket as he mowed the lawn, and I’d be the sort of old woman who would bring him tea and use that bandana to wipe his sweat away before I kissed him just like I had done for 45 years. I knew that he would drive me nuts and I would make him crazy because we believed differently about the world, the afterlife, and we would be the sort to bicker in diners over hot coffee but then go home and love each other because none of that compared to how deeply love went.
We were to live a simple life in the material sense, but greater than most have felt would have been our love. If he were here now, sitting here, remembering all of this with me as I dictate our thoughts, I know for certain he would agree that the one thing that made us so special, the reason it has been so hard, is that we loved each other in a rare fashion and that was the thing that promised to keep us together for the rest of our lives.
Only, it wasn’t meant to do that, and here is where my mood shifts from that of reverence for the great love I got to know, to blistering bitterness over the very thing that tore us apart.
It may seem easy for me to write this. Trust that it is not. For reasons that go beyond the very nature of exploring emotional history in my writing, but more than this because a key player in how we ended is no longer here to speak for herself, and perhaps I do her legacy – her memory – a great disservice by telling her side of the story, but only as I remember it? I am torn, and always have been, because it is my story, after all – it is the love I lost, not just his, but hers – but it is also a personal tragedy on her account. A deeply sad and hurtful part of who she became, and to those who knew her apart from the end years of her life, it might seem I wish to paint her the villain, focus all my love on him and all my anger on her, and thus validate this great love story – and the blame doesn’t fall on either of us, it falls on her.
To be clear, I do not wish to do this, and if I have ever made it seem like I do not blame him for his part in this, I was wrong to excuse him.
However, again it is my story, and how I do remember it is extremely personal – and I can assure anyone with any accusation against this, how I tell it, that it would be better to take my word for it and let me claim my history than it would be to try and tell me I am wrong. After all, there were three people involved. One, a tragic loss, the other is silent and has been a stranger to me for years, and the third – well, I think you know how she is doing…
Tim and I cannot know for certain that if things had not happened the way they did we would still be together. We cannot know that, just like with any part of our history – things happened the way they did and that becomes what you know and all else become dreams or mere speculation… None the less, I have always believed that he and I would have made our way in this life together. I would venture a guess that he feels that way as well.
I base this speculation on what happened after everything changed. He would not have told me about it had he not realized that keeping it a secret would damage us, and I would never know what went wrong. It would have eaten him alive, and the way that he loved me – we didn’t keep secrets from each other, and he knew more about me than anyone else in the world – there was no way he could keep that inside. Telling me was the obvious thing and unfortunately for me, the most painful thing – but having gone through a lot of life since that time, and having experienced keeping my own secrets from people I loved, I have great respect that he did, in fact, tell me. First chance he got.
I had spent two years building a life with this man. During that time the house we lived in was bought – we planted flowers and watched the roots of our labor and love turn it into our quant little fixer-upper home. During that time, his mother and he encouraged me to finish high school, so I did that and then went on to take credits at Clark, I got my first real job working at a mortgage company, and I learned what it meant to be loved. Truly… loved. We bickered about religion and politics and sometimes in my longing for us to be as connected in these issues as we were in everything else, I would cry and beg him to change (a classic young-love mistake) but then all I had to do was look at him and none of that mattered as much compared to how I loved him anyway. He taught me how to trust myself, and that I could trust him with my heart, and I fell into it entirely sure. So was he the night he asked me to marry him.
I became a version of myself that I could love. Loving him, trusting him, it made me stronger. It gave me a purpose I could appreciate. It challenged me and pushed me to want more for my life, because I would do whatever it took to stay beside him. He loved me for who I was, even when I was broken, and nobody in my life at that time was giving me anything even close to that. He let me see the parts of him that were difficult, and flawed, and we both held onto each other so tightly in our mutual openness and adoration for one another.
It was to be, then, obvious to anyone paying any attention at all, that what transpired to break us apart would devastate me. Indeed, it was worse than that.
Our life together, his and mine, was not by any means perfect. We were known for the beer in our fridge and the late-night music in the garage which often was played by a man, his guitar, and six or seven cold ones. I admit I loved his cigarette smoke lips and the lingering scent of beer on his breathe. It was a part of the man I fell in love with. He could pull out Dylan lyrics from memory in one breathe and ponder the meaning of life in another, while smoking as he strummed an acoustic on the porch. We were not pure, nor faultless, nor perfect by any means – and it was precisely this avenue of our life together that aided him to make this most dire mistake.
… I paused for quite a while, sort of just lingering there – remembering. I don’t intentionally remember him, or that time, too often. When I do it always hurts. I realize as I write this that I bump dangerously against seeming to long for him presently while maintaining that it is only history of which I speak; one might confuse the two. Just something I thought worth mentioning as I continue.
My world, in an instant, was broken. Soon to follow the obvious trauma of thinking I lost the man I loved came the actual loss of my mother, and so it came to pass that every single thing I loved, needed, and wanted was… gone.
When she died, he was the one I wanted to run to. I needed my best friend. I needed to cry, and scream, and completely shatter on the ground in his arms, but I couldn’t. I was told not to go to him. I was told I could not heal there, because there was where the pain began.
After our life completely fell apart, and I was no longer living with him in our little house on our little street, but instead a few miles away, I remember every single day was a fight not to run back there. This was made especially difficult by his repeated attempts to get to me by whatever means necessary. He showed up but I didn’t know how to go back – not when everyone I knew told me, in no uncertain terms, that you don’t go back after this happens. That it means – it proves – we were not meant to be. So instead of listen to my heart, which craved him entirely even though that would mean it would hurt and we would need to heal, I listened to the world. I listened to everyone whom had supposedly suddenly had my best interest at heart. The same people whom were not there before I met him when I was lost, and completely drowning in the empty shell of the person I’d become. The same people who never saw how much we loved each other, but only latched on to the various times I’d vent about him during a spat and use that version of our story to make me believe we weren’t supposed to be together anyway.
The only person who knew me deeply. The only one who made a huge mistake and then immediately saw it for what it was and risked everything to tell me. The only one who, at the very grand expense of losing me forever, broke himself apart just to be honest the very moment after he made that mistake… The only one who then spent nearly two years trying to make me see that I made the biggest mistake of all by walking away – by listening to everyone else – was Tim. I abandoned him because everyone told me that’s what you do. That I couldn’t have moved past it. I couldn’t have forgiven him no matter how badly I may have wanted to. People were well-meaning, I like to believe that, but sometimes I realize the mistake was that I shared with anyone what had happened… Alas, that’s one of those senseless things I needn’t even explore further.
I moved away because I couldn’t take it anymore. The devastating moment I learned that my mother had died – that very night – I wanted one person. The one person I could not have… Not when it didn’t matter for anyone else anymore what she put me through before she died – all that mattered then was that, she was gone. That trumped all my personal pain, a pain not even one of them can even understand let alone the fact that they didn’t have to endure it. I felt like I lost the ability to go back because the fact that I still loved him just wasn’t enough for them – how could it be enough after what happened? – and so I made it not enough for me. Somehow, I thought that if I went back, it would hurt them, and I valued their opinion more so than I valued my own healing.
When people hear this part of my history – even paid professional counselors (and believe me, I’ve seen many) I am always left feeling as though nobody really understands it. How can I talk about loving him so much, so deeply, and then talk about what happened, and then even mention that I still loved him after that? As if they expect the very act of betrayal itself should erase all the love we shared. I almost, at times, feel as though I may just be a fool, and maybe they are right…
But then I remember that I was the one. I was there the night I met this handsome man with piercing blue eyes and a brilliant smile. I was there when I felt my walls crumbling down and my heart opening to his tender touch against my cheek. I was there when someone, for the first time in my life outside of my family, accepted and loved me for who I was. I was there when he walked into the house after working each night and saw him rush to me, renewed by my embrace. I was there when we dug our fingers in the soil and planted seeds that bloomed as we lay side-by-side under the summer sun. I was there on the cold, rainy winter nights when we moved the mattress to the living room in front of the stove to watch the fire burn as we rested in each other’s arms. I was there to listen as he serenaded me with classic rock tunes on the guitar, and as he danced like Joe Cocker in the garage just to make me laugh. I was there when I bared my soul to him, and his to me, and we dreamed and laughed and talked about our future together…
I was there, laying my head against his chest, when his breathe was shallow and I could tell something was very wrong. I was there when he revealed that something had gone terribly wrong and he wasn’t sure how it happened but told me every detail a thousand times just to try and help me understand it. I was there to wipe his tears away the day I packed my car up and was ready to leave, while he sat on our porch crying, begging me not to go. I was there when he told me he was so sorry, and he would love me forever… even as I walked away.
I am not sure anyone could understand it. Not unless you walked in our shoes. Not unless you felt what we felt… Not unless you lost… what we lost. I know it’s the same for all loss – I can’t expect to understand how my brothers and sister, or my dad, deal with or dealt with the loss of our mom, and I’d never be in their ear telling them, “it’s better this way” … But that’s what I heard when it came to me and him.
I’ve got another side to this entire part of my life that is entirely devoted to my mother, but I purposefully left that out of this because now is not the time. I’ve still got 5 days on this island completely alone, and I am certain in that time, I will write about her. I will cry about her. I must go back, stand beside her, and deal with everything that comes up. For now, it is about him.
Tim is a stranger to me now. Some time before Layla was born was when he last spoke freely to me. He had just met the person who is now his wife and she was soon to be pregnant with their son. From what I understand he’s lived in her country of Slovenia and moved back to Vancouver, though I am not aware of where he is now.
One of the greatest struggles I have faced since leaving Washington is knowing that I left him alone and did not return, and so the fault of this – our fate – rests solely upon me. I am okay with that because my choice to do so ultimately gave me three daughters and an amazing husband – a life I am grateful for.
Yet the healing that still needs to take place – it is apparent to me that even having a great life, a thousand miles apart from my home town – does not change the fact that I still hurt about Tim. It still hurts me that this happened to us, and I think I would be inauthentic if I pretended otherwise, though I am sure a great many people would rather I pretend because my honesty makes them uncomfortable.
I am not sure I’ll ever get used to the fact that I don’t know him anymore. That’s the hard part about knowing someone so well, and loving them so deeply – now, he is just supposed to be this person that I once knew, once loved. Yet, I know he is one of the most important parts of my history. He…
He gave me love, for the first time in my life. He opened his heart, mind, and soul to me, and let me see him intimately. He learned all the details of my face, and smiled at me with a sparkle in his eyes that made me feel safe and wanted – flaws and all. We taught each other that true love is worth fighting for, though I only learned that after it was too late.
I will never be 19 again. I will never know that version of myself, broken and wayward, God-less and love-less. I will never feel what it feels like to watch that person fall away as I learned myself through the eyes of another person. I cannot go back there – to any of it. I know that. I just wish, sometimes, that I could find some box to put him in that would contain all of this, so that I don’t have to see it unless I want to. I guess I haven’t mastered the art of forgetting like some would hope by now I would. Truth is, I may never fully understand this, and maybe that’s where I just let it go. Leave it at that. A classic, “it is what it is” situation?
I am so grateful that in my life now I have someone beside me whom accepts that I am still mending these broken pieces, and he lets me love him imperfectly. He doesn’t begrudge me that fact, but instead, holds me through it. He shows me I have the strength left to tackle this, and tells me that even if I never break through entirely, and I feel pain about this for the rest of my life, I am still worth loving. It is amazing that he is the first person – indeed the only one – whom has given me such a gift in all the years since Tim. In that way, I know it is real love, because long ago, I learned what that looked like.
I got to know great love. I got to lose great love. I guess, because of that, I should count myself among the lucky ones… I’ve had it twice.
Tim will probably never know these words exist, and I sometimes wonder how or if he still deals with those two years, and the end of us, like I do. I’ve tried to reach out to him but have never gotten anywhere with it, a fact of which is both understandable and disheartening. Sometimes, I question whether I am imagining things as they were not, but instead have built this beautiful world of sunshine and flowers and us walking together through a perfectly green pasture under a clear blue sky. Then, I laugh that off and remember…
“Hey, Christina, this is Tim”, Justin said, looking over at his dinner buddy. That moment. His face. That’s when my life began.
My nose is familiar with the scent here. The thick, humid, salty air that wraps exposed skin in sticky warmth; even in February, it is as if summer is right on my heels. I have yet to feel the sand between my toes or see the crashing Gulf of Mexico sea on the horizon, but I remember how it feels to be here and await my return there with the morning light.
The drive down was entirely thoughtful and, as I mentally organized my goals for this journey, visions in my mind were vivid – I know exactly what I need to do.
I often long for the familiar rush of creativity coursing through my veins but it seems life and time, in normal day-to-day, doesn’t always lend itself to such a luxury as to sit and explore it – as I drove on through dusty ranch towns and veered around port cities it became clear to me: I must use this time to write.
There are several key aspects to this venture but I feel the need to be transparent as I dive in; to first explain that, if I am successful, the next several days will find me here, naked as I unearth the inner-most core of my history, my walk with God, and my desires to change the nature of my conscious thoughts from cynical to hopeful… No small feat, any of this. I come to these keys fully exposed, willingly, but it is not without trepidation, because in committing to this, I must not fear.
Fear you, dear reader. Fear forgiveness as I seek to walk in time and space with Jesus to know Him better, if for the first real time in my life. Fear that I will be too honest, and peel away too much, and in doing so, give away parts of my most personal struggles to these white blank pages, and to anyone willing to read them once I am finished. Fear to fail – that this time away will not be fruitful because I will convince myself I cannot do this – and I will leave here with my creative venture dead in vain.
Leaving my family, I cried for a good long while. It took me a while to figure out exactly why, but I realized somewhere along the way, on a long empty stretch of highway, that I have attached myself to the identity of wife and mother so strongly that I have, perhaps, forgotten how to truly be alone. I must face, more than anything else, the person I see when I look in the mirror. Here, I cannot blame a messy house on my sour mood. I cannot pick a fight with my husband over politics nor can I lump over on the couch after bedtime bemoaning my three children for how exhausted this day has been. I have nobody here, nobody else to “blame” for whatever supposed unhappiness or discontent that may arise. Just me.
In the coming days, I will write about my most personal struggles. About my mother and Tim and the thousand emotions tied into that time of my life. About having to share Layla with her father half the time, and all that pours into my guilt because of her situation. About coming to terms with what I did with my marriages, and how I have used one very meaningful avenue of my history – of love – as the ultimate reason why I have not been truly peaceful for a long time… I will attempt to dig into how I view the world, and walk through compassion, empathy, and personal awareness as I navigate what I believe, and expect fully to also deal with anger, doubt, and concern over our future as a nation – but ultimately, I hope to arrive at a place of understanding what I value most and thus may go boldly ahead, whatever that means.
I set out on this path because I needed to stop. To stop and realize that this is my life, and I am not living it the way I am meant to. I feel it in my bones. I have for a long while. I have been so good at excusing my self-induced misery and put on a brave face for the world, but the truth is, God knows I need this – and He ordained this time so that I can, indeed, get to the heart of the me He wants me to be.
I want to say thank you to my supportive and encouraging husband without whom this time here would not have come to pass. He tenderly looked into my eyes and assured me it was okay – to have these days to reflect, and know what the right next steps for my – and our life together – are. He wants me to dig deep and seek how to use each day as the gift that it is, and let me go with nothing but happiness in his heart that the woman he loves gets an amazing opportunity for growth.
If you don’t care to know my heart, or fear that my vulnerability and honesty may offend you, or know that your first instinct is not to understand what’s behind it, but instead quickly judge what I feel, when I divulge personal details about my belief systems, and point of view, or even if me talking about my first love and how I’ve spent all these years coming to terms with what happened there just makes you uncomfortable, then please, do not read my writing over the next couple of days. Do not read it, but instead, perhaps wish me well, whatever I may be doing. . .
After all, this is my journey. This is my story – nobody else, not a single earthly being, can look at this and tell me what I feel about my life is wrong – but me, and God. So, to Him, I walk, from the most core of me. Raw. Open. And ready…
I am failing.
Every. Single. Day.
My heart is not pure. My mind is worse. My flesh is torn with old scars and I have no problem slashing them open again and again with a knife of longing for something I lost. I have a quick-tempered tongue, and a wayward tendency to always want something else.
I am not in the Word – not as much as I could be. My history distracts me from believing that I can involve myself in more than what immediately satisfies me. A learned behavior pattern from my youth, but it wasn’t always this hard…
When I was a small child, I remember vividly having a fire for the Lord. I did. It was important to me. It mattered. I shared it with my friends. I sat at my father’s feet and listened to him and my mother recite scripture and then explain its application to our young lives. I believed in God not as a supernatural being but as a tangible friend in my heart.
I lost this. Some time ago. With age comes a million wide roads, and I had no problem walking those instead of the narrow path that drew me close to God.
Sometimes, I think about this – I remember a skinny brown-eyed-girl with long legs and a brave, pleasing heart – I remember her and I weep. I remember that God sewn in my spirit an evangelical gift and I shared my faith with people confidently. A child, with little exposure to a world beyond Vancouver Washington… I wanted to share what I knew to be true, with no fear. I had purpose. I had knowledge of who I was, and who I wanted to be… I just needed stability, and people to believe in me, and keep showing me the way.
What happened to me? Where did that child go?
In the time since my childhood I’ve seen my parent’s divorce when I was in 5th grade because my mom wanted to be someone else, with someone else. I looked around me and from what was a family with two parents and their five children in one home, I could not recognize the two new lives they both led, and watched the utter abandonment of my parents to their children as they themselves tried to reconcile this new experience.
With this came me seeking approval and love outside of my two homes and halfway through my adolescence I found comfort in the arms of way too many boys. Sexual promiscuity became my identity, under an easily penetrable guise of self-confidence – my parents weren’t watching so they missed it entirely; I was lost, completely, and wanted love so badly that I reached for it wherever I could grasp, at the incredibly devastating expense of my self-worth – though I hid that part deep inside.
From that, I obviously struggled in school… It was my last priority, but deeper than this, nobody noticed how I was struggling. They just … did not care. I think about this now and I have begun in this moment to tear up. I was still a child – their child – God’s child… But I felt nothing but alone. I remember a counselor pulling me aside in 11th grade. He asked me what my plan was to recover my GPA so that I could graduate. I just started crying because he was literally the first person to notice. I went home that day and tried to talk to my mom but instead of help me, she got angry – I guess because I was a disappointment taking the same path she and my father did. That was the first time I was kicked out of my house…
After the first semester of my senior year, it was clear I could not recover and instead of fight for me, and try and figure it out, my mom walked into my high school and withdrew me. Against the advise of the principal, and counselors literally shaking their heads at her. I walked around school that day, my last day, with hidden tears and a smile as I said goodbye to my friends. My gosh I still cry even now, in this moment, because I remember it so well. The humiliation. The devastation. The feeling that I had failed and it was all my fault. I feel anger now because I think of Layla – she is struggling right now in 2nd grade. She is in several programs, counseling, and we hired a tutor. Because that’s what you do – you, the parents, don’t stand back and watch your child fail – I would never allow that, and I am still not sure why my parents did. This part of my history I don’t talk about, and few people actually know this, because I have spent all this time feeling so ashamed of this, but the older I get, and as I mother my own children, I realize it was NOT my fault – not entirely. I could have went the other way and buckled down in school, I know that, but all around me at home it just didn’t matter – nobody showed me it was worth it. At least not until it was too late and I was made to feel like a failure…
Shortly after my last day of high school, I got my first job working at Papa Murphy’s Pizza. I moved out on my own, and life moved on… Entirely different from how I had long imagined it would. Three years after this I said goodbye to my mother at the age of 39 because alcohol is a cruel beast and she could no longer fight it off… One month after that day, I boarded a plane and left everything I knew behind. Devastated. Lost, entirely. The man I moved to I barely knew, we met barely a month before my mom died, and my heart still loved another with everything I had, but I left anyway – I had no other choice.
Through all of this time, I can remember periods of time I would feel God pulling on my heart. I would know it was Him – with certainty – but I ignored it. I had failed. In countless ways. The little girl I had been was lost underneath the weight of my guilt and disappointment and sadness. I was more angry than faithful… How could He let all of this happen, hadn’t I once served Him, even in my childlike innocence and lack of knowledge of the world He put me into?
I am almost 33 now. Twice divorced, two of my children have different last names from each other and from me. Three daughters that call me Mama, and it is my charge from God to lead them, to guide them to Truth. To dedicate myself to them, entirely, but I fear this more than I fear much else: that I am failing them.
I fear… That is my first mistake. That I am nothing more than who I have been; all these years of history still tarnish my spirit, and I cannot rise above feeling less-than who I was meant to be. How can I lead them, how can I teach them truth, when I don’t hear it for myself?
So many “wiser people” have tried to counsel me that it is as simple as being in God’s word. That, if I do this … If I pray more, if I seek fellowship more than seeking solitude, if I stop living in the past or the future but live right now, if I… If I… If I… Then I would finally “get it”, and God would flood my heart with meaning and purpose again, and I would be redeemed. I’ve even been told my crippling anxiety is not so much a mental disorder but its satan, and I can fight it if only I were just a better Christ-follower.
I’ve heard it all. I’ve told myself maybe they are right, and so I try it. For a while. I read scripture more, and really meditate on it and apply it to my life practically. I pray, sometimes with many of my breathes directed straight to God, and then I listen, patiently. I fellowship with those wiser people, and I listen as they tell me how THEY “hear God”, and I try not to feel their superiority over me, because I just don’t seem to hear God talking to me at all, and so I must be doing it wrong.
When I became a mother, that covenant God made with me was to raise them with truth and purpose greater than my own – it was set ablaze in my soul. I look at them and sometimes, to be honest, the way that I love them – how deep that goes – it rushes to the surface and I feel this overwhelming and intense flood of tangible, fierce loyalty and devotion to them that I could literally scream as loud as I can – because it has to come out of me (I guess that’s a hard one to adequately explain…) My face flushes, my heart beats fast, and I tremble with love.
The purpose of being their mother is the greatest I have known, and I fear too often that I will let my past failures convince me that I am not going to be good at this. I hear my father tumble out of my mouth when I am impatient for no good reason, or when they spill the milk and I just can’t take such an offense. I hear my mother spill off my tongue when I snap at them to hurry up because I am late for this or that, and of course I make it their fault. I hear that little voice, so cunning, sneak into my thoughts and it whispers so cleverly disguised as the inevitable that I am going to fail anyway, so why even try to do better next time? It uses my history – it uses my shame, and regret, and pain – and it knows just how to grip me, stop me dead in my tracks…
It keeps me from picking up the Bible, because I’ve tried that, and I didn’t stick to it, because Christina never sticks to ANYTHING. It keeps me from all the good I could be doing, instead distracting me with meaningless tasks that don’t root my heart, or theirs, in truth and purpose.
I guess all of this – these thoughts pouring from me now – this trip down memory lane, it might seem like an excuse, but it is so much more honest than that. I come to terms with what cripples me here, and name it, and face it, and I think THAT is brave.
But it is what I do now. It is where I go from here…
I picked up the Bible this morning and read some of the Psalms. Delaney was restless and done with her cereal so I got her out of the high chair and together we trekked up the stairs. On the crook of our staircase the banister jets out oddly and I accidentally hit her head into it, leaving a little knot and her tears painfully soaking her face. I immediately prayed to God to take her pain away, and to forgive me for hurting my precious baby girl. It was immediately apparent to me that I was praying because I didn’t panic and cower underneath self-loathing, which is my typical pattern whenever I do anything wrong. I think it was that I sought God, intentionally, that my mind was able to go THERE instead of where it normally would go…
Perhaps there is hope for me yet?
I desire a child-like faith. The kind of relationship with God that I can write about, the kind that defines my life, starting in these frail moments when I am still floundering, and growing into something that permeates every avenue of my life, and my children’s lives. I want this so badly, and I am so tired of convincing myself, and letting the enemy convince me, that I cannot do it. That my history proves I will fail, because I always failed.
My spirit knows there is God, I was born knowing this, and for some reason, He made me especially aware of it and able to share it as a small child. I see this in my children, and I dream for them the kind of upbringing where that is fostered and grown and nurtured, and they see it from me – they model it from me.
I’ve got to stop ripping open my heart and seeing only the parts of me that have failed.
I want to be vulnerable to something more. I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t hide from who she was, and has the strength to admit where I went wrong, but then lay that down – that is the part that I don’t do well. I can’t seem to let go of how easily I fall apart in the name of who I’ve been and what I’ve been through.
My eyes want to be stuck on the cross, and see the world as I did when I was a child.
I want to give my daughters the kind of example worth having – one of perseverance where they have seen me fall but I got back up, and I tried again, in spite of the difficulty of fearing I will fail. I want them to see that this IS worth coming back to, again and again, and that I will support them as they navigate this world, and I will be there – no matter what.
I look at my history and see that everything I’ve gone through has equipped me to be a pretty darn good mother… Because I’ve experienced almost every avenue of where NOT to go, and what NOT to do. And I know with certainty I won’t just stand back and let their life happen in front of me without helping to guide them to truth.
The truth is, as I see it, is that God is still here, inside of me. I cling to that. I unbury that truth with these tears on my cheeks because I am so grateful. I am so grateful that I can be who I have been, and to Him I am still that child on her knees, sharing Jesus with her Kindergarten class – I can be that girl again, because she never left me. She just got lost to this world, but not to Him.
I will hold onto that, and try this yet again… I will fail, but I will not give up, and I think that is one of the gifts He gave me. One I saw in myself as a child. Something I see in my own children. I cannot wait to see where God takes us now.
I have been contemplating whether or not I was going to write today; anxiety answered for me, much to my intense dismay…
I’ve been considering what is underneath this looming feeling of panic, and breathlessness, and given what day it is today, the acknowledgement and fault should go to my mother. The reason I don’t automatically admit my understanding of such a seemingly obvious cause is that today is the day my first child was born. A celebratory day. One of the most beautiful moments of my entire life.
Everyone tells me, easily, that her birth should vastly overshadow my mother’s death. That God gave me a gift today that, “takes a hard day and makes it beautiful”. I don’t think negatively about others when they say this to me, after all I have said those exact words myself to describe this day. . . The problem is, however, I am not sure it is true – for me. Not yet, perhaps … not ever – but I can still hope.
Honestly, I hate that I feel the way that I do. I hate that it has been eleven years already. I hate that she is gone, and I hate that I can remember it all too well.
Layla was born eleven days past her due date. My first child, that is normal… I remember my doctor telling me that if I didn’t have her by Monday, we would induce that day. I went home that Friday and it hit me, in the coming hours, that if I did not have this baby before Monday, she would be born on the day my mom passed away. I remember crying at this realization, thinking it was such a grand gesture from God to orchestrate such a thing – surely, it would not come to that, because for me it rarely does that pain triumphs beauty. That day was to always be my mother’s day – it was to always be the one day of the year I can openly grieve her death and nobody can pity me for it.
The weekend slowly passed and Sunday night I paced. I prayed. I cried. Then, at literally 12am, midnight, on January 19th, my water broke.
God makes His plans…
I remember laboring with her in that hospital room. I remember praying for the strength she had when she bore me and my siblings – drug free, believing in her body, even at the age of 16 when she had her first child. I remember the photograph I held in my hand of my mom in a hospital bed, in labor with my little brother. I remember the cross that sat on the bedside table, because I needed God with me because she was not.
My daughter’s birth was exceptional. The moment she layed in my arms, I felt a fire burn inside me that has yet to dim. Motherhood. A daughter. My baby girl…
This on the day my own mother breathed her last breathe, 3 years before.
Now it is eleven years since that night. 8 years since that afternoon when she was named Layla Samaya Roberta. . .
Roberta, my mother, must have nudged Him. I like to think she did…
Even so, I am a bit uneased by it, and I can’t help but to smile through my tears, gazing heavenward to chuckle with them both as I watch my 8-year-old baby girl grow.
The hardest part about this day for me is that I do feel guilty and shameful that I still grieve my mother. People say that it is such a blessing. Such a beautiful gift from God, my sweet Layla coming today. I feel like in light of that, I have to hold my breathe and smile along, and any hint of sadness has to be shoved deep inside me.
Really, it is quite difficult.
I prayed this morning, as I made pancakes for the girls, that I would find peace here. That I would honor what was, and be present with what is, and give this to God. After all, wasn’t He the one who arranged this? From her last breathe to my daughter’s first.
Just – why? I sigh now…
Perhaps it is just another thing I won’t understand until He tells me Himself when I look around me and once again see her face.
I miss her. I miss who she was to me as a child. I miss her laughter. Her boisterous presence when she was feeling happy and brought that into every room she entered. Her soft skin. Her fingernails with chipped nail polish and her hands covered in paint from the home improvement store. Her dinners of perfectly cooked rice and BBQ chicken with secret sauce. Her being my Mama – every deep, satisfying, and natural thing that represented. . . When she loved me… When she loved herself.
Eleven years, and I still remember this day like recalling every detail of a dream having just roused from sleep. It is all there, just some parts fade over time. I’d go back and change so much – but eleven years proves that desire is fruitless and futile; a waste of my emotional and mental space.
8 years, and I still remember that day like it was yesterday. Every detail is clear. I remember her button nose and wrinkly skin. I remember counting her toes and kissing her fingers. I remember breathing her in and feeling purpose flood my life. I remember feeling grateful that she was here, in my embrace, and in those following moments, a difficult day did become brighter than the sun. . .
But the brightness of her coming has dimmed and shadows of the past are all around me now.
I hope as she grows and realizes what this day is for me, personally, she does not resent me for this struggle. A hardship she won’t understand, and cannot, until I too die.
So, I have nothing left to say…
Happy Birthday, my sweet baby girl. I love you more than I can say today. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll give you 1012 words.
There is nothing quite like marriage to put a mirror to your face to show you exactly how bad you suck.
We choose a mate and then pledge our lives to that person, through the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part. I am sure so many marriages fail (my own included) because we cannot really know what that means, what that looks like, until we say, “I do”. The weight of the commitment, if one is taking it seriously, is heavy – and with all big endeavors and noble goals, there are beautiful attributes here and there are things marriage brings that make life, occasionally, very difficult. For the sake and purpose of this article, I will be discussing the hard times, and what one must do in order to make this marriage thing work.
We enter into this arrangement with hope and faith. We, if we chose wisely, decide that we’ve found someone worthy of the work. We find laughter, companionship, and trust. We find someone with whom life is easier, and we are convinced this is the person that we are supposed to be with… forever. That is what marriage entails, after all, it’s in the vows. But what about when the ease of the honeymoon fades and things get real? When you become the you you were but didn’t want them to see? When you forget to brush your teeth and the dishes are rotting in the sink and the kids argue but you’re too tired to even raise an eyebrow…
Worse, when they see that the worst traits about you are not only visible, but at times they’re all they can see. When you show your lazy side, your messy side, your impatience and petty annoyances and bad mood.
Marriage stops you and says, “Gee, what do we have here?” Because he hasn’t been touching her shoulder as he walked past, like he used to do, and she starts ragging on him because his MMA binge-fest has taken up the television for seven too many hours – but she said she liked MMA when they started dating. It throws a wrench in the gears of all we said we could handle, and the things that were once just traits we thought we could live with become the things that begin to drive a wedge between us.
It happens to the best couples – these moments, and I think a lot of our arguments, and struggles, and problems are similar if we examine what is at the root of our strife (not counting physical or emotional abuse, of course)…
It is, when we enter into marriage, we are making another person our other half. There when we wake up. There when we go to sleep. There for the stinky bathrooms after someone takes a bean-induced shit and didn’t turn on the fan. There for the morning breathe… There for the bitterness at the same fight you had last week rearing its ugly head again. There for the money problems because one person used the credit card and one wants to start saving. There for the struggle with sex when he wants more of it but she says she is just not in the mood.
There are a thousand things between two people that make marriage hard. But I think the absolute hardest part about this agreement, this arrangement, is having to face YOURSELF in the eyes, heart, and thoughts of your partner.
I can’t escape me when I see myself through his eyes. Through his hurts when my tone was needlessly vicious. Through his impatience when he has tried for so long to give me space but I keep pushing his buttons… So on and so forth. He, through his constant interaction with me in this house, and within the framework of our life, forces me to see my part in any issues between us.
Many marriages fail because we are unwilling or for some reason unable to stop and see what WE do to contribute to the difficulty.
After all, it is not an easy feat to see my part, through his interactions with me, and his reactions to me, and then want to do anything about it other than blame him. It is easier to do that – easier to say he’s the problem – because otherwise who am I left with?
The symptoms happen – these are the fights we have. The money. Sex. Quality time. Expectations unmet. Priorities shoved aside because someone changes their mind. These are symptoms of two people trying to share a life together. Not one marriage is immune, but it does have a purpose: I could so easily, and I have many times, simply chose to get angry at John for the special ways he mirrors my own negative behavior back to me. I chose to lash out, blame him, and make things worse.
Because the alternative is admit I am doing something wrong.
He forces me, by being here day in and day out, to stop and assess that I am 50% of this marriage. Therefore, most of the time I am responsible for something happening between us.
It is my pride that tries to convince me otherwise, and we all know how well that unites a couple. There are few things more detrimental to a marriage than pride, or refusing to acknowledge and work on things because you won’t admit you’ve done anything wrong.
The thing is, what I am left with, once I see myself through his eyes, is the choice. A hard one. One I fail at answering to correctly too often to admit. . .
Do I change, because I don’t like what I see? Or…
The “or” I’ve answered, twice. Two failed marriages – two opportunities to change wherein I failed to do anything real about my part. Granted there was a lot of grey matter to those experiences, but the ultimate reality is that I made the wrong choice, one way or another, at that time.
I don’t want to keep answering this wrong and ultimately see demise of the one relationship I’ve pledged to keep strong. To keep center to my life, under God, before any other priority, hope, or petty excuse. I don’t want to realize that I could have changed, could have bettered myself, and could have worked harder when all I’ve got left is resentment and pain.
I want to preserve what is good. What is decent. What brings me immense satisfaction, intimacy, and happiness. I want to see, when I look at my husband, the best version of myself, and the best version of him.
Not that we won’t struggle. That we won’t have pain, and times of stress, and money trouble, and silly annoyances that we bicker about. These things are a given. I feel the same tension mount with my own children, and I birthed them so it would seem no relationship is immune to such things.
Right now, I see some of the worst in myself when I look at him. I see that I am quick to anger and slow to forgiveness. I see that I refuse to acknowledge where I lack but instead just point out where he does. I see that I easily allow my past to dictate who I am today, and how quickly I quip, “this is just who I am, get used to it!”
Was I this version of me when he met me? When we fell in love? At times, I am sure, yes, but I tried harder. I gave more. I silenced the voices that screamed at me that I will fail at this, too, and instead I put my best foot forward, and he fell in love with the part of me that is mostly good. He pledged his life to me, in sickness and in health, until death do we part, knowing that I had ugliness, and pettiness, and baggage – but he didn’t see it then like he sees it now.
He sees that part of me now more often than he sees the good he fell in love with, and that right there, is when I have a choice to make.
I could seek for my own selfish gain. Whether that be pride bolstering my ego when I won’t admit I have done wrong, or when I withhold intimacy because I am tired – or just say I am tired. When I spend frivolously and don’t mind the budget. When I pick him apart, whether in my thoughts or aloud, and bring pain to his heart because I refuse to look at him and see anything good.
Because when I am being nasty, when I am cold, when I am bitter and easily frustrated, what else would I see when I look at him? A reflection of myself – and that is a hard truth, and one I can easily ignore and blame on him instead.
I don’t want that, not for us. Not for anyone.
The thing is, there is so much good worth preserving, but it gets lost in the mess of everyday life. And that is when I see the worst of me the most – when I really have no excuse!
I think marriage puts a mirror to the worst of our selves and forces us to stop and think, “What could I do better?” But it is how we answer that that either makes or breaks a relationship.
How many times have we answered it wrong? Because we took the vows, for better or for worse, but we didn’t really mean it, because to make such a commitment we must face where we lack. How much we suck. And we must choose, with that knowledge, to either change and bring happiness to the marriage, or fight it with pride as our ammunition, and watch our sparks eventually catch flame with an inferno of resentment that we cannot put out.
It must come from truly wanting happiness for John, sometimes at the expense of my own. It must come from knowing he is a person, with the same feelings, the same thought patterns, the same insecurities, and therefore I must not look at him as less-than me just because he pisses me off. After all, wasn’t I at that alter, too, making those same commitments – putting my best foot forward in faith? If I can dissolve into this worser version of myself, and so can he, don’t we owe it to each other to forgive these things and work harder to keep things peaceful, and content between us?
I ask forgiveness from him, and I try harder, because I know how easily a marriage can dissolve, and how hard it is to repair it once things go too far. But it is SO hard sometimes. To silence my pride, and to realize I see the worst in myself and I must either change that – do my part – or risk so much good at the expense of a man I love’s very deep trust and faith in us.
Marriage is hard.
Relationships force us to stop and realize we have work to do. That there are things that will always bother us about the person we chose – and things that bother us about ourselves that only amplify a thousand times in the face of someone we love’s disappointed glance.
We start marriage with so much hope, and then we break it down, little by little. But it doesn’t have to be lost. Commitment is the very reason to fight harder – to honor what we pledged when we were trying our best, swearing before God and our families that we will always try, always give, always nurture, and always work hard to ensure our love endures.
I want to wake up tomorrow and try harder. Because I care about his happiness more than my own pride. Because I swore to him I would not give up, and I don’t intend to, even when it’s hard and I am forced to examine how much I suck. I know he is pushing for the same thing, and I am grateful he can look at me and see the person he married, even when it is hard, even when he doesn’t like me very much…
Because it’s worth it. Push forward. Give in. Ease up. And when you see the worst of yourself in someone else’s eyes, use that as fire to do better. Give more. Try harder. Marriage requires this, and though it can be so hard, the reward of that kind of intimacy and history shared with your partner will be one of life’s greatest treasures.